By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) – Cooler weather and a letup in lightning storms helped firefighters battling some of the largest and most ferocious wildfires in California’s history.
Three massive blazes in the San Francisco Bay Area grew slightly overnight, but their containment ticked up as crews arrived from out of state and over 14,000 firefighters fought two dozen major conflagrations across California.
Authorities say California is in a “megafire era,” with two of the state’s largest-ever wildfires burning simultaneously and climate change blamed for blazes in 2,000-year-old redwood forests long spared from flames.
“We are starting to get a lot of resources coming into the fire,” Cal Fire unit chief Shana Jones said of the state’s largest fire burning in mountains west of Sacramento.
Since the unprecedented dry-lightning siege began on Aug. 15, over 13,000 strikes have started fires that burned over 1.25 million acres (505,860 hectares), an area larger than the Grand Canyon.
The fires are far from under control with over 230 strikes in the past 24 hours sparking new fires after more than 650 in the last 10 days, Cal Fire said.
At least seven people have killed and over 1,400 homes and other structures destroyed, with property losses possibly rising to over 3,000 structures statewide based on preliminary data, Cal Fire Assistant Deputy Director Daniel Berlant said in an online briefing.
Dramatic video showed two firefighters winched to safety by a helicopter as they battled a blaze in the Point Reyes National Seashore about 30 miles (48 km) north of San Francisco.
Smoke from fires created unhealthy air quality for a large swath of Northern California and drifted as far away as Kansas, but a number of evacuations were lifted or downgraded to evacuation warnings in the Bay Area.
Still, temperatures were set to rise in coming days and isolated thunderstorms were forecast on Tuesday for the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California.
“We are going to return back to a warming and drying trend,” Berlant said.
Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday said California was facing “a different climate” after record temperatures in the state’s eastern desert siphoned off moisture from tropical storms to create the worst barrages of dry-lightning in decades.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Tom Brown and Jonathan Oatis)