In Northern California, massive forest fires continue to rage despite 14,000 firefighters. The weather forecasts are unfavorable. The firefighters prepare for stormy weather with lightning. Almost a quarter of a million people had to leave their homes.
By Marcus Schuler, ARD Studio Los Angeles
There are few places in the world where the air quality is currently worse than in Northern California. A gigantic cloud of smoke and ash hangs over a huge area of about 800 kilometers in length.
At the moment, the almost 14,000 emergency services are mainly concerned about new fires, says the spokesman for the California fireworks Will Powers in ARD-Interview: “The weather report predicts stormy weather with lightning. This is what gives us the greatest stomach ache, because new lightning strikes are likely to cause further, new fires.”
585 individual fires combined into three large fires
More than 585 individual fires have been counted since last week. Some of these have come together to form three large fires. In the middle: San Francisco. In the north, a good 80 kilometers away, the LNU fire is burning. It mainly extends to the wine-growing regions of Napa, Sonoma and Solano. To the south there is the CZU fire, here thousand year old redwood trees are on fire in the mountains of Santa Cruz – that is between the Pacific coast and Silicon Valley.
And in the east of the Bay Area – near Fremont – where Tesla produces its cars, the forests and steppes are burning in the hinterland. In total, the fires destroyed an area of almost 5,000 square kilometers.
Temperatures up to 40 degrees
Fire department spokesman Powers explains: “It has been extremely hot here the past few days, with very low humidity even during the nights and that has made the fires grow very aggressively in many areas.”
Temperatures between 30 and 40 degrees have ruled the region for days. Then a week ago a high pressure area suddenly brought subtropical air into the region and that caused almost 12,000 lightning bolts.
Rural forest areas affected
Tom Walter looks after a former farm near Vacaville, Solano County, which now has two houses on the property. One of them burned to the ground. For Walter it is the fourth fire: “If it burns out here, the fire brigade does a good job and uses fire-fighting planes. But this time everything happened so quickly.”
So far, the California authorities speak of five people who were killed in the fires. In contrast to the fires of previous years, forest areas and rural regions are particularly affected. Three and a half thousand buildings burned down. More than 120,000 people had to leave their homes.
Insurance premiums are expensive
Simone Lenoir lives in one of the risk areas, in Santa Rosa. She has already witnessed three fires up close. Now she is considering moving away from California: “In the future, it will be difficult to sell your house in the region because nobody wants to live here anymore and the insurance premiums for household items are too expensive. That makes me think.”
Most of the fires are currently only 15 to 20 percent under control. The decisive factor now is the weather development in the coming hours.