An out-of-control California wildfire raging near Los Angeles has sparked fire tornadoes that have scorched 30,000 acres and forced 82,000 people to flee their homes, and firefighters say the situation will get worse.
Fueled by blazing high temperatures, strong winds, and dry brush, the Blue Cut fire in San Bernardino, which began Tuesday, has marched across area hills, canyons, and flatlands with walls of flame forcing residents to flee.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency after firefighters said there was containment in sight, San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mart Hartwig told the Los Angeles Times.
“It hit hard, it hit fast, with an intensity that we’ve never seen before.”
Even worse, fire officials and air quality control officers in California have begun to view the wildfires and the resulting hazardous smoke as the new normal in a state dried out from four years of drought.
The Blue Cut fire is so intense it’s spawned fire whirls or fire tornadoes as they’ve come to be known.
A fire tornado happens when the air flowing down a mountainside forces flames to rotate and twist into a vertical stance, giving it the appearance of a tornado. Some fire whirls dissipate almost immediately, but others travel along the ground sustaining themselves as the wind pushes the flames closer together making the heat more intense and destructive, Capt Howard Deets told the Los Angeles Times.
“It all aligned. The wind, the fuel and the topography. When that happens there’s nothing you can do about it. You could throw the world’s fire fighting resources at it and it’s just going to keep going.”
Six firefighters were trapped by the blaze yesterday while they were evacuating area residents, and they were forced to abandon their engine after it was engulfed in flames. The firefighters sought shelter in a nearby structure, and two were later treated for minor injuries. However, they have since returned to help battle the blaze.
There are 1,300 firefighters battling the Blue Cut fire with 152 engines, 18 fire crews, and 10 tankers. Officials have also shut down Highway 15 in Cajon Pass, but that’s not the only wildfire burning in California.
The Clayton fire in Clear Lake has consumed 4,000 acres and 175 structures and is only 40 percent contained, while the Chimney fire in San Luis Obispo County has destroyed 7,300 acres and 40 structures with 25 percent containment.
Meanwhile, the Soberanes fire that has been burning in Monterey County since July 22 has destroyed 77,000 acres and is only 60 percent contained. Approximately 3,700 firefighters continue to battle the blaze in treacherous terrain.
There are at least five other wildfires burning their way through California brush, which scientists say hasn’t been this dry in 500 years.
The California wildfires have burned hundreds of homes and killed at least eight people and some scientists worry they could be the new normal, Pomona College expert Char Miller told the Los Angeles Times.
“We’re in the fifth year of drought and we’re starting to see the consequences of that. If you put 20 to 30 mile-per-hour winds in there, those things are going to take off.”
Harvard researchers created a list of areas in the US that have the greatest chance of being harmed by poisonous particles released into the air by wildfires and three California counties top the list.
San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties face the highest risk of exposure from wildfire smoke, Francesca Dominici, a Harvard professor and study co-author, told TerraDaily.
“Climate change is a public health crisis and it’s happening right now. Asthmatic kids are going to the hospital today in California because of the smoke from wildfires.”
Do you think dangerous wildfires are the new normal for California and the West?
[Photo by Josh Edelson/AP Images]