Wildfire in Northern California is largest in state’s history


(NBC) — A wildfire burning through Northern California became the state’s largest on record on Monday, scorching more than 283,000 acres, officials said.

The Mendocino Complex blaze — a conglomerate of two separate fires burning through rural Lake, Colusa and Mendocino counties — overtook last year’s Thomas Fire, which scorched more than 1,000 buildings and killed two people across 440 square miles in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.

The fire began on July 27 and was spurred on Monday by an ominous high-pressure system that brought hotter, drier and windier weather to the area, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

The fire has destroyed dozens of homes and other buildings, and more than 11,000 structures remained threatened, the department said.

The Mendocino Complex blaze reached 443 square miles, almost twice the size of Tucson, Arizona — which is about 226.7 square miles.

As of Tuesday, the Mendocino Complex blaze was only 30 percent contained. Firefighters expect the fire will be fully contained by Aug. 15.

Mandatory evacuations remained in effect across Mendocino, Lake and nearby Colusa counties, though some people were allowed to return home on Monday afternoon, Cal Fire said.

The fires in have created such a haze of smoke in the Central Valley that Sacramento County health officials advised residents to avoid outdoor activities for the entire week.

Nearly 4,000 fire personnel, including 441 firefighters, were battling the wildfire.

It was unclear what caused the blaze, but the fire was one of more than a dozen burning amid record-setting heat waves in the drought-stricken state, according to Cal Fire.

Tens of thousands of residents across California have been displaced by wildfires this season, Gov. Jerry Brown told reporters Saturday.

California suffered record-breaking heat last month as temperatures stayed in the triple digits for days. The unprecedented heat fueled the wildfires last month, and continue to spur on the blaze in August as temperatures again approach triple digits across the state.

Temperatures in parts of northern California were expected to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday, according to Weather.com. Colusa, California, where part of the Mendocino Fire Complex is burning, was also expected to break into the triple digits at 103 degrees, and the forecast for the rest of the month shows temperatures in the mid- to high 90s.

President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in California on July 27, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help firefighters working to respond to the disaster areas.

More than 14,000 firefighters are now battling over a dozen major blazes throughout California, state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Scott McLean said.

A new fire erupted Monday in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, and prompted the evacuation of two canyons and some campgrounds as it expanded into the Cleveland National Forest. By nightfall, the fire had burned 4,000 acres of chaparral-covered hillsides and destroyed one building.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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