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California crews battling massive wildfires get some good news: ‘The weather is really cooperating with us’

california

Firefighters battling the historic blazes in Northern California were hopeful Tuesday that they could get the massive fires under control after weather conditions helped them out the day before.

Dry lightning, strong winds and warm temperatures still threatened to ignite new fires in parts of the Golden State through Tuesday afternoon, but fire officials said they've made progress on three blazes burning around the San Francisco Bay Area as they prepare for a "marathon" to suppress the rest of the wildfires.

“The weather is really cooperating with us.” said Mark Brunton, operations chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which is known as Cal Fire.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that the state was "deploying every resource we have at our disposal" as more than 14,000 firefighters battle more than 600 wildfires that have ignited in August.

At least seven people have died in the fires, and Cal Fire assistant deputy director Daniel Berlant said about 170,000 people remain evacuated. While about 50,000 were allowed back into their homes starting Sunday, about 75,000 structures remain threatened by the three fires.

Air quality is becoming an increasing issue, too. Much of the Central Valley is under an air quality alert from the National Weather Service. The concentration of "the tiny particles (PM2.5) in the Bay Area is roughly five times the daily average limit set by the EPA,” said Coty Jen, assistant professor at the Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies at Carnegie Mellon University.

“Even healthy people are reporting headaches, bloody noses, etc., during this current smoke event," Jen said.

Three of California's largest fires continue to burn around San Francisco

Since thousands of lightning strikes began hitting the state on Aug. 15, firefighters have responded to more than 600 wildfires, according to the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

Two fire complexes, the LNU Lightning Complex to the north of San Francisco and SCU Lightning Complex to the southeast, have grown to be the second and third largest wildfires in California history.

Three fires are burning on all sides of the Bay Area: the LNU Lightning Complex is burning 352,000 acres and was 27% contained; the SCU Lightning Complex has burned 363,000 acres Monday night with 15% containment; and the CZU Lightning Complex to the south has burned 78,000 acres and was 17% contained.

The LNU Lightning Complex has been the most deadly and damaging in Northern California, having destroyed hundreds of homes and killed at least five people. More than 30,000 structures were also threatened.

However, late Monday it was surpassed in acreage burned by the SCU fire, which has destroyed 18 structures and threatened more than 20,000.

Across California, more than 13,000 lighting strikes have been recorded since Aug. 15, igniting hundreds of blazes. More than 14,000 firefighters, 2,400 engines and 95 aircraft are combating the fires. In total, more than 1,200 buildings have been destroyed, Berlant said.

In firefighters' "best day yet," helicopters dropped 200,000 gallons of water on the CZU Lightning Complex, Brunton said.

The National Weather Service office in San Francisco said some air flow was expected to clear out smoke along the coast Tuesday, though smoky and hazy conditions were still expected.

Other large fires included the Butte/Tehama/Glenn Lightning Complex west of Red Bluff and the River Fire south of Salinas, both of which had burned nearly 50,000 acres each.

In Southern California, several other fires were burning around the Los Angeles area but were closer to being contained.

Don't go into evacuated areas: Fire officials say it's still 'highly dangerous'

State officials are warning that the danger is far from over around wildfires and admonishing residents for failing to stay out of evacuated areas.

Six people who returned to a restricted area south of San Francisco to check on their properties were surprised by fire and had to be rescued, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office said.

Looters have been warned they’ll be arrested if caught.

“It is highly dangerous in there still,” said Jonathan Cox, a deputy fire chief for Cal Fire, referring to the blaze north of Santa Cruz. “We have bridges that have failed, old wooden bridges that have failed that may not appear failed to people that they may drive on. It is not safe.”

As tens of thousands have been forced from their homes, looters have taken advantage of the situation, local authorities have warned. In one case, a looter burglarized a California firefighter's marked vehicle, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said Sunday.

Redwoods, some 2,000 years old, survive flames at Big Basin state park When a massive wildfire swept through California’s oldest state park last week, it was feared many trees in a grove of old-growth redwoods, some of them 2,000 years old and among the tallest living things on Earth, may finally have succumbed.

The historic headquarters at Big Basin Redwoods State Park is gone, as are many small buildings and campground infrastructure that went up in flames as fire swept through the park about 45 miles south of San Francisco.

But the forest is not gone, said Laura McLendon, conservation director for the Sempervirens Fund, an environmental group dedicated to the protection of redwoods and their habitats.

“It will regrow. Every old growth redwood I’ve ever seen, in Big Basin and other parks, has fire scars on them. They’ve been through multiple fires, possibly worse than this.”

Further south, the Dolan Fire scorched through the Ventana Wildlife Preserve where dozens of free-flying California condors live, chewing up the vegetation and leaving little behind.

The Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) has fought for decades to bring back the endangered native California vulture.

Although the wildfire has the potential to set recovery back for the California condor by years, it could also be good for the birds, said VWS Executive Director Kelly Sorenson.

"We have good reason to be hopeful," he said.

How to stay safe from wildfire smoke

Wildfire smoke can irritate your eyes, nose, throat and lungs, make it hard to breathe and make you cough or wheeze, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

To reduce exposure to smoke, the CDC recommends choosing a room that can be closed off to outside air. Place a portable air cleaner or filter in the room if possible, the CDC says, and wear a respirator to filter out smoke.

While most cloth or surgical masks will help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, they don't keep people safe from harmful particles in smoke. A mask designed to filter fine particulate matter, like an N-95, is best, though supplies are scarce because of the pandemic.

Kottlowski said the more layers, the better, if you don't have access to a respirator. Some face coverings allow you to put an additional filter in to protect you from smoke particles, he said.

An air conditioning unit with high efficiency filters can capture fine particles from smoke, and setting the system to recirculate mode can prevent outside air from coming in. Also, avoid burning candles and frying or broiling meat, the CDC says.

 

This article was originally published on usatoday.com

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