Wildfires rage in California as heat wave lingers across US West

Steve Russo with the Lakeside Fire District provided a first-hand look as he and his colleagues battle the Valley Fire in California.
A firefighter douses flames as they push towards homes during the Creek fire in the Cascadel Woods area of unincorporated Madera County, California on Sept 7, 2020.
A firefighter douses flames as they push towards homes during the Creek fire in the Cascadel Woods area of unincorporated Madera County, California on Sept 7, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS, AFP) - Three large wildfires continued to burn in California as a record-breaking heat wave was set to linger across large swathes of the western United States on Monday (Sept 7).

The fires had torched a record more than two million acres (800,000 hectares), the state fire department said on Monday.

“In the past 33 years we have not seen a single year go over two million acres until this year,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff. 

“This is definitely record-breaking and we have not even come close to the end of fire season yet.” 

 The last time the number of acres burned got close to two million was in 2018, the same year as the devastating Camp Fire, when a little more than 1.9 million acres (769,000 hectares) went up in flames. 

More than 14,100 firefighters were battling 24 different wildfires as of Monday afternoon, the fire department said in a tweet. 

The Creek Fire, which has engulfed the Fresno area in central California and caused the emergency evacuation over the weekend of more than 200 people vacationing at a popular reservoir, was still 0 per cent contained as of early Monday morning, fire officials said.

The blaze continued to grow under "extreme weather conditions" to devour nearly 79,000 acres (31,600ha) of land while the cause remained under investigation, CalFire said in a statement.

Officials in Madera County issued evacuation orders and urged residents to leave if they felt unsafe.

A hiker who had just embarked on a multi-day trip when the Creek Fire broke out and had to find a way out of the growing blaze shared the harrowing experience on social media.

"We're safe and we're out, but wow, we hiked our way out of the #CreekFire yesterday," Asha Karim posted on Twitter.

San Francisco-based power provider PG&E Corp warned customers on Monday in 21 counties, mostly in the Sierra Foothills, that their power might be shut off as a safety measure because of the extreme high and dry winds.

Another fire, this one located in San Bernardino County, south-east of Los Angeles, that officials said was caused by a pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party, kept burning through the night and was 7% contained as of Monday morning.

East of San Diego in southern California, nearly 400 firefighters battled the Valley Fire, which burned more than 10,000 acres (4,000ha) in Cleveland National Forest. Video shared on social media showed firefighters dousing the flames, the air thick with ash and fire embers.

The blaze was at only 1% containment as officials issued more evacuation orders on Monday morning and announced the deployment of military aircraft to help fight the rapidly spreading flames.

 
 

Late on Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, San Bernardino and San Diego counties due to the wildfires, which also prompted the US Forest Service to temporarily close some national forests including the Sierra National Forest, the Angeles National Forest and the San Bernardino National Forest.

The California Independent Systems Operator, which runs most of the Golden State's power grid, again urged consumers to cut back on energy consumption and said it was monitoring wildfires throughout the state threatening power lines.

"Temperatures are expected to be above normal statewide for the third consecutive day, driving up electricity demand, primarily from air conditioning use," it said in a statement.