California wildfires have burned an area almost the size of Connecticut

Bobcat Fire
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Since the start of 2020, wildfires in California have burned over 3.2 million acres of land — an area almost the size of Connecticut.

CalFire said Monday that nearly 16,500 firefighters have been battling 28 major wildfires in the state, which have left 24 people dead and over 4,200 structures destroyed. For those who have avoided the flames, smoke from the fires has choked the air and kept people inside. The continued risk of future fires has forced partial power shutoffs for thousands of California residents.

“These are intense, huge blazes,” said Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist and former Democratic presidential candidate. “This is a huge, immediate, urgent problem.”

Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have attributed the intensity of this season’s fires to climate change, pushing back on President Donald Trump’s assertion that the fires were due to poor land management.

“It’s been very clear that years of drought, as we’re seeing, whether it’s too much water and too much rain in parts of our country right now, or too little,” Garcetti told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday. “This is climate change and this is an administration that’s put its head in the sand.”

Record-breaking temperatures and a lack of rain have only exacerbated conditions in a state that has seen dozens of deaths.

Trump visited McClellan Park, outside of Sacramento in Northern California, on Monday for a briefing with local and federal fire and emergency officials on the wildfires.

Live updates: Wildfires rage in US West

More victims found in deadly fires

At least 35 people have died in the West Coast wildfires, including 24 in California, 10 in Oregon and a child in Washington state.

The deadliest blaze has been the North Complex Fire, accounting for more than half of the victims in California.

On Sunday, CalFire Butte County officials announced two additional deaths in the blaze for a total of 14 fatalities.

The North Complex Fire has burned at least 261,488 acres in Plumas and Butte counties.

It is currently 26% contained after entering Butte County “with a vengeance,” a little less than a week ago, according to CalFire. The blaze was “driven by extreme winds, heavy dry fuels and steep terrain,” CalFire said.

“The fire remains very active and now more than ever we need to remain vigilant,” the agency said in an incident update Sunday night.

“Firefighters across the State responded to 36 new wildfires yesterday, and all were contained quickly,” said the update.

Weather conditions could worsen fires

Weather conditions are not expected to improve any time soon as high winds of up to 40 mph are forecast in the coming days in parts of California.

Fire weather watches have been issued throughout the region and, while rain may hit the coastlines of Oregon and Washington where wildfires continue to rage, California is forecast to remain dry.

“A Fire Weather Watch is in effect Monday over the Northern Sierra, potentially impacting the North Complex with gusty winds,” CalFire said in an update Sunday.

A red flag warning was also in effect in northeastern California through Sunday night due to gusty winds and low humidity.

“With the changes in weather conditions, we may see the return of critical fire next week,” said the CalFire update.

Along with the fires comes smoke, which has blanketed the coast turning skies an eerie red in some areas.

The air quality forecast for Monday shows unhealthy to hazardous conditions in interior Northern California, according to a tweet from the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office.

In Southern California, smoke conditions range from moderate to unhealthy, the South Coast Air Quality Management District said in a tweet.

Further north, air quality also remains an issue in both Oregon and Washington, as mountain ranges and low cloud ceilings keep smoke in the area longer.

Dozens of US Post offices are temporarily closed, according to the USPS website.

Twelve locations have been shut down in both California and Oregon, and one location in Washington.

Pacific Northwest also dealing with deadly fires

Several fires continue to burn throughout the Pacific Northwest, killing 10 people in Oregon and one in Washington.

A child died in the Cold Springs Fire near Omak, Washington, officials said.

“My heart breaks for the family of the child who perished in the Cold Springs fire,” Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said in a statement on her social media accounts Friday. “I am devastated. The DNR family is devastated. The pain that family is going through is unfathomable.”

Franz said she had been touring communities devastated by fires but had hoped no deaths had happened.

“Many homes and buildings were lost throughout the state, but the relief I felt in this tragedy is that we hadn’t lost any lives. That tragically and horrifically changed today” the commissioner said.