Latest fire caused by a couple's plan to reveal their baby's gender when the device they used sparked a wildfire that burned thousands of acres and forced people to flee from a city east of Los Angeles.
Wildfires have burned more than two million acres in California this year, setting a state record even as crews battled dozens of growing blazes in sweltering temperatures that strained the electrical grid and threatened power outages for millions.
The most striking thing about the record is how early it was set, with the most dangerous part of the year ahead, said Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, on Monday.
"It’s a little unnerving because September and October are historically our worst months for fires," she said. "It’s usually hot, and the fuels really dry out. And we see more of our wind events."
The previous high was 1.96 million acres burned in 2018. Cal Fire began tracking the numbers in 1987.
#RedFlagWarning in effect throughout California until Wednesday due to gusty winds & low humidity. This is #CriticalFireWeather so use caution when outdoors. https://t.co/upBwccxXFO pic.twitter.com/GzZacbOtCx— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) September 5, 2020
Fire sparked by device to reveal baby's gender
A couple's plan to reveal their baby's gender went up not in blue or pink smoke but in flames when the device they used sparked a wildfire that burned thousands of acres and forced people to flee from a city east of Los Angeles.
The fire prompted evacuations in parts of Yucaipa, a city of 54,000, and the surrounding area. Water-dropping helicopters were brought in but the fire has proven stubborn — it grew to 30 square kilometres by Monday morning and more than 500 firefighters on the scene only had minimal containment. No homes have burned and no injuries reported.
The fire started on Saturday morning at El Ranch Dorado Park, a rugged natural area popular with hikers and dog owners.
In summer the park’s tall natural grasses dry out and turn golden, and when combined with the San Bernardino Mountains in the distance, provide a popular backdrop for family photos and videos.
Meanwhile, firefighters struggled to corral several dangerous blazes ahead of dry, hot winds predicted to raise fire danger to critical levels in the coming days.
Evacuation orders were expanded to more mountain communities as the largest blaze, the Creek Fire, churned through the Sierra National Forest.
Mountain roads were filled with cars and trucks leaving the community of about 2,300 people.
Firefighters working in steep terrain saved the tiny town of Shaver Lake from flames that roared down hillsides toward a marina. About 30 houses were destroyed in the remote hamlet of Big Creek.
Sheriff's deputies went door to door to make sure residents were complying with orders to leave. Officials hoped to keep the fire from pushing west, possibly toward Yosemite National Park.
On Saturday, rescuers in military helicopters airlifted 207 people to safety after flames trapped them in wooded camping near Mammoth Pool Reservoir.
State of emergency
Late on Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties due to the wildfires, which also prompted the US Forest Service to temporarily close some nationalforests including the Sierra National Forest, the Angeles National Forest and the San Bernardino National Forest.
The California Independent Systems Operator, which runs most of the Golden State’s power grid, again urged consumers to cut back on energy consumption and said it was monitoring wildfires throughout the state threatening power lines.
"Temperatures are expected to be above normal statewide for the third consecutive day, driving up electricity demand, primarily from air conditioning use," it said in a statement.
#FlexAlert has been issued from 3 p.m. to 9 a.m. to #ConserveEnergy and reduce the risk of a potential outage. Let’s all do our part by Shutting off lights when leaving a room, turn off power strips when not in use and close your blinds to keep out the afternoon sun/heat. pic.twitter.com/IAeVm0CmOy— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) September 7, 2020
The weather was predicted to cool later in the day, but the weather change also was expected to bring winds that could fan wildfires.
Pacific Gas & Electric warned it might cut power starting late Monday to about 158,000 customers in parts of 21 Northern California counties because of the increased fire danger.
Some of the state’s largest and deadliest fires in recent years have been sparked by downed power lines and other utility equipment.
Temperatures rising in downtown
Daytime temperatures in fire zones neared or exceeded triple digits. Downtown Los Angeles reached 44 Celsius on Sunday and a record-shattering high of 49.4 Celsius was recorded in the nearby Woodland Hills neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley.
It was the highest temperature ever recorded in Los Angeles County, according to the National Weather Service.
Meanwhile, downtown San Francisco set a record for the day with a high of 37.7 Celsius on Sunday, smashing the previous mark by 5 degrees.
Cal Fire said 14,800 firefighters were battling 23 major fires in the state.
California has seen 900 wildfires since August 15, many of them started by an intense series of thousands of lightning strikes. There have been eight fire deaths and more than 3,300 structures destroyed.