In some shelters, thousands of people fleeing the raging flames — sometimes in the dead of the night — are weighing the risk of coronavirus infections.
“Not only are we dealing with Covid, but with also the heat and now the fires,” said Cheryl Jarvis, who evacuated to a community center in Vacaville but refuses to go inside for fear of coronavirus infections. She has been sleeping in her Toyota Prius, and has no idea whether her house is still standing.
“We are experiencing fires, the likes of which we haven’t seen in many, many years,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
Fires have scorched more acres than last year
Statewide, there have been more than 360 recent fires — most of them sparked by lightning.
Several of those fires have merged and continue to spread, in part due to high temperatures, inaccessible terrain and limited resources.
The 22 major blazes still burning have scorched a total of 660,000 acres across the state, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire. They have destroyed or damaged 660 structures.
They include two major fires — the LNU Lightning Complex and the SCU Lightning Complex — both comprising a combination of blazes burning in the same area. By early Friday, they had torched 215,000 acres and 157,475 acres, respectively.
Several global air quality monitoring websites show that the air quality levels in the Bay Area of California are worse than anywhere else, including locations generally regarded as having the poorest air quality such as India and eastern China.
Deaths reported in various counties
At least four deaths were reported Thursday as a result of the LNU fire — the largest burning in the state. It consists of at least 11 smaller fires stretching across five counties in Northern California.
Three of the deaths are from Napa County and one is from Solano County. In addition to the fatalities, four others were injured, Cal Fire said in a statement Thursday.
More evacuations are underway
The nearby University of California, Santa Cruz, is calling for a voluntary evacuation.
“We have been encouraging those who live on campus to proactively leave if they have a safe place to relocate outside of the area,” it said in a statement. “It is critical that we continue to do so to decrease the number of people on campus that will have to be evacuated if and when a mandatory evacuation is issued for our campus.”
Fire officials have said they don’t have an exact number on how many people have been told to leave their homes.
The top priorities are the safety of the firefighters and the public, evacuation planning, and the protection of structures and infrastructures, Cal Fire Operations Chief Chris Waters said.
Governor slams power blackouts
As if the pandemic, wildfires and scorching heat wave weren’t bad enough, some Californians have lost electricity as the state’s power grid struggles to keep up with demand.
Rolling blackouts were implemented over the weekend when an intense heat wave caused record-setting temperatures across the state, including a high of 130 degrees in Death Valley on Sunday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom demanded an investigation into the power outages, which he said are unacceptable.
“These blackouts, which occurred without warning or enough time for preparation, are unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state,” Newsom wrote in a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission.
The wildfires are a result of climate change
“The clearest link between California wildfire and anthropogenic climate change thus far has been via warming-driven increases in atmospheric aridity, which works to dry fuels and promote summer forest fire,” the report said.
“It is well established that warming promotes wildfire throughout the western US, particularly in forested regions, by enhancing atmospheric moisture demand and reducing summer soil moisture as snowpack declines.”
Park Williams, the study’s lead author and a professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said human-caused warming of the planet has caused the vapor pressure deficit to increase by 10% since the late 1800s, meaning that more evaporation is occurring.
By 2060, he expects that effect to double.
“This is important because we have already seen a large change in California wildfire activity from the first 10%. Increasing the evaporation has exponential effects on wildfires, so the next 10% increase is likely to have even more potent effects,” he told CNN last year.
Dozens of fires are burning nationwide
Over 11 million people are under an excessive heat warning in the Southwest, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said. Triple-digit temperatures are possible in all these areas with temperatures still above average, he added.
While the West is suffering record-breaking heat, wildfires are ravaging many parts of the US — with red-flag warnings issued from the Northwest into the Rockies.
The fires have burned a total of 879,039 acres. In addition to California, some states with multiple fires include Arizona with 12, Alaska with seven, and Colorado with five.
CNN’s Holly Yan, Dan Simon, Stella Chan, Jason Hanna, Brandon Miller and Jon Passantino contributed to this report
, 2020-08-21 07:50:39