Evacuations in the San Francisco Bay Area increased overnight as forest fires scorched hundreds of square kilometers of land in the area, heading towards San Jose, and creating potentially the worst air quality in the world.
In total, more than 349,000 acres burned down in northern and central California – the equivalent of 546 square miles, more than the land area of the entire city of Los Angeles. At least 134 buildings have been destroyed and the fire-fanning weather conditions, which have brought record temperatures and thousands of lightning strikes in recent days, are not expected to subside anytime soon.
The largest group of overnight fires was in the wine country, the LNU Lightning Complex fire that blackened a total of 124,100 acres and the evacuation of non-essential personnel from Travis Air Force Base in Solano County and patients from Adventist Health St. Helena- Hospital in Napa has raised district.
Firefighters burned in flames in Vacaville on Wednesday.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
In Sonoma County, the entire city of Healdsburg was evacuated early Thursday.
Fires also triggered evacuation orders on the eastern edge of San Jose, a result of the SCU Lightning Complex fire that set 102,000 acres on fire in several locations generally east of Silicon Valley and East Bay and west of Central Valley. Flames were approaching the famous Lick Observatory, which serves astronomers at the University of California.
Additional evacuation orders were issued along the way of the fire at the CZU August Lightning Complex, which raged in the remote mountainous region southwest of Silicon Valley on the border of counties San Mateo and Santa Cruz. That fire has burned 25,000 acres and forced the evacuation of more than 22,000 people, officials said Wednesday evening.
In San Mateo County, the CZU August Lightning Complex fire threatened the communities of Pescadero and La Honda. In Santa Cruz County, structures on Swanton Road have been lost and a Cal fire station has been threatened.
The evacuation zone for this fire has expanded rapidly and now includes the communities of Davenport, Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek.
Weather conditions look bad for the next three days, said Cal Fire’s Mark Brunton.
“That makes this threat very direct and very real,” he said. “We do everything to protect life and property.”
According to the website PurpleAir, the Bay Area was the worst air quality in the world overnight. Air quality is particularly poor in Silicon Valley, San Mateo County, and Livermore Valley, according to local air quality management officials.
“Smoke can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract and cause coughing, a dry, sore throat, and irritated sinuses,” said the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. “Elevated airborne particles can cause wheezing in people with asthma, emphysema, and other chronic respiratory diseases.”
The National Weather Service Office for the Bay Area warned the increased fire weather would continue through Thursday morning, with possible gusty winds at the higher elevations.
“In the interior and in the higher altitudes of the region there are still very dry and warm conditions,” said the weather service. “Smoky and hazy conditions are likely to hit parts of the region at least until next weekend.”
On Wednesday afternoon, according to Governor Gavin Newsom, 367 major fires burned nationwide.
“This fire season has been very active and it is not surprising that this activity has taken shape in a number of counties across the state,” he said during a news conference.
At this point last year, the crews had responded to a total of 4,007 fires across the state, Newsom said. They have already been sent on 6,754 this year.
The rapid outbreak of new flames has pushed the state’s fire-fighting resources to their limits.
Jeremy Rahn, Cal Fire’s chief information officer for the LNU Lightning Complex fire, said Wednesday the state has already requested 375 additional fire trucks, additional handcrews from non-governmental agencies, and “hired almost all available private fire engines in the western United States.
“The size and complexity with which these incidents burn calls into question all aspects of the emergency response,” he said during a press conference. “Fire-fighting resources are exhausted as new fires continue to ignite.”
However, Newsom expressed confidence that California is ready to rise to the challenge, and thanked leaders of other states – including Arizona, Nevada, and Texas – for their pledges to send additional resources.
California “is putting everything we have into these fires,” he said, “and we are now getting the support of some of our partners in the western United States, and for that we are again very grateful.”
Lin reported from San Francisco and Miller, Money and Serna from Los Angeles. The Times authors Anita Chabria, Taryn Luna, Susanne Rust, and Colleen Shalby contributed to this report.