Monday, September 24, 2018

Daily Updates

Biggest blaze in Calif. history challenges firefighters

Rugged terrain, high winds, heat wave hampering battle

  • California-Wildfires-161

    Crystal Easter uses a pot of water to put out spot fires around her home, as her neighbor's home burns to the ground in the background, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, in Spring Valley, Calif. The Ranch Fire spotted 200 yards across the valley, burning two homes in Spring Valley. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

    Kent Porter

  • California-Wildfires-1-74

    Evacuees from Lucerne, from left, Ken Bennett with Ember Reynolds, 8, and Lisa Reynolds watch the sunset as smoke from the Ranch Fire rises into the sky at Austin Park Beach in California's Clearlake with Mount Konocti in the background. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

    Kent Porter

  • California-Wildfires-2-68

    The Ranch Fire spots out ahead of the main fire in Spring Valley, Calif., Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

    Kent Porter

  • California-Wildfires-3-74

    This satellite image released on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018 provided by NOAA shows the wildfires known as the Mendocino Complex, Calif. Northern California is grappling with the largest wildfire in California history, breaking a record set only months earlier. Experts say this may become the new normal as climate change coupled with the expansion of homes into undeveloped areas creates more intense and devastating blazes. (NOAA via AP)

    AP

  • APTOPIX-California-Wildfires-4-16

    Crystal Easter, of Spring Valley, comforts her dogs, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, in Spring Valley, Calif., as they flee a wildfire. This is the second time this year Easter has had to evacuate. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

    Kent Porter

  • California-Wildfires-5-72

    This Aug. 6, 2018 satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows plumes of smoke from the "River Fire" burning vegetation west of Clear Lake, Calif. The dark brown areas at center, encircled by lighter-colored bulldozed trails, shows burned vegetation around the South Cow Mountain recreation area. (Satellite Image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company, via AP)

    AP

  • California-Wildfires-6-64

    The Ranch Fire spots out ahead of the main fire in Spring Valley, Calif., burning two homes, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, during the battle to stop the spread of the massive fire in Lake County. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

    Kent Porter

  • California-Wildfires-7-59

    Arcadia and Santa Rosa firefighters attempt to put out fire on a hay bale stack behind Brassfied Estate Winery in High Valley near Clearlake Oaks, Calif., Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

    Kent Porter

  • California-Wildfires-8-53

    This Monday, Aug. 6, 2018 satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows plumes of smoke from the "Ranch Fire" north of Clear Lake, Calif. The dark brown areas show burned vegetation. (Satellite Image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company, via AP)

    AP

  • California-Wildfires-9-49

    This Aug. 1, 2018, satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows plumes of smoke from the Carr Fire, which is burning vegetation around the area west of Shasta Lake, right, Trinity Lake, upper left, and Whiskeytown Lake, hidden at center by the plumes, near Redding, Calif., bottom right. (Satellite Image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company via AP)

    AP

  • US-NEWS-CALIF-WILDFIRES-4-LA

    Air attack on the Holy Fire burning in Cleveland National Forest above Corona, Calif. continues on Tuesday Aug. 7, 2018. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

    TNS

Firefighters struggled against rugged terrain, high winds and an August heat wave Tuesday to slow the spread of the biggest wildfire ever recorded in California, an inferno that exploded to be nearly the size of Los Angeles in just 11 days.

The 450-square-mile blaze, centered near the community of Upper Lake, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, spread fast because of what officials said was a perfect combination of weather, topography and abundant vegetation turned into highly flammable fuel by years of drought.

Firefighting efforts were also initially hampered by stretched resources, said the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire.

When the fire started July 27, thousands of firefighters were hundreds of miles north battling a massive blaze that spread into the city of Redding, destroying more than 1,000 homes, in addition to a dozen other major blazes.

A few days after the Upper Lake fire started, Cal Fire Battalion Chief John Messina told a community meeting that with so many fires already raging in California, “resources are already committed” so officials were forced to prioritize public safety and private property.

“After those two things are addressed then we’ll go after the pieces of fire that are in remote areas,” Messina said. “Typically, we’d go at all at once. There is just not the resources for that.”

The flames were raging in mostly remote areas, and no deaths or serious injuries were reported. But at least 75 homes have been lost, and thousands of people have been forced to flee. The blaze, dubbed the Mendocino Complex, was reported 20 percent contained on Tuesday.

Its rapid growth at the same time firefighters were battling more than a dozen other major blazes around the state fanned fears that 2018 could become the worst wildfire season in California history.

“For whatever reason, fires are burning much more intensely, much more quickly than they were before,” said Mark A. Hartwig, president of the California Fire Chiefs Association.

About 3,900 firefighters, including a crew of 40 volunteers from New Zealand, were battling the blaze while contending with temperatures in the high 90s and winds gusting to 25 mph.

The heavily forested area of myriad canyons where the fire is spreading has few roads or natural barriers that can serve as firebreaks or offer safe havens for firefighters to battle the flames head on, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox said.

So firefighters instead fell back to natural barriers such as streams or used bulldozers to cut fire lines, but the flames were moving so fast in spots that they blew past, forcing firefighters to retreat, Cox said.

“There’s no way you’re going to stop that fire,” said Kyle Coleman, 28, who returned to his childhood home last week to help his father try — in vain, it turned out — to protect it. “A big wall of flames came over the mountain ... I pretty much got my dad out of there.”

In all, 14,000 firefighters were battling blazes across California, which is seeing earlier, longer and more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change, and the building of homes deeper into the forests.

“Cal Fire is really an urban firefighter service in the woods,” said Arizona State University professor Stephen Pyne, a wildfire management expert.

The Mendocino Complex is actually two blazes burning so close together that authorities are attacking them as one, a common practice at Cal Fire. The fires started within an hour of each other about 15 mile apart. As of Tuesday, they were separated by just a few miles. Officials have not determined the cause of either one.

In becoming the biggest fire in California history , the Mendocino Complex fire broke a record set just eight months ago. A blaze in Southern California in December killed two people, burned 440 square miles and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings.

Crews also gained ground this week against another Northern California wildfire near the city of Redding that was blamed for at least six deaths.

Meanwhile, a blaze burning near Yosemite National Park has been raging for nearly a month but is still just one-third as large as the biggest fire, though dense smoke has closed much of the park to visitors for the past two weeks.

California’s firefighting costs have more than tripled from $242 million in the 2013 fiscal year to $773 million in the 2018 fiscal year that ended June 30, according to Cal Fire.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Gov. Jerry Brown warned last week. “Since civilization emerged 10,000 years ago, we haven’t had this kind of heat condition, and it’s going to continue getting worse. That’s the way it is.”


Click to comment

Related

© 2018 Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, WI. All rights reserved.

To Top
Applying filter…