California governor calls wildfires 'deadly moment,' urges residents to flee
August 22, 2020
CALIFORNIA (Reuters) – Hundreds of wildfires burning across Central and Northern California that have already killed six people more than doubled in size on Friday, becoming some of the largest in state history and threatening small towns in the path of the flames. The conflagrations, which broke out over the last week, have blackened an area larger than the US state of Rhode Island and destroyed more than 500 homes and other structures. In addition to the fatalities, 43 firefighters and civilians have been hurt. California Governor Gavin Newsom said crews were fighting 560 fires across the state, many of them sparked by lightning storms, straining resources to the breaking point as he seeks reinforcements from as far away as Canada and Australia. “We are not naive by any stretch about how deadly this moment is and why it is essential ... that you heed evacuation orders and that you take them seriously,” Newsom, a Democrat, told Californians at a news briefing. The state has been hit by its worst dry-lightning storms in nearly two decades as close to 12,000 strikes have sent flames racing through lands left parched by a recent heat wave. Some 175,000 people have been told to leave their homes. In Santa Cruz, a city of around 65,000 people on California’s central coast, residents were told to prepare “go bags” as bulldozers cut fire lines and flames came within a mile of the University of California Santa Cruz campus. Video footage posted on social media showed giant Redwood trees, some more than 2,000 years old, standing largely unscathed among the torched ruins of buildings in and around Big Basin Redwoods State Park. A complex of blazes east of Palo Alto and another in wine country south of Sacramento are the seventh and tenth largest wildfires in state history, respectively, according to CalFire, and the agency warned that more dry-lightning storms were expected as early as Sunday.