Fast-moving California wildfires threaten tens of thousands

By Stephen Lam BOULDER CREEK, Calif. (Reuters) - Dozens of lightning-sparked California wildfires grew rapidly on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate homes in the San Francisco Bay Area as firefighting resources were stretched to the limit.

Reuters August 21, 2020 05:10:33 IST
Fast-moving California wildfires threaten tens of thousands

Fastmoving California wildfires threaten tens of thousands

By Stephen Lam

BOULDER CREEK, Calif. (Reuters) - Dozens of lightning-sparked California wildfires grew rapidly on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate homes in the San Francisco Bay Area as firefighting resources were stretched to the limit.

California has been hit by its worst lightning storms in nearly two decades, with around 11,000 strikes igniting over 370 fires this week, authorities said.

South of San Francisco, a cluster of lightning-strike fires doubled in size to 40,000 acres in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, injuring three first responders, forcing 22,000 to evacuate and destroying 20 structures, wildfire authority CalFire reported.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California's oldest state park with some of its oldest redwood trees, suffered extensive damage from the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, the state parks department said.

As the fire moved south, the University of California Santa Cruz called for voluntary evacuations from its campus on the northern flank of the coastal city.

To the north, at least nine fires raced through hills in California's wine country about 35 miles (56 km) southwest of Sacramento, destroying over 105 homes and other structures.

Collectively known as the LNU Complex Fire, they have doubled in size to 131,000 acres (53,000-hectares) since Wednesday, forming a "megafire" 10 times larger than New York's Manhattan island across Napa, Yolo, Solano and two other counties.

A PG&E utility worker died on Wednesday helping first responders, the second fatality from fires after the death of a firefighting helicopter pilot in a crash. At least four civilians were injured in the LNU fire, according to Cal Fire.

Another group of 20 fires, called the SCU Lightning Complex, expanded by nearly a third to around 140,000 acres on Thursday some 20 miles east of Palo Alto.

Winds sent fire burning through grass at 120 feet a minute and embers flew for over three-quarters of a mile to start new spot fires.

"The fire is moving faster than we can engage it safely," said Cal Fire Captain Stephen Volmer said in video post.

Record-breaking heat baking the West Coast is caused by a vast atmospheric dome of high pressure hovering over the desert east of California. The system is siphoning off moisture and causing most precipitation to evaporate before it reaches the ground, sparking dry lightning strikes.

California has warmed 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the beginning of the 20th century, and higher temperatures are blamed for longer and more intense fire seasons that have caused eight of its 10 largest wildfires in the last 15 years.

Governor Gavin Newsom requested 375 fire crews from out of state as resources ran thin, in part as prisoners normally conscripted into firefighting were locked down for COVID-19 or released from prison to slow the spread of the virus.

To the east in drought-stricken Colorado, the state's second-largest wildfire in history grew slightly to 121,781 acres, containment ticking up to 14 percent as it burned in remote mountains near Grand Junction, about 190 miles west of Denver.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam; additional reporting by Steve Gorman and Andrew Hay; Editing by Frances Kerry and Cynthia Osterman)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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