A wildfire burning for a little more than a week in Northern California continued expanding over the weekend. It’s one of about a dozen big blazes in the drought-stricken state that have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of people to evacuate.
The Caldor fire was only 5% contained as of Sunday evening. It has charred nearly 154 square miles of trees and brush in the northern Sierra Nevada after breaking out Aug. 14. The cause was under investigation, and mandatory evacuations are still in place for some areas near the fire.
Firefighters hoped to take advantage of calmer weekend winds and cooler weather after gusts pushed the fire across U.S. Highway 50 Thursday and Friday, threatening more remote communities in El Dorado County. Erratic winds sent embers flying into tinder-dry fuel beds, starting new ignition points and challenging crews trying to chase down the flames in rugged terrain.
“We know this fire has done things that nobody could have predicted, but that’s how firefighting has been in the state this year,” Eldorado National Forest Supervisor Chief Jeff Marsolais told The Associated Press.
Multiple large wildfires have incinerated at least 700 homes, many in and around the Sierra Nevada communities of Greenville and Grizzly Flats. About 13,000 residences remained under threat in communities tucked away in scenic forests.
The fires have burned roughly 2,300 square miles of land and winds have blown the smoke as far as the East Coast. They were burning in grass, brush and forest that is exceptionally dry from two years of drought, possibly exacerbated by climate change. Nine national forests in California have been closed because of the fire threat.
To the northwest of the Caldor fire, the massive Dixie fire also kept expanding. Located about 175 miles northeast of San Francisco, it was first reported on Aug. 13. It recently became the second-largest fire in California history, destroying an area twice the size of Los Angeles. It was more than 720,000 acres in size as of Sunday evening, and 38% contained.
In Southern California, evacuation orders remain in place for rural communities near the French fire northeast of Bakersfield in Kern County. That blaze grew to about 21 square miles and was 10% contained as of early Monday morning.
California is one of a dozen states, mostly in the West, where 94 large wildfires were burning as of Sunday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Fires have intensified across the entire West, creating a nearly year-round season that has had firefighters working overtime. According to Anthony Scardina, deputy regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service, fire patterns used to migrate in seasons from the Southwest to the Rockies, to the Pacific Northwest and then California, allowing fire crews to move from one place to the next.
Unfortunately, there’s no rain in sight this week. Based on the long-range outlook from the Climate Prediction Center, there’s a good chance the West will experience mostly below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures through at least September.
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