In 'megafire era,' California battles record wildfires, pristine redwoods burn
By Andrew Hay (Reuters) - More dry-lightning storms hit California on Monday after sparking 625 fires last week as authorities warned the state was trapped in a 'megafire era' triggered by climate change. The worst of the wildfires, including the second and third largest in California history, burned in the San Francisco Bay Area with roughly 240,000 people under evacuation orders or warnings across the state.
By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) - More dry-lightning storms hit California on Monday after sparking 625 fires last week as authorities warned the state was trapped in a "megafire era" triggered by climate change.
The worst of the wildfires, including the second and third largest in California history, burned in the San Francisco Bay Area with roughly 240,000 people under evacuation orders or warnings across the state.
Much of Northern California, including the Sierra Nevada Mountains and coast, was under a "red flag" alert for dry lightning and high winds, but the Bay Area got a reprieve as storms skipped the region of around 8 million, the National Weather Service reported.
Close to 300 lightning strikes sparked 10 blazes overnight and more "sleeper fires" were likely burning undiscovered in areas shrouded by dense smoke, Governor Gavin Newsom said.
One huge blaze blackened ancient coastal redwood forests south of San Francisco that have never seen fire due to usually high relative humidity levels, Newsom said.
"We are in a different climate and we are dealing with different climate conditions that are precipitating fires the likes of which we have not seen in modern recorded history," Newsom told a news briefing.
The wildfires, ignited by over 13,000 lightning strikes from dry thunderstorms across Northern and Central California since Aug. 15, have killed at least seven people and destroyed over 1,200 homes and other structures.
"We are essentially living in a megafire era," said Cal Fire Santa Clara Unit Chief Jake Hess after California suffered four of the five largest wildfires in its history during the last three years.
Evacuees returned to homes and vineyards torched by the LNU Lightning Complex wildfire, the second largest in state history, raging across Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Solano counties.
"Nothing's left, but we're safe," said a man, who did not give his name in an online video showing everything but his patio furniture destroyed at his house near Vacaville.
Smoke from fires that have burned over 1.2 million acres (485,620 hectares), an area more than three times larger than Los Angeles, created unhealthy conditions for much of Northern California and drifted as far as Kansas.
Firefighters gained 22% containment of the LNU fire, but to the south, the SCU Lightning Complex fire was nearly as large and only 10% contained. Firefighters threw most of their resources at its west flank burning less than 10 miles from downtown San Jose.
"This fire is by far a long ways away from being done," said Cal Fire incident commander Jeff Ike of the blaze affecting seven counties.
With lower temperatures, clouds gathered over coastal forest east of San Jose, helping firefighters achieve 13% containment on the CZU Lightning Complex fire. Some Santa Clara county residents saw the sun after 10 days of dense smoke.
"Omg!!! The sun!!! The sun!!! The sun!!! Clouds and our shadows too. Oh how we've missed you in California," tweeted Shana Anderson-Nute, a marketing agent from Sunnyvale.
Over 14,000 firefighters were on the wildfires, with 91 fire crews traveling from seven states and National Guard troops arriving from four states, Newsom said.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Additional reporting by Adrees Latif; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)
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