Wildfires in California have already broken a state record with still two months to go of the wildfire season, burning more than two million acres (809.000 hectares). Residents are being forced to leave their homes as firefighters try to contain blazes across the state.
The previous record was set in 2018, with 1.96 million acres (793.184 hectares) burned, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) which began taking records in 1987. Lynne Tolmachoff, the spokeswoman for Cal Fire, said there were surprised over how early in the season the record was set.
“In the past 33 years we have not seen a single year go over two million acres. This is definitely record-breaking and we have not even come close to the end of fire season yet,” said Tolmachoff in a press release. “It’s a little unnerving because September and October are historically our worst months for fires.”
At least seven people have died as a result of this year’s fires and some 3,800 structures have been damaged or destroyed, according to figures provided by Cal Fire. More than 14,100 firefighters were battling 24 different wildfires as of yesterday, the fire department said on its social media.
Firefighters are struggling to enclose several dangerous blazes, with dry and hot winds expected in the next few days that could increase the fire danger to critical levels. Authorities have ordered the evacuation of more mountain communities as the largest blaze, the Creek Fire, expands in the Sierra National Forest.
The Creek Fire started on Friday in steep and rugged terrain and since then has spread to 78,790 acres (31.8 hectares), with 0% being contained, according to Cal Fire. At least a dozen dwellings were burned in the town of Big Creek, with over 200 hikers having to be airlifted after being trapped by the flames at the Mammoth Pool reservoir.
Cal Fire said a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party” started The El Dorado fire in San Bernadino County. These are celebrations announcing whether expecting parents are going to have a girl or a boy. In recent years, several of them have gone wrong, even causing the death of a woman in 2019.
“Cal Fire reminds the public that with the dry conditions and critical fire weather, it doesn’t take much to start a wildfire”, a tweet by Cal Fire reads. People who cause fires “can be held financially and criminally responsible,” it added. California has seen nearly 1,000 wildfires since 15 August, often started by lightning strikes.
The fire conditions were aggravated by record temperatures registered over the three-day Labor Day weekend, stressing the already exhausted firefighters. A record 49 degrees Celsius (121 Fahrenheit) was registered on Sunday in Woodland Hills, an all-time high for Los Angeles County, the National Weather Service said.
High temperatures have led to the highest demand for power so far this year, according to California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid. The state could see power outages soon if residents don’t reduce their electricity usage, the company warned, although none has yet taken place.