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Two massive fires in California forced thousands of evacuations over the weekend and continue to rage into Monday. (Photo: AP)

California Wildfires Rage in Shadow of Warming Planet

Governor Jerry Brown declares states of emergency in several counties as uncontained blazes devastate communities

Nadia Prupis

California Governor Jerry Brown on Sunday declared a state of emergency in two counties over some of the fastest-burning wildfires in decades which have overtaken several communities in California's northern Valley and Butte areas, forcing thousands to flee and killing at least one person over the weekend.

This year's fire season in the West has been particularly bad—and has potential to be the region's longest and most devastating—after an ongoing historic four-year drought has left the state inundated with dry brush and high temperatures.

"This fire has continued to grow at such a fast rate. It's threatening more and more homes," California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) public information officer Daniel Berlant said on Sunday. "With the dry conditions we have across California, this fire has been explosive in the size and just how quickly [it] has been able to grow."

The Lake County Office of Emergency Services called the behavior of the blaze "unprecedented." In a tweet Sunday, Cal Fire's chief of operations Todd Derum was quoted as saying that the Valley Fire was "creating [its] own weather, not moving with the winds. Spotting out in all directions."

The Valley fire sparked in Lake County on Saturday, roughly 115 miles north of Sacramento, and spread quickly to Napa County, burning down hundreds of homes and businesses across at least 61,000 acres in the process and injuring four firefighters. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for dozens of communities.

As of Monday, the blaze was at 5 percent containment, according to Sacramento's Capital Public Radio.

A second wildfire in the nearby Butte area, which started last Wednesday, has burned through 71,063 acres, with containment at 30 percent, according to Cal Fire. Brown ordered a state of emergency for Butte's Amador and Calaveras Counties on Friday after the blaze took at least 85 residences and 50 outbuildings.

A study published last week in Environmental Research Letters science journal by researchers with the University of California (UC) Davis, UC Irvine, and UCLA reported that wildfires in the state have increased in size and strength over the last few decades due at least in part to the planet's changing climate.


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