California fires force thousands to flee; more blazes feared

Published August 22, 2020, 7:14 AM

by Agence-France-Presse

LOS ANGELES — Some of California’s largest-ever fires raged across the state Saturday, forcing tens of thousands from their homes as forecasters warned of further blazes sparked by lightning.

Several thousand lightning strikes in recent days ignited fires that left thick smoke blanketing the region.

The total area burned for all the fires in California this week is “close to 1 million acres (400,000 hectares),” according to CalFire public information officer Jeremy Rahn.

“More lightning is anticipated tomorrow and into Tuesday — everyone must remain alert and have an evacuation plan,” the agency said on Twitter.

“With severe drought and exceptionally dry fuels present, dry thunderstorms could spark additional wildfires this weekend,” said the National Weather Service.

“The western US and Great Plains are shrouded under a vast area of smoke due to ongoing wildfires that extend from the Rockies to the West Coast.”

The two largest blazes — dubbed the LNU Lightning Complex and the SCU Lightning Complex — have burned about 600,000 acres and destroyed 565 structures.

The LNU fire covered 314,207 acres by Saturday morning, making it the second-largest fire in California history. It was 15 percent contained.

The SCU fire had burned 291,968 acres and was the third-largest fire in state history. It was 10 percent contained.

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

“We simply haven’t seen anything like this in many, many years,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Friday.

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

“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.”

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.