California Wildfires Continue to Burn
- California spent more than 50% of annual firefighting budget in 40 days
At least 13 large fires raged across California Friday, threatening over 16,000 homes and leading to evacuation orders for nearly 25,000 residents in what is shaping up to be 1 of the worst fire seasons on record in the state.
The surge in fire activity has led California to call for help to at least 17 other states and 2 countries. The state also has received assistance from the military, including active-duty troops and aircraft to assist in dropping water and retardant.
Nearly 14,000 firefighters are on the lines of fires statewide as well as several hundred active-duty military troops. There also have been dozens of military aircraft used in the recent California fires as well as a large 747 passenger plane converted to carry more than 19,000 gallons of fire retardant.
The Boeing 747 plane dubbed the SuperTanker was put into service for retardant drops this week on fires burning in both the southern and northern portions of the state. It is contracted on a “call when needed” basis by CalFire and can cost more than $16,500 per flight hour.
If the state exhausts its e-Fund firefighting budget in FY 2018-19, it could tap other sources such as traditional budget reserves. Those reserves now total about $2 billion.
The huge fire has burned 119 homes and blackened more than 305,000 acres, or some 476 sqm or about 2X the size of the City of Chicago. The cause of the fire remains under investigation by CalFire.
Nearly 4,000 crews are assisting with the Mendocino Complex blaze, which is burning in Colusa, Lake and Mendocino counties. The fire, which is 53% contained, is burning mostly in wilderness areas about 120 miles north of San Francisco.
Prior to the Mendocino Complex fire, the largest blaze in the state’s history was December’s Thomas fire in the Southern California counties of Ventura and Santa Barbara where more than 1,000 homes were lost and nearly 282,000 acres scorched. Another catastrophic fire last year was October’s wine country fires, which destroyed or damaged about 10,000 homes and resulted in 44 fatalities.
“The conditions that were prime last year for these types of catastrophes are continuing,” said Thomas Jeffery, senior hazard scientist for CoreLogic Spatial Solutions. “There’s no reason to think that we’re not going to see more losses and more property damage and more of these large fires occurring.”
The Mendocino Complex fire is burning in an area known for wine production, timberland and range land. There have been reports of damage to some of the area’s agriculture, including at least one vineyard and a pear orchard in Lake County. In Mendocino County, cattle operations and timberland suffered some losses.
About 160 miles away is the Carr fire is burning near Redding, a Northern California city of about 92,000 residents. During the height of the fire, more than 30,000 residents were forced to flee the community in Shasta County.
After 18 days, the Carr fire has charred more than 181,400 acres and is now listed as 51% contained. Authorities say the fire was caused by mechanical failure of a vehicle.
Nearly 1,600 structures have been destroyed and 8 lives lost in the blaze. Moody’s Investors Service last week estimated losses from the Carr fire could approach up to $1.5-B.
More than 4,700 fire personnel are assigned to the Carr blaze.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are scheduled to visit the Redding area Monday and expected to meet with local authorities and fire officials. The federal government is the largest owner of forest lands in California, holding about 57% of the roughly 33-M acres.
The Holy fire has burned more than 18,000 acres in mostly steep and forested terrain and was listed as 5% contained Friday. An arson suspect was arrested in connection with the fire and made a court appearance Friday.
So far 12 structures have been confirmed as lost in the Holy fire.
Another fire blamed on arson is the Cranston fire in Southern California. It started on 25 July and has burned more than 13,100 acres near Idyllwild. The blaze was listed as fully contained Friday.
The deadly Ferguson fire near Yosemite National Park continues to burn. The fire, which remains under investigation, has burned more than 95,500 acres and resulted in 2 fatalities and 10 structures destroyed. It was listed as 80% contained as of Friday.