More than 367 fast-moving wildfires are raging across California, burning over 300,000 acres and threatening the lives of residents and homes. The intense blazes, which stretch north from the San Francisco Bay Area, are moving so quickly that the governor has declared a state of emergency and families are being told to flee immediately.
The fires are now torching an area bigger than Washington, D.C., and there is growing fear that some people may not have escaped in time. California Governor Gavin Newsom has requested help from 375 fire engines from agencies around the country.
Nearly 11,000 lightning strikes hit Northern California on Wednesday, causing at least 60 fires, fire officials said Wednesday. Almost 7,000 fire personnel from various agencies have responded and are facing a blistering heat wave.
Fires in Napa and Sonoma Counties have spread into Solano, Lake and Yolo Counties — grouped together as the LNU Lightning Complex fires — have scorched close to 50,000 acres. Two other lightning-caused fire groups have similarly impacted residents and firefighters across the greater Bay Area. There is nearly 0% containment across them.
“The fire weather not only in this region but throughout Northern California — it’s going to be a tough day. We have the hot dry winds that may occur this afternoon that may hamper some of our control efforts,” said Sean Kavanaugh, an incident commander with Cal Fire, CBS San Francisco reported.
At least 50 homes have been destroyed and 50 others had been damaged, according to Cal Fire. The agency, however, warned the tally would rise. “We do anticipate that number to be larger,” said Jeremy Rahn, a spokesperson with Cal Fire. “It would be safe to say there are multiple buildings that have been damaged or destroyed beyond that amount.”
Air quality officials in San Francisco said smoke from the fires in the region are “causing elevated levels of particulate pollution” and warned residents to protect their health and avoid exposure.
The largest of the LNU Complex fires, the Hennessey Fire that started near Hennessey Ridge Road in Napa County on Monday morning, had burned an estimated 12,500 acres and was not contained at all by Wednesday morning, prompting evacuations that extended into areas near Vacaville in Solano County.
Among those scrambling to escape was a woman named Diane and her husband. She shared her harrowing encounter with CBS San Francisco.
“I got all my children out, but then I panicked a little bit. It took me a little while to get out,” said Diane Bustos, as she stood wearing a singed nightgown. “My husband was driving the car and it burned. He got burned and had to leave the car and it blew up. So I was walking down by myself and I got all these flames on me. I lost my shoes. But I made it, God saved me.”
Diane ran in her nightgown almost a mile to the main road. When she started, she had both shoes on her feet. Now she only has one. Based on what I saw tonight, this will not be the only story like this. People literally ran for their lives. #Vacaville #LNULightningComplex pic.twitter.com/XkfQ7Env7V
Newsom ordered a statewide state of emergency Tuesday and said the fires have been “exacerbated by the effects of the historic West Coast heat wave and sustained high winds.” The governor said the state’s wildfire season has been incredibly active, with 6,754 fires as of August 18. There were only 4,007 fires at this point last year.
In Southern California, the massive Apple Fire is 95% contained, according to Cal Fire, after scorching more than 33,000 acres.
Carter Evans contributed to this report.
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