Firefighters in California were racing to slow the spread of wildfires that burned nearly one million acres in a week and destroyed hundreds of homes as weekend weather threatened to spark new fires and overwhelm the state’s firefighting ability.
Responding to the emergency, President Donald Trump issued on Saturday a major disaster declaration to provide federal assistance. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement that the declaration will also help people in counties affected by the fires with crisis counseling, housing and other social services.
Two clusters of wildfires in the San Francisco Bay Area broke old records to become the second- and third-largest wildfires in recent state history by size.
Light winds, cooler and more humid nighttime weather helped fire crews make a bit of progress, but their efforts could be hurt by warm, dry weather, erratic wind gusts and lightning in the forecast, state fire officials said.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning of high fire danger across the Bay Area and along the Central Coast, beginning from Sunday morning to Monday afternoon.
“The worst is not behind us. We are in a battle rhythm,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Thom Porter tweeted.
Since thousands of lightning strikes began on Aug. 15, the state responded to 585 wildfires that have burned nearly a million acres, or 1,562 square miles (4,046 square kilometers), according to CalFire.
Many were small and remote. The bulk of damage was from three clusters of fire “complexes” that were ravaging forest and rural areas in the San Francisco Bay Area and wine country north of San Francisco. They have burned 1,045 square miles (2,700 square kilometers).
The third one was burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains and along the coast of San Mateo County, south of San Francisco.
The fires have killed five people, torched nearly 700 homes and other structures and forced tens of thousands from their houses.
“Tuesday night when I went to bed I had a beautiful home on a beautiful ranch,” said 81-year-old Hank Hanson of Vacaville. “By Wednesday night I have nothing but a bunch of ashes.” Earlier in the week, fire officials in charge of each of the major wildfires said they were strapped for resources. Some firefighters were working 72-hour shifts instead of the usual 24 hours.
By Friday, the approximately 13,700 firefighters on the line began to get help on the ground and in the air from 10 states, along with the National Guard and US military.