With a storm heading into Northern California this weekend, crews battling the Mosquito Fire are anticipating rain but also gusty winds that could induce more dangerous fire behavior.
Cal Fire and US Forest Service officials in a Friday morning update reported the Mosquito fire on 69,908 acres (109 square miles) with 20% containment. The announced confinement has remained at 20% since Tuesday evening; crews built new containment lines, but the perimeter of the fire also grew.
The National Weather Service forecast calls for rain in the Northern California interior from Saturday evening through Tuesday. Parts of the Sierra Nevada foothills could see up to an inch of rain.
But forecasters expect the wind, coming from the southwest, to arrive a little earlier: gusts of around 30 mph could develop near the Mosquito Fire on Saturday afternoon.
“Firefighters will welcome precipitation, but stronger winds have the potential to blow embers further ahead of the fire,” fire officials wrote in Friday morning’s incident report.
The Mosquito Fire, which started Sept. 6 near Oxbow Reservoir and is now California’s largest in 2022, continues to burn in the foothills east of Sacramento, where more than 11,000 residents remain moved. It burns in steep terrain that includes many river basins.
The Placer County towns of Foresthill and Todd Valley, as well as the El Dorado County towns of Georgetown, Volcanoville and Quintette, have all been under mandatory evacuation orders for more than a week.
The wildfire erupted dramatically on Tuesday afternoon, driven by winds that removed a layer of smoke inversion and fanned fire behavior, including a 1,100-acre spot fire that skipped the center fork of the American River from El Dorado County to Placer County.
Tuesday’s push rushed towards the Foresthill and Todd Valley area. Firefighters staged a successful defence, holding back the blaze south of Foresthill Road and protecting structures in the town of around 1,500 people.
In Friday morning’s update, firefighters described fire behavior as ‘moderate’ overnight and said crews had a ‘very productive night’ on Thursday conducting a fire operation south of Foresthill to secure this area.
Meanwhile, the eastern parts of the fire have also grown steadily this week, in a less populated part of Placer County.
This week’s outbreak prompted new evacuation orders starting Tuesday: one north of Yankee Jims Road in Placer County and the other in the Stumpy Meadows camping area in El Dorado County. No new orders were issued on Wednesday or Thursday.
The Mosquito Fire destroyed at least 73 structures, including homes in the Volcanoville and Michigan Bluff areas, and damaged at least 13 others, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office said in an update Friday morning.
More than 9,200 structures are still considered at risk, fire officials said Friday.
Evacuation centers have been established at Sierra College, 6100 Sierra College Blvd. in Rocklin; Cameron Park Services District, 2502 Country Club Drive at Cameron Park; and Green Valley Community Church, 3500 Missouri Flat Road in Placerville. The Cameron Park site is a shelter for the night.
Nearly 3,900 firefighters were assigned to the Mosquito Fire Thursday night, authorities said.
Large parts of the Tahoe National Forest will be closed for the remainder of 2022 due to the fire.
Air quality remains poor in parts of California and Nevada
Smoke from the Mosquito Fire has affected air quality east of the blaze nearly every day since the blaze began, with the worst pollution recently concentrated in western Nevada, including the Reno area.
The Washoe County School District and the Lake Tahoe Unified School District each had to cancel one day of classes on all of their campuses earlier this week due to unsafe air quality.
A federal air monitoring map from Friday morning showed wide swaths of “very unhealthy” air quality covering Colfax, Truckee, most of the Lake Tahoe region, Reno and Carson City.
Wind and rain from the next storm could help clear some of the smoke.