SHAVER LAKE, California – Forest fires burned a record 2 million acres in California this year, and the risk of further destruction is so great that the U.S. Forest Service announced on Monday that all eight national forests in the southern half of the State were closed.
After a typically dry summer, California is well on its way to fall, which is usually the most dangerous time for forest fires. Two of the three largest fires in the state’s history are burning in the San Francisco Bay Area. More than 14,000 firefighters are fighting these fires and dozens of others across California.
A three-day heat wave hit the majority of the state in the triple-digit range on Labor Day weekend. But just beyond that was a dry wind weather system that could light fires. The state̵
Randy Moore, regional ranger for the Pacific Southwest region of the Forest Service in California, announced the closure of the national forests and said the decision will be reassessed daily. Campsites in all of the state’s national forests have also been closed.
“The forest fire situation across California is dangerous and needs to be taken seriously.” Said Moore. “Existing fires show extreme fire behavior, new outbreaks are likely, weather conditions are deteriorating and we simply do not have enough resources to fully fight and contain every fire.”
Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, or Cal Fire, said it was “worrying” to have hit a burned land record when September and October are usually the worst for fires because the vegetation is dry and thicker Wind blows more often. The previous high was 1.96 million acres burned in 2018. Cal Fire began tracking the numbers in 1987.
While the two mammoth fires in the Bay Area were largely contained after three weeks of burning, the firefighters made efforts to correct some other large flames from the expected winds. The evacuation orders were extended to additional mountain communities on Monday when the largest fire, the Creek Fire, flowed through the Sierra National Forest in central California.
It was one of the many great fires in recent times that has shown terribly rapid movement. The fire moved 15 miles and burned 145.04 square kilometers in a single day.
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. “
There was a steady stream of cars and trucks on the mountain roads on Monday afternoon, leaving the community of around 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, resident Toby Wait said.
“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 stop the fire from pushing west toward Yosemite National Park.
The Creek Fire had charred more than 295 square kilometers of wood after the outbreak on Friday. The nearly 1,000 firefighters on site had not yet received containment. The cause had not been determined.
National Guard rescuers carried 214 people to safety in two military helicopters on Saturday after flames trapped them in a wooded campsite near Mammoth Pool Reservoir. Two people were seriously injured and hospitalized under 12.
On Monday evening, a military helicopter landed near Lake Edison to rescue people trapped in the Creek Fire, the Fresno Fire Department said on Twitter.
Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Rosamond, a Chinook helicopter pilot, said visibility was poor and the winds kept getting stronger during the three flights into the fire zone. Its crew relied on night vision goggles to search for a landing site near a boat launch where flames came within 15.24 meters of the aircraft.
The injured, along with women and children, had priority on the first airlift, which filled both helicopters, he said.
“We started getting information about how many people were out there, how many people to expect, and that number kept growing. So we knew it was a bad situation, ”said Rosamond.
Rosamond called the conditions “extreme” and said it was one of the most difficult flight missions in his 25 years as a military pilot.
Record temperatures resulted in the highest electricity consumption of the year, and transmission losses due to forest fires have limited supplies. Throughout the holiday weekend, the California independent system operator, who manages the state’s power grid, warned of outages if residents didn’t cut their power consumption. But no one had performed late on Monday afternoon.
Pacific Gas & Electric warned that power could be cut from late 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 was criticized last year for handling 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 the historic 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. In eastern San Diego County, a fire destroyed at least 10 buildings after burning 41.44 square kilometers and prompting evacuations near the remote community of Alpine in the Cleveland National Forest.
There have been 900 forest fires in California since August 15, many of which were triggered by an intense series of thousands of lightning strikes in mid-August. There were eight fire deaths and more than 3,300 buildings destroyed.