California Hardest Hit as 177 Wildfires Burn Across America

California fires (Terray Sylvester / Getty)
Terray Sylvester / Getty

The U.S. National Preparedness Center issued its highest Level 5 alert on Tuesday as 63 of the 177 large wildfires burning across America are rated “uncontained.”

California is the hardest-hit state, with 21 major wildfires. President Donald Trump granted Gov. Herry Brown’s request and issued an emergency declaration Saturday morning that authorizes the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency to release disaster response equipment and resources. It also authorizes U.S. military personnel and Defense Department assets to be utilized to fight fires in California.

The current, most dangerous blaze as of noon July 30 is the Complex Fire, combining the River and Ranch fires, which doubled overnight to about 55 square miles. Despite Cal Fire assigning 118 fire engines, 31 fire crews, 6 helicopters, 37 bulldozers, and 1,379 personnel, the wildfire is only 5 percent contained and burning in all directions.

The Sonoma News reports that over 10,000 people have been evacuated, including 285 inmates from the Lake County jail. With 10,200 structures threatened, more Lake County mandatory evacuations are expected as the wildfires burn towards Lakeport, the county seat on the northeast corner of Clear Lake.

California’s second-worst wildfire is the Carr Fire, which has burned 155 square miles and was about 20 percent contained as of noon on Monday. Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko announced another fatality: a person who failed to obey a mandatory evacuation order. That brought the total number of dead to six, including a firefighter; a bulldozer operator; and 70-year-old Melody Bledsoe and her great-grandchildren, James, 5, and Emily, 4.

With the Carr Fire destroying 723 residences, 3 commercial buildings, and 240 outbuildings, and threatening another 5,012 structures, Cal Fire has assigned 334 fire engines, 59 hand crews, 17 helicopters, 68 bulldozers, 65 water tenders, and 3,388 personnel to fight the blaze, which is moving southeast of Redding.

About 40,000 of 92,000 Redding residents have been evacuated. The electricity came back on around noon on Monday, but sheriffs are still preventing any returns to the burn areas due to continuing smolders and prowling looters. Jack Fannin, 19, and Jade Ball, 25, of Redding were arrested and charged on Monday with looting evacuated areas.

Firefighter Captain Brian Hughes of the Arrowhead Hotshots became the second fatality from the two-week-old Ferguson Fire when he was hit by a falling tree on Sunday while leading a team setting backfires on the east side of the fire. The wildfire has burned 56,659 acres and is now 30 percent contained.

Northern California firefighters are expected to catch a break over the next week, as temperatures in Redding fall from a daily high of 106 degrees and a low of 70 degrees on July 30, to a high of 91 degrees and a low of 63 degrees on August 7.

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