“We are experiencing fires, the likes of which we haven’t seen in many, many years,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
Fires have scorched more acres than last year
Statewide, there have been more than 360 recent fires — most of them sparked by lightning. Several of those fires spread due to high temperatures, inaccessible terrain and limited resources.
More than 20 major fires are still burning, and they had scorched more than 660,000 acres and destroyed or damaged 660 structures across the state as of late Thursday, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire.
“I lost seven goats, a lamb, about 75 chickens, 20 turkeys, five ducks and a mare — and a foal did not make it” because fire swept onto the property in Yolo County just outside Winters early Thursday, Petrillo Haefner told the station.
The family fled unharmed in the middle of the night, but not before a close call.
“(My husband) was up on the tractor doing a fire break, and … a big gust of wind came up, and the fire went literally up and over him,” Petrillo Haefner told KCRA.
Several global air quality monitoring websites show that the air quality levels in California’s Bay Area are worse than anywhere else, including locations generally regarded as having the poorest air quality such as India and eastern China.
Deaths reported in various counties
At least four deaths were reported Thursday as a result of the LNU fire — the largest burning in the state. It consists of at least 11 smaller fires stretching across five counties in Northern California.
Three of the deaths are from Napa County and one is from Solano County. In addition to the deaths, four other people were injured, Cal Fire said Thursday.
Evacuation stragglers are taking away from the firefight, official says
“It could be potentially weeks” before evacuees in the Scotts Valley area just north of Santa Cruz city are allowed back on their properties, “depending on what this fire does,” chief sheriff’s deputy Chris Clark told reporters Friday.
Somewhere in those two counties, firefighters made three nighttime rescues of people who did not heed evacuation orders, Cal Fire operations section chief Mark Brunton said Friday morning. In some cases, he said, the people may have been trying to keep the fire from their property.
The rescues “pulled our vital, very few resources away, to have to rescue those individuals because they put themselves in peril,” Brunton said.
“If you have been (ordered to evacuate), please evacuate. Do not put yourself … (or) our first responders into that situation,” he said.
Fire officials have said they don’t have an exact number on how many people have been told to leave their homes statewide.
The top priorities are the safety of the firefighters and the public, evacuation planning, and the protection of structures and infrastructures, Cal Fire Operations Chief Chris Waters said.
Governor slams power blackouts
As if the pandemic, wildfires and scorching heat wave weren’t bad enough, some Californians have lost electricity as the state’s power grid struggles to keep up with demand.
Rolling blackouts were implemented over the weekend when an intense heat wave caused record-setting temperatures across the state, including a high of 130 degrees in Death Valley on Sunday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom demanded an investigation into the power outages, which he said are unacceptable.
“These blackouts, which occurred without warning or enough time for preparation, are unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state,” Newsom wrote in a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission.
Dozens of fires are burning nationwide
Over 11 million people are under an excessive heat warning in the Southwest, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said. Triple-digit temperatures are possible in all these areas with temperatures still above average, he added.
While the West is suffering record-breaking heat, wildfires are ravaging many parts of the US.
The fires have burned a total of 879,039 acres. In addition to California, some states with multiple fires include Arizona with 12, Alaska with seven, and Colorado with five.
How climate change fuels wildfires
“The clearest link between California wildfire and anthropogenic climate change thus far has been via warming-driven increases in atmospheric aridity, which works to dry fuels and promote summer forest fire,” the report said.
“It is well established that warming promotes wildfire throughout the western US, particularly in forested regions, by enhancing atmospheric moisture demand and reducing summer soil moisture as snowpack declines.”
Park Williams, the study’s lead author and a professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said human-caused warming of the planet has caused the vapor pressure deficit to increase by 10% since the late 1800s, meaning that more evaporation is occurring.
By 2060, he expects that effect to double.
“This is important because we have already seen a large change in California wildfire activity from the first 10%. Increasing the evaporation has exponential effects on wildfires, so the next 10% increase is likely to have even more potent effects,” he told CNN last year.
CNN’s Holly Yan, Dan Simon, Stella Chan, Brandon Miller and Jon Passantino contributed to this report.