Friday, 25 Sep 2020

Facing 'different climate' California battles record wildfires

AETNA SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA (REUTERS) – More dry-lightning hit Northern California on Monday (Aug 24) after sparking over 625 wildfires the past week but firefighters got some relief as temperatures eased off record highs.

The worst of the blazes, including the second and third largest in California history, burned in the San Francisco Bay Area with roughly 240,000 people under evacuation orders or warnings across the state.

Much of North California, including the Sierra Nevada Mountains and coast, was under a “red flag” alert for dry lightning and high winds, but the Bay Area got a reprieve as storms skipped the area, the National Weather Service reported.

Close to 300 lightning strikes sparked 10 blazes overnight and more “sleeper fires” were likely burning undiscovered in areas shrouded by dense smoke, Governor Gavin Newsom said.

One huge blaze blackened ancient coastal redwood forests south of San Francisco that have never seen fire due to usually high relative humidity levels, Mr Newsom said.

“We are in a different climate and we are dealing with different climate conditions that are precipitating fires the likes of which we have not seen in modern recorded history,” Mr Newsom told a news briefing.

The wildfires, ignited by over 13,000 lightning strikes from dry thunderstorms across Northern and Central California since Aug 15, have killed at least seven people and destroyed over 1,200 homes and other structures.

Evacuees returned to homes burned by the LNU Lightning Complex wildfire, the second largest in state history, raging in mountains around 72km west of Sacramento.

“Nothing’s left, but we’re safe,” said a man, who did not give his name in an online video showing everything but his patio furniture destroyed at his house near Vacaville.

Smoke from fires that have burned over 485,620ha, an area more than three times larger than Los Angeles, created unhealthy conditions for much of Northern California and drifted as far as Kansas.

The LNU fire was 22 per cent contained as of Monday while to the south, east of San Jose, the SCU Lightning Complex was nearly as large at 140,425ha and only 10 per cent contained.

“I’m nervous; I don’t want to leave my house, but lives are more important,” Ms Penny Furusho told CBS television affiliate KPIX5 after she evacuated from the south flank of the SCU fire.

With lower temperatures, clouds gathered over coastal forest north of Santa Cruz helping firefighters achieve 13 per cent containment on the CZU Lightning Complex fire.

“With the increase in humidity, the fire has actually extinguished itself,” Cal Fire Operations Chief Mark Brunton told a press briefing.

Over 14,000 firefighters are on the wildfires, with 91 fire crews travelling from seven states and National Guard troops arriving from four states, Mr Newsom said.

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