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California wildfires on the verge of burning 4 million acres



SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Red flag warnings of extreme fire hazard waned, but warm and dry weather continued to challenge firefighters to tackle more than two dozen flames in California on Saturday as the state neared an astounding milestone: 4 Millions of acres burned by forest fires this year.

The state is about 20,000 acres away from hitting the unprecedented number, firefighters said. Meanwhile, two major fires continued to burn, killing four people and burning hundreds of houses in the wine country and far north.

High winds that were expected to have been driving flames since Wednesday had not occurred, and the extreme fire hazard warning for hot, dry and gusty weather expired on Saturday morning as a layer of fog rolled in. In some areas the sky was clearer drip-resistant after being pulled out of circulation by smoky conditions a few days earlier.

But with California, a tinderbox of dead trees and dried brushes after weeks of scorching weather and years of drought, fires in rural areas, grasslands, and dense forests could explode without a gust of wind.

Above-average temperatures and low humidity continued on Saturday and increased the risk of fire.

“It just makes us a little nervous that we̵

7;re not out of the woods yet when it comes to what might happen in California,” said Jonathan Cox, assistant chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety, known as Cal Fire.

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A cooling trend should slowly set in on Sunday. Long-term forecasting models indicated the possibility of rain early next week.

The waning winds turned out to be a mixed blessing at the glass fire in Sonoma and Napa counties. Although the fire continued to rage, the crews paused as they tried to keep the flames from jumping safety lines and renewing their march toward picturesque communities.

“The good news is that we had no other control issues due to the lack of wind,” said Ben Nicholls, a division manager at Cal Fire.

“However,” he added, “the smoke stayed in place because of the lack of wind” and prevented planes from attacking the fire.

Evacuation orders for many of Calistoga’s 5,000 residents were reduced to warnings on Friday, despite trees and some houses on city limits burning.

The fire, which destroyed around 600 homes and other buildings, still threatened around 29,000 homes.

The fire had burned 252 square kilometers and was only 10% contained.

In northern Shasta County, the Zogg fire that started on Sunday killed four people and destroyed nearly 180 buildings. Containment rose slightly to 57%.

Two inmates firefighters were injured and flown to a local hospital from a steep area in the northern zone of the fire Friday afternoon, incident commander Sean Kavanaugh said.

One was released while the other stayed in the hospital on Saturday, Kavanaugh said.

In total, forest fires killed 31 people and destroyed 8,200 buildings in California that year. Many of the largest fires were caused by lightning strikes in mid-August, and most of the area destroyed has since started.

About 17,000 firefighters are still fighting nearly two dozen large flames.

Numerous studies have linked major forest fires in the US to climate change from burning coal, oil and gas. Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, which means trees and other plants are more flammable.


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