California's Mendocino Complex Fire likely to burn for rest of the month

Last Updated Aug 7, 2018 6:53 PM EDT

COLUSA COUNTY, Calif. — The Mendocino Complex Fire, one of 17 blazes raging in California, is so big that smoke from it can be seen from space. Authorities say it will likely burn for the rest of the month. At 450 square miles, it is already the biggest ever recorded in California.

Other new wildfires keep popping up, including one south of Los Angeles that is getting dangerously close to homes.

For a second day, the so-called Holy Fire erupted in Southern California, sending plumes of smoke thousands of feet into the air and threatening nearby communities down below. Time-lapse video shows the wildfire mushrooming in the Cleveland National Forest.

Orange County residents say they had little time to escape in their cars when the flames ignited Monday.

"Fire travels faster than you think," one Lake Elsinore resident said. "Over two hours, the flames were chasing us. You hear the roaring just an incredible sensation to be in this and to be faced with life and death."

It's this type of extreme wildfire behavior that's been plaguing the northern part of the state for weeks.

The biggest one by far, the Mendocino Complex Fire, has burned an area about the size of Los Angeles, making it the largest wildfire in California history.

And Tuesday night, new worries about air quality emerged. Smoke clouds wafting from the fires are carrying a toxic mix of gases and fine particles from burning plants and trees, making for unhealthy breathing conditions across much of the West.

Crews and residents are in it for the long haul, which is expected to last until September.

"This has been the scariest one ... I mean, because it was so angry and it threatened the town, I mean I've never seen that," resident Patrick Deheer said.

Meanwhile, the fire burning near Yosemite National Park has been going for nearly a month. Officials say it's one-third as large as the biggest fire, though dense smoke has closed much of the park to visitors for the past two weeks.

Cal Fire says the states firefighting costs have more than tripled from $242 million in the 2013 fiscal year to $773 million in the 2018 fiscal year that ended June 30.

"We're in uncharted territory," Gov. Jerry Brown warned last week. "Since civilization emerged 10,000 years ago, we haven't had this kind of heat condition, and it's going to continue getting worse. That's the way it is."

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.