OROVILLE . (AP) — With looming floods and roaring flames, Chuck Wilsey’s year sounds more like ancient scripture than modern living in Northern California.
Wilsey returned to his ranch home in Oroville on Monday, relieved to learn it had been spared by the wildfire, just as he had stayed clear of troubles brought on by a damaged spillway at a nearby dam five months ago.
“I don’t know what’s worse — fire, or water — it’s a toss-up,” Wilsey, 53, told The Associated Press after returning to his home on Monday afternoon.
He and his family were among the more than 5,000 people evacuated as flames raced through grassy foothills in the Sierra Nevada, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Sacramento. Most of those evacuations remain in effect, though Wilsey and others have been allowed to return home.
The blaze burned nearly 9 square miles of grass, injured four firefighters and destroyed at least 17 structures. It was 35 percent contained.
Crews were making progress against that fire and dozens of others across California, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, and into Canada.
Wilsey was far from celebratory, instead regrouping almost immediately and making new plans in case the fire makes another run at them. “I was ripping pictures off the wall trying to get ready,” Wilsey said.
He said he was leaving his trailer attached to his truck and telling his daughters to keep prized possessions they couldn’t take the first time close at hand.
The area burning is southeast of Oroville, near where 200,000 residents downstream from the 770-foot-high Oroville Dam were briefly evacuated in February when the structure’s spillways began crumbling. Wilsey’s home was far enough away that he didn’t have to evacuate from the floods.
His daughter, Krystle Chambers, who lives on the same property, said the one-two punch of floods and fires was taking its toll.
“It’s hard, it’s rough,” she said. “Way too many hits. First it’s this side of town, then the other side of town. It almost makes you want to move.”
Pam Deditch, who is running the shelter where Wilsey and his family were huddled, also managed a shelter during the winter drenching.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s the other,” she said with a laugh. “We’re used to this. We’re resilient. We’re strong. We get fires and we get flooding.”
In Southern California, at least 3,500 people remained out of their homes as a pair of fires raged at different ends of Santa Barbara County. The larger of the two charred more than 45 square miles (116 square kilometers) of dry brush and threatened more than 130 rural homes. It was 15 percent contained.
The fires broke out amid a blistering weekend heat wave that toppled temperature records. Slightly cooler weather is expected to give crews a break in the coming days.
California officials said the extraordinarily wet winter caused thick spring blooms that are now dried out and burning, making for unpredictable fire behavior.
“You see rapid fire growth in a lot of these fires, larger acreage consumption, which makes it very difficult to firefighters to fight,” said Bennet Milloy, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.