Flames from California’s third-most destructive wildfire on record not only consumed hundreds of homes but also left deep burn scars that can be seen from space.
New NASA infrared satellite images of the 76,067-acre fire show large swaths of burned woodlands in Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties, charred by intense, fast-moving flames. The town of Middletown is surrounded by acres of scorched land, the images show.
Years of aggressive firefighting, drought and few prescribed fires left the forest overrun with brush and timber, according to NASA.
“So when a weather system delivered abnormally hot temperatures and gusty winds to Napa, Sonoma, and Lake counties in northern California, the forests were primed to burn intensely,” NASA said.
As the death toll rises in California’s destructive wildfires, firefighters are moving closer to fully containing raging flames that have consumed thousands of homes.
The Valley fire started Sept. 12 in southern Lake County and burned toward several towns, forcing thousands of resident to flees. The blaze destroyed 1,910 structures. Four people were killed.
Authorities have continued searching for Robert Edward Litchman, 61, of Lower Lake, whose home was destroyed by the fire. Lake County sheriff’s officials said Litchman refused to evacuate and was last seen standing in his driveway waving at vehicles as others fled the area.
Only two other fires have destroyed more structures than the Valley fire: the Tunnel fire in 1991 and the Cedar fire in 2003.
More than 2,800 firefighters are working to stamp out hot spots within the blaze, which is 85% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“Rehabilitation is underway to restore the natural landscape that may have been altered during initial firefighting efforts,” Cal Fire said.
Burning in Amador and Calaveras counties, the Butte fire has blackened 70,868 acres and destroyed nearly 820 structures and killed two people.
More than two weeks after the blaze started, Cal Fire announced on Thursday that all evacuation orders had finally been lifted and that the fire was nearly 90% contained.
The three fires are among nine blazes burning in California. Although firefighters have begun to gain an upper hand on several fires, warm temperatures this week could increase the danger again.
Temperatures are expected jump in Northern California and could reach triple digits by the weekend in Southern California.
“Even though fall officially started yesterday, the risk of wildfires has not ended,” Cal Fire said. “In fact, historically California experiences its largest and most damaging wildfires during the fall months.”
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