Wildfires Continue to Chew Through Golden State

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., talk as they asses the damage during the Creek Fire at Pine Ridge Elementary, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Auberry, Calif. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

TOLLHOUSE, Calif. (CN) — Much of California continued to burn Tuesday as firefighters race to douse conflagrations up and down the state. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris visited the Creek Fire in Fresno and Madera counties on Tuesday, continuing to ascribe the size and scope of the devastation to a changing climate. 

“We have to understand that California, like so many other parts of our country, has experienced extreme weather conditions,” Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, said while standing amid the embers of a scorched playground at Pine Ridge Elementary School in Auberry. “It is incumbent on us, in terms of the leadership of our nation, to take seriously these new changes in our climate, and to do what we can to mitigate against the damage.”

The fires in California continue to be a political football, with Newsom, Harris and other prominent Democrats blaming climate change while President Donald Trump — who made a brief stop in Sacramento on Monday — continues to blame shoddy forest management. 

A chorus of experts say the scale of the problem is attributable to both factors. 

Harris thanked the firefighters for their efforts. 

“They are working around the clock without rest,” she said as ash from the fire fell on her shoulders. “I just heard about how they have been working 90-hour shifts, some of them, to save families, to save property.”

Edwin Zuniga, Cal Fire information officer for the Creek Fire, said the blaze presents multiple challenges for firefighters, including tough terrain, the inaccessibility of some of the fires and the hot and dry weather combined with windy nights. 

“It’s a tough fight,” he said. “With the winds we’ve been having it could potentially push that fire back into Shaver Lake.”

The banks of Shaver Lake are embroidered by several small communities and occasional lake houses that are imperiled by the large fire. 

The Creek Fire began on Sept. 4 and has destroyed approximately 550 structures throughout Fresno and Madera counties. There are over 2,600 firefighters working on the blaze, which is 16% contained.

Over Labor Day weekend, the California National Guard had to deploy several helicopters to rescue hundreds of people surrounded by a ring of fire near Mammoth Pool Reservoir. 

The August Complex 

The August Complex fire — now by far the largest fire in California’s recorded history — is swiftly approaching 800,000 acres and continues to burn in the Mendocino National Forest in the northern reach of the state. Initially a series of 37 different fires sparked by lighting, they joined to burn across five counties and consuming 8 structures to date. 

The firefighting efforts on Tuesday are focused on Lake County at the southern extremity of the fire, where firefighters are cutting lines through the forest to stave off the destruction of property in the Lake Pillsbury Basin. 

“Two structure protection groups have been established to help protect infrastructure in the basin,” the U.S. Forest Service said Thursday. “Work by these groups includes installing hose lays, supplying water dip tanks for helicopters, and putting in dozer lines where appropriate.”

The fire is also burning in the Six Rivers National Forest and the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, encompassing much of the northern part of California. Containment stands at 30%. 

North Complex

The North Complex Fire is not the largest fire in the state, but it is the deadliest this year.

Burning in Plumas County, the fire ripped through several mountain communities, catching some residents by surprise. So far, 15 fatalities have been recorded but officials caution others remain missing. 

The fire was sparked by lightning on Aug. 18 and has charred about 270,000 acres as well as approximately 700 structures. It is currently 39% contained. 

“The fire actively burned through the night but did not experience significant growth,” the forest service said. “Crews maintained existing fire lines, limited additional spread, and continued structure protection efforts.”

Slater Fire

The Slater Fire straddles the California and Oregon border. The fire started Sept. 7 and killed two people near Happy Camp, California.

The fire has devoured about 130,000 acres and is only 10% contained, but fire officials characterized the fire behavior as moderate Tuesday. 

The fire also includes the Devil’s Fire.

Bobcat Fire 

Burning 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, the Bobcat Fire has so far blackened 36,000 acres. While significantly smaller and less wild than other fires burning through the state and the American West, it continues to threaten several foothill communities in the area. 

On Tuesday, the blaze came within 500 feet of the famed Mt. Wilson Observatory, tucked in the San Gabriel Mountains near Pasadena.

“Today’s primary focus remains at keeping the fire from reaching Mt. Wilson and the foothill communities,” the forest service said Tuesday. 

Containment of the Bobcat Fire stands at just 3%.

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