Firefighters stretched thin as dozens of California fires spread

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency and ordered thousands to evacuate as firefighters scrambled to contain wildfires amid a heat wave and lightning.

Noah Berger/AP
A fire vehicle passes burning trees on Pleasants Valley Rd. near Winters, California, as fires tear through the area on Aug. 19, 2020. Intense heatwaves are drying tinder and on Sunday the mercury reading in Death Valley reached a possible 90-year high.

Thousands of people were under orders to evacuate in regions surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area Wednesday as some 30 wildfires blazed across the state amid a blistering heat wave now in its second week. Smoke blanketed the city of San Francisco.

"Throughout the state of California right now, we are stretched thin for crews" because of the fires, said Will Powers, a state fire spokesman. "Air resources have been stretched thin throughout the whole state."

Police and firefighters went door-to-door early Wednesday in a frantic scramble to warn residents to evacuate as fire encroached on Vacaville, a city of about 100,000 that lies between San Francisco and Sacramento.

Television footage showed some homes in flames and thick ash dropping in a rural area near Interstate 80 as the fire appeared to head toward more densely populated areas.

Diane Bustos told KPIX-TV that she and her husband tried to drive out but their vehicle caught on fire and they had to flee on foot.

"I got all these flames on me and I lost my shoe, but I made it. God saved me," she said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the blaze was exhibiting "extreme fire behavior" and challenging firefighters.

Among those challenges is an ongoing heat wave, The LA Times reports:

Firefighters are battling flames amid an intense heat wave that began late last week and has set record-high temperatures across California. On Sunday, the mercury in Death Valley reached 130 degrees — possibly the highest mercury reading on Earth in almost 90 years.

“The heat wave is certainly not helping things,” National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Wofford said of the fires, adding that the heat is not only an increased fire risk, but also a burden on firefighters. “It’s been a tough few days, and it’s going to stay pretty hot during the week.

As part of the same fire complex, thousands of homes and businesses were threatened in the wine-growing counties of Napa and Sonoma in an area devastated by a series of deadly blazes in the last three years. At least seven fires were grouped together as one of two major Lightning Fires in Northern California, a nod to their origins just a day earlier.

Mr. Powers said much of the fire was burning through rural areas with steep terrain, making it difficult to get crews in.

In Napa County, Gail Bickett loaded up her three dogs in a truck to evacuate as the fire burned behind houses across the road, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"It's scary," she said. "It's overwhelming."

Blazes engulfed rural and forest areas near the San Francisco Bay Area, near Salinas in Monterey County, around Oroville Dam north of Sacramento, forested areas west of Silicon Valley, in remote Mendocino County, and near the Nevada state line north of Lake Tahoe.

Several also were burning in northern coastline areas and in Southern California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a statewide state of emergency Tuesday.

The cluster of wine country fires threaten an area that only last year grappled with another massive blaze that forced 200,000 to flee – a task made more complicated this year because of the pandemic.

Tuesday afternoon, the fire was moving toward an area called Atlas Peak that burned in 2017 in a blaze that killed six people and destroyed nearly 800 buildings.

Robin Sisemore hosed down vegetation in front of her mother's adjacent house. Both homes were new, replacing ones that burned just three years ago.

To the south, evacuations were ordered for all of Boulder Creek to the west of Silicon Valley, a community of 5,000 high in the Santa Cruz mountains where windy, long, forested roads, some paved, some dirt, can easily become blocked during storms or fires.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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