Amid a scorching heat wave that is now in its second week, hundreds of wildfires are burning across California forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate.
As of Thursday, blazes threatened homes across the state and blackened city skies, as firefighters were struggling with containment. At least five people have died and 33 are injured.
Most of the activity is in Northern California — where fires have chewed through about 500 square miles of brushland, rural areas, canyon country and dense forest surrounding San Francisco.
In all, according to Cal Fire, fires are burning over 780 square miles across the state. That area is about equal to half the size of Rhode Island.
Track California fires:Map traces current fires burning across state in real-time
“If you are in denial about climate change, come to California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said, as he addressed the wildfires in a last-minute video recorded for the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night. Newsom added that there were over 370 wildfires burning throughout the state.
More than 10,000 firefighters are on the front lines, but fire officials in charge of each of the major fire complexes say they are strapped for resources. Some firefighters were working 72-hour shifts instead of the usual 24 hours. The state has requested 375 engines and crew from other states.
Here’s what we know:
5 dead, Over 30 injured
The fires burning throughout Northern California have now claimed at least five lives and injured 33 people and firefighters, authorities said Thursday.
The death of a resident in Solano County, in the northeastern San Francisco Bay Area, was reported Thursday by Sheriff Thomas A. Ferrara.
In addition, three people had died in Napa County since the fires began, said Daniel Berlant, a Cal Fire assistant deputy director.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Solano and Napa county fatalities included a Pacific Gas & Electric utility worker who was found dead Wednesday in a vehicle in the Vacaville area between San Francisco and Sacramento.
A pilot on a water-dropping mission in central California also died Wednesday when his helicopter crashed.
As of Thursday, at least two more people were missing.
Tens of thousands evacuated, 50K structures threatened
Tens of thousands of people have evacuated to stay safe from flames. The fires have destroyed 175 structures, including homes, and are threatening 50,000 more, said Daniel Berlant, an assistant deputy director with the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
In Solano County, evacuation orders were given to thousands of residents — some fled for the first time ever.
“I’ve lived here for 30 years, never had to evacuate before,” resident Tim Lukehart said. “There’s been fires of course, but not like this one.”
While some evacuations were lifted in the town of Vacaville, between San Francisco and Sacramento, other areas increased the size of evacuations. The University of California, Santa Cruz was evacuated, and a new fire burning near Yosemite prompted residents to flee.
As of Thursday, in the coastal mountain regions south of San Francisco, 48,000 people were under orders to evacuate. Evacuation orders have also been prompted for 9,000 in Monterey County and 8,000 in Sonoma County.
In addition, nearly 50,000 people were ordered to evacuate in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties, as higher wind gusts (up to 20 mph) challenged overnight firefight.
The city of Santa Cruz itself, a central coast city of 65,000, wasn’t affected — but Mayor Justin Cummings urged residents last night to pack and be prepared to evacuate if necessary.
“Prepare early so that you are ready to go at a moment’s notice,” Cummings wrote.
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How many fires are burning in California right now?
Of the 370 fires Newsom says are burning throughout the state, dozens have collected into three major fires — blazing their way through forest, canyon country and rural areas in the San Francisco Bay Area and central California.
Many were sparked by an unprecedented lightning siege of nearly 11,000 strikes over several days, as a high-pressure area over the West brought a dangerous mix of triple-digit weather and monsoonal moisture pulled from the south.
The largest fire listed on Cal Fire’s website Thursday night was the LNU Lightning Complex, which has burned a total of 336 square miles and is 0% contained.
Another large fire burning in California, a blaze made up of 20 separate fires burning near San Jose, has been named the SCU Lightning Complex Fire. The fire had ravaged more than 245 square miles and is 5% contained, threatening more than 6,200 structures, according to the SCU branch of Cal Fire.
In Southern California, an 8-day-old blaze near Lake Hughes in northern Los Angeles County mountains has burned 43.5 square miles. It was 52% contained as of Thursday.
What is the air quality and why don’t cloth face masks help?
The air quality in parts of the Bay Area was the worst in the world Wednesday, ABC7 News reported, adding that, while cloth and blue disposable medical masks are effective in curbing coronavirus spread, an N95 mask is needed to filter out harmful particles from the smoke.
And demand for the more-protective face coverings may increase: U.S. EPA forecasts for Friday’s air quality show unhealthy levels across the state, as north as Yuba City/Marysville (north of Sacramento) and as south as Lake Elsinore (south of Los Angeles).
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Contributing: The Associated Press, Doyle Rice, Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY.