As tremendous wildfires sparked by lightning storms continued to rage Monday across Southern California amid high winds and continued volatile weather, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued a desperate plea for assistance in controlling the blaze from neighboring states as well as Canada and Australia.
Aircraft and firefighters from 10 states – including Arizona, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington – deployed to California over the weekend to assist local firefighters who worked around the clock all last week to control the raging fires.
Newsom said that the state has also requested that Canada and Australia – two countries that have also faced massive wildfires in recent years – aid the fire-plagued state with personnel support to assist the “overwhelmed” frontline Californian firefighters.
“We have more people but it’s not enough,” Newsom said. “We simply haven’t seen anything like this in many, many years … These fires are stretching our resources, our personnel.”
Over the weekend, California National Guard troops began training to help supplement efforts by Cal Fire agencies fighting the blazes.
Today, @CAL_FIRE issued protective gear to 270 #CalGuard Soldiers who are beginning hand crew training at Camp Roberts, California, to supplement state agencies currently battling #CaliforniaFires. pic.twitter.com/Sjx0CTiMuU
— The California National Guard (@CalGuard) August 23, 2020
With three sprawling blazes and over 650 wildfires raging across California, nearly a quarter-million residents have been forced to evacuate their neighborhoods as the blaze continues to grow. Much of Northern California is facing a red flag waning over the threat of continued lightning, high temperatures, and erratic winds.
The two massive fire clusters in the Bay Area – the LNU Lightning Complex and the SCU Lightning Complex – have already become the second- and third-largest wildfires in recent state history by size, according to state fire agency Cal Fire. A lightning complex is a grouping of fires ignited by lightning strikes.
On Saturday, Newsom said that Australia is home to “the world’s best wildfire fighters.”
Australia suffered an unprecedented bushfire season in 2019-2020 as massive blazes destroyed nearly 46 million acres (18.6 million hectares) and almost 6,000 buildings including 2,779 homes and huge expanses of wildlife habitat.
— Reuters (@Reuters) August 22, 2020
Hundreds of U.S. firefighters were deployed to Australia to help local firefighters suppress the bushfires, including volunteer firefighters from California.
The experienced, battle-hardened firefighters from Australia’s New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) would be perfectly suited to assist California’s firefighters, who are being stretched thin by the out-of-control fires.
The request for help has apparently not yet been formally made. A deployment to California would be the first time that NSW RFS have assisted the U.S. to fight fires.
“Traditionally we haven’t sent firefighters into the U.S. We have sent to Canada, but not to the U.S.,” NSW RFS spokesman Ben Shepherd told Brisbane Times.
Specialists from the NSW Rural Fire Service could soon be assisting in the fight against deadly wildfires raging across California, with a request for assistance expected to be just days away | @LucyCormack https://t.co/9fZcMytyKD
— The Sydney Morning Herald (@smh) August 23, 2020
“We are in a pretty good position [to assist] compared to where we were at this stage last year,” Shepherd added. “The consideration would just be what the request is in relation to COVID-19 and quarantine restrictions for going there and on return.”
At least seven people have died from the fires so far, including a 70-year-old victim of the massive CZU Lightning Complex fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of San Francisco, whose lifeless body was found Sunday, reports USA Today.
“This is one of the darkest periods we’ve been in with this fire,” said Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Chris Clark.
So far, the wildfires have burned over 1.2 million acres of land since last month. The number far exceeds the 259,000 acres burned in 2019, reports the the Los Angeles Times.
Air quality has drastically worsened as smoke from the fires have saturated the air in the Bay Area and central California, causing authorities to urge residents to “Stay indoors if possible.” The air quality in northern and central parts of the state are among the worst in the world, and could worsen health conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Air quality continues to be unhealthy for much of #NorCal today. Limit outdoor activities if possible and check on sensitive groups. To check air quality at your location, visit https://t.co/XYTBpMWUqP. #CAwx pic.twitter.com/jXsaLVdbKE
— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) August 23, 2020