Sixteen of the largest wildfires burning in California have scorched 320,000 acres, authorities said Wednesday — an area larger than the entire city of Los Angeles.
The Carr Fire, which has burned 121,000 acres and left six people dead, is now considered the sixth most destructive fire in California history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire.
Forecasters said winds could be stronger Wednesday, around 20 mph to 30 mph, and high temperatures and low humidity don’t bode well for containing the blazes.
“California can expect to see hot, dry and breezy conditions through the end of the week,” CNN meteorologist Gene Norman said.
Temperatures will soar into the lower 100s in many places, Norman said, and whipping winds will be “wildly fluctuating as the fires generate their own localized wind.”
Here’s a look at some of the most dangerous wildfires burning in the state now:
Carr Fire’s destruction is ‘like an atomic bomb’
Six people have died in this blaze, including three members of the same family.
The Carr Fire was 35% contained early Wednesday, Cal Fire said.
The fire was still active in certain spots in the afternoon, but was not running toward communities, Cal Fire’s Steve Moore said.
Incident Commander Brett Gouvea said weather was helping.
“We are starting to see more successes than losses on this fire,” Gouvea said.
Redding police said everyone reported missing in Shasta County had been found. The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office said it took 60 missing persons reports in the early days of the fire.
Josh Lister and his family lost their home and belongings after the fire swept through Redding, a city of almost 100,000 people.
“It was a firestorm when we left,” Lister said.
Afterward, he was stunned to see the devastation in his neighborhood.
“It looked like an atomic bomb went off,” he said.
The Redding Police Department has made “many, many arrests” in connection with looting, Chief Roger Moore said Wednesday. Seventeen burglaries have been reported in evacuated neighborhoods.
The Carr Fire is so large and intense that it created its own localized weather system, making it difficult to predict which way the blaze will spread.
More than 4,000 fire personnel are battling the flames, but triple-digit heat, shifting winds, dry fuel and steep terrain are working against them, officials said. Roughly 15,000 residents have been evacuated.
The flames were sparked July 23 by the mechanical failure of a vehicle, Cal Fire said. Since then, it has destroyed more than 1,018 homes.
Highway 299 remains closed in fire-affected areas as crews clear debris.
Relief crews came from other areas to Redding on Wednesday so firefighters could be together and grieve the death of colleague Jeremy Stoke, Chief Cullen Kreider said.
Ferguson Fire kills 2 people
After 20 days of destruction, the Ferguson Fire in central California was only 39% contained as of Wednesday.
Two people have been killed in the fire, but no houses have been damaged or destroyed, fire officials said — although about 2,800 structures are threatened.
A huge problem facing firefighters is that the flames are largely burning in steep, inaccessible terrain.
Unlike the Carr Fire, authorities don’t know what started the Ferguson Fire, which has now engulfed nearly 63,000 acres.
The Ranch and River fires, collectively called the Mendocino Complex, are blazing in and near the southeast corner of the Mendocino National Forest, northwest of Sacramento. Together the fires have burned nearly 95,000 acres and are 24% contained.
As many as 14,600 residents have been evacuated, fire officials said, and more than 12,000 structures are threatened.
Wildfires ‘we have historically never seen’ before
In the past several days, smoke from the California wildfires has stretched all the way to Oklahoma.
And California has already spent a quarter of its firefighting budget for the year in the month of July.
Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox said the intensity of this summer’s wildfires is historic.
“What we’re seeing in California right now is more destructive, larger fires burning at rates that we have historically never seen,” he said.
California Gov. Jerry Brown said Wednesday that fires have become the new normal in California due in large part to the changing weather.
“The more serious predictions of warming and fires to occur later in the century, 2040 or 2050, they’re now occurring in real time,” he said. “You can expect, unfortunately, that to keep intensifying in California and throughout the Southwest. We’re part of that process of the Mediterranean climate that is being impacted by the changing weather.”
Brown added: “I would suspect there will be more fires to come, and more fires each year for a very long time because it’s going to be a while before we shift the weather back to where it historically was.”