Biggest Wildfire in California History Expected to Burn Into September
The largest wildfire in California state history is expected to continue to burn into early September, fueled by hot and windy conditions, fire officials said on Aug. 7.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said that only a third of the Mendocino Complex blaze currently is contained, after two wildfires merged in the southern Mendocino National Forest.
The Mendocino Complex fire became the largest in state history on Aug. 6, with almost 283,800 acres burned across northern California. As of Aug. 7, the blaze had expanded to 290,692 acres.
The largest of eight fires raging across the state, the Mendocino wildfire has surpassed last year’s fire in Santa Barbara and Thomas County, which destroyed 1,000 structures and scorched almost 282,000 acres.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has approved a disaster declaration for California.
The state is using all the resources at hand, including inmates from the California Corrections Department, which assigned 2,000 inmates to help clear brush. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has sent 200 active-duty Army engineers to assist firefighters, while volunteers have arrived from around the world.
Almost half of the 10 largest California wildfires on record have occurred in the past decade. In total, the 629,531 acres in California have been scorched by wildfires this year, nearly five times the five-year average, according to Cal Fire.
“This is part of a trend, a new normal that we have to deal with,” California Gov. Jerry Brown said. “We’re dealing with it humanly, financially, and governmentally.
“These kinds of situations bring people together, regardless of the lesser kinds of ideologies and partisan considerations.”
According to the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES), more than 14,000 firefighters are battling wildfires statewide.
Some 3,900 fire personnel are battling the Mendocino Complex blaze alone. On Aug. 7, they were focused on keeping flames from breaking through fire lines on a ridge above the foothill communities of Clearlake Oaks, Glen Haven, Lucerne, and Nice, according to Tricia Austin, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire. The fire has destroyed 143 structures, according to OES.
Fire officials had expected to extinguish the blaze by mid-August but have changed their estimate to early September. The fires have destroyed 75 homes and forced evacuations of thousands of people.
Temperatures in some parts of Northern California may rise as high as 110 degrees Fahrenheit over the next few days, according to a National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist.
With more hot weather on the way, the NWS issued red flag warnings for the Angeles and Los Padres national forests, which border Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, respectively. The warnings are an indicator of an increased risk of “extreme fire behavior.”
Elsewhere in California, evacuations were ordered for cabins in the canyons of Cleveland National Forest on Aug. 6, after a blaze there quickly scorched 700 acres.
The Carr Fire, which has burned 167,000 acres in the scenic Shasta-Trinity region north of Sacramento since starting on July 23, was 47 percent contained.
The Carr Fire has been blamed for seven deaths, including that of a Pacific Gas and Electric Company lineman. The company said on Aug. 5 the 21-year-old man was killed in a vehicle crash as he worked with crews in dangerous terrain. That blaze has destroyed 1,600 structures.
As students across the state return to school this week, officials warned that air quality has been affected, even in areas without fires. People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion outside, the OES warned.
“California wildfires are being magnified and made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who thanked Trump for bringing attention to the issue, has been critical of the state’s environmental laws for diverting water from a swath of California farmland.
According to Nunes, the regulations are the result of years of pressure from extreme environmentalists set on removing 1.3 million acres of farmland from production. Nunes has previously linked the environmentalists to the Communist Party.
A Cal Fire spokesman declined to comment on Trump’s claims, but said crews aren’t lacking water to fight the flames.
Trump’s reference to clearing trees points to another regulatory issue which may be making the wildfires worse. The practice of passive forest management leaves forests packed with diseased timber and underbrush, which serve as fuel for the blazes.
The president’s concern was echoed by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
“Fires across the West are burning hotter and more intense. The overload of dead and diseased timber in the forests makes the fires worse and more deadly,” Zinke wrote on Twitter. “We must be able to actively manage our forests and not face frivolous litigation when we try to remove these fuels.”
Reuters contributed to this report.