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California wildfires rage after brutally hot week

To make matters worse, expected heavy rain from the remnants of a hurricane could bring floods and mudslides.

(CN) — California's fire season is off to an early start, following an intense week of triple-digit temperatures across much of the state. Three very large wildfires — the Mosquito Fire and the Mountain Fire in Northern California and the Fairview Fire in Southern California — show no signs of relenting as the rip across the state and darken the skies with smoke.

The Fairview Fire in Riverside County, about 55 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, has spread to more than 27,000 acres, the largest of any fire in the state. As of Friday morning, it was just 5% contained. It has claimed the lives of two civilians and destroyed 11 structures.

"It’s now well over a week of extremely high temperatures," said Shane Reichardt, a spokesman for the Riverside County Department of Emergency Management. "We haven’t had the recovery overnight, it hasn’t cooled off. It puts a strain on people."

Now, the remnants of a hurricane could further complicate the lives of Riverside County residents. Peak gusts of up to 55 miles per hour in the valleys and 75 mph in the mountains and desert could stoke the flames. After that will come the rain — the National Weather Service is forecasting up to seven inches of rain in the county — which could help fight the fire, but may also lead to other scourges: flash floods and mudslides.

"We're definitely worried about mudslides in and around burn scar area," said Reichardt. "Anytime you’ve got rain following a fire, the soil is not ready to accept water. A lot of vegetation usually holds that soil in place. The soil is now free to move with the water."

The one-two punch of fire and rain has proved deadly in the past. In 2018, the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara County was followed by rain, flooding and mudslides that killed at least 21 people. The disaster led to multiple lawsuits; to settle them, SoCal Edison paid $360 million to 23 public entities.

In Northern California, the Mosquito Fire in El Dorado and Placer counties had spread to more than 23,000 acres as of Friday morning, after jumping the American River overnight. No one has been hurt.

Evacuation orders are in place for both fires.

On Thursday, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Riverside, El Dorado and Placer counties due to wildfires.

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