Lightning in the last 24 hours ignited at least 10 new fires in California, adding to the more than 600 already burning statewide.
Two of them have grown to be among the largest wildfires on record in state history. The SCU and LNU Complex fires in Northern California have each burned roughly 350,000 acres, second only to 2018’s Mendocino Complex Fire, which burned over 450,000 acres.
At least seven people have died.
At a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom offered some optimism. Red flag warnings were canceled in parts of the state, including the Bay Area, as winds calmed and the threat of lightning subsided. Crews have also made significant progress containing some incidents, including the Lake and Loyalton fires.
“It’s a testament to the incredible firefighters that are out there on the front lines,” Newsom said.
Still, he stressed the coming week will be crucial for the state to get a handle on the historic scale of wildfires. While the heat wave has eased, Newsom warned that weather conditions pose a continued threat of new or growing fires.
Cal Fire has deployed over 2,400 engines, or 96% of its fleet, according to an announcement Monday. Over 14,000 firefighters are on the front lines. Yet Cal Fire is struggling to contain some of the larger blazes in the state.The SCU Complex Fire, east of San Jose, is 10% contained, and the LNU Complex Fire, stretching from Napa to Yolo County is 22% contained.
The latest numbers on the Aug. Lightning Siege that has charred 1.2 million acres since Aug. 15. We are grateful for the 91 fire engines from Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas, Oregon, Utah, Washington to assist us in battling more than 2 dozen major wildfires. pic.twitter.com/h3Bj1SyUf3— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) August 24, 2020
The CZU Complex Fire, in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties, has burned about 78,000 acres and is 13% contained. The fire threatens a number of smaller communities in the forested hills north of Santa Cruz and has burned hundreds of redwood trees at Big Basin.
Newsom pointed to climate change as the driver of this year’s destructive wildfire season.
“We are dealing with different climate conditions [resulting] in fires the likes of which we haven’t seen in modern recorded history,” he said.
Evacuations have impacted more than 100,000 Californians, though some orders have started to lift. As the state shelters over 2,000 evacuees, coronavirus is a top concern. More than half are at “non-congregate” sites, such as hotels, to maintain social distancing.
The state is also sending surgical and N95 masks to shelter sites, at a time when protective equipment is already in high demand. N95 masks help mitigate the spread of coronavirus and prevent smoke inhalation; surgical masks are only effective at minimizing the spread of the virus.
California continues to bend the curve of coronavirus cases, though Newsom has stressed the need for more progress. The state has a 7-day average of 5,798 cases per day. Hospitalizations and ICU admissions have both decreased by roughly 20% in the last 14 days.
Five more counties have dropped off the coronavirus watch list: Calaveras, Napa, Mono, Orange and Sierra. Thirty-five counties remain on the list. Newsom says the state will issue updated guidelines on reopening establishments this week.
California recorded 18 coronavirus deaths in the last 24-hour reporting period. In the last 2 weeks, the state recorded a daily average of 128.
Watch as California Gov. Gavin Newsom gives an update on the state's response to wildfires burning throughout the state and the coronavirus pandemic.
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