Firefighters in California may get some cooperation from the weather as they continue the fight to contain wildfires this weekend that are on the cusp of burning a record 1.6 million hectares this year.
Officials say the wildfires must consume only another 8,100 hectares before the grim milestone is reached as firefighters continue to battle 23 major blazes across the state.
Red-flag warnings of extreme fire danger for hot dry, gusty conditions expired Saturday at 6 a.m. local time, but the U.S. National Weather Service predicts less intense heat, along with more dry and breezy conditions, throughout the state this weekend.
Crews used helicopters Friday to drop water on flames burning in the foothills of the Napa Valley wine region, where the Glass Fire broke out last Sunday near the resort community of Calistoga, 120 kilometers north of San Francisco.
Evacuation orders for Calistoga’s 5,000 residents were reduced Friday to warnings, although some homes and trees continued to burn.
250 structures burn
The blaze has destroyed about 250 homes and other structures, including the Chateau Boswell Winery north of Napa and a farmhouse at the landmark Castello di Amorosa winery.
Some winery employees were guarding buildings and crops with water tankers and bulldozers as a last line of defense if the fire spreads beyond the foothills.
Firefighters made significant progress Friday containing the Zogg Fire in the foothills of the Cascade mountain range about 320 kilometers north of Napa Valley. Officials said the blaze, which destroyed about 150 buildings near the town of Redding, was 46% contained, an increase from 26% a day earlier.
The wildfires across California have killed 31 people this year. Many of the wildfires were sparked by lightning strikes in mid-August, and most of the burning has occurred since then.
Many scientists say climate change has made California more susceptible to wildfires because of its vast areas that are covered by drier trees and other plants.