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A home burns as flames from the LNU Lightning Complex spread in Vacaville, California on August 19, 2020

Firefighters on Sunday battled some of California’s largest-ever fires that have forced tens of thousands from their homes and burned one million acres, with further lightning strikes and gusty winds forecast.

Lightning strikes have ignited fires that left smoke blanketing the region, with the total area burned for all fires in California this week “close to one million acres (400,000 hectares),” according to CalFire public information officer Jeremy Rahn.

The National Weather Service said dry thunderstorms could spark additional wildfires, adding that “the western US and Great Plains are shrouded under a vast area of smoke due to ongoing wildfires.”

About 2,600 firefighters are tackling the two largest blazes, out of 13,700 battling “nearly two dozen major fires,” according to Rahn.

“If you don’t believe in climate change, come to California,” tweeted state Governor Gavin Newsom on Saturday alongside a dramatic photograph of clouds of smoke rising from fires.

“This is from today,” he said, “and is just a small part of the nearly 600 fires we are battling this week.”

He tweeted apocalyptic images of smoldering orange roadsides thick with smoke, with sparks flying as trees burned ferociously.

Wineries in the famed Napa and Sonoma regions, which are still reeling from blazes in recent years, are under threat.

Fire crews, surveillance equipment and other firefighting hardware is coming to California from several states
Fire crews, surveillance equipment and other firefighting hardware is coming to California from several states

“Many of these firefighters have been on the lines for 72 hours, and everybody is running on fumes,” Assemblyman Jim Wood of the Healdsburg district in Sonoma told the Los Angeles Times.

“Our first responders are working to the ragged edge of everything they have.”

Call for international help

The two largest blazes—dubbed the SCU Lightning Complex and the LNU Lightning Complex—have burned about 680,000 acres and destroyed more than 850 structures.

They are the second and third largest fires in California history, with the SCU fire only 10 percent contained and the LNU fire 17 percent contained.

Five deaths have been linked to the latest flare-ups, with four bodies recovered on Thursday, including three from a burned house in a rural area of Napa County.

But many residents have refused evacuation orders.

A dead cow lays in a smoldering field in Vacaville, California
A dead cow lays in a smoldering field in Vacaville, California

“At least if we’re here, we know exactly what’s going on,” Napa resident John Newman, 68, told the San Francisco Chronicle as he sat in a lawn chair in his driveway. “Family is worried, but it’s a little different if you’re here firsthand.”

Nature reserves were also ravaged. The Big Basin Redwoods State Park said that some of its historic buildings had been destroyed by flames.

The park, where giant redwood trees of well over 500 years old can be found, was “extensively damaged,” it said.

About 119,000 people have been evacuated, with many struggling to find shelter and hesitating to go to centers set up by authorities because of coronavirus risks.

In some counties south of San Francisco, evacuees opted to sleep in trailers along the Pacific Ocean as they fled nearby fires, while tourists were urged to leave to free up accommodation.

Fire crews, surveillance equipment and other firefighting hardware was being sent from states including Oregon, New Mexico and Texas.

But faced with the sheer scope of the disaster, Newsom also asked for help from Canada and Australia.

California fires spread, fouling air and spurring evacuations

© 2020 AFP

Firefighters tackle California fires covering 1 million acres (2020, August 23)
retrieved 23 August 2020

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