“(This is) one of the most challenging — perhaps the most challenging — wildfire season California has ever seen,” state National Guard Col. Jesse Miller said Wednesday, citing this year’s combination of high temperatures, dynamic winds, low humidity and a drought in northern areas.
Hot, dry and windy conditions are fueling numerous wildfires across the US West — including Oregon and Washington — and weather conditions may make things worse.
Size of Central Park burned every half hour
California has “fires burning in the north part of the state all the way down to the Mexican border, about 800 miles between the furthest distant fires, so we’re stretched across the landscape,” Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter told CNN.
“We have 150 million trees that died in the southern Sierra several years ago, and those are fueling the Creek Fire, which is the biggest and most concerning fire to us right now,” Porter said late Tuesday.
About 385 people and 27 animals were airlifted by helicopter over the past several days after getting trapped by the fire in the Sierra National Forest, California National Guard Col. David Hall told CNN. At least 30,000 people have been evacuated, Fresno County sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Pursell said late Tuesday.
The fire, sparked during a gender reveal party, was caused by a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” used at the party on Saturday morning in El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, Cal Fire investigators determined.
California hasn’t yet reached what is typically the heart of its fire season, when the Santa Ana winds really begin to add fuel to an already dangerous recipe for fire.
‘Urgent and scary to get out’
Thousands evacuated their homes to escape the flames that have already scorched more than 230,000 acres, Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday evening.
Fires were threatening homes in Clackamas County south of Portland and the Medford and Phoenix areas in Jackson County.
“In some areas, the situation is so difficult and dangerous that even firefighters are being evacuated,” the governor told reporters.
Oregon has experienced “historic wildfires” almost every year in Brown’s time in office, but this year’s fires are “unprecedented,” she said.
“This is definitely a once-in-a-generation event,” Brown said.
In neighboring Marion County — home to the state’s capital city — another state of emergency was declared Tuesday, with residents across the region forced out of their homes by fires.
“We drove under a tree that had fallen over and there was burning limbs and it was like urgent and scary to get out,” Sabrina Kent told the news station.
The family is staying in an RV near a local grocery store, according to the affiliate, as they map out their next steps.
Oregon’s corrections department announced Tuesday they evacuated three Salem prisons following threats from the Beachie Creek and Lionshead wildfires.
A charred Washington state town
“I just can’t reiterate,” Inslee said, “we think almost all of these fires were human-caused, in some dimension. If you can avoid being outside for anything that would even cause a spark, I hope people can avoid those conditions.”
“The scale of this disaster really can’t be expressed in words,” Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers said.
Fires have already burned through more than 330,000 acres in the state, according to the governor.
At least six houses and three shops were destroyed, according to the news station, along with sheds, equipment and vehicles. The fire department issued evacuation orders for about 100 residents, the station reported.
The total acreage burned since the beginning of 2020 is nearly 4.7 million, compared with the 10-year average of 5,752,922 acres at this point of the year, the NIFC said.
CNN’s Joe Sutton, Konstantin Toropin, Sarah Moon, Brandon Miller and Topher Gauk-Roger contributed to this report.