Nearly two dozen enormous wildfires continued to ravage parts of California on Saturday, fueled by high temperatures and continuing lightning strikes, including 100 that hit on Friday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said.
The fires have killed six people and incinerated nearly 700 buildings since beginning after an earlier lightning storm last week. Together, the blazes have burned nearly 404,700 hectares (one million acres), the agency said Saturday.
Wildfire is threatening parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, the forested region near the University of California at Santa Cruz and a wide swath of the area between San Francisco and the state capital of Sacramento.
Nearly 14,000 firefighters have been deployed to the blazes, but containment of the largest ones remains low and the state has requested additional support from other states and local jurisdictions in California, CalFire said Saturday.
“They’re scrambling for bodies” to help fight the fires, said Jay Tracy, a fire marshal with the city of Fresno who was deployed as a spokesman for the LNU fire complex, which had burned 127,000 hectares (314,000 acres) in five counties, including some of the state’s storied wine country and communities between San Francisco and Sacramento.
Firefighters have improved containment of the southern edge of that fire, but winds are expected to push it northwest towards the wine country towns of Healdsburg and Guerneville, he said.
Local agencies like his are limited in how many reinforcements they can send to help state firefighters because many are still needed at home, while the sheer volume of fires burning in the state has stretched resources, Tracy said.
Additional lightning storms are expected later this weekend, and the danger of new or growing wildfire is extreme, CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.
The fires increased modestly in size on Saturday after more than doubling on Friday, becoming some of the largest in state history and threatening small towns in the path of the flames. In addition to the fatalities, 43 firefighters and civilians have been hurt.
Including smaller blazes, crews are fighting a total of 560 wildfires across the state, California Governor Gavin Newsom said Friday. Evacuations have been ordered in numerous regions. About 175,000 people were told to leave their homes, although many in the community around Vacaville between Sacramento and San Francisco have been allowed to return.
In Santa Cruz, a city of approximately 65,000 people on California’s central coast, residents were told to prepare “go bags” as bulldozers cut fire lines and flames came within a mile (1.6km) of the University of California Santa Cruz campus.