California’s lightning-sparked wildfires more than doubled in size into some of the largest in state history on Friday, forcing over 175,000 people to flee their homes.
At least six people have died, 43 fire fighters and civilians injured and over 500 homes and other structures destroyed as fires burn across an area twice the size of sprawling Los Angeles.
With firefighting forces depleted from over 370 fires in the past five days, ground crews worked 72-hour shifts, only 45 of 375 out-of-state relief crews requested so far in California, a Cal Fire spokeswoman said.
The state has been hit by its worst dry-lightning storms in nearly two decades, over 11,000 strikes sending fire racing through grassland and forest parched by record breaking heat.
“If you are in denial about climate change, come to California,” Governor Gavin Newsom told the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night.
Most of the fires are in the San Francisco Bay Area with a complex of blazes east of Palo Alto another in wine country south of Sacramento now the seventh and tenth largest in state history, respectively, according to wildfire authority Cal Fire.
“We’re still understaffed for a fire of this size,” said Daniel Potter, a CalFire spokesman on another blaze north of Santa Cruz which has forced 64,000 people to evacuate from vulnerable towns where houses are built amongst the trees.
One of those was Felton, a community of 4,000, where some stayed behind to defend homes after fire torched houses and California’s oldest state park to the north, a Reuters photographer said.
Around 1,000 firefighters in the area fought multiple fires blown in shifting directions by erratic winds as propane tanks and ammunition stores exploded in homes, he said.
In the North Bay Area, four civilians died in a cluster of fires that have destroyed over 480 homes and structures in wine counties such as Napa, Solano and Sonoma, Cal Fire reported.
A utility crewman died on Wednesday while on duty helping clear electrical hazards for first-responders at the same fire, dubbed the LNU Complex. Earlier that day, the pilot of a firefighting helicopter contracted by the state was killed in a crash in Fresno County.
The largest fire, known as the SCU Complex, east of Palo Alto, more than doubled in size from Thursday to around 230,000 acres or 359 square miles, an area approaching the size of New York City.