• Sat. Feb 27th, 2021

California wildfire now 2nd-largest ever as total blazes scorch nearly 1M acres

A massive wildfire in Northern California has grown to become the second-largest in state history as it and hundreds of other blazes have now scorched nearly one million acres.

The LNU Lightning Complex Fire that is burning across five counties — Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Stanislaus — has spread to more than 314,000 acres, officials said Saturday. It was 15 percent contained.

“This entire LNU Complex is now the second-largest wildland fire in state history,” said Sean Kavanaugh, incident commander with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). The largest wildfire was the Mendocino Complex that burned more than 459,000 acres in 2018.

The LNU Complex blaze has destroyed 560 structures and damaged 125 more.

A firefighter rubs his head while watching the LNU Lightning Complex fires spread through the Berryessa Estates neighborhood of unincorporated Napa County, Calif., on Aug. 21, 2020.Noah Berger / AP

Many of the fires raging in the state were sparked by a large number of lightning strikes as California is in the grip of a heatwave.

“In 1987, for the entire year, there was around 11,000 lightning-strike fires,” Cal Fire spokesman Jeremy Rahn said at the news conference Saturday. “As of now, it’s over 12,000.”

More than 100 of the lightning strikes occurred Friday.

The state now has more than 585 wildfires, which have burned nearly a million acres, Rahn said.

On Friday, Cal Fire Assistant Deputy Director Daniel Berlant said that the fires had scorched more than 771,000 acres, which he said is “roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island.”

Over 13,700 firefighters are battling nearly two dozen major fires or complexes.

The National Guard was activated and will provide helicopter support and a dozen 20-person crews, Rahn said.

The LNU Lightning Complex Fire has claimed the lives of at least four people, including three in Napa County that were found in a residence Wednesday and recovered Thursday. The fourth death was in Solano County, according to Cal Fire.

Firefighters watch flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires approach a home in the Berryessa Estates neighborhood of unincorporated Napa County, Calif., on Aug. 21, 2020.Noah Berger / AP

In addition, a Pacific Gas & Utility worker died while clearing infrastructure around a fire complex to make it safe for first responders, Cal Fire said in a statement Thursday. Cal Fire spokeswoman Heather Williams said Friday that it would be up to local authorities to connect the death to the LNU fire.

Another person, a helicopter pilot, died after he crashed Wednesday morning while conducting water drops, officials said. That death was connected to the Hills Fire in Fresno County.

More than 115,000 Californians have been evacuated, Cal Fire Incident Commander Nick Truax said at a news conference Friday.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the news conference Friday that the fires were “stretching our resources, stressing our personnel.” He said that the state would be receiving a federal grant “to help ensure the availability of vital resources” to fight the wildfires.

The governor has also requested 375 fire engines from other states. So far, governors in Arizona, Nevada and Texas have agreed to send crews and support, Newsom said.