Thousands of Californians were told to evacuate and smoke blanketed San Francisco on Wednesday as wildfires raged, sparked by a record-breaking heat wave, high winds and over 10,000 lightning strikes in just three days.
Police and firefighters raced door-to-door Wednesday morning to urge Bay Area residents to evacuate. In Vacaville, a city of about 100,000 between San Francisco and Sacramento, fire officials said four people were injured and at least 100 structures were damaged or destroyed.
"What has occurred over the last 72 hours has certainly stretched the resources of this state," said Governor Gavin Newsom at a Wednesday press conference. Newsom said that California had been hit by 10,849 lightning strikes over the past 72 hours, which ignited many of the 367 known fires across the state.
Newsom said that California had been hit by 10,849 lightning strikes over the past 72 hours, which ignited many of the 367 known fires across the state.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, issued and updated evacuation orders for several Northern California counties including Napa, Santa Cruz and Sonoma. Orders were in effect in several other counties.
The National Weather Service announced a Red Flag Warning for large swaths of Northern California, which indicates that conditions are ideal for wildfires to both start and spread.
#RedFlagWarning in effect for the Central Valley from Wednesday through Thursday evening and Northeastern CA through Wednesday evening due to gusty winds and low humidity. This is #CriticalFireWeather so use caution outdoors. More tips: https://t.co/upBwccxXFO pic.twitter.com/rEA3VnheP4— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) August 19, 2020
The federal agency’s website had another sprawling list of warnings for air quality, fire, heat and smoke after an extreme heat wave started late last week.
Ash and smoke filled the air over San Francisco, which is surrounded by at least five wildfires burning in multiple counties to the north, east and south. The LNU Lightning fire, burning in Vacaville, is made up of several fires burning in five counties.
As of Wednesday, 41 individual wildfires and fire complexes were raging in California, according to a fire tracker from the Los Angeles Times. The National Park Service defines a fire complex as two or more individual fires in the same area to which a single commander or unified command responds.
Cal Fire said it was short on personnel and equipment.
"Throughout the state of California right now, we are stretched thin for crews,” said Will Powers, a state fire spokesman. "Air resources have been stretched thin throughout the whole state."
Just over 347,000 acres, or 1,404 square kilometers, of land in California had burned by Wednesday. Over half a million acres of land, totaling nearly 2,300 square kilometers, have burned across the U.S. West.
The most recent is the Ivory Fire, sparked Wednesday, which has burned 400 acres, or about 1.6 square kilometers. It was 0% contained by the afternoon, according to the Los Angeles Times tracker.
The largest active fire is the Ohlone Fire, which started August 16. The fire, which is also 0% contained, has already burned over 97,000 acres of land, or almost 400 square kilometers.
Newsom declared a statewide emergency Tuesday, making it easier to obtain federal resources.
“We are deploying every resource available to keep communities safe as California battles fires across the state during these extreme weather conditions,” Newson said in a press release. “California and its federal and local partners are working in lockstep to meet the challenge and remain vigilant in the face of continued dangerous weather conditions.”
California received grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier this week to help combat the fires.
Cal Fire's website is down. Follow these handles to get latest on evacs/numbers... #BREAKING #LNULightningComplex - follow @CALFIRELNU #SCULightningComplex - follow @calfireSCU#CZULightningComplex - follow @CALFIRECZU #ButteLightningComplex - follow @CALFIRE_ButteCo— Eric Shackelford (@ABC7Shack) August 19, 2020
Cal Fire’s website was intermittently unavailable Wednesday. A notice on the otherwise-empty site cited “heavy traffic” and directed users to the department’s Twitter page for updates. Local news outlets and reporters shared resources on social media.