California fire threatens 500 homes, more high temps forecast

California fire crews are battling the so-called Sand Fire, which doubled in size over the weekend, as well as a fire near Yosemite National Park. Intense heat is expected to continue in the state this week.

Randy Pench/The Sacramento Bee/AP
A City of Folsom firefighter moves through burned trees and ash not far from the origin of the so-called Sand Fire in Amador County on Sunday, in Plymouth, Calif. The fire has burned 13 homes and outbuildings and forced hundreds of evacuations in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

More than 1,000 residents have been evacuated from the Sierra Nevada foothills as wildfire threatens 500 homes.  

The so-called Sand Fire doubled in size over the weekend, burning 13 homes and outbuildings and scorching six square miles of grassland and timber near Plymouth, Calif., some 30 miles east of Sacramento. Nearly 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze with the help of a DC-10 air tanker, but high temperatures and gusting winds continue to fan the flames. The blaze, which began on Friday, is currently 50 percent contained.

The intense heat is expected to continue throughout the week, further complicating efforts to battle the fire and heightening the potential for other outbreaks, Sacramento-based National Weather Service meteorologist Drew Peterson told the Los Angeles Times

“Anytime we have gusts along with high temperatures and low humidity, it’s a recipe for aggressive fire growth,” Mr. Peterson said.

A second fire, which broke out on Saturday, has burned four square miles in central California near Yosemite National Park. The blaze has destroyed one home and continues to threaten others in Foresta, Calif., a community of just over 1,000 people. The national park is not threatened and remains open.

Fire crews are also contending with blazes in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Utah. 

The active fire season throughout the American West has already taken a major toll on firefighting budgets and forced the US Forest Service and US Department of the Interior to raid funds earmarked for forest management and fire preparedness, the Monitor’s Brad Knickerbocker reported July 23.

“This year, we expect to spend as much as $1.8 billion – nearly $500 million more than available to the Forest Service [part of the Agriculture Department] and the Interior Department,” Jim Douglas, director of the Interior Department’s Office of Wildland Fire, told reporters during a press call.

A July report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Cambridge, Mass., points to climate change as a major driver in the increased occurrence of wildfires in the US West.

“Wildfires have always been a natural and necessary part of the forest landscape in the American West. But recent human-induced changes are dangerously altering wildlife regimes and increasing costs to federal and state budgets and local communities,” UCS authors write.

The number of large wildfires on federally managed lands has increased by more than 75 percent since the 1980s, according to the report. The wildfire season, once five months long, now lasts seven months.

“Moreover, the threat of wildfires is projected to worsen over time as rising temperatures – rising more rapidly in the American West than the global average – continue to lead to more frequent, large, and severe wildfires and longer fire seasons,” the report states.

Enduring and extreme drought conditions prompted the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) in mid-June to issue an open burning ban across 31 million acres. By mid-June this season, CAL FIRE had already responded to 2,118 fires that charred 17,000 acres, a near 70 percent increase in the average number of fires for the same period.

“The increase in fire activity this year, coupled with record-setting drought conditions, requires us to take every step possible to prevent new wildfires from starting,” Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE director, said in a statement last month.

 This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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