By: The Working Forest Staff
CNN — At least 22 large fires are burning in California, where dry, windy conditions and record-breaking high temperatures have been fueling flames for weeks in some areas.
While firefighters continue to battle the flames and rescue people from dangerous areas, other agencies are proactively closing national forests, and temporary power shut-offs have been ordered to prevent future blazes.
A public safety power shutoff is in effect for 22 counties in Northern California, with 172,000 Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) customers impacted Monday night. Full restoration of power is expected by Wednesday evening.
There are currently 76 large wildfires burning across the United States, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, and California has been the hardest hit state. More than 4.6 million acres have been burned nationwide so far this year, according to the NIFC. More than 2.09 million of those acres have burned in California, Cal Fire has said.
A red flag warning has been issued by the National Weather Service for Ventura and Los Angeles counties through Wednesday morning.
Peak wind gusts of up to 50 mph are expected for many elevated areas in Northern California, which only exacerbates an already active fire season in the state as hot and dry weather will continue to dry out vegetation and make it more susceptible to fires during a wind event, PG&E Senior Meteorologist Scott Strenfel explained.
“Unfortunately, this wind event is occurring on the heels of the current heat wave and will produce critical fire potential conditions,” Strenfel said.
“Windy conditions, like those being forecast, increase the potential for damage and hazards to the electric infrastructure, which could cause sparks if lines are energized. These conditions also increase the potential for rapid fire spread,” PG&E said in a news release on Monday.
Hundreds rescued from Creek Fire
Gould called the fire an “unprecedented disaster” for Fresno County, adding that while major wildfires have occurred in the area before, the Creek Fire is the “most aggressive of any of those.”
“This one’s in a class by itself,” Gould added.
The “massive” wildfire has caused heavy structural damage and current conditions are preventing damage inspection teams from getting into the areas to survey exactly how many structures have been lost, a Cal Fire official said during the briefing.
As the fire spreads, blocking roads and trails, evacuations have been ordered in Madera and Fresno counties. Many people on vacation for the holiday weekend have become trapped and required aerial rescues.
Throughout Monday, helicopters were attempting to rescue those who were trapped by the fire, and it remained a high priority Monday night, Fresno County sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Pursell said.
Temporary areas of refuge were set up in four locations, Pursell said.
“Those people that are in those temporary areas of refuge are safe,” Pursell said. “We want families to understand that those people are safe.”
A rescue operation was underway for about 50 people trapped by the fire near Lake Edison and China Peak late Monday night, according to tweets from the Fresno Fire Department.
The first attempt was unsuccessful due to heavy smoke conditions, but the Chinook helicopter will make other attempts using night vision, the department said.
Over the weekend, more than 200 people were rescued from the area as flames surrounded Lake Mammoth Reservoir.
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