National Weather

Explosive Wildfires Across California Stoked By Fierce Winds

 

Flames threatened the foothill community of Auberry between Shaver Lake and Fresno.

In Southern California, fires burned in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. People in foothill communities east of Los Angeles were warned to be ready to flee, but the region’s notorious Santa Ana winds were weaker than predicted.

The U.S. Forest Service on Monday closed all eight national forests in the southern half of the state and shuttered campgrounds statewide.

More than 14,000 firefighters are battling fires in California. Two of the three largest blazes in state history are burning in the San Francisco Bay Area, though they are largely contained after burning for three weeks.

The state has set a record with nearly 2.3 million acres (930,800 hectares) burned this year and the worst part of the wildfire season is only beginning.

“It’s extraordinary, the challenge that we’ve faced so far this season,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

Pacific Gas & Electric was deploying more than 3,000 employees Wednesday to inspect power lines before restoring energy to about 167,000 customers whose electricity was turned off to prevent fires from being started by wind-damaged wires. Some aerial inspections were paused because of smoke limiting visibility, said spokesman Jeff Smith.

Only a very small number of customers had power turned off in Southern California.

In the Sierra National Forest east of Fresno, dozens of campers and hikers were stranded at the Vermilion Valley Resort after the only road in — a narrow route snaking along a steep cliff — was closed Sunday because of the so-called Creek Fire.

“This is emblematic of how fast that fire was moving, plus the physical geography of that environment with one road in and one road out,” said Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College, said of the helicopter rescues. “Unless you wanted an absolute human disaster, you had to move fast.”

Numerous studies in recent years have linked bigger wildfires to global warming.

“The frequency of extreme wild fire weather has doubled in California over the past four decades, with the main driver being the effect of rising temperature on dry fuels, meaning that the fuel loads are now frequently at record or near-record levels when ignition occurs and when strong winds blow,” Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh said in an email.

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Melley reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Christopher Weber, Frank Baker and John Antczak in Los Angeles, Olga Rodriguez and Juliet Williams in San Francisco, Adam Beam in Sacramento and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

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