Northern California wildfires force mass evacuation as 300,000 acres burn
Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes as fire crews work tirelessly to beat back wildfires across northern Califonia. The smoky air is so thick it briefly halted traffic on an interstate and killed a pilot on a firefighting mission.
The hundreds of fast-moving wildfires are spreading across northern California, burning houses.
In Vacaville – a city of about 100,000 people – residents were urged to evacuate during the night as the wind-whipped flames swallowed dozens of homes.
Many were awakened by neighbours or firefighters banging on their doors and several suffered burns as they ran for their lives.
Evacuation orders or warnings were also issued to other counties – including Sonoma and Napa – where fires sparked by lightning are raging unchecked amid a sweltering heat-wave.
Cal Fire officials said the series of fires in that region, dubbed the LNU Lightening Complex, had destroyed 50 homes, burned through nearly 50,000 acres and were zero per cent contained by Wednesday evening.
They also said a helicopter pilot taking part in the firefighting efforts in Fresno County, had died in a crash as he attempted to drop water.
In Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties a series of fires called the CZU Lightening Complex forced the shutdown of portions of the iconic coastal Highway 1 as flames came close to the road.
Officials say the region’s rugged terrain and dry vegetation were making it difficult to combat the blaze.
Governor Gavin Newsom, who has declared a state of emergency to facilities the release of emergency funds, said the wildfires had been caused by thousands of lightning strikes in recent days in the Bay Area.
Lightning strikes in the Bay Area
“CA has experienced 10,849 lightning strikes in the last 72 hours and WORLD RECORD heat temperatures,” Newsom said in a tweet. “We’re currently battling 367 known fires.
23 of those fires were considered major blazes, he added.
CA has experienced 10,849 lightning strikes in the last 72 hours and WORLD RECORD heat temperatures.
We’re currently battling 367 known fires.
Grateful for our firefighters, first responders, and everyone on the frontlines protecting Californians during this time.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) August 19, 2020
Newsom said fire departments in other states, including Nevada, Arizona and Texas, were sending reinforcements to help fight the wildfires that are fueled by record-breaking heat and low humidity.
Cal Fire spokesman Jeremy Rahn said that in all, the fires had so far burned more than 300,000 acres across the state.
“Firefighting resources are depleted as new fires continue to ignite,” he told a press briefing. “The size and complexity at which these incidents are burning is challenging all aspects of emergency response.”
California’s Death Valley has been experiencing historic high temperatures, with the mercury rising as high as 54.4 degrees Celsius.
By Wednesday, almost 45 million people across the western United States were under an excessive heat warning or heat advisory.
The blazing temperatures have caused major blackouts leaving nearly 50,000 people without service, according to Poweroutage.us.
Air quality has also been majorly affected in northern California where falling ash forced some residents to remain indoors.
“The air quality will be very poor for the foreseeable future given rapid spread of fires and stagnant air mass,” the National Weather Service in the Bay Area tweeted.
The deadliest fire in the state’s history—the Camp Fire—took place in northern California in November 2018 and killed 86 people.
Washington state of emergency
On Wednesday, Washington declared a state of emergency over a series of wildfires.
“Wildfires are threatening the safety and livelihoods of Washingtonians all across the state,” Inslee said in a statement.
“And the COVID-19 pandemic has put additional strain on our resources, as some of our usual support is further limited due to international movement restrictions.”
Several major wildfires were also burning in the state of Colorado, where hot, dry conditions were fueling the flames.
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