Firefighters battling the record-setting blazes in northern California got a huge break Monday when gusty winds eased, and a major predicted lightning storm failed to strike but officials say the danger is far from over.
More that 600 wildfires, most ignited by earlier lightning storms and aggravated by hot, windy blowing over dry landscapes are burning largely north of San Francisco.
Officials estimate nearly half-a-million hectares of land has burned so far – an area bigger than the state of Rhode Island.
At least seven deaths have been reported and many residents were forced to flee their homes with little but the clothes they were wearing. Some people have been allowed back to see what is left of their houses and businesses.
The fires have cast a blanket of smoke and haze over San Francisco.
“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,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday.
Record-breaking heat has baked parts of the state this summer, including a 54-degree Celsius temperature in Death Valley last week.
Conservationists have been extremely concerned about the survival of northern California's ancient redwood trees.
But an Associated Press reporter confirmed Monday that most of the trees along the world-famous Redwood Loop Trail in Big Basin Redwoods State Park northwest of Santa Cruz have survived.
Some of the trees are 2,000 years old and are among the tallest living things on Earth.
“That is such good news, I can’t tell you how much that gives me peace of mind,” said Laura McLendon, director of land conservation at the Sempervirens Fund, an environmental group dedicated to the protection of redwoods and their habitats.
She said reports that the redwood forests in the state park were destroyed are misleading, although some buildings and campgrounds burned.
“But the forest is not gone,” McLendon said. “It will regrow. Every old growth redwood I’ve ever seen, in Big Basin and other parks, has fire scars on them. They’ve been through multiple fires, possibly worse than this.”