SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) – California weather warmed up and winds shifted Thursday as more than 14,000 firefighters battled wildfires across the state, including a major blaze they hoped for avoid the Lake Tahoe resort area.
Overland winds from the west and southwest were changing direction offshore, blowing from the north or northeast, and fire weather watches were expected to come into effect in northern California by the end of of the week, the National Weather Service reported.
The Caldor fire, the country’s top priority for firefighting resources, reached more than 213 square miles (551 square kilometers) southwest of Lake Tahoe, but containment remained at 12%, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Smoke stained the normally blue sky over the alpine lake, but the pollution level on Thursday morning was reduced to “unhealthy”, down two severity levels from 24 hours earlier when it was “dangerous “, according to the American air quality index.
Assigned resources have grown to nearly 2,900 firefighters, 21 helicopters, 245 engines and dozens of bulldozers since the early days of the blaze, which started on August 14 and suddenly exploded, devastating the community of Grizzly Flat. Ongoing damage assessments have counted 637 houses, businesses and other structures destroyed.
With dry conditions amid a severe drought, there have been 14 large fires statewide, including a blaze that broke out in southern California on Wednesday that has so far escaped the scale forest fires that ravaged the north all summer.
Climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather conditions more extreme and forest fires more destructive, scientists say.
The fire from the south about 72 kilometers east of Los Angeles covered 700 acres (283 hectares) after destroying 18 homes, commercial structures and the like. Fire activity decreased after the first few hours, but it remained uncontained on the mountain slopes.
In the southern Sierra Nevada, the 9-day-old French Fire covered over 34 square miles (88 square kilometers) and was 19% contained. Some structures have been seen burning in the Sequoia National Forest and this has posed a threat to many communities on the west side of Lake Isabella, a popular outdoor recreation area northeast of Bakersfield.
Meanwhile, California’s Dixie Fire, the second largest in state history at 1,167 square miles (3,022 square kilometers), was 45% contained in the Sierra-Cascades region about 65 miles away ( 105 kilometers) north of the Caldor fire. Nearly 700 houses were among the nearly 1,300 buildings destroyed since the fire started in early July.
Nationally, 88 large fires were burning Thursday in 13 predominantly western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
Antczak reported from Los Angeles.
Sam Metz is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, non-profit service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.