AETNA SPRINGS, Calif. (Reuters) – California braced for more lightning storms that could spark dozens of new blazes after over 600 wildfires in the last week burned an area three times the size of Los Angeles.
The worst of the wildfires, including the second and third largest in California history, were around the San Francisco Bay Area with roughly 240,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders or evacuation warnings in the state.
The National Weather Service on Monday morning lifted a warning for lightning and high winds in the area, giving firefighters some relief, but kept the “red flag” alert in place for much of Northern California.
“The threat of a thunderstorm over a fire area is dangerous, let alone over the second and third largest in California history,” Brice Bennett, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said of the two largest blazes, the LNU and SCU Lightning Complexes.
The fires, which were ignited by over 13,000 lightning strikes from dry thunderstorms across Northern and Central California since Aug. 15, have killed at least seven people and destroyed over 1,200 homes and other structures.
Smoke from wildfires that have burned over 1.2 million acres in the last 10 days has created unhealthy conditions for much of northern California and has drifted as far as Kansas.
The LNU Complex, which began as a string of smaller fires that merged into one, has burned around 350,000 acres of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Solano counties, Cal Fire said.
It was 22% contained as of Monday while to the south the SCU Lightning Complex was nearly as large, at 347,000 acres, and only 10% contained.
“I’m nervous, I don’t want to leave my house, but lives are more important,” Penny Furusho told CBS television affiliate KPIX5 after she received an order to evacuate her home near Morgan Hills on the south flank of the SCU fire.
Another blaze threatened forests south of San Jose with the University of California at Santa Cruz under mandatory evacuation along with dozens of communities.
Over 14,000 firefighters are on the wildfires which U.S. President Donald Trump declared a major disaster, freeing up federal funds to help residents and businesses.