(Reuters) - Fire officials have arrested a 29-year-old man they accused of causing a fast-moving wildfire that has destroyed 10 homes and forced the evacuation of about 1,500 residents in Northern California, they said on Wednesday.
John Ballenger of the town of Oroville is accused of “recklessly” starting a campfire outside a designated area and allowing it to spread out of control, Cal Fire Butte County Chief Darren Read said in a statement. Oroville is about 70 miles (110 km) north of Sacramento.
Ballenger will be arraigned in a Butte County court on Friday, officials said. No further information was disclosed.
Less than 24 hours after it began on Tuesday afternoon, the so-called Ponderosa Fire had consumed about 3,150 acres (1,275 hectares) in Butte County, about 85 miles (135 km) north of Sacramento, the Cal Fire website showed. Besides homes, the fire has destroyed 20 outbuildings.
Another 15 buildings have been damaged by the flames and 1,300 more are threatened, Cal Fire said.
Photographs on social media showed the fire reducing houses to ash as smoke billowed into the sky and flames ripped through trees and vegetation.
“My grandparents’ house is gone,” said one Twitter user. “Everything on their road burnt and it feels like losing my grandma all over again.”
About 1,500 people have been ordered to evacuate the remote area. Two shelters were opened for displaced residents, county officials said.
Northern California faces a heat wave over the next few days with temperatures expected to top 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius), the National Weather Service said.
Since the beginning of the year, wildfires in the U.S. West have burnt more than 6.8 million acres (2.8 million hectares), about 50 percent more than during the corresponding 2016 period.
More than 45,000 fires have burnt this year across the region, 15 percent more than in 2016, the National Interagency Fire Center says.
(This version of the story refiles to correct misspelling of ‘one’ in paragraph 7)
Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by James Dalgleish and Clarence Fernandez