Evacuation orders issued for California wildfire amid intense heat wave

Evacuation orders issued for California wildfire amid intense heat wave

Evacuation orders have been issued due to a wildfire in central California, the latest among more than a dozen blazes burning in the state amid a scorching heat wave. The French Fire near Yosemite National Park in Mariposa County has burned more than 900 acres since erupting Thursday and was 20% contained as of Friday evening, according to fire officials.

Residents of parts of Mariposa County have been ordered to evacuate due to the fire, impacting approximately 1,100 people, according to the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office. Fire crews worked to establish a fireline around the eastern side of the community of Mariposa overnight and are focusing firefighting efforts on that side, Cal Fire said. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Elsewhere, the Thompson Fire in Butte County has burned more than 3,700 acres and was 46% contained as of Friday morning, according to fire officials. Twenty-five structures have been destroyed by the fire, and three firefighters sustained heat-related injuries while battling it, officials said. Firefighters “continue to strengthen containment and control lines,” Cal Fire said Friday. The fire burns as hot and dry conditions in the region are expected to continue into early next week, Cal Fire said. The cause of the Thompson Fire also remains under investigation.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in Butte County due to the Thompson Fire on Wednesday, a day after it ignited. The largest active fire in the state — the Basin Fire in the Sierra National Forest — has burned more than 14,000 acres and was 46% contained as of Friday morning. More than 1,300 fire crews have been battling the blaze in steep, rugged terrain, the U.S. Forest Service said. Extreme heat and dry conditions anticipated over the next few days could fuel the growth, officials said. The cause of that fire, which started on June 26, remains under investigation.

Firefighters have been making good progress on a wildfire in Butte County, California, that originally forced thousands to flee around the town of Oroville. The Thompson Fire ignited Tuesday morning on the outskirts of town and quickly spread, triggering urgent evacuation orders as more than 230 structures in the area were at risk from the flames. CAL Fire sent more than a thousand firefighters to the scene.

As of Thursday, the fire had burned 3,747 acres and was 7% contained, CAL Fire officials said. But with now nearly 2,000 firefighters working the fire and a favorable wind shift, firefighters were optimistic the threat to homes was diminishing. “If things continue to go successfully (Thursday) and the (winds) work in our favor, over the next two to three days you’re going to see a downsize in equipment on this incident,” Cody Bogan, operations section chief with CAL Fire Team 6, said in a Thursday afternoon update. “And you’re going to continue to see the smoke dissipating and you’re going to see the firemen leave this area and begin to move onto other incidents in this state.”

Already what used to be dozens of districts under evacuation warnings or orders was down to eight by Thursday afternoon. Power crews were working to reestablish and repair transmission lines that were damaged by the fire to restore electricity to surrounding neighborhoods.

But in addition to combating the wildfire, firefighters are also facing a prolonged and potentially life-threatening heatwave in the state this week with record-breaking heat, particularly in California’s Central Valley. Three firefighters have already suffered heat-related injuries, officials said. “The extremely hot weather dries out plant material, increasing the risk of wildfire,” Cal Fire warned. “Avoid activities that could spark a wildfire, such as parking on dry grass, dragging chains or using equipment during the hottest parts of the day. Remember, one less spark means one less fire.”

The extreme heat is expected to intensify over the weekend, with millions of people potentially experiencing up to 10 consecutive days of temperatures reaching 110 degrees. Numerous daily heat records are likely to be broken in the coming week.

The fire is being driven by wind and is pushing down the valley, according to Cal Fire. More than 300 firefighters, including air units, are making strong progress on the blaze, focused on preventing it from extending into nearby Jericho Canyon southwest of Old Lawley Road, Hernandez said. “It’s all going to be up to the type of winds that we’re going to be getting,” he said. “Right now, it’s the heat and also the topography that’s making it challenging, but it’s going to be wind dependent. With the amount of resources that we have assigned to this fire, we are going to be able to contain it much faster before it continues expanding.” The cause of the heavy brush fire is under investigation, according to Hernandez.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. had started shutting down some power lines on Wednesday morning in an attempt to lessen the risk of sparking a fire, including some outages farther north of Calistoga along Highway 29, according to PG&E’s map. Meanwhile, a red flag warning was in effect in Napa County and much of the North Bay due to the fire danger posed by the heat, low humidity and gusty winds.

The low humidity and high overnight temperatures expected throughout the current heat wave across much of California could make fighting fires harder, UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said Monday during his “Weather West” office hours on YouTube. “Wildfires will likely remain quite active at night during this event because it will remain unusually warm – perhaps record warm – with overnight humidity that does not increase very much relative to how much they normally would,” he said.

The heat wave is forecast to be long and intense, with triple-digit temperatures across inland areas and little reprieve overnight. An excessive heat warning was extended until next Tuesday, July 9, by the National Weather Service, which noted that “an event of this scale, magnitude, and longevity will likely rival anything we’ve seen in the last 18 years.”

A fast-moving wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park is threatening rural communities as millions of people in California and across the US west swelter under a brutal heatwave that is predicted to persist through the weekend. The French fire broke out on Thursday and grew to more than 900 acres (364 hectares) by Friday afternoon. The fire is 15% contained with “multiple evacuations and road closures in place”, according to local fire officials.

Footage posted on social media showed flames and smoke billowing on Thursday night over the Gold-Rush era town of Mariposa, a community in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 40 miles outside the national park. The area is under an excessive heat alert with temperatures due to top 100F (38C) on Friday. Bulldozers and crews built a line across the entire eastern side of Mariposa and are making progress in bringing the fire under control. “Winds have calmed which has helped firefighters make progress overnight,” according to a status report from Cal Fire, the state’s wildfire agency.

The fire is one of more than a dozen burning across the state, including several that broke out on the Fourth of July. Further north, firefighters were gaining ground against the Thompson fire near the city of Oroville in Butte County, which has burned more than 3,700 acres and prompted evacuation orders for thousands of people. On Friday, containment of the Thompson fire had increased to 29% and evacuated residents were allowed to return home as crews continue to battle the flames in scorching heat. Officials have warned of hot temperatures in the area that could hit 108F, with even hotter weather expected into the weekend.

California has faced a number of spring and early summer wildfires, thanks to a wet winter that left landscapes coated in grasses that were primed to burn as the summer heated up. The excessive heat will only dry out the landscapes further, adding to the threat of an active wildfire season in the months ahead. Officials had feared that fireworks and other Fourth of July celebrations would add to the risks. “The combination of events has presented a huge challenge for firefighters. It is so incredibly dry out there,” said Ed Fletcher, a public information officer with Cal Fire, this week.

Meanwhile, residents across the US west are dealing with stifling temperatures. About 108 million Americans will spend the remainder of the weekend under excessive heat advisories, with record-breaking temperatures forecast for many spots in California, southern Oregon and the south-west, the National Weather Service said. “Numerous record-breaking temperatures can be expected through the next few days,” according to a NWS briefing. The west coast will hover 15 to 30F above average, with many towns and cities reaching close to 110F (43C) or above on Friday.

The extreme heat was to blame for a fish die-off in the San Francisco Bay Area this week. About 1,000 fish have died since 3 July at Lake Elizabeth in Fremont, California. Temperatures in the city about 36 miles south-east of San Francisco reached the mid- to upper 90s, causing the oxygen levels in the lake to drop. “Fish dying off in Lake Elizabeth in the summer is not completely unusual. We do get a small number of fish that die off every year,” city spokesperson Geneva Bosques said. But the intense heat paired with a dip in lake levels means more fish fighting for less oxygen, resulting in bigger die-offs.

The National Weather Service in Flagstaff, Arizona, posted on social media: “Expect only subtle changes to our daily high temperatures through the weekend.” “Where did you go, monsoon? Hurry back,” it said, referring to a recent bout of torrential rain in the area, which is usually bone-dry this time of year. Some of the hottest spots will include Phoenix, where it is expected to be 115F (46C), and Palm Springs, California, where it will reach 119F (48C). Las Vegas is expected to hit 118F on Monday, potentially breaking an all-time record. Elsewhere, ferocious heat will also prevail from Mississippi to Florida, and north along the east coast to Pennsylvania, where temperatures will exceed 100F (38C). The National Weather Service warned that hot overnight conditions across the Mississippi Valley could lead to “a dangerous situation for those without access to adequate cooling”.

Source: ABC News, The Guardian

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