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Massive wildfire becomes largest in California history

  • 7 Aug 2018

The Mendocino Complex fire surpassed the Thomas Fire, which burned 117,639 hectares in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in 2017, as officials say the fire is expected to burn for the rest of the month.

A US Air Force plane drops fire retardant on a burning hillside in the Ranch Fire in Clearlake Oaks in California. ( AP )

California's biggest wildfire on record was expected to burn for the rest of the month, fire officials said on Tuesday, as hot and windy conditions challenged thousands of fire crews battling eight major blazes burning out of control across the state.

The Mendocino Complex grew to span 117,639 hectares (290,692 acres) by Tuesday morning, with barely a third of it contained since two wildfires merged at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

It is the largest of eight major fires burning out of control across California, prompting US President Donald Trump to declare a "major disaster" in the state.

"Unfortunately, they're not going to get a break anytime soon," National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Hurley said of firefighters who had cut buffer lines around 30 percent of the blaze. 

"It's pretty doggone hot and dry, and it's going to stay that way."

TRT World's Alexi Noelle has more.

Hurley said temperatures could reach 43 Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit) in Northern California over the next few days with gusty winds fanning the flames.

Largest of eight

The Mendocino Complex, which has destroyed 75 homes and forced thousands to flee, is the largest of eight major wildfires burning out of control across California, prompting US President Donald Trump to declare a "major disaster" in the state.

A total of nearly 3,900 people were fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire, including crews from Arizona, Washington and Alaska.

The Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, crests a ridge as Battalion Chief Matt Sully directs firefighting operations on High Valley Rd. near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Sunday.(AFP)

Some 200 soldiers from the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, have also been called in to help in one of the most destructive fire seasons on record.

On Sunday, 140 fire managers and specialists from Australia and New Zealand underwent special training and were issued safety gear at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise before being deployed to fires in the Pacific Northwest and California.

Crews battling the Mendocino Complex on Monday were focusing on keeping flames from breaking through fire lines on a ridge above the foothill communities of Nice, Lucerne, Glen Haven, and Clearlake Oaks, said Tricia Austin, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire.

"If it were to be carried outside of those lines they have on the ridge, it could sweep down into those communities, that's what we're trying to prevent," she said.

Evacuations ordered

Elsewhere in California, evacuations were ordered for cabins in Cleveland National Forest canyons in Orange County on Monday afternoon after a blaze broke out and quickly spread to blacken some  283 hectares (700 acres).

The Carr Fire — which has torched 66,047.5 hectares (163,207 acres) in the scenic Shasta-Trinity region north of Sacramento since breaking out on July 23 — was 45 percent contained.

The Carr Fire has been blamed for seven deaths, including a 21-year-old apprentice PG&E lineman Jay Ayeta, whom the company said on Sunday was killed in a vehicle crash as he worked with crews in dangerous terrain.

"California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren't allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilised," Trump wrote on Twitter.

A California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman declined to comment on Trump's tweet but said crews did not lack water to fight the flames.

Environmental activists and some politicians say the intensity of the state's wildfire season could be linked in part to climate change. 

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