Strong winds may intensify California’s biggest fire season – Los Angeles Times

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California’s record-breaking fire season could get much worse in the coming days as powerful winds heighten the danger of more blazes while firefighters continue to struggle with destructive conflagrations across the state.

Intense diablo winds are forecast for parts of Northern California this week, with Pacific Gas & Electric saying it would shut off power to numerous communities in hopes of avoiding new fires potentially sparked by downed power lines.

The shutdowns began Monday night in parts of the North Bay as the winds picked up. More than 120,000 PG&E customers were without power as of Tuesday morning.

In Sonoma County, a fire broke out Monday night, prompting evacuations.

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Santa Ana winds were forecast Tuesday night in Southern California, sparking fears the Bobcat fire in the Angeles National Forest could make a run at foothill communities. Forecasters said 25- to 35-mph winds were expected, with gusts topping 45 mph. Officials in Monrovia warned some residents they could be asked to evacuate.

The worst of California’s fire season usually doesn’t hit until October, but the state has already seen a record 2 million acres burn, the largest amount on record.

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That surpasses 2018 for the most acres destroyed in a year, according to figures from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Times research.

Fires are burning from the Sierra to San Diego, and that has resources stretched thin. Statewide, nearly 14,000 firefighters are contending with 25 major wildfires, according to Cal Fire, and the agency “has increased staffing in preparation for critical fire weather in multiple areas.”

While firefighters are gaining ground on many of the lightning-caused fires in Northern California, firefighters are aggressively battling wildfires up and down the state, officials wrote in a daily update.

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Following historic high temperatures in the region over the weekend, Forest Service officials announced they would temporarily close eight national forests — the Angeles, San Bernardino, Los Padres, Cleveland, Stanislaus, Sierra, Sequoia and Inyo — at 5 p.m. Monday because of the extreme heat and dangerous fire conditions.

“Existing fires are displaying extreme fire behavior … and we simply do not have enough resources to fully fight and contain every fire,” said Randy Moore, regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service.

The Creek fire burning in the Sierra Nevada is the worst, trapping hikers, killing at least one person and destroying a large swath of the town of Big Creek.

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Fueled by millions of dead trees, the Creek fire has raced through mountain communities like Big Creek and vacation getaways like Huntington and Shaver Lake, confounding firefighters with unpredictable and terrifying behavior. Its smoke plume rose nearly 50,000 feet high. There were lightning strikes. Forests seemed to explode.

The drama seemed to peak Saturday night when two helicopters — a CH-47 Chinook and a UH-60 Black Hawk — rescued some 200 campers trapped by flames at Mammoth Pool.

Chopper crews tried to rescue more hikers Monday night but were unable to land amid intense fire conditions.

As of Tuesday morning, that fire had scorched almost 144,000 acres and was 0% contained. It has destroyed at least 65 structures — including 45 residences — and was threatening 5,296 others, fire officials said.

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The Bobcat fire, which started above Azusa in the Angeles National Forest and whose cause is still under investigation, grew to at least 8,553 acres amid extreme fire danger warnings. Staffers at the Mt. Wilson Observatory were evacuated Monday morning as the flames raged toward the grounds.

With Santa Ana winds returning, officials are concerned about foothill areas to the south of the fire, including Monrovia, Arcadia, Bradbury, Sierra Madre and Duarte. Residents living in those areas should prepare for possible evacuation and be on “high alert,” said Seneca Smith, public information officer with the Angeles National Forest.

“It’s one of those things we always stress — if there is a fire anywhere near your community, just be prepared because sometimes there’s only minutes to spare,” Smith said.

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Monrovia issued an evacuation warning Monday night and described the two-phase plan it would put into effect if necessary. The Sierra Madre Police Department urged residents there to make evacuation plans and “be vigilant.” The Arcadia Fire Department assured the public that it would conduct “continual overnight patrols and surveillance of our foothill interface.”

In San Bernardino, the El Dorado fire continued to spread on the northeastern edge of Yucaipa. Authorities said the blaze, which has burned at least 10,574 acres and was 16% contained Tuesday morning, was started by a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party” Saturday morning at El Dorado Ranch Park. Authorities implored the public to take every precaution against starting wildfires.

The Valley fire, roughly 30 miles east of San Diego, also grew, surpassing 17,000 acres while being 3% contained. Monday brought a new tool to the fight: military planes. Cal Fire is activating a standing agreement with the Navy 3rd Fleet and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force to deploy military aircraft to fight the fire, Cal Fire spokesman Capt. Kendal Bortisser said.

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The Valley fire has already destroyed 11 homes and 25 outbuildings in Japatul Valley, southeast of Alpine.

Crews are also wrestling with the sizable SQF Complex fire, which has burned nearly 63,000 acres in the Sequoia and Inyo national forests north of Kernville and prompted evacuations in Tulare County.

The lightning-sparked complex — consisting of the Castle and Shotgun fires — is now 7% contained, officials said.

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