California is off to another record-breaking year of wildfires as the state enters its most dangerous months, with extreme heat and dry terrain creating the conditions for rapid spread. More than twice as many acres burned in the first six months of this year than during the same period last year -- and hundreds more fires, officials said. June saw a series of destructive blazes that swept through rural counties at the northern edge of the state, fueled by a historic Pacific Northwest heat wave. But July is already shaping up to be worse. The Sugar fire had spread to 83,256 acres as of Sunday, making it the largest so far this year in California.
Evacuation orders have been expanded to more mountain communities as a huge wildfire churns through California's Sierra National Forest on Monday, one of dozens of blazes crews battled during a heatwave that shattered records across the most populous state in the United States. Firefighters working in steep terrain through the night saved the tiny town of Shaver Lake from flames that roared down hillsides toward a marina. To the north, about 30 houses were destroyed in the remote hamlet of Big Creek. "About half the private homes in town burned down," Big Creek resident Toby Wait said. "Words cannot even begin to describe the devastation of this community. And it is a very close-knit community."
Gusty winds blowing through the southern Sierra Nevada continue to spread the growing KNP Complex and Windy fires, which have burned more than 135,000 acres combined as they tear through steep, rugged terrain. Furious westerly winds -- some gusting up to 40 mph -- fanned the Windy fire's growth by nearly 2,000 acres in a day. The fire, raging in the Sequoia National Forest and Tule River Indian Reservation, had ballooned to 87,318 acres on Tuesday and was only 4% contained. The KNP Complex fire, burning to the north in the Sequoia National Park, had burned through 48,344 acres and was 8% contained. Both fires erupted Sept. 9 amid a massive lightning storm that sent dozens of bolts shooting into the dense forest, home to groves of giant sequoia trees, including the famed General Sherman tree.
A firefighter has died battling a wildfire in California, the US Fire Service said in a statement on Friday, as officials said improved weather conditions on the west coast of the United States provided some hope the blazes could be contained. The death happened on Thursday in the San Bernardino National Forest as crews battled the El Dorado Fire, which officials said was sparked by "a smoke generating pyrotechnic device" during a gender-reveal party earlier this month. The name of the firefighter was being withheld until family members were notified, the US Fire Service said, and the cause of the death is under investigation. "Our deepest sympathies are with the family, friends and fellow firefighters during this time," Forest Service spokesman Zach Behrens said in the statement. USDA Forest Service officials on the San Bernardino National Forest have confirmed the death of a firefighter on the #ElDoradoFire.