A Visual Guide To California’s Extreme Fires

The Carr Fire is the largest of 17 wildfires now raging in California. It is heading west after tearing through Redding, a city about 200 miles north of San Francisco, killing six people and displacing tens of thousands. The fire is now considered the seventh most destructive in the state’s history, according to Cal Fire, the state agency responsible for fire protection. It grew so intense that it created its weather systems, including a tornado-like fire whirl. Here’s some background on the Carr Fire — which was named after a spot in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area — and a look at its current state.

How big is the blaze?

The fire, which the authorities said was caused by a mechanical failure in a vehicle, has grown to cover some 110,000 acres — roughly the size of New Orleans. Emergency responders have been able to contain about 27 per cent of the blaze, according to Cal Fire. Since the beginning of this year, fires have scorched more than 430,000 acres in California, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Nearly three-quarters of that land have been burned in Northern California. Another large fire currently raging in California, the Ferguson Fire, is a little more than half the size of Carr. The Ferguson Fire, near Yosemite National Park, has led to evacuations there during the park’s most popular tourist season.

How many people have been affected?

Six people have died as a result of the Carr Fire, including a firefighter and a bulldozer operator, as well as a woman and two of her great-grandchildren. Seven people were missing as of Sunday, the Shasta County sheriff had said. Since the fire started at about 1 p.m. on July 23, it has destroyed more than 1,200 buildings, according to Cal Fire. An additional 225 buildings have been damaged. The Carr Fire surpassed last year’s Thomas Fire to become the seventh most destructive fire in the state’s history. Although the Thomas Fire was more than double the size of the Carr Fire at its peak, it damaged about 1,000 structures, fewer than the current blaze has. As of Tuesday morning, more than 3,600 emergency responders were working on containing the fire. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated, but the precise number is fluctuating as some residents are allowed to return home.

How about animals and other wildlife?

Wild animals typically take care of themselves during a wildfire, said Lisa Wilkolak, a spokeswoman working with the Carr Fire emergency response team. Some animals burrow into the ground, while others flee to more urban areas that are less affected by the fire, she said. Many domesticated pets were transported to the Haven Humane Society, which is near Redding. Larger farm animals, like horses and cows, are being kept on the Tehama District Fairgrounds, south of the fire. The Humane Society received more than 350 new animals at a shelter near Redding after the fire started, and six buildings were donated to handle the extra animals, said Mark Storrey, the chief executive of the organization. Combined with evacuated farm animals and others taken to local veterinarians, there were an estimated 1,000 animals that had to be moved because of the fire, he said.

What conditions caused the fire to spread?

The expansiveness of the Carr Fire can be credited to dry land that ignites easily, strong winds, and a topography that enables the fire to travel quickly, said Brenda Belongie, lead meteorologist of the federal Forest Service’s Predictive Services in Northern California. Hot temperatures exacerbate the problem. Last week, the temperature in Redding reached 113, according to the National Weather Service. Last week, the destruction of the Carr Fire was magnified by a fire whirl, colloquially called a firenado, Ms Belongie said. Caused by intense heat and turbulent wind that creates a vertical plume, they look like tornadoes of flame and ash. This fire whirl was particularly large and caused extensive damage, she said. It’s unclear whether there will be another of these fire vortexes because they’re so unpredictable, Ms Belongie added.

When will this be over?

Emergency responders have not yet released an estimated date of full containment, but they are making progress. The fire was 5 per cent contained as of Sunday and jumped to 27 per cent contained by Tuesday morning. The fire was moving west on Tuesday, said Ms Wilkolak, and emergency responders had set a goal of keeping the blaze from encroaching on Lewiston, Calif., a community about 30 miles northwest of Redding. On Monday, many residents of Redding were allowed to return home. The authorities were still keeping a quarter-mile “buffer zone” around the fire, Ms Wilkolak said, meaning that people living in those areas must evacuate. The air had higher moisture levels on Tuesday compared with past days. But the weather forecast did not look particularly advantageous to containment efforts, Ms Belongie said. “If we were to get rain, that would be great,” she said. “But we’re not going to. We’re going to remain hot and dry.” Credit: Julia Jacobs for The New York Times, 31 July 2018.

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https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2018/jul/31/california-fires-wildfires-2018-visual-guide-map