Wednesday 12 December 2018

California wildfires prompt White House to pledge help

Alex Schenck attempts to fight the wildfire at his home near Clearlake Oaks, California. Photo: Getty
Alex Schenck attempts to fight the wildfire at his home near Clearlake Oaks, California. Photo: Getty

Rich McKay New York

US President Donald Trump has declared a "major disaster" in California and ordered federal funding to be made available to help recovery efforts in areas affected by wildfire.

The White House said Mr Trump had "ordered Federal assistance to supplement State, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by wildfires and high winds".

Seven people died in northern California on Saturday, officials said.

"Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property loses and other programmes to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," the White House said.

More residents were ordered to evacuate their homes this weekend as weary firefighters endured high temperatures and gusting winds.

The fire in Carr, about 261km north of Sacramento, claimed the life of a power company lineman.

One of the most destructive wildfires in the state's history had already killed six people, including a great-grandmother and two children, and a firefighter and bulldozer operator.

Two other blazes - called the Mendocino Complex - burned in Mendocino, Lake and Colusa counties, about 150km north of San Francisco. The River and Ranch fires had grown to cover a total of 229,000 acres (92,600 hectares) and were considered 32pc contained.

This year, wildfires have burned more land earlier in the "fire season" than usual, said Cal Fire director Ken Pimlott.

"Fire season is really just beginning. What seems like we should be in the peak of fire season, historically, is really now the kind of conditions we're seeing really at the beginning," said Mr Pimlott.

California Governor Jerry Brown, who visited some of the devastated areas on Saturday, said: "This is part of a trend, the new normal, that we've got to deal with."

Through last week, California fires had torched about 290,000 acres (117,300 hectares), more than double the five-year average over that same period.

The Mendocino Complex blazes cover more than two-thirds the size of Los Angeles, forcing more than 20,000 residents to evacuate and destroying more than 100 structures.

As firefighters had contained 41pc of the Carr blaze by Saturday evening, some evacuees were being allowed to return.

Both areas remained under a "red flag warning" for strong winds, low relative humidity and temperatures topping 32C, all conditions that can drive the growth of wildfires.

So far this year, US fires have burned five million acres, much more than the 10-year average.

Three men were given summons for refusing to leave an area where firefighters wanted a tanker plane to make an air drop, causing the plane to be diverted. The men were watering their marijuana plants, police said.

Irish Independent

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