Record-breaking heat and gusty winds expected by the weekend will prime California’s brush-covered hills and valleys for fast-moving wildfires even as crews currently battle two large blazes in the northern half of the state.
Burdened with a 70,000-acre wildfire in Yolo County and a nearly 15,000-acre blaze in Lake County, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection crews will be on high alert this weekend along with county and local fire agencies, officials said Tuesday.
“It’s summertime in Northern California so the conditions are never great,” said Mike Kochasic, a meteorologist in Sacramento. With the exception of a three-day dip ending Friday, temperatures in the region around the fires will hover in the 90s, with wind gusts up to 30 mph and humidity below 30%, Kochasic said.
“It definitely does dry things. It’s a concern right around the holiday,” he added, referring to the Fourth of July.
“All the vegetation now is extremely stressed, and they’re all vying for that little bit of moisture that is out there,” said Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean. “It’s just a recipe for wildland fires.”
In Southern California, record-breaking heat this weekend will amplify fire risks, said Keily Delerme, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Oxnard.
Delerme said it could inch toward triple digits in downtown Los Angeles on Friday when the heat record for that date is 88 degrees. The valleys could peak at 112 degrees over the weekend.
Desert winds blasting toward the ocean are expected to keep any hint of a cool ocean breeze in check, she added.
In the meantime, scores of residents near the County fire in Yolo County remain under evacuation orders.
The blaze was threatening nearly 1,000 homes and businesses early Tuesday, authorities said.
It started in Yolo County on Saturday and grew to 70,000 acres with only 5% containment as of Tuesday morning, Cal Fire said.
The fire is burning in the rugged hills and canyons west of Sacramento near Lake Berryessa amid difficult terrain and shifting winds. Crews spent Monday and Tuesday setting up defensive positions around neighborhoods in the fire’s potential path, Cal Fire said.
There are more than 2,100 firefighters at the scene working to stop the blaze. Residents in neighboring Napa County’s Berryessa Highlands, Markley Cove Resort and Pleasure Cove Resort areas were told Monday night to prepare to flee if the fire pushes closer. Residents to their north, in Yolo County’s Esparto neighborhood, were evacuated over the weekend.
“Usually fire season is maybe late August, September, October,” said state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), whose district includes Yolo County and other areas hit hard recently by wildfires. “But, boy, it’s just getting earlier and earlier.”
The blaze is the second largest wildfire of the year in California. The Pawnee fire, which began June 23 in Lake County, has burned 14,900 acres and is 80% contained after destroying 22 homes, businesses and other structures, Cal Fire said.