(CN) – Two massive Northern California wildfires merged over the weekend, burning through trees and brush, though the major highway linking the West Coast states that was forced closed by one of the blazes reopened Monday.
The Delta and Hirz fires connected north of Shasta Lake and choked major highways throughout Shasta County. The Delta Fire has blackened about 47,000 acres with 5 percent containment, while the Hirz Fire has charred more than 46,000 acres but stands at 95 percent containment, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Interstate 5 had been closed since the Delta Fire began Sept. 5, after flames forced drivers to abandon cars and big rigs and burned-out shells of vehicles littered the highway. Travel is now restricted to one lane over a 17-mile stretch from Redding to Mt. Shasta, according to the California Department of Transportation.
Officials warn motorists to fuel up and bring food and water because of the major delays. Trucks carrying timber, hay and other flammable loads are currently barred from the highway.
Mandatory evacuations are in place for residents along the highway. Communities north of where the fire is burning have been told to get ready to leave in case the fire shifts direction.
Officials say both the Hirz and Delta fires were caused by human action, though investigations are ongoing.
Burning through timber, six-foot chaparral and tall grass since it began Aug. 9, the Hirz Fire is nearly contained. But the Delta Fire is burning through an area that has not seen any recent fire activity so there are plenty of fuels for the fire, according to officials.
The Delta Fire burns only a few miles from where the deadly Carr Fire tore through the county, according to Redding newspaper the Record Searchlight.
Three firefighters and five civilians died in the Carr Fire, which burned 229,651 acres and destroyed over 1,600 buildings. It was contained Aug. 30.