Disasters & Accidents

Firefighters continue battling blazes across California

By Alex Segura Lozano

Los Angeles, Sep 16 (efe-epa).- The fires burning in California have destroyed some 1.3 million hectares (3.3 million acres or 5,150 square miles) of forested land in the worst-ever fire season on record – and technically speaking, traditional fire season has not even started yet.

So far this year, according to figures compiled by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), more than 7,700 fires have broken out across the state and a record set for hectares burned despite the fact that the traditional fire season – October and November – has not yet arrived.

Some 16,000 firefighters are working the length and breadth of California to try and prevent the strong winds from spreading the flames, but since mid-August at least 30 people have died in the blazes and tens of thousands have had to evacuate their homes. In addition, a number of people have gone missing in the shifting and complicated environment in the fire-ravaged areas.

Experts place the blame for the fires on several sources, specifically global warming – with less rainfall, more droughts and very high temperatures – along with forest management, as well as an increased human presence in traditionally unpopulated areas, all of which make fires, when they do break out, much more dangerous than they otherwise might be.

On Wednesday, Cal Fire said that it had issued “red flag” warnings in northeastern California around the Modoc National Forest and the Tule Lake Basin because of the strong winds and low humidity.

Cal Fire said that temperatures are expected to remain high on Wednesday and Thursday, although they should moderate somewhat due to the smoke – which is preventing the sun from being as hot as it otherwise would be under clear skies. There is no significant rainfall predicted for the coming days and California remains under drought conditions that are perfect for the eruption of either man-caused or natural fires, such as from lightning strikes.

Cal Fire said that fire activity increased in a number of areas on Wednesday, although progress was being made on bringing other fires under control

In fact, firefighting teams were able to contain the two big forest fires in the state on Tuesday, while they are continuing to battle some 33 “big” fires elsewhere in California.

The fire that has been dubbed the Bobcat blaze by Cal Fire has burned more than 16,600 hectares (some 41,500 acres) during the week since it started, and fire teams have only been able to get it 6 percent contained.

Local authorities, who have called fire’s threat to the Los Angeles area “unusual,” say that it has eluded firefighters and is threatening communities in the area despite not having burned any homes or caused any injuries so far.

In the past few hours, the flames have gotten much closer to the Mt. Wilson Observatory, one of the largest astronomical observatories in the US and founded in 1904 by astrophysicist George Ellery Hale.

Officials at the observatory said on Twitter that the approaching fire was “knocking” on their door, adding that all observatory personnel had been evacuated.

The fire has contributed significantly to several days of terrible air quality in Los Angeles, where residents have reported strong smoke and extremely hazy conditions, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Besides deploying firefighters, one of the main measures taken by the unit tasked with monitoring the air quality in Los Angeles County was to issue a smoke alert directed in particular at the 60,000 residents of Arcadia, a city located in the LA metro area.

In northern California, firefighters on Tuesday managed to get the August Complex fire in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties some 30 percent contained, but the fire remains the largest in the state’s recent history and has burned at least 355,102 hectares (about 888,000 acres) in a mountainous zone very difficult for fire teams to access.

Last Sunday, Oregon authorities announced that they had found alive almost 50 people who had been on missing lists in the southern part of the state, thus significantly reducing the number of people who remain unaccounted for amid the fires in all three West Coast states.


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