Thousands flee devastating California wildfire

Thousands flee devastating California wildfire

Thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate as a wildfire rages out of control in Northern California, with a swath of the United States caught in a “record-breaking and dangerous” heatwave that is complicating efforts to fight the blaze.

More than 3,500 acres (1,400 hectares) of grass and forest have been consumed since Tuesday when a fire broke out outside Oroville.

The city, near the state capital, Sacramento, is just 23 miles (38 kilometers) from Paradise, a community that was razed in 2018 by the deadliest wildfire in California history, which claimed the lives of 85 people.

Butte County Fire Chief Garrett Sjolund said the area was under a so-called “red flag warning.”

“The conditions in our county this summer are very different than we’ve experienced the last two summers,” he told reporters.

“The fuels are very dense. The brush is dry and as you can see, any wind can put out the fire very quickly.”

More than 25,000 people in the area were ordered to evacuate Wednesday, local NBC affiliate KCRA reported.

– Fireworks –

Climate scientists say the western United States is experiencing decades-long aridification as weather patterns change, at least in part because of man-made global warming.

California has suffered through about 20 years of drought, but the past two years have been relatively mild, with near-record amounts of rainfall filling reservoirs and triggering a furious growth of forests and grasslands.

However, 2024 is shaping up to be a hot and dry year, and that flora is drying out rapidly, creating plenty of fuel for the wildfires that are a normal part of the ecosystem’s natural cycle.

The conditions have left officials warning of potentially devastating fires waiting to happen, especially if people are careless or negligent with fireworks during the upcoming Fourth of July Independence Day holiday.

“We’ve had four fires in the last two weeks. This is a very bad fire season,” said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.

“The last thing we need is someone who bought fireworks at a local fire station doing something stupid. Don’t be an idiot.”

On Wednesday, around 1,400 firefighters were battling the blaze from the ground using heavy machinery and from the air using planes and helicopters, spraying red gas.

Sjolund said equipment and personnel were arriving from other jurisdictions to reinforce operations.

A handful of people, including some firefighters, are reported to have been injured, although none seriously.

AFP journalists saw buildings and vehicles destroyed by the fire.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in Butte County, a move aimed at freeing up resources to help in the battle against the wildfire.

“We are using all available tools to address this fire and will continue to work closely with our local and federal partners to support the affected communities,” he said.

“As we enter some of the most challenging months of the wildfire season, the state is better prepared than ever to protect at-risk communities with new tools, technology and resources.”

– ‘A record’ –

The National Weather Service (NWS) said the area is expected to experience extremely high temperatures over the next few days, with the mercury reaching 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius) in some spots.

The sweltering heat is part of a system that will affect nearly half of the country’s population, even through the July 4 holiday weekend.

“Record-breaking, dangerous heat is forecast to make this July 4 week scorching hot across much of the West and from the southern Plains to the mid-Atlantic,” the NWS said Wednesday.

“Nearly 150 million residents are currently under heat-related watches, warnings and advisories across 21 states as of this afternoon.”

Forecasters said the heat would move in from the West Coast and take hold in central California before spreading further as the week progresses, including into Oregon and Washington to the north.

“Dozens of record-high temperatures are possible, reflecting the rarity of this early July heat wave,” the NWS said.

Extreme weather events are becoming increasingly common as our planet warms, largely due to humanity’s uncontrolled burning of fossil fuels since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.