Fire crews inched closer to getting some of the largest of 1,420 blazes surrounded, according to the state Office of Emergency Services. Some 364,600 acres — or almost 570 square miles — have burned.
But a “red flag warning” — meaning the most extreme fire danger — was still in effect for Northern California until 8 a.m. EDT. And the weather in the coming days and months isn’t expected to help efforts.
Lower-than-average rainfall and record levels of parched vegetation likely mean a long, fiery summer throughout northern California, according to the Forest Service’s state fire outlook released last week.
The fires burning now were mostly sparked by lightning storms that were unusually intense for so early in the season. But summer storms would probably be even fiercer, according to the Forest Service.
“Our most widespread and/or critical lightning events often occur in late July or August, and we have no reason to deviate from that,” the agency’s report said.
The blazes have destroyed more than 50 buildings, said Gregory Renick, state emergency services spokesman. More than 19,500 firefighters are battling the blazes and 926 helicopters have been used.
A lightning-sparked wildfire in the Big Sur region of the Los Padres National Forest has burned 42 square miles and destroyed 16 homes. The blaze, which was only 3 percent contained late Sunday, has forced the closure of a 12-mile stretch of coastal Highway 1 and driven away visitors at the peak of the tourist season.
Air quality districts from Bakersfield to Redding issued health advisories through the weekend, urging residents to stay indoors to limit exposure to the smoky air.
A fire in the Piute Mountain area has burned more than 1,000 acres, causing some small communities to be evacuated, most vacation homes, The Bakersfield Californian reported today.
On Saturday, President Bush issued an emergency declaration for California and ordered federal agencies to assist in firefighting efforts.
But California emergency officials said state and local governments would also need federal financing to cover the costs of fighting so many fires this early in the year.
Federal aid now includes four Marine Corps helicopters, remote sensing of the fires by NASA, federal firefighters, and the activation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In Arizona, residents of a remote mountain community north of Phoenix were evacuated Sunday as a 500-acre wildfire moved toward town, but a late afternoon wind shift spared all but one structure in Crown King. Flames came within a mile of town.
The surrounding ponderosa pine forest has a large number of dead trees, victims of a bark beetle infestation that has killed millions of trees across the West in recent years. About 120 people were evacuated from the town of about 400 scattered homes and summer cabins, said Debbie Maneely, a spokeswoman for the Prescott National Forest.
Evacuation orders were lifted Sunday morning for residents of Tajique in central New Mexico, where a blaze has destroyed six homes.