Deadly blaze destroys 87 homes and 82 other structures as emergency services battle to bring it under control
Scott Bransford in Colusa, California
First published on Mon 6 Aug 2018 23.37 BST
Plumes of smoke towered over flame-engulfed mountains in northern California on Monday as firefighters grappled with the largest wildfire in state history.
At a community hall in a small farming community 121 miles north-east of San Francisco, Renato Lira, an American Red Cross disaster services worker, looked through photos on his phone of the fire he had just driven through to set up an evacuation center. As he flicked, his screen turned red.
“It’s not stopping,” Lira said of the blaze. “People thought this year was going to be a break.”
At 443.4 square miles and growing, the blaze is already larger than New York and approaching the size of Los Angeles. The fire surpassed this size of the Thomas Fire, which broke out in 2017.
As of Monday afternoon, the Mendocino Complex had destroyed a total of 87 residences and 82 other structures. News agencies have reported seven deaths so far in blazes across California.
The images on Lira’s phone are a testament to the forbidding atmosphere in a region that has seen repeated blazes over the past four years, threatening the local economy and leading residents to question fire prevention strategies.
Blazes throughout the state have disrupted summer routines, with much of Yosemite national park closed due to fire activity. Air quality around the park is poor amid thick smoke and falling ash.
About 14,000 firefighters, including inmate volunteers, are battling 18 major blazes burning thousands of square miles. Firefighting costs have more than tripled from $242 million in the 2013 fiscal year to $773 million in the 2018 fiscal year that ended on 30 June, according to Cal Fire.
The fire conditions have drawn unusual commentary from Donald Trump, who tweeted that the blazes had been caused by policies that require the state’s water managers to divert water from reservoirs into rivers and streams. Among other things, the policies are meant to protect struggling fish species and prevent salinity in waterways.