Wildfire leaves California’s oldest park too hazardous for visitors

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – The lightning-sparked wildfire that ravaged Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California’s oldest state park, has left it too dangerous for visitors, officials said Tuesday during a tour of the burned area by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Numerous blazes that grew together near Santa Cruz and razed the visitor center, lodge and nature museum also charred redwood, fir and oak trees, leaving many weakened or dead and likely to fall, parks district Superintendent Chris Spohrer said, according to a pool report provided to news organizations.

It will take a year or more to find and remove all of the trees that pose a danger of falling, Spohrer said.

“If this is not a gut punch, then you’re truly not conscious as a human being,” Newsom, a Democrat, said after the tour of the park established in 1902.

One tree still smoldered near two massive ancient redwoods, dubbed the Mother and Father of the forest.

Another tree, famous for having an opening in its massive trunk large enough for an automobile, suffered moderate to extensive damage during the fire but remains standing. Newsom walked inside, expressing awe at its apparent survival.

The fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains where the park is located broke out Aug. 17 after an hours-long lightning storm that grew into one of more than two dozen major conflagrations that destroyed homes and forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate in different parts of California.

Nearly 14,00 lightning strikes, mostly in central and northern California, have ignited hundreds of individual fires since Aug. 15. Those fires have collectively charred more than 1.48 million acres – a landscape larger than the state of Delaware, according to CalFire.

Seven fatalities have been confirmed, and nearly 2,500 homes and other structures have been reduced to ruin.

(Writing by Sharon Bernstein; editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)

‘Lightning siege’ sparks wildfires across California wine country

By Steven Lam

VACAVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) – Dozens of lightning-sparked wildfires caused thousands of evacuations in Northern California’s wine country on Wednesday, and Colorado battled its second-largest fire ever as a heat wave supercharged blazes across the U.S. West.

A group of fires in Northern California covering over 46,000 acres (18,615 hectares) has destroyed at least 50 structures in a hill and mountain area near Vacaville in Solano County, authorities said.

The city of 100,000, about 30 miles southwest of Sacramento, was under a partial evacuation order after flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fire raced through homesteads and ranches on its west flank. Social media videos showed a number of houses on fire, and residents were forced to flee their homes during the night.

The blazes follow devastating fires across Northern California in 2017 that killed 44, wiped out numerous wineries and destroyed nearly 9,000 homes and other structures.

“In the last 72 hours we’ve experienced an historic lightning siege with 10,849 strikes causing more than 367 new fires,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Lynnette Round.

So-called red flag high winds are fanning flames caused by the lightning in scrub and woodland parched by record-breaking heat and low humidity.

Another group of fires called the SCU Lightning Complex more than doubled in size overnight, and is now burning over 85,000 acres, while the CZU August Lightning Complex has grown to over 10,000 acres and forced evacuations in Santa Cruz County.

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency on Tuesday and California requested 375 fire engines from out of state to fight the blazes.

To the east, at least four large wildfires burned in drought-stricken Colorado. The state’s Pine Gulch Fire grew to over 125,000 acres overnight to become the second largest in Colorado’s history, according to the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center. The fire remains at 7% containment, according to the InciWeb fire data site.

(Reporting by Steven Lam, additional reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Steve Orlofsky and Andrea Ricci)