SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) – Rising temperatures and increasing winds on Sunday added to the challenges firefighters faced while fighting fires in Northern California, including one that continued their march towards the Lake Tahoe resort region.
“It’s going to be the hottest day since the fire broke out and, unfortunately, the driest,” said Isaac Lake, a spokesman for the two-week-old Caldor Fire.
Flames broke through the mountains just a few miles southwest of the Tahoe Basin, where thick smoke sent tourists at a time when the summer vacation was in full swing before Labor Day weekend.
Three-digit temperatures are possible and the extreme heat is expected to last for several days, Lake said. A red flag was issued for Monday and Tuesday in the northern Sierra in front of critical fire conditions.
Crews who worked in rough terrain tried to put out point fires caused by irregular winds.
“It’s so dry out there that if embers blow into the unburned fuel assemblies, the chance of ignition is 90 percent,” said Lake.
The fire, which broke out on August 14, was 19% contained after burning nearly 245 square miles (635 square kilometers) – an area the size of Chicago. More than 600 buildings were destroyed and at least 18,000 more were threatened.
The Caldor fire has proven so difficult to fight that fire managers have postponed the scheduled date for full containment from earlier this week to September 8th. But even that estimate was poor.
In Southern California, a section of Interstate 15 was closed on Sunday afternoon after the wind drove a new fire called the Railroad Fire across the lanes in Cajon Pass northeast of Los Angeles.
Farther south, evacuation orders and warnings were still in place for remote communities after wildfire broke out on Saturday and quickly spread through the Cleveland National Forest. A firefighter was slightly injured and two buildings were destroyed in the 5.9 square kilometer chaparral fire that is burning on the San Diego-Riverside counties border, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It was 10% Sunday included.
California’s Dixie Fire, the second largest in the state’s history at 3,089 square kilometers, was 48% located in the Sierra-Cascades region, about 105 kilometers north of the Caldor Fire. Among the nearly 1,300 buildings that have been destroyed since the fire started in early July, nearly 700 were houses.
The containment of the 12 day old French Fire, which covered more than 98 square kilometers in the southern Sierra Nevada, increased to 22%. Crews protected forest houses on the west side of Lake Isabella, a popular recreation area northeast of Bakersfield.
More than a dozen major fires are being fought by more than 15,200 firefighters across California. Flames destroyed around 2,000 buildings this year and forced thousands to evacuate while enveloping large parts of the west in unhealthy smoke.
The California fires are one of the nearly 90 major flames in the United States. Many are to the west, burning trees and bushes that have dried up from the drought. Climate change has made the region 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.
The Department of Defense is sending 200 U.S. Army soldiers from Washington state and equipment, including eight U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft, to aid firefighters in Northern California, U.S. Army North said in a statement on Saturday. The soldiers are due to arrive in California in early September after a one-week training course. The C-130s have been converted into airtankers that can pour thousands of liters of water into the flames.