Thousands of firefighters battle California wildfires
Drought and lightning are fueling the wildfires
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Firefighters in steep terrain and rugged conditions in California are fighting nearly two dozen wildfires that have torched more than 134,000 acres, according to state fire officials.
That’s nearly three times the state’s 5-year wildfire average of 48,153 acres for this time of year, according to statistics posted by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
At 60,000 acres, the Rocky Fire is the largest ongoing blaze. It’s led to evacuation orders for more than 13,000 people as it feeds on drought-parched vegetation that hasn’t seen fire in many years, according to Cal Fire.
The fire, which is in Lake, Yolo and Colusa counties northwest of Sacramento, was 12% contained, the agency said.
“This has been a very fast-moving wildfire, with the dry conditions and the weather not really cooperating with us over the past week,” Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant told CNN affiliate KCRA.
More than 2,900 firefighters, 285 engines, four air tankers and 19 helicopters are involved in that fight, Cal Fire says.
Compared with the state’s top 20 deadliest fires, which have burned 100,000 acres or more of land, “this fire does not compare,” spokesman Berlant told CNN.
But the fire is unique because of the rate it has burned. It chewed through 20,000 acres in about five hours, he said.
Across the state, nearly 10,000 firefighters are working on 21 fires, officials say.
Fires big and small
Cal Fire says most of the fires are more than 60% contained. But damage has been substantial in some cases. Fires in Southern California’s San Bernardino County and Northern California’s Alpine County have affected nearly 50,000 acres.
Other fires include the Frog Fire, which has burned about 4,200 acres since Thursday. Lower temperatures, higher humidity and clouds helped firefighters push containment to 20%, according to the national fire tracking website InciWeb. The Lake Fire in San Bernardino County burned more than 31,000 acres before it was contained.
Authorities also reported strides in fighting two other fires: the Willow Fire northeast of North Fork in the Sierra National Forest and the Cabin Fire east of Porterville in the Sequoia National Forest.
The 5,700-acre Willow Fire was 70% contained Monday, and an evacuation order for some residents was being lifted.
In the Sequoia National Forest, firefighters reported that rain had helped them establish fire lines against expected growth of the Cabin Fire, which has burned 2,600 acres since mid-July.
Neither the Willow nor the Cabin fires has destroyed any structures, but six people have been injured in the Willow Fire.
California’s record-setting drought has “turned much of the state into a tinderbox,” Gov. Jerry Brown said.
Temperatures in Sacramento and other areas of Northern California, where many of the fires are burning, have topped 100 degrees recently.
Lightning has helped fuel the flames. There have been thousands of lightning strikes over the past several days, igniting hundreds of small wildfires in the northern part of the state.
And the accompanying thunderstorms have produced little or no rain, Berlant said.
Little relief after dark
Nighttime typically allows firefighters to make headway against wildfires because humidity will go up and fire activity will die down, but that hasn’t been the case with the Rocky Fire, Berlant said.
“This fire was very active throughout the night,” he told KCRA. “It was really burning very fast, all the way up into the late hours, so unfortunately we’re really not getting a break.”
Brown declared a state of emergency Friday, mobilizing the National Guard to support the disaster response.
The U.S. Forest Service said David Ruhl, a father of two from Rapid City, South Dakota, died fighting the Frog Fire in Northern California’s Modoc National Forest near Adin.
Rescuers found Ruhl’s body Friday morning, the Forest Service said. His death remains under investigation.
CNN’s Joe Sutton, Ashley Fantz, Eliott C. McLaughlin, Michael Martinez, Jackie Castillo and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.