California Wildfires Prompt State of Emergency

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A series of wildfires fueled by a potent combination of triple-digit heat and a bumper crop of grasses from last winter’s record rainfall scorched California over the weekend, prompting the state’s first wildfire emergency of the year.

Spurred by 100-degree temperatures, a wildfire in the Sierra Nevada foothills forced more than 4,000 to evacuate their homes in Butte County on Saturday. Officials said the Wall Fire threatened 5,400 structures as it raged through baking, grassy foothills about 60 miles north of Sacramento.

The wildfire sparked last Friday afternoon, and by Monday morning had blackened over 5,600 acres and destroyed 17 structures. The large-scale evacuations led Gov. Jerry Brown to declare the first wildfire-related emergency of the year, to rush resources to the Butte County wildfire.

As of Monday, the blaze was 35 percent contained but mandatory evacuations remained in several neighborhoods near the city of Oroville. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

According to Cal Fire, more than 5,000 firefighters are battling a total of 14 large wildfires across the state, including several in Central California.

Crews are dealing with the Stone and Alamo fires in San Luis Obispo County, along with the Whittier Fire in Santa Barbara County.

In less than four days, the Alamo Fire burned nearly 30,000 acres near the Central Coast city of Santa Maria and is just 15 percent contained. The wildfire is the largest currently burning in California, after tripling in size over the weekend due to low humidity and persistent winds.

The Whittier Fire started Saturday afternoon at a campsite near Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County. The blaze quickly spread to over 12 square miles by Monday morning with 5 percent containment. Fire crews hope to quickly gain control of the fire with sundowner winds not expected over the next few days.

Cal Fire officials are predicting a long fire season, as heavy winter rains and snow gave way to copious grass growth. A representative said high summer temperatures and the abundance of bone-dry grasses have created a dangerous fire situation across the Golden State.

California’s fire season typically runs from late spring into the fall, although it could be extended this year due to the amount of snow melt still expected in the Sierra Nevada. The snow melt will provide plenty of opportunities for new vegetation growth in fire-prone regions, fire officials predict.

Wildfires forced evacuations over the weekend across the West. Hundreds were evacuated near Breckenridge, Colorado, along with mandatory orders in Oregon, Arizona and British Columbia, Canada.

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