Helicopters rescued more people from wildfires Tuesday as flames chewed through bone-dry California after a scorching Labor Day weekend that saw a dramatic airlift of more than 200 people and ended with the state’s largest utility turning off power to 172,000 customers to try to prevent more blazes.
Three early morning helicopter flights pulled another 35 people from the Sierra National Forest, the California National Guard said.
California has already set a record with 2 million acres (809,000 hectares) burned this year, and the worst part of the wildfire season is just beginning. The previous record was set just two years ago and included the deadliest wildfire in state history, which swept through the community of Paradise and killed 85 people.
That blaze was started by power lines amid strong winds and tinder-dry conditions. Liability from billions of dollars in claims from that and other fires forced the Pacific Gas & Electric utility to seek bankruptcy protection. To guard against new disasters, the company last year began preemptive power shutoffs when fire conditions are exceptionally dangerous.
That’s the situation now in Northern California, where high and dry winds are expected until Wednesday. PG&E said it has learned from past problems and will seek this year to make the outages “smaller in size, shorter in length and smarter for customers.”
More than 14,000 firefighters are battling more than two dozen fires around the state. Two of the three largest blazes in state history are burning in the San Francisco Bay Area.
California was not alone: Hurricane-force winds and high temperatures kicked up wildfires across parts of the Pacific Northwest over the holiday weekend, burning hundreds of thousands of acres and mostly destroying the small town of Malden in eastern Washington.
In Southern California, fires were burning in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. The U.S. Forest Service on Monday decided to close all eight national forests in the region and to shutter campgrounds statewide.