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An 'Unprecedented Number Of Large Fires' Have Fire Officials Warning Resources Are Getting Scarce

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A Riverside firefighter at the Lake Fire in the Angeles National Forest, August 15 (Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images)
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The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said this morning that its firefighting resources are at threat of being depleted as hundreds of fires, including 23 major fires, burn throughout the state.

The department has sent out a call requesting additional hand crews and at least 375 fire engines from across the U.S. to quickly move in to help cover countless fast moving incidents.

“We have an unprecedented number of large fires in the state right now. Conditions that happened over the last 72 hours with the extreme heat, dry lightning and fires that were already going. It is not normal for us to have this many active fires in the state at once,” said Christine McMorrow, Cal Fire communications officer.

“Our resources are taxed right now and we do need help.”

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A home burns in Vacaville, California during the LNU Lightning Complex fire on August 19, 2020. (JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

The past few days have been particularly harrowing for Californians. Not only because of extreme temperatures and widespread power outages, but because 11,000 lightning strikes ignited some 367 fires throughout the state.

"The total number of fires last year was substantially lower than the activity we're experiencing this year," Gov. Gavin Newsom said, "and what has occurred over the last 72 hours is certainly stretched the resources of this state."

Newsom declared a state of emergency and upped the Cal Fire budget by more than $85 million dollars to hire additional staff.

The tally of significant fires is lengthy.

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Here in Southern California we’re still contending with the Lake Fire (26,000 acres), the Dome Fire (43,000 acres) and the Ranch 2 fire (4,200 acres), which are still threatening communities and destroying ecosystems across the region. None are more than 40% contained.

Northern California has been particularly hard hit. The Santa Clara Unit Lightning Complex Fire (85,000 acres), the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit Lightning Complex Fire (46,000 acres), and the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire (10,000 acres), have blanketed large swaths of the state with dangerous smoke and forced tens of thousands of evacuations.

Cal Fire said that 6,900 firefighters are currently fighting fires across the state, and that nearly all of the aircraft in the Western U.S. normally called on to fight wildfires, have already been hired and assigned to incidents.

It’s not having trouble meeting requests right now, but sees it potentially becoming an issue as fires continue to spread.

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The priority, McMorrow said, is to be able to not only tackle wildfires, but to fulfill 911 requests in the communities it's stationed in across the state. Cal Fire acts as the primary emergency service in many areas.

“We’re not going to get to a point where somebody calls 911 and Cal Fire cannot respond. That’s the situation we’re avoiding,” she said.

It’s not uncommon for Cal Fire to request help from out of state when there are many major fires burning across the region.

“If we didn’t request out of state help, we’d be in a very different situation,” said McMorrow. “This is a big deal, there is a lot going on right now.”

Crews are not being taxed by the record-setting heat and countless fast moving conflagrations, but with COVID-19 as well.

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Eight inmate crews and three California Conservation Corp crews are unavailable because of the virus.

And a combination of the virus and an already extreme wildfire season has led to burnout amongst fire crews.

The weather in the coming days is not expected to offer any sort of help, as the brutal heat continues. Red flag warnings have been issued for counties across the northern part of the state.

The Los Angeles Fire Department said that they have ample resources on hand to help on 911 calls.

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