THE Delta Fire, which is sweeping through forest in Northern California, has kept the major north-south highway closed for the third day.
Interstate 5 usually swarms with trucks and traffic as it winds its way through California.
But the main highway between Mexico and Canada was a ghost road on Friday morning along a 72-kilometre northern stretch that remained closed since a fire two days earlier swept down and turned hills on either side into walls of flame.
Drivers fled in terror and several big-rigs burned Wednesday as the fire erupted on both sides of the artery. Crews managed to remove the burned hulks and abandoned rigs on Thursday but flames continued to burn along an edge of the road in some areas, fire spokesman Brandon Vacarro said.
A decision was expected on Friday on whether to reopen the highway but first authorities had to check the safety of the pavement and cut down burned trees next to the road — some of them (20 metre tall — that might be in danger of falling down.
The fire had burned more than 89 square kilometres of timber and brush and prompted evacuation orders for scattered homes and buildings in three counties in and around the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
At times, flames shot up 91 metres high.
Mr Vacarro said about 280 homes were considered threatened.
Meanwhile, truckers who rely heavily on the I-5 to transport timber and other goods along the West Coast had the unenviable choice of waiting or taking a jammed detour that added 185 kilometres or so to their journeys.
California has been hit with one massive blaze after another, including a blaze not far from the Delta Fire that last month burned about 1,100 homes and killed eight people.
The unrelenting flames have drained California’s firefighting budget and prompted nearly $1 billion (A$1.4 billion) in property claims even before the start of the dangerous fall fire season, officials said on Thursday.
The deadly Carr Fire and another in the Mendocino area — the two largest blazes in the state this year — destroyed or damaged 8,800 homes and 329 businesses, Insurance Commissioner David Jones said.
Victims have filed more than 10,000 insurance claims so far, totalling $845 million (A$1.1 billion.)
“The worst may be yet to come,” Mr Jones warned at a San Francisco news conference, noting that California bushfires are typically more destructive after Sept. 1.
Last year, for example, fires that killed more than 40 people and destroyed thousands of buildings in counties north of San Francisco didn’t spark until October.
Also on Thursday, the director of the state’s firefighting agency said in a letter to politicians and legislators that it had almost nothing left of its budget and would need another $234 million (A$329 million) to add firefighters and helicopters, and to cover other costs of fires expected later this year.
Originally published as California bushfires: ‘worst is yet to come’