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TULELAKE, Calif. — A lightning-sparked wildfire at the eastern edge of Siskiyou County has grown rapidly over the past two days, burning across the Lava Beds National Monument.
The U.S. Forest Service said that it had called in a Type 2 Incident Management for multiple fires in the area, dubbed the July Complex. Most of the other fires in the complex are within Modoc County.
We're monitoring a scary situation for the #firefighters of the Caldwell #Fire. The smoke has developed into a "pyrocumulus" and has been generating lightning strikes for the last couple of hours. It will likely continue to do so until sunset. Stay safe out there! #CAwx pic.twitter.com/Cu25z7sKBd— NWS Medford (@NWSMedford) July 24, 2020
There are 15 active fires within the Modoc National Forest, according to fire officials, and most have been kept to a small and manageable size. Several of those fires have grown beyond initial containment efforts, however.
The Caldwell Fire — now the largest wildfire in the area — is located near Caldwell Butte, roughly in the southeastern area of the Lave Beds. It grew quickly over Wednesday and Thursday to cover more than 7,900 acres. USFS said that it was nearing the community of Tionesta, just over the Modoc County line.
While no evacuations have yet been ordered for homes, both the Lava Beds park and the Medicine Lake Recreation Area are under mandatory evacuations due to the fire's spread. The 10 Road, or Lava Beds Road, has been closed since Thursday.
The Forest Service said that the Medicine Lake closure was "out of an abundance of caution" because the fire threatens to cross Forest Service Road 97, which could cut campers off from an exit to the east.
The National Weather Service tweeted on Thursday afternoon, saying that it was monitoring a "scary situation" over the Caldwell Fire.
"The smoke has developed into a 'pyrocumulus' and has been generating lightning strikes for the last couple of hours. It will likely continue to do so until sunset," NWS said.
The formation of a pyrocumulus cloud could cause dry lightning strikes — potentially sparking even more fires — and high, erratic winds that cause the wildfire to move and grow in unexpected directions, NWS said.
USFS later said that those erratic winds have caused the fire to spread "in every direction, sometimes all at once."
A smoke plume from the Caldwell Fire is visible even from long distances.
The agency indicated on Thursday afternoon that the Incident Management team had arrived and would be taking control of firefighting efforts in the area.