SCOTTS VALLEY, Calif. – California’s firefighting agency is in talks with the National Guard and California Conservation Corps about providing reinforcements as an already devastating wildfire season threatens to get even worse.
Lightning-sparked fires that have grown to some of the largest in state history have pushed firefighters to the breaking point as they also deal with complications from the coronavirus pandemic and depleted inmate crews.
“Historically it’s September and October when we experience our largest and our most damaging wildfires. So to be in the middle of August and already have the second- and the third-largest wildfires in our state’s history is very concerning to us,” Daniel Berlant, chief of wildfire planning and engineering at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said Tuesday.
For now, cooler temperatures are helping firefighters begin to corral three huge clusters of fires ignited Aug. 15. The blazes have killed at least seven people, burned some 1,300 homes, and prompted evacuation orders that still affect an estimated 170,000 people.
Firefighters in wine country north of San Francisco have cleared containment lines — used to prevent fires from spreading — around a quarter of the fires there that have scorched nearly 557 square miles (1442 square kilometers) and destroyed nearly 980 buildings. It is now the third-largest blaze in California history.
To the east of San Francisco, firefighters created containment lines around 20% of a group of fires that have charred 571.5 square miles (1480 square kilometers), making it the second-largest in state history.
And to the south, officials said progress was made against fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties that have grown to more than 124 square miles (322 square kilometers), destroyed 319 homes and other buildings and threatens another 25,000.
People were trickling back to the outskirts of Vacaville to see what remained of their homes. Art Thomas, 76, said he found only ashes and melted metal at the site of the home he built with his own hands in a rural area where he had lived for 32 years.