Firefighters make progress on one of California’s largest blazes but face challenges with weather ahead

02:46 - Source: CNN
Why scientists blame climate crisis for extreme weather
CNN  — 

California firefighters have made significant headway in taming one of the largest blazes in the history of the wildfire-prone state, but heat and wind are likely to persist, challenging those on the front lines of multiple fires.

The Dixie Fire – the second largest in California’s history – is 94% contained after burning 963,276 acres over more than 70 days, according to Cal Fire. The fire has destroyed 1,329 structures and damaged another 95.

The Dixie Fire is the most expansive of nine large fires currently burning in California, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In Southern California, firefighters braced for warmer weather that presents an ideal opportunity for more fires to spark or for existing ones to expand.

“We have another day of enhanced fire weather for Southern California,” CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said. “Record highs fell in some areas on Tuesday and are forecast again for Wednesday.”

Heat advisories were issued for the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County, for inland areas in Orange County, and the valleys of San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego counties, according to Guy.

Amid the fire-threatening weather conditions, the Southern California division of the National Interagency Coordination Center anticipates that fire activity in that region will be at a moderate level in the coming days due to dry and windy conditions.

As global warming has influenced weather conditions, fire seasons have gotten longer, with greater potential for more fires with increased intensity and more land burned – and California is bearing the brunt of it.

More than 7,500 fires have burned 2.3 million acres in California this year, according to Cal Fire, less than at this point in the devastating 2020 fire season but more than double the five-year annual average.

“A warmer climate has been directly linked to higher fire danger: fire seasons will become longer; drier and warmer conditions will make more vegetation available for fuel; increase in lightning activity will lead to more natural ignitions,” according to a United Nations report.

Giant sequoias threatened by flames

In Sequoia National Park, some of the world’s largest trees are threatened by the KNP Complex Fire, which has burned 28,328 acres, according to InciWeb, a national clearing house for wildfire information. The agency did not report containment Wednesday.

“[The fires] are still growing, and have the potential to affect Sequoia National Park infrastructure and resources. We are aggressively attacking these fires to suppress them,” the National Park Service said.

“Two-thirds of all giant sequoia grove acreage across the Sierra Nevada has burned in wildfires between 2015 and 2020,” according to the park service.

Over the weekend, the flames breached a “small area” of the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park, where officials had prepared the trees for the threat of fire, officials said.

A Boeing CH-47 Chinook firefighting helicopter carries water to drop on the fire as smoke rises in the foothills along Generals Highway during a media tour of the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California on September 18, 2021.

The base of the General Sherman tree, the world’s largest by volume, had been wrapped in an aluminum-based burn-resistant material.

Officials shuttered Sequoia and Kings Canyon National parks due to fire activity and air quality alerts are in place across the San Joaquin Valley because of fires in and around the Sequoia National Park.

CNN’s Michael Guy and Dakin Andone contributed to this report.