In Depth

Everything we know so far about the California wildfires

Thousands of acres go up in smoke as high winds fuel fires across the state

Thousands of firefighters have been deployed to try to stem the spread of devastating and fast-moving wildfires across southern California.

The region has been hit by a “triple whammy of wild winds, low humidity and dry brush” in recent weeks, LAist reports, putting fire danger “at an all-time high”. On Thursday afternoon, government officials issued an “extreme red flag warning”.

There are currently at least 11 active wildfires burning in the state, says CNN, destroying houses and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without electricity, while the BBC reports that there have been “mass evacuations” as the fires threaten more heavily populated areas.

The broadcaster adds that in the city of San Bernardino, about 490 homes were evacuated, affecting about 1,300 people, as more than 500 firefighters tackled the blaze.

“We made quite bit of progress,” said Janine Summy, a California Fire spokesperson. “And while it’s very positive, we’re still not out of the woods. But we’re very confident were on our way to success.”

What has happened this fire season?

Although California is frequently hit by large-scale wildfires in the autumn, an unusually strong Santa Ana wind – which occurs every year – has whipped up over a dozen fires at varying intensities, many of which continue to burn out of control.

According to The New York Times, the region has experienced the strongest Santa Ana winds in a decade, meaning wildfires have plagued California from “top to bottom for much of October.

“Fuelled by rushing winds that have pushed flames through brush and dry fields, the fires have collectively charred a piece of land larger than Philadelphia and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses,” the paper adds.

The largest of these fires has been the Kincade fire in Sonoma County. The fire, which is now burning into its second week, has destroyed 189 houses and 76,000 acres and is reportedly only around 60% contained, says The Guardian.

Other smaller fires that have worried firefighters because of their location and the current weather systems surrounding them include the Hillside fire, which started in San Bernardino on Thursday afternoon and consumed 200 acres, and the 46 fire, which began in Riverside county’s Jurupa Valley early Thursday morning, burning about 300 acres in a few hours, CBS News reports.

The Easy fire has also been a focal point for firefighters. It was first reported early on Wednesday morning in the Simi Valley. As of Thursday about 2,000 acres had burned.

What has the response been?

The US National Weather Service said conditions were “extremely critical and life threatening” and thousands of firefighters have been dispatched to the scene of the fires.

San Bernardino fire chief Kathleen Opliger urged residents to stay away from their homes during the evacuation orders, telling reporters on Thursday: “We still have a lot of work to do up there to get rid of the hot spots and take care of that.

“This fire moves so fast, and continues to have the potential to move so quickly, that if folks don’t evacuate when we ask them to it’ll be very difficult to try to get them out when the fire is moving towards their home.”

CNN reports that the state of California has secured grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help fight several fires, “including the Easy Fire and the blazes in San Bernardino and Riverside County”.

These grants “allow affected local and state agencies to apply for a 75% reimbursement of eligible fire suppression costs”, the broadcaster says.

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