Tuesday 25 June 2019

Firefighters gain ground on blaze the size of LA

Firefighters monitor a fire near Lodoga in northern California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Firefighters monitor a fire near Lodoga in northern California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Brendan O'Brien

Crews battling the largest wildfire in California's history took advantage of milder overnight temperatures to gain considerable ground in containing the blaze yesterday, a day after officials said it would take until September to snuff it out.

The Mendocino Complex fire, which has scorched an area of northern California almost the size of Los Angeles, was 47pc contained yesterday morning, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said. A day earlier, the fire was 34pc contained.

So far, two firefighters have been injured fighting the blaze, which has consumed more than 300,000 acres. While sprawling, the wildfire was less destructive than last week's Carr Fire near Redding, destroying 75 homes and forcing the evacuation of over 23,000 people. The Carr Fire destroyed more than 1,000 structures.

Overnight temperatures should drop to a low of 18C but highs hit 36C yesterday and were forecast for 37C today, said National Weather Service meteorology intern Jennifer Guenehner.

Around 4,000 firefighters were working yesterday to stop the fire from reaching communities at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, about 160km north of San Francisco. The blaze is still threatening more than 10,000 structures, Cal Fire said.

The Mendocino Complex is one of 17 major fires burning in California that have destroyed more than 1,500 structures and displaced tens of thousands of people over the past month.

On Tuesday, Cal Fire pushed back the date when it expected to bring the Mendocino fire under full control to September 1, the fourth time the department has revised its timetable as the massive wildfire expanded.

The fire became the largest in California history on Monday, after officials began battling two separate blazes in the Mendocino area as a single event, according to Cal Fire.

Now, having scorched more than 300,000 acres, the blaze has surpassed the Thomas Fire, which burned 281,893 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in southern California last December, destroying more than 1,000 structures.

Since Sunday, President Donald Trump has claimed, without substantiating his remarks, that California was letting water run into the ocean instead of using it to fight blazes, and he blamed California's environmental policies for worsening the fires.

The comments baffled California firefighters, who said they had more than enough water to douse the flames.

The fires are on track to be the most destructive in a decade, prompting Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and Republican leaders such as state Senator Ted Gaines to call for thinning forests and controlled burns to reduce fire danger.

Irish Independent

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