CHICO, Calif. - A hot, potentially dangerous fire is burning in the Ishi Wilderness area about 20 miles northeast of Chico - an almost unprecedented event in the middle of winter in Northern California.
Extremely dry conditions have allowed the Campbell fire, burning since last Thursday, to expand to more than 600 acres.
"We're way, way behind on both rain and snow and, you know, if we don't get that, it's going to be a questionable season. It's going to start soon and everything is going to be very, very dry," said Jim Mackensen, Forest Service Spokesman at incident command at the Chico Fairgrounds.
The Campbell Fire is being fought by about 500 firefighters, with more pouring in steadily.
Part of the challenge has been getting Hotshot crew members in place after they've been off for more than two months.
"Had to get on the phone, call people who worked for us and say, 'Hey, do you want to come back and work a fire for a few days?' and they say, 'Yeah,' and then they have to come back and organize all their gear, organize them into a crew and then get them out on the line," Mackensen said.
A high wind event is expected on Wednesday and crews are already in position to protect homes and property in the little town of Campbellville, about two miles south of the fire.
Flames are burning along a creek that supports populations of Chinook salmon, steelhead and trout. Drops of fire retardant have been kept away from the fish habitat along the stream.
Water truck driver Dave Crawford of Cottonwood said he couldn't remember the last time he saw a fire like this burning in the month of January.
"We like the work, but you hate to see the whole country burn up like that," Crawford said, echoing the words of others who fear the upcoming fire season could be severe if more winter rain and snow don't show up.
The same thought was on the minds of many at the fire staging area Tuesday night.
"Statewide, we are in fire season in January, which is very different. You just don't think about that. And people just need to take that extra moment to think about fire," Mackensen said.
On Tuesday morning, firefighters will be flown in to the fire from the Chico airport, saving time and keeping them from a difficult two-mile hike into the flames from the nearest roads.
Firetrucks and other heavy equipment cannot be used to fight the fire because it is in a wilderness area.