Forest fires burned more than 809,000 hectares (2 acres) in California this year, setting a state record, even as crews battled dozens of growing flames in sweltering temperatures on Monday, straining the power grid and threatening blackouts for millions.
The previous high was 793,184 hectares (1.96 m acres) burned in 2018. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety (Cal Fire) began tracking the numbers in 1
Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said the most noticeable thing about the record was how early it was set, with the most dangerous part of the coming year.
“It’s a little annoying because September and October are historically our worst months for fires,” she said. “It’s usually hot and the fuels really dry out. And we see more of our wind events. “
Firefighters struggled to clear several dangerous flames from dry, hot winds that were predicted to bring the fire hazard to critical levels in the days ahead. Evacuation orders were expanded to include more mountain communities when the largest fire, the Creek Fire, spilled through the Sierra National Forest.
Debra Rios was not home when orders came to evacuate her hometown of Auberry, northeast of Fresno. The sheriff’s deputies went to their ranch property to pick up their 92-year-old mother, Shirley MacLean. They met in an evacuation center.
“I hope the hell the fire doesn’t reach my little ranch,” said Rios. “It doesn’t look good right now. It’s a terribly big fire. “
The mountain roads were filled with cars and trucks leaving the community of about 2,300 people.
Firefighters working in steep terrain rescued the tiny town of Shaver Lake from flames that blazed down the hills toward a marina. About 30 homes were destroyed in the remote hamlet of Big Creek, according to resident Toby Wait.
“About half of the town’s private homes burned down,” he said. “Words cannot even begin to describe the devastation of this community.”
A school, church, library, historic general store, and large hydroelectric power station were spared in the community of approximately 200 residents, Wait told the Fresno Bee.
The sheriff’s deputies went door to door to make sure residents followed instructions to leave. Officials hoped to keep the fire from pushing west, possibly towards Yosemite National Park.
The Creek Fire charred more than 295 square kilometers of wood after the outbreak on Friday. The 850 fire fighters on site had not yet received containment.
On Saturday rescuers in military helicopters brought 207 people to safety after flames trapped them in a wooded campsite near Mammoth Pool Reservoir.
Record temperatures resulted in the highest electricity consumption of the year, and transmission losses due to forest fires have limited supplies. The California independent system operator who manages the state’s power grid has warned of potential blackouts if residents don’t limit their electricity usage. None have occurred yet.
It was predicted that the weather would cool later in the day, but the change in weather should also bring winds that could start forest fires.
Pacific Gas & Electric warned against cutting electricity for about 158,000 customers in parts of 21 counties in Northern California from the end of Monday due to the increased risk of fire. Some of the largest and deadliest fires in the state in recent years have been caused by failed power lines and other utilities.
PG&E received criticism for handling previous planned outages. The utility said it learned from previous problems: “This year, events are getting smaller, shorter and smarter for customers.”
In southern California, crews attempted to put out several fires that came to life in scorching temperatures, including one that blocked the mountain roads in the Angeles National Forest and forced the evacuation of Mount Wilson Observatory. Cal Fire said a fire in San Bernardino County called the El Dorado Fire began Saturday morning and was caused by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device that a couple used to reveal their baby’s gender.