Evacuees from Lucerne, from left, Ken Bennett with Ember Reynolds, 8, and Lisa Reynolds watch the sunset as smoke from the Ranch Fire rises into the sky at Austin Park Beach in California’s Clearlake, with Mount Konocti in the background, 6 August 2018. Photo: Kent Porter / The Press Democrat / AP

By Don Thompson, Lorin Eleni Gill, and Olga Rodriguez
8 August 2018

LAKEPORT, California (AP) – The largest wildfire ever recorded in California needed just 11 days to blacken an area nearly the size of Los Angeles — and it’s only one of many enormous blazes that could make this the worst fire season in state history.

Some 14,000 firefighters from as far away as Florida and even New Zealand are struggling to curb 18 fires in the midst of a sweltering summer that has seen wind-whipped flames carve their way through national forest land and rural areas, threaten urban areas and incinerate neighborhoods.

“For whatever reason, fires are burning much more intensely, much more quickly than they were before,” said Mark A. Hartwig, president of the California Fire Chiefs Association.

California is seeing earlier, longer and more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into the forests.

Some of the largest fires have erupted just within the past few weeks as the state has seen record-setting temperatures — and the historically worst months of wildfire season are still to come.

In Southern California, a smoky forest fire raged Wednesday in mostly unoccupied land — but firefighting crews were concerned the flames could race down hillsides toward foothill communities.

The blaze churning through the Cleveland National Forest south of Los Angeles is just 5 percent contained.

Flames that erupted Monday have blackened nearly 6-and-a-half square miles (17 square kilometers) of dry brush and timber. Several cabins have burned and two rural canyons and some campgrounds have been evacuated.

In Northern California, the record-setting Mendocino Complex — twin fires being fought as a single conflagration — gained ground Wednesday but more slowly because its own smoke covered the area and lowered the temperature, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The flames, which had burned 470 square miles (1,217 square kilometers), were raging in mostly remote areas but 116 homes were destroyed. Two firefighters have been injured.

Fire crews expect to gain control of the massive blaze in September, the state forestry and fire protection agency said. [more]

Battling 18 blazes, California may face worst fire season

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