Sun | Dec 9, 2018

Firefighters battling biggest blaze in California's history

Published:Tuesday | August 7, 2018 | 4:27 PM
The Ranch Fire spots out ahead of the main fire in Spring Valley, California, Monday, August 6, 2018. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

Firefighters struggled against rugged terrain, high winds, and an August heat wave Tuesday to slow the spread of the biggest wildfire ever recorded in California, an inferno that exploded to more than 450 square miles in just 11 days.

The blaze, centred near the community of Upper Lake, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, spread fast because of what officials said was a perfect combination of weather, topography and abundant vegetation turned into highly flammable fuel by years of drought.

The flames were raging in mostly remote areas, and no deaths or serious injuries were reported.

But at least 75 homes have been lost, and thousands of people have been forced to flee.

The blaze, dubbed the Mendocino Complex, was reported 20 percent contained.

Its rapid growth to an area the size of Los Angeles at the same time firefighters were battling more than a dozen other major blazes around the state fanned fears that 2018 could become the worst wildfire season in California history.

“For whatever reason, fires are burning much more intensely, much more quickly than they were before,” said Mark A. Hartwig, president of the California Fire Chiefs Association.

About 3,900 firefighters, including a crew of 40 volunteers from New Zealand, were battling the blaze, contending with temperatures in the high 90s and winds gusting to 25 miles per hour.

The area has few roads that can serve as firebreaks, and firefighters instead fell back to natural barriers like streams or used bulldozers to cut fire lines.

But the flames were moving so fast in spots that they blew past fire lines, forcing firefighters to retreat, said Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox of the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

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