Scorched Earth record 2 million acres in California this year, and the danger for more destruction is so high the US Forest Service announced that it was closing all eight national forests in the southern half of the state.
California is parched heading into fall and what normally is the most dangerous time for wildfires. Two of the three largest fires in state history are burning in the San Francisco Bay Area. More than 14,000 firefighters are battling those fires and dozens of others more around California.
A three-day heatwave brought triple-digit temperatures to much of the state during Labour Day weekend. But right behind it was a weather system with dry winds that could fan fires. The state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, was preparing to cut power to 158,000 customers in 21 counties in the northern half of the state to reduce the possibility its lines and other equipment could spark new fires.
The wildfire situation throughout California is dangerous and must be taken seriously, Moore said. Existing fires are displaying extreme fire behavior, new fire starts are likely, weather conditions are worsening, and we simply do not have enough resources to fully fight and contain every fire.
While the two mammoth Bay Area fires were largely contained after burning for three weeks, firefighters struggled to corral several other major blazes ahead of the expected winds. Evacuation orders were expanded to more mountain communities on Monday as the largest blaze, the Creek Fire, churned through the Sierra National Forest in Central California.
It was one of many recent major fires that have displayed terrifyingly swift movement. The fire moved 15 miles (24 kilometers) in a single day and burned 56 square miles (145.04 square kilometers).
The Creek Fire had charred more than 114 square miles (295 square kilometers) of timber after breaking out Friday. The nearly 1,000 firefighters on the scene had yet to get any containment. The cause had not been determined.
Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Rosamond, the pilot of a Chinook helicopter, said visibility was poor and winds increasingly strong during the three flights he made into the fire zone. His crew relied on night-vision goggles to search for a landing spot near a boat launch where flames came within 50 feet of the aircraft.
Record-breaking temperatures were driving the highest power use of the year, and transmission losses because of wildfires have cut into supplies. Throughout the holiday weekend, the California Independent System Operator that manages the state’s power grid warned of outages if residents didn’t reduce their electricity usage. But none had occurred by late Monday afternoon.
California has seen 900 wildfires since August 15, many of them started by an intense series of thousands of lightning strikes in mid-August. There have been eight fire deaths and more than 3,300 structures destroyed.