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Arson-linked Fawn fire swells while Sequoia blaze prompts new evacuations

Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — As if fulfilling the forecasts for a fire-filled fall, crews on Friday were battling multiple large wildfires across California — including one that has been linked to arson.

The Fawn fire in Shasta County ignited Wednesday and quickly became a priority as it fed on dry timber and steep terrain, growing to 5,850 acres by Friday morning and sending thousands of residents fleeing.

More than 9,000 structures are threatened by the fire and at least 25 have already been destroyed, officials said. Evacuation orders and warnings remain in place.

The blaze prompted a local emergency declaration from Sheriff Michael Johnson as it spewed massive plumes of smoke into the sky near Redding. Late Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state had secured federal assistance to help with the fire.

Unlike the lightning-sparked fires burning elsewhere in the state, the Fawn fire appears to have been deliberately set. A Palo Alto woman identified as Alexandra Souverneva was arrested Wednesday on "fire-related charges," officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said.

Firefighters first encountered Souverneva in the brush near the burgeoning fire around 8 p.m. Wednesday. A subsequent interview led officers to suspect she was responsible for the blaze.

 

The agency is recommending a charge of "arson to wildland," with an enhancement because of the state of emergency California is facing due to several wildfires. The Shasta County district attorney's office is expected to make a decision on charges later Friday.

Cal Fire incident spokesman Scott Ross said the alleged arson was "discouraging," but ultimately irrelevant to the crews on the front lines. "It's a fire — we do our job," he said.

Camera feeds near the Fawn fire showed sickly orange-gray smoke rolling across the sky. Ross said temperatures were expected to be in the mid-90s Friday, but that winds were dying down, and he was feeling optimistic about crews' progress. The fire was 10% contained.

"We're still not out of the woods yet and we want to make sure that we keep the progress we made, but it's looking pretty good," he said, noting that nearly 1,000 personnel were battling the blaze from the air and the ground.

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