About two dozen major fires and several smaller fires ravaged scrub and dense forests, the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada, southern California, and areas north, east and south of San Francisco .
The coronavirus pandemic has also complicated the government’s ability to safely evacuate and house residents. The Red Cross has tried to secure hotel rooms for evacuees who cannot stay with family or friends. “Providing shelter in traditional evacuation centers is not our first option this year,” said Jim Burns, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross. California is struggling to understand a recent increase in coronavirus cases, and overcrowded shelters could worsen the spread of Covid-19 among evacuees.
Local counties and the Red Cross have set up shelters statewide and, as a precaution, “space the beds differently and completely mask the volunteers,” to slow the spread of the disease, Burns said. “It’s so difficult this year.”
Through local Facebook community pages and group text channels, neighbors offered help with moving farm animals, storage space for personal effects, and shelter in guest rooms. and on sofas. “I’ve had people I barely know – friends of friends – who reach out to me and say, ‘You can come and stay with us,'” said Valérie Arbelaez Brown, who evacuated her home. in Vacaville with her husband and three children on Wednesday. . “It makes us really grateful,” she said after her family finally landed with her family north of the fires.
In some areas, evacuees with underlying health conditions that increase their risk of dying from Covid-19, camped outside evacuation centers, stayed in RVs or in their cars.
The LNU fires raging in Napa and Sonoma – California’s famous wine regions – now threaten 25,000 buildings, according to Cal Fire, the state fire agency. In a local vineyard, fire devoured irrigated vines, noted Daniel Swain, a climatologist at UCLA. “I don’t think I’ve seen this before,” he told The Guardian. Normally, the irrigation lines would break the flames – that doesn’t say how dry the landscape is, Swain said.
Another cluster of fires, called the CZU August Lightning Complex, ravaged the mountainous regions surrounding Silicon Valley, forcing 22,000 to flee their homes. The conditions were “unprecedented and invisible to veteran firefighters,” Cal Fire officials said.
In 2019, a total of approximately 259,800 acres across the state had burned down by the end of the year. As of Saturday, nearly 400,000 acres have burned down just in northern California. “Last year has been a relatively moderate fire year, but nonetheless,” Swain said, “I think it helps put the gravity of the current situation into perspective. ”
Firefighters said staff and equipment were exhausted and California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency this week and called on the entire country to send aid. In Marin County, north of San Francisco, Fire Chief Jason Weber told the AP he was waiting for help from Montana. “We’ve never seen that level of reduction” in his 25 years of service, he said.
No sign of reduction is in sight, said Crystal Kolden, a fire specialist at the University of California at Merced. The next two weeks should remain hot and dry. “The fires will be difficult to contain until the heat wave breaks out,” she said.
Due to global warming, fires in California are “more and more frequent and extreme,” Kolden said. “And that’s what opens your eyes here. We probably could not have predicted a year ago that a pandemic, thunderstorm and heat wave would strike in August, ”she said. “But we can predict that overall we need to get more aggressive fire mitigation over the long term.”