LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A break in the brutal heat wave that has baked California for much of the summer gave firefighters a chance to attack a string of major wildfires across the state that have killed eight people and destroyed thousands of homes.
A helicopter flies towards Holy Jim Canyon after drawing water from Corona Lake, during firefighting efforts for the Holy Fire, in California, U.S., August 12, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Melodee Tonti/via REUTERS
The cooler temperatures, off triple digits across much of Northern California, came during a two-day tour of the area by two Trump administration officials, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
The intensity of this year’s fire season, one of California’s worst in more than a decade, showed the need for clearing underbrush and removing dead trees, Zinke told KRCR-TV during the visit.
“We have to remove the dead and dying trees and restore health to our forests,” he told the station.
About 110 major wildfires are burning across the western United States and have burned more than 8,900 sq miles (23,000 sq km), an area larger than the state of New Jersey, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The conflagrations have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes and shuttered national parks.
The Carr Fire, which has blackened about 203,000 acres (82,000 hectares) and killed eight people in and around Shasta County, north of Sacramento near the Oregon state line, was 61 percent contained as of Monday afternoon, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
About 130 miles (160 km) away, crews had cut buffer lines around 68 percent of the largest wildfire recorded in California history, the Mendocino Complex, which has already charred about 344,000 acres.
A firefighter had been killed in that fire, officials said, but no details were immediately available.
In Southern California the Holy Fire, which authorities say was set on Aug. 6 by a disgruntled homeowner in an Orange County canyon, was 52 percent contained after torching more than 22,000 acres (8,900 hectares) and destroying a dozen cabins.
The increasing containment was good news but did not necessarily mean the wildfire season was dying down, Cal Fire spokesman Cary Wright said.
“A lot of this is determined based on the drought, Mother Nature, what kind of winds we get,” Wright said. “With low humidity, high heat and low moisture, fire season just seems to be getting longer and longer.”
Though temperatures had dropped from their triple-digit highs, they were expected to stay above 90 degrees F (32 C) through Friday.
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker
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