Largest wildfire in California history to burn for rest of August

Flames leap above a vehicle on High Valley Road as the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, burns near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Aug 5, 2018.
Flames leap above a vehicle on High Valley Road as the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, burns near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Aug 5, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) – California’s biggest wildfire on record was expected to burn for the rest of the month, fire officials said on Tuesday (Aug 7), as hot and windy conditions challenged thousands of fire crews battling eight major blazes burning out of control across the state.

The Mendocino Complex grew to span 117,639 hectares by Tuesday morning, with barely a third of it contained since two wildfires merged at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

It is the largest of eight major fires burning out of control across California, prompting US President Donald Trump to declare a “major disaster” in the state.

The size of the fire has surpassed that of last year’s Thomas Fire, which burned 114,000 hectares in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and destroyed more than 1,000 structures.

Nearly half of the 10 largest California wildfires on record occurred in the last decade.

The Mendocino Complex has burnt 75 homes and forced the evacuation of thousands of people. Fire officials had hoped to extinguish the fire by mid-August, but pushed that date to early September on Tuesday.

Temperatures could reach 43 deg C in Northern California over the next few days, with gusty winds fanning the flames of the complex, a National Weather Service meteorologist said.

The 3,900 personnel battling the Mendocino Complex on Monday were focusing on keeping flames from breaking through fire lines on a ridge above the foothill communities of Nice, Lucerne, Glen Haven, and Clearlake Oaks, said Tricia Austin, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire.

Elsewhere in California, evacuations were ordered for cabins in Cleveland National Forest’s canyons in Orange County on Monday afternoon, after a blaze broke out to quickly engulf 283 hectares.

The Carr Fire, which has torched 67,000 hectares in the scenic Shasta-Trinity region north of Sacramento since breaking out on July 23, was 47 per cent contained.

The Carr Fire has been blamed for seven deaths, including that of a 21-year-old Pacific Gas and Electric Company lineman Jay Ayeta. The company said on Sunday he was killed in a vehicle crash as he worked with crews in dangerous terrain.

“California wildfires are being magnified and made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilised,” Trump wrote on Twitter, without providing supporting evidence.

A Cal Fire spokesman declined to comment on Trump’s claims but said crews did not lack water to fight the flames.

Environmental activists and some politicians say the intensity of the state’s wildfire season could be linked in part to climate change.