Californians braced Sunday for a troubling shift in the weather that was expected to bring unpredictable winds, more sizzling temperatures and potential lightning strikes that could ignite new wildfires across an already ravaged state.
Firefighters have been battling more than 600 blazes – sparked by a staggering 12,000 lightning strikes – for a week. About 1.1 million acres of land has been torched. Most of the damage was caused by three clusters of fire “complexes” ripping through 1,175 square miles of forest and rural areas in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The fires have burned about 1,000 homes and other structures, forced tens of thousands to flee, killed six people, blanketed communities with a pall of dangerous smoke and haze, and left residents on edge.
“Tuesday night, when I went to bed, I had a beautiful home on a beautiful ranch,” said Hank Hanson, 81, of Vacaville. “By Wednesday night, I have nothing but a bunch of ashes.”
The National Weather Service issued a “red flag” warning through Monday afternoon for the Bay Area and the central coast, meaning extreme fire conditions, including high temperatures, low humidity and wind gusts up to 65 mph, “may result in dangerous and unpredictable fire behavior.”
There was the potential for scattered “dry” thunderstorms over much of Northern California, the weather service said, and lightning could spark new blazes.
Mark Brunton, a battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), said the winds can blow a fire in any direction, increasing the peril. “There’s a lot of potential for things to really go crazy out there,” he said.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Susan Miller