California Wildfires Burn 1 Million Acres in Just One Week, Worst Not Over Yet

As per California officials, nearly 12,000 lightning strikes occurred in the state since August 15 and it caused almost 600 new wildfires

Hundreds of buildings have been destroyed and thousands of people were asked to leave their homes as in just one week, one million acres of land, an area larger than the land mass of Rhode Island, inundated in California fire. As per reports, at least five people have died in one of the worst series of wildfire in California's history.

The firefighters in California raced Saturday, August 22 to slow the spread of wildfires. As per the California fire officials, there have been nearly 12,000 lightning strikes in the state since August 15. The "lightning siege" caused almost 600 new wildfires, said Jeremy Rahn, who is a public information officer for Cal Fire, the state's firefighting agency, at a briefing Saturday, August 22.

Thom Porter, chief of Cal Fire, tweeted about the wildfire and said, "The worst is not behind us." In the Tweet, he added that "We are in a battle rhythm. New lightning activity is expected across the state. Double your efforts, to look out for yourselves and each other."

California fire
Image showing the optical depth of the smoke coming off the California wildfires. This image was taken by the MODIS, Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, instrument on the Terra satellite on Aug. 20, 2020. NASA Worldview

Efforts to Control the Fire

As per the reports, the National Guard—part of the reserve components of the United States Army and the U.S. Air Force—is providing helicopter support. The Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve is supporting the effort with aircraft, equipped with water tanks, to control the fire from above.

As over 100,000 people face evacuation orders after the fires ravaged over 900,000 acres, Gavin Newsom, the California Governor said Saturday that U.S. President Donald Trump had approved a major disaster declaration for the state.

Meanwhile, it was reported that forecasters have issued a Red Flag Fire warning that will go into effect from 5 am, on Sunday to 5 pm, on Monday and cover the entire area where the wildfires are currently raging from Lake Berryessa to Big Sur. The officials at Marine County in California said on Saturday that they were closing public access to the Mount Tamalpais State Park and Marin Municipal Municipal Water District wildlands during the Red Flag conditions.

In a news release, the Marin County Fire Chiefs Association said the lightning will likely spark new fires across the region, as well as in remote regions. It also added that the wildfires in remote areas may not become apparent until drier and warmer conditions allow them to grow and added that "erratic gusty outflow winds may result in dangerous and unpredictable fire behavior."

NASA, which has been monitoring such devastating incidents and released recent images of the California wildfire, advised people to avoid being exposed to high levels of smoke. The agency also said, "Individuals are advised to limit their physical exertion if exposure to high levels of smoke cannot be avoided. Individuals with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma), fetuses, infants, young children, and the elderly may be more vulnerable to the health effects of smoke exposure."

More Support

California fire
A helicopter drops water on the wildfire Wikimedia commons

During a news conference on Friday, Governor Newsom said that he asked Australia and Canada for help fighting the devastating blaze and called the situation an unprecedented moment" in California's history. He said the state has asked for international support, specifically in the form of firefighter personnel to help frontline heroes.

Firefighters from 10 states, including Washington, Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Iowa, Nevada, Utah, and Montana have already started to arrive in California to help the state's crew. Meanwhile, Cal Fire had called out 96 percent of its available fire engines.

Newsom said, "We have more people but it's not enough, we simply haven't seen anything like this in many, many years." He asked people to take seriously the evacuation orders.

As reported, reinforcements started arriving on Friday, from 580 to over 1,400 personnel have been assigned to the LNU Lightning Complex, in Bay Area and almost 200 fire engines were on the scene, said, fire officials. But during the 2018 wildfire incident, around 5,000 firefighters were assigned to the Mendocino Complex fire.

Shana Jones, the chief for Cal Fire's Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit said all the resources remain stretched to capacity. "We are making progress, but we are not out of the woods," she added.

A dramatic video of the helicopter rescue operation on Friday was released by the Sonoma County sheriff's office. The video shows that two firefighters trapped about 200 feet from the blaze, while the fire was creating strong, gusting winds that intensified as the pilot approached.

However, the flight officer used a 100-foot long line to rescue both firefighters and told them, "I'm going to get you out of here, ok?" Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said, "Had it not been for that helicopter, those firefighters would certainly have perished."