Favorable weather conditions Monday night helped firefighters make progress against the staggering 1.25 million acres burning across California, which have destroyed more than 1,400 structures and flung smoke as far as the East Coast.
The California wildfires, which combined are bigger than the size of Delaware, have claimed seven lives so far. Several people remain missing. The added layer of the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated evacuation efforts, supercharged the effects of air pollution on people’s health and left some already vulnerable groups struggling to stay safe.
But fire authorities were optimistic about improvements on Tuesday morning.
Vehicles drive along Interstate 80 as flames from the LNU Lightning Complex Fire rage on the outskirts of Vacaville, California.
“Overnight, cooler temperatures and higher humidity aided firefighters in their efforts towards containment,” Cal Fire Assistant Deputy Director Daniel Berlant said in an update, noting containment numbers on the biggest of the two dozen major fires increased. The most destructive of the blazes, the LNU Lightning Complex Fire in in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties, is now 27% contained.
Authorities have been able to lift several evacuations related to the CZU Lightning Complex fire burning in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.
Conservationists were also greeted with good news Tuesday morning: most of the state’s old-growth redwoods, which are up to 2,000 years old and are some of the oldest living things on Earth, survived a fire that ripped through Big Basin Redwoods State Park last week.
But weather later this week may pose some challenges.
“While we’ve had more favorable weather, which we’ve taken advantage of and continue to make progress, temperatures are going to be on the rise,” Berlant said of an approaching heat wave. “As you can see, we are going to return back to a warming and drying trend.”
Smoke hangs low in the air at Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
Lightning, the cause of hundreds of fires across the parched state in recent days, may return, too. The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag warning for the area just north of Lake Tahoe, where thunderstorms are in the forecast.
Poor air quality remains a major concern across the whole region, which remains impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Doctors warn that wildfire smoke may make COVID-19 patients more susceptible to the worst of the disease’s symptoms. Smoke has even traveled thousands of miles to the East Coast, though it’s likely to stay in middle levels of the atmosphere and make no threats to people.
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