California wildfire becomes second largest in state history

(Reuters) – A sprawling blaze in Northern California grew on Monday into the second-largest wildfire ever recorded in the state, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency, highlighting the ferociousness of this year’s fire season.

FILE PHOTO: A firefighter knocks down hotspots to slow the spread of the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Lakeport, California, U.S. July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves/File Photo

Fire officials expect it to take another nine days to fully contain the so-called Mendocino Complex Fire, which had scorched 273,664 acres (110,748 hectares) by Monday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, an area nearly the size of Los Angeles.

“Unfortunately, they’re not going to get a break anytime soon,” Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center, said in an interview on Monday. “It’s pretty doggone hot and dry, and it’s going to stay that way.”

Some areas in Central and Northern California could see temperatures reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) and winds of 15 miles (24 km) per hour, with higher gusts that could fan the flames and spread embers, he said. Environmentalists and some politicians say the uptick in the intensity of the state’s wildfire season may be linked in part to climate change.

The Mendocino Complex Fire has destroyed 75 homes and forced thousands to flee.

Still only 30 percent contained, it is one of 17 major wildfires burning across California that prompted Trump to declare a “major disaster” in the state on Sunday, ordering federal funding to be made available to help recovery efforts.

“California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Another fire, the nearly two-week-old Carr Fire, claimed another life on Saturday, a 21-year-old apprentice lineman, Jay Ayeta, officials with PG&E Corp said on Sunday.

Ayeta died when his vehicle crashed as he worked with crews in dangerous terrain in Shasta County.

He was the seventh person to die in that blaze, which has scorched more than 160,000 acres (64,750 hectares) in the scenic Shasta-Trinity region north of Sacramento, including two young children and their great-grandmother whose home was overrun by flames, and two firefighters. The Carr Fire is now the 12th largest fire recorded in the state.

Firefighters had managed to contain 45 percent of the Carr blaze by Monday morning, and authorities were letting some evacuees return.

Reporting by Rich McKay and Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by William Maclean and Jonathan Oatis

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