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Dozens of wildfires burn across California amid blistering heat wave

Out-of-control California wildfires prompt state of emergency
Out-of-control California wildfires prompt st... 03:16

Thousands of people were under orders to evacuate in areas surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area on Wednesday. Nearly 40 wildfires were blazing across the state amid a blistering heat wave.

Smoke blanketed the city of San Francisco, and California is under a state of emergency.

"Throughout the state of California right now, we are stretched thin for crews" because of the fires, said Will Powers, a state fire spokesman. "Air resources have been stretched thin throughout the whole state."

Police and firefighters went door-to-door early Wednesday in a frantic scramble to warn residents to evacuate as fire encroached on Vacaville, a city of about 100,000 that lies between San Francisco and Sacramento. Fire officials said at least 50 structures were destroyed and 50 damaged, and four people were injured.

Many local residents went to bed with a fire seemingly burning miles away. Then the winds kicked up and the fire was upon their homes, they were forced to flee with just the clothing they were wearing, CBS SF Bay Area reported.

Among those scrambling to escape was a woman named Diane and her husband.

"I got all my children out, but then I panicked a little bit. It took me a little while to get out," said Diane Bustos. "My husband was driving the car and it burned. He got burned and had to leave the car and it blow up. So I was walking down by myself and I got all these flames on me. I lost my shoes. But I made it, God saved me."

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said that blaze and others were exhibiting "extreme fire behavior" and challenging firefighters.

Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a statewide state of emergency Tuesday, saying the blazes were "exacerbated by the effects of the historic West Coast heat wave and sustained high winds."

In San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, about 22,000 people were ordered to evacuate because of a fire burning in dense wooded parkland that threatened communities, Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox said.

"This is a very active timber fire burning in two counties with a serious threat to both public safety and for structures that are out in front of it," he said.

California Wildfires
Bill Nichols, 84, works to save his home as the LNU Lightning Complex fires tear through Vacaville, California on August 19, 2020. Nichols has lived in the home for 77 years. Fire crews across the region scrambled to contain dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes as a statewide heat wave continues. Noah Berger/AP

Thousands of homes and businesses were also threatened in the wine-growing counties of Napa and Sonoma in an area devastated by a series of deadly blazes in the last three years. Powers said much of the fire was burning through rural areas with steep terrain, making it difficult to get crews in.

In Napa County, Gail Bickett, 80, loaded up her three dogs in a truck to evacuate as the fire burned behind houses across the road, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"It's scary," she said. "It's overwhelming."

Christopher Godley, Sonoma County's emergency management director, said about 10,000 people were under evacuation orders as crews battled two blazes and were working to set up an evacuation center with alternate locations for people exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.

He conceded that sources are strapped statewide.

"It's difficult to second guess what the fire commanders are doing with their aircraft. But it's not like last year when we saw just a huge wealth of resources flowing into the county," he said. "It is what it is." 

California Wildfires
Smoke from wildfires hangs over San Francisco on August 18, 2020.  Jeff Chiu/AP

State Sen. Bill Dodd, who represents the area, said the fires burning in Napa and Sonoma counties were mostly affecting less populated areas.

"I think the people around here, even the people that have structures in harm's way, understand that they're in a more rural area and that the people in more densely populated areas have to get the resources first," he said.

In the East San Francisco Bay, a cluster of 20 separate lightning-sparked fires threatened about 1,400 structures in rugged terrain with dense brush. Strong winds and low humidity made the firefight challenging.

Blazes engulfed rural and forest areas near the San Francisco Bay Area, near Salinas in Monterey County, around Oroville Dam north of Sacramento, forested areas west of Silicon Valley, in remote Mendocino County and near the Nevada state line north of Lake Tahoe.

Several also were burning in northern coastline areas and in Southern California.

The cluster of wine country fires threaten an area that only last year grappled with another massive blaze that forced 200,000 to flee — a task made more complicated this year because of the pandemic.

To the south, evacuations were ordered for all of Boulder Creek to the west of Silicon Valley, a community of 5,000 high in the Santa Cruz mountains where windy, long, forested roads, some paved, some dirt, can easily become blocked during storms or fires. About 6,000 structures were threatened by that blaze.

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