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California can expect epic wildfires as drought continues, Gov. Brown says

California can expect epic wildfires as drought continues, Gov. Brown says
Firefighters make their way up a hillside along Water Trough Road in Lake County, south of Clearlake, on Aug. 5, 2015. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Standing in front of scorched hills as the smell of smoke lingered in the air, Gov. Jerry Brown said the flames that tore through Northern California over the past week serve as a "real wake-up call" to the dangers of wildfires fueled by California's drought.

Firefighters have made progress battling the blaze, dubbed the Rocky fire, and officials said some of the thousands of evacuees should be able to return home soon.

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Brown visited the area to meet with first responders and some residents who lost their homes in the blaze.

"These are very difficult times and a real tragedy for the families," he said.

Asked what assistance would be available to victims of the fire, the governor said, "I'm going to be on this very carefully."

With the drought in its fourth year, Brown said California's fire season likely will be exacerbated by dry conditions.

"Fasten your seat belts," he said.

The wildfire that has spread across 69,600 acres in three counties was 40% contained as firefighters worked aggressively to establish control lines. But the fire has continued to consume homes.

Forty-three homes and 53 outbuildings were destroyed, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and eight structures were damaged.

As firefighters gained ground on the blaze, another threat loomed: lightning.

A fire-weather watch was issued for a large portion of Northern California, where thunderstorms with little rainfall are expected to hit, Cal Fire said. That means lightning strikes could spark news fires within the parched woodlands.

"The gusty and erratic winds from these thunderstorms could also affect the fire spread of the remaining active fires," Cal Fire said.

The Rocky fire is one of 19 wildfires burning in California. Nearly 11,000 firefighters are fanned across the state working to contain them.

More than 3,600 firefighters are battling the Rocky fire as it burns north of Napa in Colusa, Lake and Yolo counties. Flames continue to threaten 6,959 structures.

The erratic blaze has forced fire officials to issue a stern notice to residents: Stay vigilant and adhere to any changes in evacuations and road closures.

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"A history of high temperatures, low humidity, changing winds and poor overnight recovery continue to contribute to the future possibility of significant fire activity," Cal Fire said.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA.

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