LOS ANGELES — California’s biggest wildfire season reached a new milestone Sunday, with state officials announcing that the state has now surpassed more than 4 million acres burned, more than double the state’s previous record.
With crews on the biggest fire of them all, the August Complex, reporting more vigorous activity within the fire’s perimeter Sunday and another warm day ahead of them, “difficult conditions remain,” officials said.
Before this year, 2018 was California’s biggest year for wildfires, with more than 1.8 million acres burned.
The fires this year have burned an area larger than the state of Connecticut and killed 31 people, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. More than 100 people died in the 2018 fire season, the majority of them in the Camp fire disaster in Paradise.
Fires this year have destroyed more than 8,200 structures and displaced tens of thousands of people.
Fortunately, the property damage toll has not yet approached that of 2018, when more than 17,000 homes and 700 businesses were destroyed.
Still, the sheer magnitude is staggering. Of the 20 largest wildfires in California’s history, five burned within the space of a couple months this year, consuming a combined total of nearly 2.4 million acres.
Lightning in August ignited many of California’s biggest blazes, but scientists say climate change has also contributed to the conflagrations. It was the hottest August on record in California, and trees and brush were already abnormally dry and combustible after Northern and Central California saw exceptionally dry conditions last winter.
The August Complex fire, the largest fire in the state’s history, came back to life Saturday night after winds pushed away the smoke and fed oxygen to the flames. Residents in the rural towns of Wildwood and Platina were told to prepare to leave.
The August Complex fire has burned 985,304 acres and was 51% contained.
Fire officials have reported 100% containment of two other large complexes of fire that were sparked by lightning in mid-August — the 396,624-acre SCU Lightning Complex fire in Santa Clara, Alameda and Stanislaus counties, and the 363,220-acre LNU Lightning Complex fire in Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Solano counties.
Fire crews on Sunday reported progress against the Creek fire burning in the Sierra National Forest, which was 315,413 acres and 62% contained.
The North Complex fire, which killed 15 people after it raced into the towns of Berry Creek and Feather Falls, was 317,459 acres and 83% contained.
In the Los Angeles area, crews fighting the Bobcat fire in the Angeles National Forest said they were mostly focusing on mopping up and strengthening containment lines Sunday. Fire officials said a 300-acre internal island of unburned fuel northeast of Mt. Wilson burned Saturday, producing a smoke plume.
The fire has burned 115,548 acres, was 84% contained and has destroyed 87 homes and 83 other structures as of Sunday, though that number could rise as teams continue to perform damage assessments, officials said.
The fire continued to wreak havoc on the region’s air quality, with officials forecasting it would be unhealthy through the weekend for those in parts of the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, as well as the San Gabriel Mountains, and unhealthy for sensitive people in many other places in Los Angeles County.
Those with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions were advised to limit outdoor activities, the county Department of Public Health said in a news release.
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