TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KGPE) – A massive wildfire burning in the Sequoia National Forest has forced evacuation orders and warnings for communities in Tulare County.
The latest update from officials on Sunday has the Windy Fire at 23,800 acres with 4% containment.
For the last few days, the fire has nearly doubled in size each day.
Officials say the blaze was sparked Thursday, September 9 by a lightning strike.
Evacuation orders have been issued for Johnsondale, Camp Whitsett, Ponderosa, and Quaking Aspen.
Camp Nelson and surrounding communities have also been placed under an evacuation warning.
Over 730 firefighters from across the state are camped out at the Porterville Fairgrounds for easy access to the fire on a daily basis.
The fire is not only threatening mountain homes but giant sequoias and redwoods on the Trail of 100 Giants in the Sequoia National Forest.
Wind gusts this weekend have made conditions worse for crews working to contain the blaze.
“Firefighters are expecting the fire to make big pushes to the east based on that wind,” explained Windy Fire Public Information Officer Amanda Munsey.
Munsey says the fire grew slowly during its first week due to favorable weather conditions, but gusts of wind over 35 miles per hour have now pushed the fire to move into more flammable environments.
“We have been seeing a more rapid rate of spread in the last couple of days. Now the fire has moved from timber which burns a little bit slower and is thicker, to brush and grasses which move a lot faster,” said Munsey.
Just over a dozen miles away from the evacuated community of Ponderosa, Emma Thompson and her younger brother Cooper spent their Sunday night holding up signs on their parent’s truck bed in Springville, offering firefighters words of encouragement as they head back from the fireline.
Emma says her family has multiple close friends who are firefighters.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking that they have to leave us but we also want to make them feel special for what they’re doing because they really are helping California out a lot. So we always like to make signs for them,” Emma explained.
Emma says she and her family have been through bad fire seasons but they aren’t worried about the fire reaching Springville.
“I’m not so worried it’s going to get to Springville because I know our fire crews really got this and it would really have to go through a lot to get here,” Emma said.
Fire officials say there is no expected full containment date yet on the Windy Fire, as conditions are still making things too unpredictable.
The Windy Fire is located south of the KNP Complex Fire also burning in the Sequoia National Forest and Sequoia National Park.