Image taken from the International Space Station shows the wildfires burning in California. In the upper left portion of the image is the Carr and Mendocino Complex fires and to the right is the Ferguson fire. Photo: Alexander Gerst / AFP / Getty Images

By Alene Tchekmedyian and Alejandra Reyes-Velarde
16 August 2018

(Los Angeles Times) – Each day on the front lines of California’s largest wildfire, firefighters start their shifts noting their safety zones and escape routes. Flames from the Mendocino Complex are still ripping through thousands of acres a day of steep, mountainous terrain packed with dead oak trees — standing and fallen — and littered with leaves and pine needles.

Crews are on especially high alert this week after a firefighter who traveled from Draper City, Utah, to help battle the blaze died Monday while working on an active stretch. Every five or 10 minutes, they’re encouraged to “look up, look around and make a sound.”

“We always talk about having our head on a swivel when we’re out on the fire line, because things could change — it could happen right there, in a snap of your fingers,” said Trevor Pappas, a firefighter with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “You have to have plan A, B, C, D — and sometimes E, F, G.”

Conditions have been ripe for the erratic fire behavior that has led to explosive growth of the Ranch fire, which along with the River fire makes up the 364,145-acre Mendocino Complex. The days are so hot and dry that whatever gains firefighters see overnight when the humidity goes up quickly fade when the sun hits the fuels and sucks the moisture out. Lately, winds have started to pick up about 5 p.m., gusting between 15 mph and 25 mph.

“That will really push a fire — no person on Earth runs 25 mph,” Pappas said. “We all want to go home at the end of the day, or the end of the shift, and make it back to our families.” […]

Cal Fire spokesman Cary Wright said the persistent low humidity has allowed the fires to continue growing — once by 9,400 acres in just 24 hours. Temperatures were expected to drop and humidity levels to increase this week. Nighttime humidity rose significantly Tuesday for the first time since the fire started, Wright said.

Firefighters count on the drop in temperature and increase in humidity that usually occurs naturally overnight to allow them to make progress. But that hasn’t been happening in Lake County. Nighttime humidity levels have consistently been in the teens to 30 percent range. [more]

Why California's largest fire in history is so difficult to contain

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