Historic California Wildfires Likely to Spread as Lightning and Wind Storms Hit Region

President Trump signs disaster declaration as firefighters battle blazes that have already claimed over 1 million acres.

President Donald Trump has approved a disaster declaration for California after a series of wildfires in the central and northern sections of the state have incinerated over 1 million acres.

That allows for grants that can help with temporary housing and repairs of homes, loans to help deal with loss of uninsured property, and programs meant to help both individuals and business owners recuperate.

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency earlier in the week.

“Thank you to the President for your partnership and granting this urgent Major Disaster Declaration. California is battling two of the largest fires in our history and has seen nearly 600 new fires in the last week caused by dry lightning strikes. These are unprecedented times and conditions, but California is strong – we will get through this,” said Governor Newsom.

The wildfires are at historical levels: They include second and third largest blazes in the state’s history. It appears that Californians have learned from previous years to take evacuation orders seriously.

Two clusters of wildfires have surrounded the San Francisco Bay Area, after exploding in size over the weekend to become the second and third largest by acreage in the state’s recorded history. California has been hit by nearly 12,000 lightning strikes in just over a week, according to fire officials, the primary cause of the blazes. More thunderstorms were forecast Sunday, further hampering firefighting efforts.

Early widespread evacuation orders have so far helped California avoid the number of deaths caused by large wildfires in previous years, such as 85 people killed in the town of Paradise in 2018. Five people have died in the blazes in the past week, according to California fire officials, with tens of thousands forced to flee their homes.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of being prepared to leave,” Cal Fire Unit Chief Shana Jones said to people living in evacuation zones during a briefing Sunday.

The fires are likely to worsen before they are contained, due to a combination of lightning and wind.

The National Weather Service issued red-flag warnings across large swaths of Northern and Central California that went into effect before sunrise Sunday.

The storms could spark more blazes and cause existing ones to spread rapidly, and that is unwelcome news for firefighters, who are already stretched thin.

Crews on Sunday were battling dangerous fires from the Santa Cruz Mountains to wine country and beyond, using a small break in the weather to get a jump on the conflagrations, many of them ignited by lightning strikes.

…About 1.3 million acres have burned in California in just a month, according to a Times analysis — an astonishing toll so early in the fire season.

At present, over 14,000 firefighters are on the front lines of more than two dozen significant fires and lightning complexes. Newsom has reached out to other states and countries for more resources.

More fire-fighters, engines and surveillance planes are racing in from other states including Oregon, New Mexico and Texas to help. Assistance from what Gov Newsom called “the world’s best wildfire-fighters” in Australia has been requested.

“We simply haven’t seen anything like this in many, many years,” he said, adding that an area the size of the US state of Rhode Island had already burned within California.

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Author: Leslie Eastman

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