SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — With the Golden State broiling and a pair of destructive wildfires wreaking havoc, state schools chief Tom Torlakson — acting as governor — declared states of emergency in two counties on Tuesday.
The state’s top elected officials are in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention, leaving Torlakson — ninth in the gubernatorial line of succession — to direct additional resources to residents and emergency crews battling wildfires in Monterey and Los Angeles Counties.
Nearly 3,000 firefighters are battling the Sand Fire in Los Angeles County and as of Wednesday morning, the blaze was 40 percent contained. Stoked by sizzling temperatures and brisk winds, the fire has burned more than 38,000 acres across the mountains of the Santa Clarita Valley.
The destructive wildfire sparked Friday near tightly packed neighborhoods and has been fueled by a steady supply of wind and dry chaparral. Officials evacuated more than 20,000 residents over the weekend and 18 homes have been destroyed.
Meanwhile, 300 miles north on the California Coast, firefighters are dealing with a wildfire that has burned more than 23,000 acres in majestic Big Sur. Churning through drought-riddled terrain in Monterey County, the Soberanes Fire has claimed an estimated 20 homes and killed one bulldozer operator.
Officials say the fire started Friday south of Garrapata State Park and after spreading for more than five days, is just 10 percent contained. Crews are struggling with the mountainous coastal terrain, downed power lines, falling trees and a persistent July heat wave.
Long stretches of record-breaking heat this year have intensified the massive wildfires, and several parts of the state are forecast to meet or break records on Wednesday. Sacramento is expected to reach 107 while forecasters are also calling for record highs in San Jose and Santa Rosa.
California’s entire Democratic leadership fled to Philadelphia over the weekend, including Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon.
Torlakson is the lone statewide elected official left in California and the first Superintendent of Public Instruction in state history to take a turn as acting governor. His first move was to address the damaging effects of the fires, allowingfor a faster response from local and state agencies to help fight the pair of wildfires.
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