Lightning storms mass over California, Oregon as wildfires blaze

FILE PHOTO: Firefighter fight fire near torching trees as wildfire burns near Yosemite National Park in this US Forest Service photo released on social media from California, U.S., August 6, 2018. Courtesy USFS/Yosemite National Park/Handout via REUTERS

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Storm clouds gathered over southern Oregon and northern California early on Wednesday, threatening to spark more wildfires with lightning strikes as emergency crews battled several deadly blazes, forecasters said.

The clouds carried little rain and offered little chance of a break from the bone-dry conditions plaguing the region, the National Weather Service said.

“Initial attack resources could be overwhelmed,” it added in a red flag announcement.

Elsewhere, crews made slow but steady progress against wildfires including one, called the Mendocino Complex, which has become largest in California’s history and killed one firefighter from Utah on Monday.

Emergency crews had managed to set up containment lines around almost two thirds the fire which has raged through the southern end of the Mendocino National Forest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

That fire has scorched 355,000 acres (144,000 hectares) and destroyed 265 structures, it added.

To the northeast, firefighters have been able to carve containment lines around 65 percent of the Carr Fire, which has killed three firefighters, four civilians and a utility worker and burned more than 1,500 structures. The Carr Fire has blackened 211,000 acres, Cal Fire said.

The heart of Yosemite National Park in California was reopened to the public on Tuesday after it was shut down for nearly three weeks due to the Ferguson Fire, which has caused two deaths. But smoke lingered in the air and a key route to the park’s best-known landmarks remained closed.

The 100,000-acre fire, which is about 150 miles (240 km) east of San Francisco, was 86 percent contained after igniting a month ago, authorities said.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Firefighter killed battling largest blaze in California history

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A firefighter has been killed battling the largest wildfire in Californian history that has been stoked by prime fire weather conditions as it has destroyed dozens of homes.

The unidentified firefighter was killed on Monday while battling the Ranch Fire, one of two blazes that make up the Mendocino Complex, which has already charred about 349,000 acres (141,200 hectares), the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

A general view of the aftermath from the Holy fire, in McVicker Canyon, California, U.S., August 11, 2018 in this still image from social media obtained on August 12, 2018. CARLA HARPER/via REUTERS

A general view of the aftermath from the Holy fire, in McVicker Canyon, California, U.S., August 11, 2018 in this still image from social media obtained on August 12, 2018. CARLA HARPER/via REUTERS

The Utah firefighter was airlifted to a hospital where he died, fire officials said during a news conference late on Monday.

“We are extremely heartbroken for this loss,” Mendocino Complex incident commander Sean Kavanaugh said, adding that officials will release more information as it becomes available.

The firefighter was the sixth person killed battling California’s intense wildfires this year, which have been some of the most destructive in more than a decade as they have forced tens of thousands to evacuate.

The Mendocino Complex, which has destroyed 146 homes since it began on July 27, has been stoked by persistent hot, dry and windy conditions. Crews have been able to cut containment lines around 68 percent of the northern California fire, Cal Fire said.

The complex is one of about 110 major wildfires burning across the western United States which have burned more than 8,900 sq miles (23,000 sq km), an area larger than the state of New Jersey, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Though temperatures had dropped from their triple-digit highs in recent days, they were expected to stay above 90 degrees F (32 C) through Friday. The cooler temperatures gave firefighters on Monday a chance to attack the string of major wildfires across California, fire officials said.

Another massive blaze, the Carr Fire, has blackened about 207,000 acres and killed eight people in and around Shasta County, north of Sacramento near the Oregon state line. It was 63 percent contained as of Monday afternoon, Cal Fire said.

In Southern California, the Holy Fire, which authorities say was set on Aug. 6 by a disgruntled homeowner in an Orange County canyon, was 59 percent contained after torching more than 22,000 acres and destroying a dozen cabins.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; editing by David Stamp)

More than 100 large wildfires in U.S. as new blazes erupt

Smoke rises over a hillside on fire in Fairfield, California, the U.S., August 10, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Erika Bjork/Twitter/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Six large new wildfires erupted in the United States, pushing the number of major active blazes nationwide to over 100, with more expected to break out sparked by lightning strikes on bone-dry terrain, authorities said on Saturday.

More than 30,000 personnel, including firefighters from across the United States and nearly 140 from Australia and New Zealand, were battling the blazes that have consumed more than 1.6 million acres (648,000 hectares), according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.

“We are expecting that there will be more fire-starts today,” Jeremy Grams, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma, said in an interview on Saturday.

FILE PHOTO: A still frame taken from a timelapse video sourced from social media dated August 6, 2018 shows the Holy Fire as seen from Rancho Santa Magarita, California, U.S. ARTHUR WHITING/via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: A still frame taken from a timelapse video sourced from social media dated August 6, 2018, shows the Holy Fire as seen from Rancho Santa Magarita, California, U.S. ARTHUR WHITING/via REUTERS

He said dry thunderstorms, which produce lightning but little rain, are expected for parts of the Rocky Mountain region, while the U.S. northwest has critical fire weather conditions that include strong winds and low relative humidity.

Firefighters were battling another day of extremely hot temperatures and strong winds on Saturday, the National Interagency Coordination Center said.

The fires have scorched states from Washington to New Mexico, with California among the hardest hit.

A mechanic helping to fight the Carr Fire near Redding in northern California was killed in a car crash on Thursday, the eighth person to die in that conflagration.

The 190,873-acre (77,243-hectare) Carr Fire has destroyed nearly 1,100 homes.

About 100 miles (160 km) southwest of the Carr Fire, about 3,500 firefighters are battling the Mendocino Complex Fire, which has burned 328,226 acres (132,828 hectares) as of Saturday and was the largest fire on record in California.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Richard Borsuk)

Aggressive wildfire threatens thousands of homes in southern California city

The Holy Fire spreads in Lake Elsinore, California, the U.S. August 8, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Lake Elsinore City Hall/via REUTERS

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Hundreds of firefighters were building barriers and constructing containment lines early on Friday to slow an approaching wildfire threatening to torch thousands of homes in a lakeside community southeast of Los Angeles.

A plane dumps fire retardant over the Holy Fire as it spreads in Lake Elsinore, California, the U.S. August 8, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Lake Elsinore City Hall/via REUTERS

A plane dumps fire retardant over the Holy Fire as it spreads in Lake Elsinore, California, the U.S. August 8, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Lake Elsinore City Hall/via REUTERS

More than 21,000 people have been evacuated in and around Lake Elsinore where furious flames and billowing smoke rose into the sky at the edge of the city of 60,000 as the blaze, dubbed the Holy Fire, burned nearby in the Santa Ana Mountains.

“It feels like a war zone,” Ana Tran told the Los Angeles Times as ash and flame retardant fell on her neighborhood.

The fire, which was five percent contained, was being fueled by dry brush covering steep terrain and stoked by erratic wind gusts during the night, said Thanh Nguyen, a spokesman for the incident said.

“Strong downdrafts is making the fire move aggressively downhill,” said Nguyen, noting that firefighters were working to build barriers and containment lines to protect more than 2,000 homes at risk from the fire.

Three firefighters suffered minor injuries battling the relatively small blaze that consumed more than 10,200 acres (4,128 hectares) since it began on Tuesday, fire officials said.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the area on Thursday, freeing up additional resources to battle the blaze. Forrest Clark, 51, was charged with setting the fire, the Orange County District Attorney Office said.

A plane flies off after dumping fire retardant over the Holy Fire close to a residential area in Lake Elsinore, California, the U.S. August 8, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Camille Collins/via REUTERS

A plane flies off after dumping fire retardant over the Holy Fire close to a residential area in Lake Elsinore, California, the U.S. August 8, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Camille Collins/via REUTERS

The Holy Fire was one of several fires burning in California that have displaced tens of thousands of people. Wildfires across the state and region could be further stoked by strong gusts, low humidity, and hot weather on Friday and Saturday, forecasters warned.

In Northern California, a mechanic helping to fight the Carr Fire burning around Redding was killed in a traffic collision on Thursday, bringing the death toll from that blaze to eight, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said. The 178,000-acre Carr Fire has killed two other firefighters along with three members of one family and has destroyed nearly 1,100 homes. It was 49 percent contained with firefighters struggling in steep terrain to control the blaze, CalFire said.

More than 4,000 firefighters are battling the Mendocino Complex Fire, which has burned 305,200 acres in three counties north of San Francisco, CalFire said.

Two firefighters were injured and 119 homes destroyed by that fire which now ranks as the largest fire on record in the state.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Editing by William Maclean)

Brutal weather threatens California wildfire battle

A satellite image shows the River fire at the Mendocino Complex wildfire in California, U.S., August 6, 2018. Picture taken on August 6, 2018. Satellite image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company/Handout via REUTERS

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Fierce winds, bone-dry weather, and high temperatures are expected on Thursday in northern California, where they could threaten efforts to fight the largest wildfire in state history.

Wind gusting up to 35 miles (56 km) an hour, temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 C) and 10 percent humidity are in the forecast from Thursday afternoon to Saturday in northern California.

Firefighters in the area are battling the Mendocino Complex and the Carr Fire, the National Weather Service said in an Red Flag warning.

“A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, and warm temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior,” the service said.

More than 4,000 firefighters were confronting the Mendocino Complex, which covered more than 302,000 acres (122,215 hectares) on Wednesday, making it the largest wildfire in California history.

Two firefighters have been injured and 119 homes destroyed, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

About 100 miles northeast, near Redding, 4,700 crews were fighting the 176,000-acre Carr Fire, which has been blamed for seven deaths, including two firefighters, and has destroyed 1,077 homes, Cal Fire said.

The two fires were 47 percent contained on Wednesday, Cal Fire said.

Fifteen other major fires are burning in California. Together, they have destroyed more than 1,500 structures and displaced tens of thousands of people.

To the south, in the Cleveland National Forest area, the relatively small 4,129-acre Holy Fire has destroyed 12 structures, fire officials said.

A 51-year-old man was arrested and booked on two counts of felony arson, one felony count of threat to terrorize and a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest, the Cleveland National Forest said on Twitter on Wednesday.

The fire has displaced 20,000 people, CNN reported.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, editing by Larry King)

Crews gain on California wildfire as milder temperatures prevail

FILE PHOTO: A satellite image shows the River fire at the Mendocino Complex wildfire in California, U.S., August 6, 2018. Satellite image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company/Handout via REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews battling the largest wildfire in California history took advantage of milder overnight temperatures to gain considerable ground in containing the blaze on Wednesday, a day after officials it would take until September to snuff it out.

The Mendocino Complex fire, which has scorched an area of northern California almost the size of Los Angeles, was 47 percent contained on Wednesday morning, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said. A day earlier, the fire was 34 percent contained.

So far, two firefighters have been injured fighting the blaze, which has consumed more than 300,000 acres. While sprawling, the wildfire was less destructive than last week’s Carr Fire near Redding, destroying 75 homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 23,000 people. The Carr Fire destroyed more than 1,000 structures.

Overnight temperatures for Wednesday and Thursday should drop to a low of 64 degrees (18 Celsius) but highs were forecast to hit 98 degrees (36 Celsius) on Wednesday and 99 (37 Celsius) on Thursday, said National Weather Service meteorology intern Jennifer Guenehner.

Some 4,000 firefighters were working on Wednesday to stop the fire from reaching communities at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, about 100 miles north of San Francisco. The blaze is still threatening more than 10,000 structures, Cal Fire said.

The Mendocino Complex is one of 17 major fires burning in California that have destroyed more than 1,500 structures and displaced tens of thousands of people over the past month.

Cal Fire on Tuesday pushed back the date when it expected to bring the Mendocino fire under full control to Sept. 1, the fourth time the department has revised its timetable as the massive wildfire expanded.

The fire became the largest in California history on Monday, after officials began battling two separate blazes in the Mendocino area as a single event, according to Cal Fire.

Now, having scorched more than 300,000 acres, the blaze has surpassed the Thomas Fire, which burned 281,893 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in southern California last December, destroying more than 1,000 structures.

 

Climate change is widely blamed for the higher temperatures that have fueled wildfires in California, and further afield like in Portugal, Sweden, and Siberia.

The California fires are on track to be the most destructive in a decade, prompting Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and Republican leaders such as state Senator Ted Gaines to call for thinning forests and controlled burns to reduce fire danger. Environmentalists oppose such preventive burns, saying they kill wildlife.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bernadette Baum)

Massive wildfire rages after becoming largest in California’s history

Aerial view of Trabuco Canyon as a tanker aircraft dumps load onto Holy Fire, Near Santiago Peak, California, U.S., August 6, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER / @ZULUJUMPER/via REUTERS

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California’s biggest wildfire on record raged on Tuesday as hot and windy conditions challenged thousands of fire crews battling eight major blazes burning out of control across the state.

The Mendocino Complex grew to span 283,000 acres (114,526 hectares) on Monday when two wildfires merged at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

It is the largest of eight major fires burning out of control across California, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to declare a “major disaster” in the state.

The size of the fire has surpassed that of last year’s Thomas Fire, which burned 281,893 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties when it destroyed more than 1,000 structures.

The Mendocino Complex has burned 75 homes and forced thousands to be evacuated.

Temperatures could reach 110 degrees (43 Celsius) in Northern California over the next few days with gusty winds fanning the flames of the complex, a National Weather Service meteorologist said.

Aerial view of Trabuco Canyon as a tanker aircraft dumps load onto Holy Fire, Near Santiago Peak, California, U.S., August 6, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER / @ZULUJUMPER/via REUTERS

Aerial view of Trabuco Canyon as a tanker aircraft dumps load onto Holy Fire, Near Santiago Peak, California, U.S., August 6, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER / @ZULUJUMPER/via REUTERS

The 3,900 crews battling the Mendocino Complex on Monday were focusing on keeping flames from breaking through fire lines on a ridge above the foothill communities of Nice, Lucerne, Glen Haven, and Clearlake Oaks, said Tricia Austin, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire.

Elsewhere in California, evacuations were ordered for cabins in Cleveland National Forest canyons in Orange County on Monday afternoon after a blaze broke out and quickly spread to span 700 acres (283 hectares).

The Carr Fire – which has torched 164,413 acres in the scenic Shasta-Trinity region north of Sacramento since breaking out on July 23 – was 47 percent contained.

The Carr Fire has been blamed for seven deaths, including a 21-year-old Pacific Gas and Electric Company lineman Jay Ayeta, whom the company said on Sunday was killed in a vehicle crash as he worked with crews in dangerous terrain.

“California wildfires are being magnified and made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

A California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman declined to comment on Trump’s tweet but said crews did not lack water to fight the flames.

Environmental activists and some politicians say the intensity of the state’s wildfire season could be linked in part to climate change.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Firefighters battle to save communities from epic California fire

FILE PHOTO: A firefighter knocks down hotspots to slow the spread of the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Lakeport, California, U.S. July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves/File Photo

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews battling the second-largest wildfire ever recorded in California fought on Monday to keep flames from descending a ridge into foothill communities, as reinforcements arrived from as far away as Alaska.

The Mendocino Complex Fire, made up of two separate conflagrations that merged at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, had burned 273,664 acres (110,748 hectares) as of Monday morning and was still growing, on track to potentially become the largest in state history.

“Unfortunately, they’re not going to get a break anytime soon,” National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Hurley said of firefighters who had cut buffer lines around 30 percent of the blaze as of Monday. “It’s pretty doggone hot and dry, and it’s going to stay that way.”

Hurley said some temperatures could reach 110 degrees (43 Celsius) in Northern California over the next few days with 15-mile-per-hour (24 kph) winds fanning the flames. Environmentalists and some politicians say the uptick in the intensity of the state’s wildfire season may be linked in part to climate change.

The Mendocino Complex, which has destroyed 75 homes and forced thousands to flee, is the largest of eight major wildfires burning out of control across California, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday to declare a “major disaster” in the state.

“California wildfires are being magnified made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

A total of nearly 3,000 people were fighting the flames, including firefighters from Arizona, Washington, and Alaska.

Some 200 soldiers from the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, have also been called in to help in one of the most destructive fire seasons on record.

On Sunday, 140 fire managers and specialists from Australia and New Zealand underwent special training and were outfitted with safety gear at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise before being deployed to battle fires in the Pacific Northwest and California.

Crews battling the Mendocino Complex on Monday were focusing on keeping flames from breaking through fire lines on a ridge above the foothill communities of Nice, Lucerne, Glen Haven, and Clearlake Oaks, said Tricia Austin of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“If it were to be carried outside of those lines they have on the ridge, it could sweep down into those communities, that’s what we’re trying to prevent,” Austin said.

Elsewhere in California, the two-week-old Carr Fire on Saturday claimed the life of 21-year-old apprentice lineman Jay Ayeta, who died when his vehicle crashed as he worked with crews in dangerous terrain in Shasta County, according to PG&E corporation.

He was the seventh person killed in that blaze, which has scorched more than 160,000 acres (64,750 hectares) in the scenic Shasta-Trinity region north of Sacramento.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Jonathan Allen in New York, Laura Zuckerman in Pinedale, Wyoming and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler)

Crews battling deadly California wildfire slowed by returning winds

A DC-10 air tanker drops fire retardant along the crest of a hill to protect the two bulldozers below that were cutting fire lines at the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) near Lakeport, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Crews battling a deadly wildfire in northern California faced a resurgence of gusty winds on Thursday, hampering progress they were making this week to keep the blaze from spreading further.

The 11-day-old Carr Fire, which has scorched nearly 127,000 acres (54,000 hectares) in the scenic Shasta-Trinity region north of Sacramento, remains the largest and most fearsome of 18 significant wildfires burning across California and more than 100 nationwide.

Wind-driven flames roll over a hill towards homes during the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) near Lakeport, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

Wind-driven flames roll over a hill towards homes during the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) near Lakeport, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

After three days of light winds that had helped firefighters make significant headway, a “red flag” warning for heightened fire danger was posted on Thursday, citing increasing winds in the forecast through Saturday.

Strong gusts began kicking up again on Wednesday night across upper ridge lines of the fire’s mountainous western flank, where the blaze, sparked by a vehicle malfunction on July 23, was still burning largely unchecked.

Those gusts were slowing efforts in the steep, rugged terrain to carve out buffer zones in front of the fire’s leading edge, said Gabriel Lauderdale, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

With high winds expected to worsen, throwing hot embers over containment lines, “we could continue to see those conditions pose difficulty for us into the night-time hours,” he told Reuters by telephone. A CalFire status update issued hours later said that “low relative humidity and an unstable atmosphere have increased fire behavior.”

The blaze, stoked by drought-parched vegetation and triple-digit temperatures, has killed six people and reduced 1,555 structures to smoldering ruins, including 10,600 homes. It ranks as the sixth most destructive California wildfire on record.

Firefighters rest between fire engines during a break from fighting the Ranch Fire and the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Upper Lake, California, U.S. August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

Firefighters rest between fire engines during a break from fighting the Ranch Fire and the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Upper Lake, California, U.S. August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

Firefighters were fighting to keep flames from spilling over a ridge dividing Shasta and Trinity counties. Failure to hold that line would put the evacuated town of Lewiston, just 3 miles to the west, in harm’s way, said Lauderdale at CalFire.

Over 4,300 personnel assigned to the blaze have carved containment lines around 37 percent of the perimeter of the blaze.

Lauderdale said 24,285 residents remained displaced as of Thursday morning – down from a peak of 38,000 – but the number was dwindling as more residents were allowed to return.

Scott McLean, another CalFire spokesman, said roughly 40,000 people were under evacuation orders statewide, many from a pair of fires burning close together at the southern end of the Mendocino National Forest.

More than 100 large wildfires were burning across 13 Western states, having consumed more than 1.4 million (582,000 hectares), according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

An estimated 27,000 firefighters have been deployed throughout the West, with California alone accounting for 13,000 of them, CalFire director Ken Pimlott said this week. Many of the fire personnel were being sent from out of state.

On Thursday, a special contingent of 100 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand took off from Sydney en route to U.S. assignments reinforcing exhausted fire crews in northern California, Oregon and Washington state.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Grant McCool & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Calmer winds bring hope in battle against deadly California blaze

Jul 30, 2018; Redding, CA, USA; Firefighters monitor fire movement as it crosses Highway 299 just west of Buckhorn Summit near the Trinity County line. Firefighters made progress on the fire which is now at 20 percent containment. Kelly Jordan via USA TODAY NETWORK

By Bob Strong

REDDING, Calif. (Reuters) – Some 3,600 firefighters struggling against one of the most destructive wildfires in California’s history hoped calmer winds on Tuesday would allow them to make more progress in carving out buffers to contain the blaze.

Six people have been confirmed killed and seven others have been missing since last Thursday. More than 800 homes and 300 other buildings have been reduced to ash and 37,000 people forced to evacuate as the Carr fire consumed 104,000 acres (42,000 hectares) in and around the town of Redding.

Jul 30, 2018; Redding, CA, USA; Todd Abercrombie, of Cal Fire watches the fire behavior as firefighters monitor fire movement as it crosses Highway 299 just west of Buckhorn Summit near the Trinity County line. Firefighters made progress on the fire which is now at 20 percent containment. Kelly Jordan via USA TODAY NETWORK

Jul 30, 2018; Redding, CA, USA; Todd Abercrombie, of Cal Fire watches the fire behavior as firefighters monitor fire movement as it crosses Highway 299 just west of Buckhorn Summit near the Trinity County line. Firefighters made progress on the fire which is now at 20 percent containment. Kelly Jordan via USA TODAY NETWORK

The firefighters reported some progress on Monday, having carved buffer lines around 23 percent of the fire’s perimeter, up from just 5 percent during much of the past week, thanks to calmer winds expected to remain in the area for two days.

The blaze, so far the seventh most destructive in Californian history, roared without warning into Redding and adjacent communities last week after being whipped by gale-force winds into a firestorm that jumped the Sacramento River.

It is the biggest of 17 wildfires now raging across the state, fueled by drought-parched vegetation, triple-digit temperatures, and unpredictable winds.

Two firefighters and at least four civilians were killed, including two young children and their great-grandmother who perished while huddled under a wet blanket.

Whole neighborhoods, including the town of Keswick on the outskirts of Redding, were laid to waste as residents fled for their lives in a chaotic evacuation. On Monday authorities began allowing some to return home, though an estimated 37,000 people still remained under mandatory evacuation orders.

Jul 30, 2018; Redding, CA, USA; Firefighters monitor fire movement as it crosses Highway 299 just west of Buckhorn Summit near the Trinity County line. Firefighters made progress on the fire which is now at 20 percent containment. Kelly Jordan via USA TODAY NETWORK

Jul 30, 2018; Redding, CA, USA; Firefighters monitor fire movement as it crosses Highway 299 just west of Buckhorn Summit near the Trinity County line. Firefighters made progress on the fire which is now at 20 percent containment. Kelly Jordan via USA TODAY NETWORK

To the southwest, the River and Ranch wildfires, known as the 23,000-acre Mendocino Complex, has forced thousands to evacuate as it has threatened 10,000 homes. About 2,000 firefighters are battling the blazes about 150 miles (240 km)north of San Francisco, where it has destroyed seven homes since it began on Friday, fire officials said.

Collectively, wildfires that have burned mostly in the U.S. West have scorched 4.6 million acres so far this year, 24 percent more than the average of burned landscape tallied for the same period over the past decade, according to federal data.

Authorities in California have reported levels of fire intensity and unpredictability they have seldom seen before. Statewide, wildfires have charred nearly 410,000 acres since January, the highest year-to-date total for the end of July in a decade, according to CalFire.

 

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Richard Balmforth)