Thompson Fire in Northern California forces thousands to evacuate as blaze rages uncontained

Oroville is no stranger to devastating fires, including the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and displaced roughly 50,000 others.

The 2020 Bear Fire took the home of Thompson’s neighbors.

“We’ve been through it so much that it’s just kind of second nature. Now we already know what we need to do and to stay vigilant,” Thompson said.

Using a scanner app on her phone, Thompson listened to law enforcement officials as they decided to evacuate the area where her twin sister, Crystal Kehle, lived. So Kehle was able to pack up and leave for her sister’s home, alongside her husband and her father-in-law, by the time an official evacuation order was released. Butte County has also set up two evacuation shelters.

“California is using every available tool to tackle this fire & will continue to support impacted communities,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in declaring a state of emergency for Butte County.

In a statement Wednesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it approved federal funds Tuesday night to assist California in suppressing the fire.

Flames consume a structure
The Thompson Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Tuesday. Noah Berger / AP
A firefighter runs
A firefighter at the Thompson Fire burning in Oroville, Calif., on Tuesday. Noah Berger / AP

Dan Collins, a fire captain at Cal Fire’s Butte County Fire Station, said Thompson was not as aggressive as previous deadly fires the county had experienced. Collins said he was “very optimistic” about preventing Thompson from spreading, especially because Cal Fire had activated an incident management team that brought more resources and people to the front line.

“It helps us as the local fire department because it’s tough for us to support a large incident like this,” Collins said.

The Thompson Fire is one of 17 that remain ablaze in the state as a dangerous heat wave sweeps across the West ahead of the long Fourth of July weekend. Excessive heat and the risk of wildfire have already affected holiday plans, with California State Parks announcing the cancellation of Oroville’s fireworks celebration. The cities of St. Helena and Antioch have also suspended Independence Day plans.

Thompson said her family had chosen to cancel their July Fourth plans, as well.

“We told our family members that we’re just, it’s just too heavy right now. We’re not going to celebrate,” she said.

A total of 2,934 California wildfires have burned more than 139,500 acres this year alone.

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