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Record Torched: 2020 California Wildfires Have Burned More Than 4 Million Acres

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/CNN/AP) -- Wildfires across California have burned "well over" 4 million acres so far this year, the state's fire agency said Sunday.

California fire officials said the state hit the astonishing milestone Sunday with about two months remaining in the fire season. The previous record was set two years ago when wildfires destroyed 1.67 million acres (2,609 square miles).


"The 4 million mark is unfathomable. It boggles the mind and it takes your breath away," said Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.

Cal Fire said in a statement that there have been more than 8,200 wildfires since the start of the year. More than 16,500 firefighters are trying to contain 23 major wildfires and responded Saturday to 27 new fires.

The flames have scorched an area larger than Connecticut. About 17,000 firefighters are still battling nearly two dozen major blazes throughout the state.

California Wildfires
A firefighter rubs his head while watching the LNU Lightning Complex fires spread through the Berryessa Estates neighborhood in unincorporated Napa County Aug. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The Glass Fire in wine country has burned 63,885 acres across Napa and Sonoma counties and is 17% contained, according to Cal Fire LNU.

The deadly Zogg Fire blazing in Shasta and Tehama counties has burned 56,305 acres and is 68% contained as of Sunday morning, according to Cal Fire. Four people have died as a result of the vegetation fire that started September 27. The cause is still under investigation.

The SCU and LNU lightning Complex Fires that are now contained were the third- and fourth-largest wildfires in California's history, charring an area close to the size of Rhode Island. They burned for more than six weeks before firefighters were able to bring them to 100% containment.

'It's like we can't run away'

Thirty-one people have died so far this year in connection to the fires, more than 8,454 structures have been destroyed and about 100,000 people have had to be evacuated, Cal Fire said.

Some residents say they're devastated and tired from constantly having to deal with wildfires year after year.

"It's like we can't run away," resident Jan Zakin told CNN.

Temperatures will get better going into next week. But no rain is forecast for much of the western half of the country. There is a chance of some rain in the northernmost part of the state at the end of the week. Heat advisories are posted for 25 million people in California, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Three-quarters of the West is under drought conditions and no rainfall is expected until the end of next week, according to CNN meteorologist Robert Shackleford.

Numerous studies have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.

Mike Flannigan, who directs the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Science at Canada's University of Alberta, says the escalation of fires in California and the U.S. West is "largely, not solely, due to human-caused climate change."

Wine Country decimated

The wildfires have also decimated California's Napa Valley.

The Glass Fire has destroyed 826 structures, according to Cal Fire.

More than 2,600 personnel are battling the wildfire that began September 27. The cause is still under investigation.

Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin expressed her concerns over the vineyards affected by the blaze.

"The fruit on the vines are going to be left to rot," Gorin said. "They are smoke-tainted."

The Zogg Fire has destroyed 196 structures, Cal Fire said in a morning update.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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