Explosive wildfires across California stoked by fierce winds

Explosive wildfires across California stoked by fierce winds
Flames in Oroville, California (AP/Noah Berger)

Wildfires are raging unchecked across parts of western United States amid gusty and dry conditions.

In California, winds stoked unprecedented numbers of fires that have forced rescues and evacuations and in Washington, more acres burned in a single day than firefighters usually see all year. Fires have also forced people to flee in Oregon and Idaho.

But forecasters say some weather relief is in sight that could help firefighters who have been overwhelmed by the blazes.

A temperature plunge caused by a dramatic intrusion of polar air helped contain wildfires that spread in Colorado and Montana in hot, windy weather.

Smouldering buildings in Malden, Washington (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review via AP)

“The significantly colder airmass is helping to reduce critical fire conditions across the west, however most of west coastline and adjacent counties have Red Flag warnings in effect for part of today,” the National Weather Service said on Wednesday.

Diminishing winds are possible by Thursday, “bringing some relief to the ongoing fires and fire weather threat,” forecasters said.

In California on Tuesday, 14 firefighters were forced to deploy emergency shelters as flames overtook them and destroyed the Nacimiento Station, a fire station in the Los Padres National Forest on the state’s central coast, the US Forest Service said.

They suffered burns and smoke inhalation, and three were flown to a hospital in Fresno, where one was in critical condition.

Over the past three days, helicopters were used to rescue hundreds of people stranded in the burning Sierra National Forest, where a fire has destroyed 365 buildings, including at least 45 homes. About 5,000 buildings were threatened, fire officials said.

Flames threatened the foothill community of Auberry between Shaver Lake and Fresno.

Flames burn at a home levelled by the Creek Fire along Highway 168 in Fresno County, California (Noah Berger/AP)

In Southern California, fires burned in the mountains of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, with the potential for the region’s notorious Santa Ana winds to push flames out of wilderness and into communities.

People in a half-dozen foothill communities east of Los Angeles were being told to stay alert because of a fire in the Angeles National Forest.

“The combination of gusty winds, very dry air, and dry vegetation will create critical fire danger,” the National Weather Service warned.

The US Forest Service decided to close all eight national forests in the southern half of the state and shut campgrounds statewide.

More than 14,000 firefighters are battling fires. Two of the three largest blazes in state history are burning in the San Francisco Bay Area, though they are largely contained after burning for three weeks.

California has already set a record with nearly 2.3 million acres (930,800 hectares) burned this year – surpassing a record set just two years ago – and the worst part of the wildfire season is only beginning.

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