Today more than 7,000 firefighters, several California National Guard helicopters and two C-130 cargo planes are battling a dozen major wildfires in the state, which have charred a total of nearly 100,000 acres, a Cal Fire spokesman said. Troops were departing Moffett Field today, Aug. 21, to combat wildfires from the air.
In the past two days, as many as 150 new wildfires have been sparked by lightning, keeping firefighters scrambling to put out hot spots, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.
A red flag warning is in effect through Thursday for most of the foothills and mountains of Northern California because of the possibility of more lightning and gusty winds, state fire officials said.
The unusually active fire season has forced Cal Fire to augment its resources with personnel from the California National Guard, in a mutual aid relationship that spans decades. Cal Fire trains several dozen National Guard pilots each year to aid in air suppression.
"The National Guard has excellent pilots that we train to help us fight fires from the air," Berlant said. "We use specialized air equipment -- a cargo plane that we put in a modular fire tank to drop fire retardant, much like an air tanker."
The National Guard pilots are trained in how to effectively drop water and fire retardant and how to safely fly over a fire, he said.
This year has seen one of the most active fire seasons since 2008, due in part to a lack of rain combined with high temperatures that did not allow the light spring rain to soak into the dry ground.
This is also the earliest fire season Cal Fire has seen in decades, Berlant contends.
From Jan. 1 through this past Saturday, Cal Fire recorded 4,700 wildfires statewide. During roughly the same time in 2012, from Jan. 1 to Aug. 1, Cal Fire recorded just over 3,400 wildfires, Berlant said. He added that the average number for that seven-month period is about 3,300.
The Swedes Fire in Butte County, southeast of Oroville, is expected to be fully contained by Thursday. The fire has burned nearly 2,500 acres and was 90 percent contained as of this morning.
The Burney Lightning Series in Shasta County near Fall River Mills is 80 percent contained, Berlant said. Firefighters were battling seven fires spanning 190 acres.
Cal Fire is assisting the U.S. Forest Service with 10 additional fires burning on federal land. Among the largest are the American Fire, burning 15,738 acres in Placer County, and the Rim Fire in Tuolumne County northeast of Groveland. The Rim Fire was only 5 percent contained as of this morning, and National Guard crews were leaving Moffett Field today to battle the fire from above, Berlant confirmed. More than 16,000 acres have burned.
And Berlant pointed out that the fire season is only just beginning.
"While fire season ends when we see a good wetting rain for a significant period, usually in late October or early November -- unfortunately the end is usually the worst," Berlant said.
The largest and most damaging fires typically burn toward the end of the season, when conditions are driest, he said.
Berlant said 94 percent of wildfires are accidentally or negligently caused by humans, so they are preventable. He advises California residents to be extra careful outdoors, especially when using weed whackers, lawn mowers or having campfires.
"We are very busy with Mother Nature-driven fires, so it is important for residents and visitors to do their part in preventing fires," he said.