By Adrees Latif, Andrew Hay
AETNA SPRINGS: More dry-lightning hit Northern California on Monday after sparking over 625 wildfires in the past week but lower temperatures helped firefighters battle two massive blazes.
The worst of the wildfires, including the second and third largest in California history, burned in the San Francisco Bay Area with roughly 240,000 people under evacuation orders or warnings across the state.
Much of North California, including the Sierra Nevada Mountains and coast, was under a “red flag” alert for dry lightning and high winds, but the Bay Area got a reprieve as storms skipped the area, the National Weather Service reported.
Close to 300 lightning strikes sparked 10 blazes overnight and more “sleeper fires” were likely burning undiscovered in areas shrouded by dense smoke, Governor Gavin Newsom said.
One huge blaze blackened ancient coastal redwood forests south of San Francisco that have never seen fire due to usually high relative humidity levels, Newsom said.
“We are in a different climate and we are dealing with different climate conditions that are precipitating fires the likes of which we have not seen in modern recorded history,” Newsom told a news briefing.
The wildfires, ignited by over 13,000 lightning strikes from dry thunderstorms across Northern and Central California since Aug. 15, have killed at least seven people and destroyed over 1,200 homes and other structures.
Evacuees returned to homes burned by the LNU Lightning Complex wildfire, the second largest in state history, raging in mountains around 45 miles west of Sacramento.
“Nothing’s left, but we’re safe,” said a man, who did not give his name in an online video showing everything but his patio furniture destroyed at his house near Vacaville.
Smoke from fires that have burned over 1.2 million acres (485,620 hectares), an area more than three times larger than Los Angeles, created unhealthy conditions for much of Northern California and drifted as far as Kansas.
Firefighters gained 22% containment of the LNU but to the south the SCU Lightning Complex fire was nearly as large at 347,000 acres and only 10% contained. Firefighters threw most at its west flank burning less than 10 miles from downtown San Jose, population 1 million.
“This fire is by far a long ways away from being done,” said Cal Fire incident commander Jeff Ike of the blaze straddling seven counties.
With lower temperatures, clouds gathered over coastal forest north of Santa Cruz, helping firefighters achieve 13% containment on the CZU Lightning Complex fire.
“With the increase in humidity, the fire has actually extinguished itself,” Cal Fire Operations Chief Mark Brunton told a press briefing.
Over 14,000 firefighters were on the wildfires, with 91 fire crews traveling from seven states and National Guard troops arriving from four states, Newsom said.