MATHER, Calif. (AP) – More than 13,500 firefighters worked Monday to contain a dozen major California wildfires that destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced thousands of people.
After a thorough review of the fire damage, Governor Gavin Newsom moved for a major disaster statement from the president for eight counties, said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Emergency Services Bureau, at a briefing near Sacramento.
If adopted, the declaration would provide a wide range of benefits including housing, food aid, unemployment and government emergency costs, Ghilarducci said.
Nearly 43,000 Californians were on evacuation orders and more than 500 households were in shelters, he said.
New concerns arose with the explosive Caldor Fire southwest of Lake Tahoe, the famous alpine lake that straddles the California-Nevada state line and is surrounded by Sierra Nevada peaks and resorts.
The Caldor fire, which was only 9% contained, has become the country’s top priority for fire-fighting resources, said Chief Thom Porter, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety.
“There is a knock on the door to the Lake Tahoe Basin,” Porter said. “We have made every effort to keep it out of the pool, but we also need to be aware that it is possible because of the way the fires burned.”
Porter said he personally doesn’t think the fire would enter the pool, but that he could be proven otherwise.
The Caldor Fire burned nearly 180 square miles (466 square kilometers) of the El Dorado National Forest and ongoing assessments showed that 447 buildings were destroyed. More than 17,000 structures were still threatened.
Two police officers from the city of Galt, Sacramento County, were in critical condition after a head-on collision while drove to the Caldor Fire as part of a law enforcement effort to provide mutual assistance, Ghilarducci said.
To the north, containment increased to 40% from the Dixie Fire, which burned more than 2,926 square kilometers in the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades. Ongoing evaluations showed 1,259 buildings were destroyed, including 678 single-family homes, Cal Fire said. Almost 13,000 structures remained threatened.
In Nevada, public schools in the Reno and Sparks area and parts of Lake Tahoe were closed on Monday due to forest fire smoke that affected 67,000 students.
In Northern California, where most of the flames are burning, there were no critical condition warnings, but the seven-day outlook called for a moderate fire hazard. Meanwhile, in Southern California, the humid sea air keeps the sky cloudy and temperatures cooler than normal well into the daytime.
Porter said this meant that the potential for major new fires in Southern California was low, which made it possible to increase fire-fighting resources from south to north.
While southern California has avoided large-scale forest fires so far this year, Los Angeles officials on Monday urged residents to research what was going on in the north, as the area’s high fire season is usually late in the year when dry, gusty Santa Ana winds shoot from the inside and flow towards the coast.
“That awareness will help us when it happens here in Southern California,” said Ralph Terrazas, Los Angeles Fire Department chief, during a briefing to showcase the city’s fleet of fire helicopters at Van Nuys Airport.
The mix of spring growth dried up by summer heat and high winds creates “a dangerous condition that could result in large, fast-moving bushfires,” he said.
The California fires were among the more than 90 large, active flames in the United States on Monday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
In Oregon, officials said a firefighter died in wildfire southeast of Eugene on Monday.
Oakridge city administrator Bryan Cutchen and acting fire chief said the death was believed to have been caused by a fall on the firefighter, The Register-Guard reported.
Climate change has made the west warmer and drier over the past 30 years and, according to scientists, will continue to make the weather more extreme and forest fires more devastating.
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