An unwelcome change in the weather, with higher winds, temperatures and lightning threatening to start new wildfires, was approaching Sunday to dry out northern California, where firefighters have fought for nearly a week three enormous “complexes” of fires which destroyed hundreds of houses. and forced tens of thousands to flee.
Firefighters made slow but encouraging progress on Saturday, helped by good weather but hampered by smoky skies that ground water-width planes for part of the day. Reinforcements arrived to reinforce the overwhelmed crews and evacuation orders were lifted in some areas.
But the changing climate has raised fears of more fires overnight and warnings from national and local authorities for people in threatened areas to prepare to flee at any time.
“There is not a feeling of pure optimism but a feeling of determination, the feeling that we have the resources that support us,” said Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore.
As of August 15, state fire officials have said more than 12,000 lightning strikes statewide have triggered more than 500 wildfires. Of these, about two dozen major fires drew most of the state’s resources.
Much of the damage was caused by three groups of “complexes” of fires that ravaged forests and rural areas in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. They burned 1,120 square miles.
Among the victims were former redwoods from California’s oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods, as well as the park’s headquarters and campgrounds. Smoke from the fires has made the air quality in the area unsafe, forcing people to stay indoors. Overall, the fires have killed five people, burned down nearly 700 homes and other structures, and forced tens of thousands to leave their homes.
“Tuesday night when I went to bed I had a beautiful house on a beautiful ranch,” said Hank Hanson, 81, of Vacaville. “Wednesday night, I only have a pile of ashes. “
Changing weather conditions have brought good news for some communities, including Boulder Creek, a former forest community of about 5,000 people in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Fire officials said they expected the blaze to reach the community, but took advantage of the recent good weather to try to “gather” the flames around the city. Storms forecast for Sunday should aid these efforts by changing the wind direction.
“Even though these weather forecasts are bad overall for parts of this fire, they are actually going to help us move it away from those certain communities,” said Mark Brunton, battalion chief of the Forestry and Forest Protection Department. California fires. state firefighting agency.
Responding to the emergency, Donald Trump issued a declaration of major disaster on Saturday to provide federal assistance. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement that the statement would also help residents of counties affected by the fires by offering them crisis counseling, housing and other social services.
Fire officials, meanwhile, struggled to secure enough resources to tackle the two largest groups of fires around the San Francisco Bay Area, which had become the second and third largest fires. of the history of the State by their size.
The blaze that burns in the California wine region north of the San Francisco Bay has affected only 1,400 firefighters. By comparison, the state had 5,000 firefighters assigned to the Mendocino complex in 2018, which still holds the record for the largest fire in state history – for now.
“All of our resources are still being used at capacities we haven’t seen in recent history,” said Shana Jones, CalFire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit chief.
Highlighting the danger that fires pose to firefighters, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office on Friday night released dramatic video of the helicopter rescue of two firefighters trapped on a ridge line at Point Reyes National Seashore. They were hoisted to safety as the flames advanced.
“Without this helicopter, these firefighters certainly would have perished,” Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said.