Spurred by triple-digit temperatures and low humidity, the blaze grew rapidly, pushing firefighters to their limits and inspiring a sweeping call for aid that drew resources from as far as West Virginia and Alaska during a monthlong effort to contain the fire.
Firefighters initially had more than 20% containment of the blaze and were making progress in rounding the flames, but officials said poor weather conditions and visibility prevented overnight operations from water-dropping aircraft, allowing the fire to rage through the forest out of control.
Airborne debris from the fire collected as the flames spread, transforming into a massive mushroom cloud that was visible from throughout the county.
Officials briefly lost all containment of the fire, which grew to 5,100 acres in two days and was at 105,000 acres after six days with 5% containment.
Feeding off dry brush, much of which hadn’t been burned in more than three decades, the fire eventually expanded to 160,577 acres, encompassing more than a quarter of the forest after having destroyed 90 structures.
Two county firefighters died while battling the blaze, which officials determined was intentionally started.
Even after the fire was contained on Oct. 16, its aftermath has continued to present problems for residents.
Charred hillsides, left bare of vegetation from the flames, have been identified as major hazards for mudflows into nearby communities, with the U.S. Geological Survey estimating a 60% to 80% chance of high-volume debris flows in the foothills over the next three to five years.
And concerns have persisted about poor firefighting decisions that may have allowed the fire to expand at a time that it could have been countered more aggressively.
Elected representatives have called for inquiries into the U.S. Forest Services position that rugged terrain prohibited the use of air tankers and helicopters for battle the fire.