The fast-growing King Fire may not be the biggest fire, but it is proving to be one of the most difficult to extinguish. To combat the blaze, firefighters have dropped a record-setting 500,000 gallons of fire retardant on King Fire, with more being dumped every day.
"We're literally setting a world record with respect to retardant drops and use on this fire," Mike Kaslin told The Los Angeles Times. Kaslin is the Unit Chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
On Wednesday, more than 210,000 gallons of fire retardant were dropped on King Fire. About 60 percent of the 12 million gallons of fire retardant used last year was dumped on California fires, according to the Associated Press.
Currently at over 82,000 acres, the fire is being described as complex and challenging by firefighters, due to drought conditions and the steep, uneven geography of the area. California is still struggling through a three-year drought that has stretched resources thin and left the state bone dry. Large planes have been dumping fire retardant, but poor visibility from smoke temporarily halted the flights on Friday. The King Fire is located about 60 miles east of Sacramento in El Dorado County, which is full of tall trees in a national forest that haven't seen a major fire since 1992.
"That's what makes it difficult for a direct attack," fire spokesman Mike McMillian told KCRA. "The main fuel that is burning is the tall timber. We're making some progress, but it is slow going in some areas as we're trying to construct more contingency and control lines."
The use of fire retardant is more challenging in populated areas. At least 10 homes have been destroyed so far, along with an additional 22 outbuildings, according to Weather.com. Some of those outbuildings include a power station, although total damage is unclear because it's not possible to get to the affected areas. The Sacramento Bee reports that the King Fire is threatening hydroelectric facilities and power lines that send water and electricity to the Sacramento region. Stumpy Meadows Reservoir and Hell Hole Reservoir are both at risk, as well as a University of California, Berkeley research station. 21,000 other homes are also in danger. Nearly 3,000 people have been evacuated.
Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, has been charged with arson for starting the King Fire. He pleaded not guilty and is being held on $10 million bail. Details have not been released as to how the fire was started.
Even with over 5,200 local and national firefighters, some from as far as Florida and Alaska and $5 million being spent fighting the fire every day, progress has been slow. Only 10 percent of the fire has been contained as it spreads to the Tahoe National Forest, northwest of Lake Tahoe. A state of emergency was declared for the area on Thursday. With the King Fire still out of control, the use of fire retardant is not likely to stop any time soon.
[Image source: Chattanooga Times Free Press]