PLACERVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Dry and windy weather dogged firefighters’ efforts to contain destructive fires that are devouring the bone-dry forests of drought-stricken Northern California on Thursday.
An estimated 11,000 firefighters were on the lines of more than a dozen large wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and other buildings, forced thousands of people to flee communities and filled skies with smoke.
The monstrous Dixie Fire, burning since July 13 in the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades, ballooned further to about 1,060 square miles (2,745 square kilometers) and was only 35% contained, authorities said.
The fire, which gutted the town of Greenville two weeks ago, has destroyed more than 1,200 buildings including 649 homes, according to ongoing damage assessments.
About 100 miles (161 kilometers) to the south, there was still no official count of the number of homes destroyed when winds whipped the Caldor Fire into an inferno that roared through the Sierra town of Grizzly Flats this week. Those who viewed the aftermath saw few homes still standing in the community of 1,200 residents.
Fire managers were rushing resources to the fire growing on steep slopes in a forested region southwest of Lake Tahoe. More than 650 firefighters and 13 helicopters were assigned to the blaze, and air tankers from throughout the state were flying fire suppression missions there as conditions allowed, authorities said.
Evacuees from the Caldor Fire found refuge in places like the Green Valley Community Church in Placerville, west of the fire, where they set up tents and trailers in a parking lot. Adrian Childress, 7, painted pictures to pass the time and a special tent was set up for people who wished to pray.
California’s fires were among 104 large, active blazes Thursday in 12 states, mostly in the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Those fires combined have scorched nearly 4,000 square miles (10,360 square kilometers).
Climate change has made the West warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, according to scientists.
Drought, heat, low humidity and winds have left California vegetation ready to burn this summer. More than two-dozen new fires erupted Wednesday alone. All but two were quickly contained.
One small but destructive blaze reduced dozens of mobile homes to ashes in Lake County, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of San Francisco. Elsewhere in the northwestern region of the state, two big fires continued to burn in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
Meanwhile, Pacific Gas & Electric said late Wednesday that it had restored power to almost 55% of 48,000 Northern California customers whose power was shut off Tuesday to prevent new fires from being ignited if electrical lines were damaged during high winds. Restoration of power to the remaining customers was expected by Thursday evening.
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