California wildfires rage on as temperatures rise

A helicopter flies over Willow Creek Canyon as a wildfire continues burning in the Sierra near Bass Lake, Monday, July 27

FRESNO (KRON/AP) — With temperatures soaring, fire crews on Tuesday struggled to make headway against a wildfire threatening about 450 homes and other buildings in the rugged foothills of Central California.

The fire is north of Fresno, near the tiny wooded communities of Bass Lake and Cascadel Woods. Flames were just 5 percent contained on Tuesday as crews worked in steep terrain attacking the flames from the ground and from above with the help of helicopters and air tankers.

Residents have been warned that they should be prepared to evacuate. So far the fire has blackened almost 3 square miles.

Firefighters will closely watch the rising temperatures and adjust their tactics accordingly, said Cody Norris, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

“Today is going to be a critical day,” he said of the fire. “It’s not tied up by any means.”

California has seen more wildfires so far this year compared to last, but the acreage burned is smaller thanks to favorable weather and more firefighters who can quickly be dispatched to corral flames, fire officials say.

In the Bay Area, the Wragg fire near Lake Berryessa about an hour east of the Napa Valley wine country has charred more than 10 square miles. Fire crew have gained the upper hand on that fire and on Tuesday said it was 80 percent contained.

Since Jan. 1, about 5,200 fires have burned on state and federal lands, according to the U.S. Forest Service. That’s 10 percent more than last year, but the 74,000 acres is 6 percent smaller.

Spurts of unseasonably rainy weather combined with the availability of hundreds of additional firefighters paid for with emergency drought funding have made a big difference, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said Monday.

“We’ve had more firefighters early,” he said. “That’s allowed us to be more aggressive.”

Cal Fire oversees state land and private property between forests and cities, while the Forest Service is responsible for 21 million acres in 18 national forests.

So far this year, state firefighters have responded to nearly 3,900 blazes — a 41 percent increase from the same period last year, according to Cal Fire. The fires have burned 28 percent less area than last year.

Cal Fire’s map of fire activities showed nine blazes across the state.

A grass fire north of Sacramento Monday burned more than 430 acres in a few hours before it was contained Monday evening. That fire was deemed arson and an arrest was made.

Four firefighters were hurt Sunday while battling a blaze that threatened 1,800 buildings in the rugged Sierra Nevada foothills northeast of Sacramento. One had serious, non-life threatening injuries and remained hospitalized.

Scattered wet weather has been the biggest factor helping firefighters contain fires more quickly during the fourth year of the drought, Berlant said. However, those storms often have been followed by hot, dry spells such as the one expected this week.

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