Three people died in a wind-whipped Northern California wildfire that has forced thousands of people from their homes while carving a 25-mile path of destruction through mountainous terrain and parched foothills, authorities said Wednesday.
California Highway Patrol Officer Ben Draper told the Bay Area News Group that one person was found in a car and apparently had been trying to escape the flames.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of homes and other buildings are believed to have been damaged or destroyed by the blaze northeast of San Francisco, fire officials said at an evening news conference.
The fire has also threatened Paradise, a town devastated just two years ago by the deadliest blaze in state history that prompted a traffic jam as panicked residents tried to escape.
The North Complex fire was one of more than two dozen burning in the California. including three of the five largest ever in the state. Other wildfires charred huge swaths of the West amid gusty, dry conditions. Forecasters said some weather relief was in sight and could help firefighters overwhelmed by the blazes.
In Washington, more acres burned in a single day than firefighters usually see all year. Fires also forced people to flee homes in Oregon and Idaho. A blast of polar air helped slow wildfires in Colorado and Montana.
Since the middle of August, fires in California have killed 11 people, destroyed more than 3,600 structures, burned old growth redwoods, charred chaparral and forced evacuations in communities near the coast, in wine country and along the Sierra Nevada.
Thick smoke Wednesday choked much of the state and cast an eerie orange hue across the sky as thousands of people in communities near Oroville were ordered to evacuate.
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, conservatively estimated the fire had burned about 400 square miles (1,036 square kilometers) in 24 hours.
“The unbelievable rates of spread now being observed on these fires — it is historically unprecedented,” Swain tweeted.
The U.S. Forest Service, which had taken the unprecedented measure of closing eight national forests in Southern California earlier in the week, ordered all 18 of its forests in the state closed Wednesday for public safety.
The fire raging outside Oroville, 125 miles (200 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, jumped the middle fork of the Feather River on Tuesday and, driven by 45 mph (72 km/h) winds, leapt into a canopy of pines and burned all the way to Lake Oroville — about 25 miles (40 kilometers), said Jake Cagle, one of the fire chiefs involved.
The fire had been 62 square miles (160 square kilometers) and 50% contained before it grew more than sixfold.
Firefighters were focused on saving lives and homes instead of trying to halt the fire’s advance, Cagle said.
The fire tore into several hamlets along the river and near Lake Oroville, leveling countless homes and other buildings, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“We know that the fire was burning incredibly rapidly into Berry Creek and did do a lot of destruction,” Berlant said.
In Paradise, where 85 people lost their lives and nearly 19,000 buildings were destroyed, the sky turned from black to cherry red and ash carried on strong winds rained down in a scene reminiscent from the fateful morning of Nov. 8, 2018, former Mayor Steve “Woody” Culleton said.
“It was extremely frightening and ugly,” Culleton said. “Everybody has PTSD and what not, so it triggered everybody and caused terror and panic.”
In Southern California, fires burned in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. People in foothill communities east of Los Angeles were warned to be ready to flee, but the region’s notorious Santa Ana winds were weaker than predicted.
“We’re encouraged that the wind activity appears to be dying down,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “The rest of the week looks a little more favorable.”
California has set a record with nearly 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) burned already this year, and historically the worst of the wildfire season doesn’t begin until fall.
Since the reopening of the schools across the southeastern US state, the number of children testing positive for COVID-19 has surged 34 percent in Florida, said the Washington Post on Wednesday.
As many as 10,513 children under age 18 have tested positive since schools started reopening in early August in the state, a hike of 34 percent, said the report, citing data from the Florida Department of Health. It's not clear how many of those children were in school or doing remote learning, reports Xinhua.
A number of schools and dozens of classrooms in the sunshine state have been temporarily shuttered because of coronavirus outbreaks, said the report, noting parents in many parts of the state don't know if coronavirus outbreaks are related to their own schools because the state ordered some counties to keep health data secret.
The state also left it up to districts to decide whether masks should be worn by students and staffers. Some require it, but many don't, said the report.
The state's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has pushed aggressively for schools to offer in-person classes. Florida school districts began opening in early August, and by mid-month about half the state's 4,500 public schools had students in their buildings.
In a statement to Business Insider, the Florida Department of Health said on Wednesday it was working to develop a system to release information pertaining to COVID-19 infections in schools and in daycare facilities and would announce such in "the coming days and weeks."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the World Health Organization, recommend a below 5-percent local COVID-19 positivity rate for the safe reopening of schools. Overall child positivity rate in Florida is 14.5 percent.
A total of 652,148 positive cases have been reported in the state since the pandemic began, with 12,269 deaths, as of Wednesday, according to state data. Case numbers have been steadily declining in Florida since July.
Read also: Global Covid-19 deaths surge past 9 lakh
U.S. President Donald Trump has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in the Middle East for peace, reports AP.
Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a member of the Norwegian Parliament for the far-right Progress Party, said Trump should be considered because of his work “for a peace agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel which opens up for possible peace in the Middle East.”
“No matter how Trump acts at home and what he says at press conferences, he has absolutely a chance at getting the Nobel Peace Prize,” Tybring-Gjedde, told The Associated Press.
He said he nominated Trump on Wednesday, adding that “Donald Trump meets the criteria” for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Tybring-Gjedde was also one of two Norwegian lawmakers who nominated Trump for the peace prize in 2018 for his efforts to bring reconciliation between North and South Korea.
Any national lawmaker can nominate someone for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The process of considering candidates and awarding the prize is done in Norway, in contrast to the other Nobel Prizes, which are awarded in neighboring Sweden. Nominations must be sent to the Norwegian Nobel Committee by Feb. 1.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee doesn’t publicly comment on nominees. Under its rules, the information is required to be kept secret for 50 years.
“It is now to hope that the Nobel Committee is able to consider what Trump has achieved internationally and that it does not stumble in established prejudice against the US President,” Tybring-Gjedde said in a Facebook post.
Also read: Republicans nominate Trump again
Wildfires have burned a record 2 million acres in California this year, the US Forest Service said.
The danger for more destruction is so high that the US Forest Service announced Monday it was closing all eight national forests in the southern half of the state, reports AP.
After a typically dry summer, California is parched heading into fall and what normally is the most dangerous time for wildfires. Two of the three largest fires in state history are burning in the San Francisco Bay Area.
More than 14,000 firefighters are battling those fires and dozens of others more around California.
A three-day heat wave brought triple-digit temperatures to much of the state during Labor Day weekend. But right behind it was a weather system with dry winds that could fan fires.
The state's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, was preparing to cut power to 158,000 customers in 21 counties in the northern half of the state to reduce the possibility its lines and other equipment could spark new fires.
Randy Moore, regional forester for the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region that covers California, announced the national forest closures and said the decision would be re-evaluated daily.
Campgrounds at all national forests in the state also were closed.
“The wildfire situation throughout California is dangerous and must be taken seriously," Moore said. “Existing fires are displaying extreme fire behavior, new fire starts are likely, weather conditions are worsening, and we simply do not have enough resources to fully fight and contain every fire."
Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said it's “unnerving" to have reached a record for acreage burned when September and October usually are the worst for fires because vegetation has dried out and high winds are more common.
The previous high was 1.96 million acres burned in 2018. Cal Fire began tracking the numbers in 1987.
While the two mammoth Bay Area fires were largely contained after burning for three weeks, firefighters struggled to corral several other major blazes ahead of the expected winds.
Evacuation orders were expanded to more mountain communities Monday as the largest blaze, the Creek Fire, churned through the Sierra National Forest in Central California.
It was one of many recent major fires that has displayed terrifyingly swift movement. The fire moved 24 kilometers in a single day and burned 145.04 square kilometers.
Evacuation orders were expanded Monday to more mountain communities as a huge wildfire churned through California’s Sierra National Forest, one of dozens of blazes crews battled during a heat wave that shattered records across the state.
Firefighters working in steep terrain through the night saved the tiny town of Shaver Lake from flames that roared down hillsides toward a marina. To the north, about 30 houses were destroyed in the remote hamlet of Big Creek.
“About half the private homes in town burned down,” Big Creek resident Toby Wait said. “Words cannot even begin to describe the devastation of this community. And it is a very close-knit community.”
An elementary school, church, library, historic general store and a major hydroelectric plant were spared in the community of about 200 residents, wait told the Fresno Bee.
Sheriff’s deputies went door to door to make sure residents were complying with orders to leave. Officials hoped to keep the fire from pushing west into rural towns along State Route 41 and possibly Yosemite National Park.
The blaze dubbed the Creek Fire has charred more than 114 square miles (295 square kilometers) of timber after breaking out Friday. The 850 firefighters on the scene had yet to get any containment after three days of work in sweltering heat. There was no official tabulation yet of structures lost.
On Saturday, rescuers in military helicopters airlifted 207 people to safety after flames trapped them in a wooded camping area near Mammoth Pool Reservoir northeast of Fresno.
In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that roared to life in searing temperatures, including one that closed mountain roads in Angeles National Forest. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said a blaze in San Bernardino County called the El Dorado Fire started Saturday morning and was caused by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used by a couple to reveal their baby’s gender.
A fire in the Angeles National Forest northeast of Los Angeles forced the evacuation of Mount Wilson Observatory.
In eastern San Diego County, the Valley Fire broke had destroyed at least 10 structures after burning 16 square miles (41.44 square kilometers) and prompting evacuations near the remote community of Alpine in the Cleveland National Forest.
Daytime temperatures in fire zones neared or exceeded triple digits. Downtown Los Angeles reached 111 degrees (44 Celsius) on Sunday and a record-shattering high of 121 degrees (49.4 Celsius) was recorded in the nearby Woodland Hills neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. It was the highest temperature ever recorded in Los Angeles County, according to the National Weather Service.
Meanwhile, downtown San Francisco set a record for the day with a high of 100 (37.7 Celsius) on Sunday, smashing the previous mark by 5 degrees.
The exceptionally hot temperatures were driving the highest power use of the year, and transmission losses because of wildfires have cut into supplies. The California Independent System Operator that manages the state’s power grid warned that up to 3 million people could lose power Sunday if the if residents didn’t curtail their electricity usage.
About 7 pm, the agency declared an emergency and said power outages were imminent because a transmission line carrying power from Oregon to California and another in-state power plant went offline unexpectedly. But about 8:30 p.m., the agency issued a tweet calling off the emergency “thanks to conservation of Californians!.” It said no power outages were ordered.
The weather forecast called for more heat Monday and the grid operators again urged people to conserve power between 3 pm and 9 pm when usage is highest. Cooler temperatures were expected Tuesday but the weather change also was expected to bring winds that could fan wildfires.
Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility serving customers in Central and Northern California, warned customers that it might cut power starting Tuesday because of the increased fire danger. Some of the state’s largest and deadliest fires in recent years have been sparked by downed power lines and other utility equipment. All of Northern California has moderate to severe drought conditions.
Cal Fire said 14,800 firefighters were battling 23 major fires in the state. California has seen 900 wildfires since Aug. 15, many of them started by an intense series of thousands of lightning strikes. The blazes have burned more than 1.5 million acres (2,343 square miles). There have been eight fire deaths and more than 3,300 structures destroyed.