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As erratic winds whip flames, fire in California increases to 44,000 acres

by Amy Graff, San Francisco Chronicle |

Amid critical fire weather, a wildfire burning in the Plumas National Forest 230 miles northeast of San Francisco swelled 6,000 acres Sunday, pushing the total burn area to 44,000 acres.

At 68 square miles, the Walker Fire is currently the largest wildfire in California and the biggest of the 2019 wildfire season so far.

The blaze, ignited 11 miles east of Taylorsville, was 7 percent contained as of Monday morning. More than 800 firefighters are fighting the fire.

Strong winds fanned flames across hilly terrain covered in dry timber and brush late Saturday night into Sunday morning. The spread slowed Sunday night as winds dampened and temperatures dropped. Crews worked through the night to begin developing fire lines.

The fire started Wednesday, and by Friday morning it had torched 2,000 acres. Overnight Friday, it exploded to 17,000 acres. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Mandatory evacuation orders are in place for the Genesee Valley road corridor, the Ward Creek area, the Flournoy Bridge area, from Antelope Lake to the Plumas county line, and along Highway 395 from Thunder Mountain Road to the Laufman Grade, including the communities of Milford and Brockman Canyon.

An evacuation center is set up at the Lassen County Fairgrounds.

Road closures include Janesville Grade, Genesee Valley Road at the Flournoy Bridge, Antelope Lake Road from the Flournoy Bridge to Antelope Dam (and beginning at the Flournoy Bridge turnoff), and the 111 Beckwourth-Genesee Road through the fire area. Highway 395 remains open to through traffic.

More winds are expected Monday, but a chance of showers and thunderstorms Tuesday will bring cooler weather and higher humidity levels, making firefighting easier.