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King Fire Saturday Update: Fire Grows Slightly, Weather Helpful But Could Change
CORRECTION: The 8:15 p.m. update erroneously stated that Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, pleaded guilty to an arson charge Friday in El Dorado County Superior Court and is being held in lieu of $10 million bail.
He pleaded not guilty to the charge. The post has been edited to show the correction.
8:15 p.m. Fire officials said Saturday night that the King Fire has burned 81,944 acres and that fire activity was “moderated today.” The fire remained 10 percent contained.
Weather conditions, with increased humidity and slightly cooler temperatures in the mid-80s, were more favorable for the 5,094 firefighters working to control the wildfire. But officials said there is a chance of thunderstorms Saturday evening “that could cause erratic winds and extreme fire behavior.”
Cal Fire said assessment teams worked Saturday to determine just how many structures have been damaged or destroyed by the King Fire. The wildfire started September 13th on Forebay Road near Pollock Pines in El Dorado County and crossed into Placer County on September 19th.
The fire is burning in heavy timber, dry grass and brush.
“That’s what makes it difficult for a direct attack,” fire spokesman Mike McMillian told The Associated Press. “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.”
Nearly 3,000 people have been evacuated because of the fire. Cal Fire officials said Saturday that more than 21,000 structures are threatened.
The Saturday evening updated report said that crews would continue to construct, hold and improve control lines on the south and west portions of the fire.
The fire is burning in the canyon of the South Fork of the American River Canyon, Silver Creek Canyon, and Rubicon Canyon north of the community of Pollock Pines. It has spread to the Tahoe National Forest northwest of Lake Tahoe. Officials said the cause of the fire is arson.
Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, pleaded not guilty to an arson charge Friday in El Dorado County Superior Court and is being held in lieu of $10 million bail.
The National Weather Service issued a forecast map that showed smoke from the King Fire would mean "very unhealthy" air pollution for portions of Placer and El Dorado counties and unhealthy air conditions to other parts of Northern California.
9:35 a.m. The man charged in connection with starting the King Fire will not be subject to new, harsher penalties for arson if convicted.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has reinstated tougher penalties for aggravated arson just as authorities charge a Northern California man with setting a fire that has burned nearly 120 square miles of timber in the mountains east of Sacramento.
SB930 by Republican Sen. Tom Berryhill of Modesto took effect immediately after Gov. Jerry Brown announced signing it Friday.
The El Dorado County District Attorney's Office says the tougher penalties will not apply to Wayne Allen Huntsman even if he is convicted. That's because the King Fire burning west of Lake Tahoe started before the bill became law.
The previous law expired in January. The renewed law allows for prison terms of 10 years to life if arson damage exceeds $7 million.
Authorities say the fire is costing $5 million a day to fight.
9:25 a.m. Smoke and haze from the King Fire have prompted the cancellation of some events today, while others are still being held as scheduled. The Gold Country Youth Soccer League in the Grass Valley area has cancelled all games today. On its website, the League said it had received reports of "stagnant, smoky conditions," and noted that winds are expected to push smoke into the Auburn and Grass Valley areas today.
At Lake Tahoe, the Ironman Triathlon is still on as scheduled for tomorrow.
The Washoe County Air Quality Management District indicates that the Reno area is finally seeing some relief after experiencing some of the most unhealthy air in years due to the fire. Today's air quality index rating is "moderate." Just two days ago, it was rated "very unhealthy," a measure which indicates that everyone may experience some health effects - not just those with respiratory conditions. The National Weather Service says the smoke may start drifting back into the area by Sunday.
The San Joaquin County Air Pollution Control District also issued a "health cautionary statement" that communities in the Central Valley may be affected by the smoke. The District says people with lung and heart conditions should use caution outdoors.
7:20 a.m. The fire has now charred 80,994 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
12,000 homes and 9,000 other structures remain threatened, and CalFire says 4,901 firefighters are working to put the fire out. It remains 10 percent contained.
After reports from people living in the area and from several news organizations on Friday that homes had been destroyed by the fire, the U.S. Forest Service acknowledged on its website, "we have confirmed that there have been structures damaged or destroyed in the White Meadows area. As soon as it is safe we will have damage assessment teams enter the area."
The fire is burning in steep, heavily wooded terrain in the South Fork of the American River and Silver Creek Canyons, and has also spread to the Rubicon Canyon. CalFire says it is getting close to the Tahoe National Forest boundary.
Some evacuations have been lifted in the Pollock Pines area.
Friday, a man with a criminal history, Wayne Allen Huntsman, was arraigned on charges he started the fire. He had pleaded not guilty.
There are two evacuation shelters open: The Camino Seventh-day Adventist Church in Camino, and the City of South Lake Tahoe Recreation Center.
After being shut down intermittently for a couple of days, Highway 50 is open, but CalFire warns drivers to expect delays.
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