by: Associated Press, Kimberly Cheng
More than 13,500 firefighters were working Monday to contain a dozen large California wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of people to flee to safety.
In Northern California, where most of the blazes are burning, there were no red flag warnings for critical conditions but the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said fire danger was expected to remain elevated through midweek.
Containment increased to 40% at the Dixie Fire, which has burned more than 1,130 square miles (2,926 square kilometers) in the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades. Ongoing assessments showed 1,259 buildings destroyed, including 678 single-family homes, Cal Fire said. Nearly 13,000 structures remained threatened.
Tallies of losses also increased at the Caldor Fire, which has incinerated more than 166 square miles (430 square kilometers) of El Dorado National Forest on Sierra slopes southwest of Lake Tahoe. Continuing assessments showed 447 buildings destroyed. More than 17,000 structures were still under threat.
Cal Fire said the potential for large wildfires will continue to be low in Southern California. Intrusion of moist ocean air inland has been keeping skies cloudy and temperatures cooler than normal well into each day.
While Southern California has so far escaped large-scale wildfires this year, Los Angeles officials on Monday urged residents to be aware of what’s going on in the north because the region’s high fire season is typically late in the year when dry, gusty Santa Ana winds blast out of the interior and flow toward the coast.
“That awareness is going to help us when it happens here in Southern California,” Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said during a briefing to display the city’s fleet of firefighting helicopters at Van Nuys Airport.
The mix of spring growth dried out by summer heat and high winds creates “a dangerous condition that could lead to large, fast-moving brush fires,” he said.
California’s fires were among more than 90 large, active blazes in the U.S. on Monday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
Climate change has made the West warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, according to scientists.