Lightning, Dry Winds, Record Temperatures Fan Deadly Fires Statewide


Orange skies blanket Bay Area shores as fires blaze across the state. (Photo courtesy of Leanne Harris.)

Alison Lucha, Staff member

An oppressive sepia-colored sky blanketed Northern California this week as firefighters continued to battle more than 40 wildfires ravaging the state from North to South. The smoke caused by the fires has produced hazardous health conditions, with Accuweather forecasting Contra Costa’s air as “unhealthy” to “very unhealthy” through Sept. 12, ranging between 108 and 169 on the air quality index.

Following recent explosive temperatures across the state that topped 115 degrees in many places, more than 12,000 lightning strikes in recent weeks sparked almost two dozen major fires. According to Cal Fire, more than 2 million acres of land have burned as of Sept. 7, setting a new record.

The August Complex Fire, just north of Sacramento, has become the largest fire in California’s history. Bay Area residents have fled from Vacaville, Fairfield, and parts of Napa as fires destroyed at least 50 structures in local communities, according to the East Bay Times

“Practically every single first responder unit in town is actively working to safely notify, evacuate and fight the fires, so our residents are safe,” the Vacaville Police Department reported on Twitter.

Jonathan Aragona was one of many residents in Fairfield forced to evacuate from the flames. Aragona and his family feared the risk of losing their home. 

“I was working one day and found out in the news that the Fairfield Police Department announced an immediate evacuation,” Aragona told The Inquirer. “The dry winds made the fires worse, and because of how close it was they had to close the freeways down.”

“I tried rushing back to my house only to find out police were blocking areas of my neighborhood, and I had no choice but to turn around and head over to my family’s house in Antioch,” he added. 

Due to forecasted heat and strong dry winds, Pacific Gas & Electric warned it may cut off power to 158,000 Californian homes as a preventative measure against the spread and creation of new fires.

The utility announced it may also shut down power lines in the northern Bay Area and Sierra Nevada foothills to keep them from snapping in the wind. PG&E’s warning came after rotating blackouts last Saturday and Sunday, as temperatures during the Labor Day weekend heat wave surpassed 110 in many locations.

After the immediate danger passed, Aragona said he was grateful to be able to return home. “Thankfully my house didn’t burn down, but I was definitely scared at the thought that it could have. It’s different when things like this happen to you,” he said.

“It almost feels like going through an apocalypse.”

A wide variety of charities, including Meals of Gratitude and California Fire Foundation, are seeking donations for evacuees and firefighters. More donation options can be found on The Mercury News’ curated page of charities.