BIG SPRINGS, Calif. — When the Lava Fire made a big push to the north on Monday, the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office issued a flurry of evacuation orders stretching from the outskirts of Weed nearly to the community of Big Springs north of Lake Shastina.
Evacuees from Lake Shastina and Carrick received the go-ahead to return home on Thursday night — good news for many people displaced by the fire earlier this week.
"It's just pure relief . . . yeah," said Richard Lee Shin, who had to evacuate his home earlier on Monday. "And this was the third time for me. Like I say, two floods and then you get back in your house was not flooded. And then you get back and your house was not burned down and your community wasn't burned down. It's all good."
For residents like Shin, evacuations are a familiar and necessary evil. But in some areas, the evacuation orders have inflamed already-simmering tensions between Siskiyou County's Hmong and Chinese communities and County authorities, recalling recent battles over illegal marijuana grows and water rights.
While details on the case remain slim, evacuations near the Mount Shasta Vista Subdivision on Monday were punctuated by a deadly officer-involved shooting after a man tried to enter the area against officers' orders and pointed — possibly fired — a handgun at them, according to a Sheriff's Office statement. Officers shot and killed the man.
Russell Mathis owns a plot within Mount Shasta Vista, and he says that he's been in contact with members of the Hmong community there — many of whom stayed behind to either save their property or because they didn't have the means to leave.
With bulk deliveries of water already strictly enforced over the last few months and the arrival of extreme heat and fire over the past few days, Mathis says that the Hmong are desperate for water, and enforcement of the evacuation order is keeping them from moving freely in and out of the subdivision.
"There are some people in here who don't have cars — they didn't leave," said Mathis. "And right now they're calling me and asking if I can bring them water . . . and of course, I asked for water for the community and they won't even give us bottled water, which I kind of feel like is cruel at this point."
Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue doesn't agree with this characterization of the situation in Mount Shasta Vista.
"The folks that we see have plenty of bottled water, and those questions are actually being asked out there," LaRue said, pointing to the Red Cross and other emergency resources in the area. "It's just not how the system is designed, and it's not designed to hurt anybody . . . we open [the shelters] up so people can get all that stuff."
Residents who stayed in the subdivision have hampered firefighting efforts, LaRue said. According to the Sheriff, some fire crews have reported people throwing rocks or building roadblocks.
"When people fail to evacuate, what they're essentially doing is . . . you know, they're on their own," said LaRue. "And if they don't have water or food and what-not . . . I mean, in a sense they're doing that to themselves because they don't have to be there. That's why we have these shelters open."
Mathis and other members of the community don't think this is a good enough response.
"We're not asking you to bring a water tender in," said Mathis. "We're asking to bring some cases of water to drink at this point. Unless he changes his narrative a little bit and meets halfway, this community is never going to get along."
LaRue says that the evacuation order covering the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision will not be lifted until fire crews can put out hot spots in the area and until utility companies make sure that power has been restored. Fire officials say that this work is underway, but there's no estimated time for when residents can move freely through the area again.