Milder temperatures help firefighters gain on California's largest-ever wildfire
Firefighting crews in California took advantage of mild temperatures early on Wednesday to make progress in their battle to contain California’s largest-ever wildfire, which has swelled to almost the size of Los Angeles.
Some 4,000 firefighters fought to prevent the Mendocino Complex from reaching communities like Nice, Lucerne and Clearlake Oaks at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.
The Mendocino Complex is one of 17 major fires in California which, fanned by hot, windy conditions, have killed seven people, destroyed over 1,500 structures and displaced tens of thousands in the past month.
“Tonight, fire crews will continue to take advantage of the lower temperatures to increase containment lines,” the agency said in an advisory on Tuesday as the temperatures in the area remained near 15 C.
Milder temperatures than expected on Tuesday allowed crews to carve containment lines around 34 per cent of the wildfire, which became the largest in California history on Monday when two large conflagrations merged into one, according to Cal Fire.
The blaze, which was about 1,185 square kilometres as of late Tuesday, has surpassed the Thomas Fire, which burned 1,140 square kilometres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in Southern California last December, destroying more than 1,000 structures.
Two firefighters have been injured battling the Mendocino Complex, which has burnt 75 homes and forced the evacuation of more than 23,000 people.
In the last couple of days, U.S. President Donald Trump said California was letting water run into the ocean instead of using it to fight blazes and 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.
Climate change is widely blamed for higher temperatures that have fuelled wildfires in California and as far as Portugal, Sweden and Siberia.
The California fires are on track to be the most destructive in a decade, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown and Republican leaders such as state Senator Ted Gaines to call for thinning and controlled burns of forests to reduce fire danger — moves opposed by environmentalists who say they kill wildlife.
Southern California fire rages
Meanwhile, firefighting crews were working to control a smoky Southern California forest fire raging in mostly unoccupied land. The crews are concerned the flames could race down hillsides toward foothill communities.
The fire churning through the Cleveland National Forest south of Los Angeles was just five per cent contained on Wednesday morning.
Flames that erupted Monday have blackened nearly 17 square kilometres of dry brush and timber. Several cabins have burned and two rural canyons and some campgrounds have been evacuated.
No homes are immediately threatened but some residents have voluntarily relocated. Officials warn that thick smoke blanketing neighbourhoods is creating unhealthy conditions.
About 385 firefighters are working in rugged terrain amid scorching temperatures with help from 10 helicopters and seven fixed-wing aircraft.
With files from The Associated Press