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California Wildfires Near Tragic Milestone: 4 Million Acres Burned

A firefighter battles the Glass Fire in Napa Valley, Calif., on Thursday.
A firefighter battles the Glass Fire in Napa Valley, Calif., on Thursday.

Wildfires in California continue to burn, ravaging entire communities and the blazes will soon hit a tragic milestone: 4 million acres burned.

The unprecedented fire season has already killed 30 people, burned down thousands of buildings and homes and forced more than 96,000 residents to evacuate, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

"We are putting all we have in terms of our resources, particularly over the next 36 hours as the winds begin to shift directions and as the winds begin to increase," Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday as he surveyed the Glass Fire damage.

"We're in it for the long haul. We are here to rebuild and to reimagine your school. We have your backs," Newsom told residents, according to the Associated Press.

The Glass Fire ignited on Sunday and continues to expand due to strong winds. By Wednesday, the fire had destroyed as many as 48,440 acres, and as of Friday morning it had engulfed an area of 60,148 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties. Just 6% of the fire has been contained, according to Cal Fire.

The Zogg Fire burning in Shasta County, close to the border with Oregon, also started on Sunday and is also rapidly spreading — from 40,000 acres earlier this week to now covering an area of 56,018 acres, with 46% contained, according to Cal Fire.

The August Complex Fire continues to be the largest in the state, covering an area of 970,563 and it's been active for 46 days, according to Cal Fire. The blaze is ravaging through Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity, Tehama, Glenn, Lake and Colusa counties.

Astrid Dobo is the fire chief of Post Mountain Volunteer Fire Department. Her community is a 10-minute drive from the north end of the August Complex Fire and also close to the Zogg Fire to the east. The area is under mandatory evacuation orders, because Post Mountain Trinity is a, "really rugged forest area."

"It's been really smoky today, yesterday and the day before, which is a good thing because it kind of keeps a cap on the fire and it doesn't let the fire be as active," Dobo said, explaining that the smoke cuts oxygen off of the fire, suffocating it and, making it slow down.

"It's a weird situation," to be sitting in the middle of huge fires Chief Dobo said. "I can't leave because if we have an internal fire in the community, we have to be here to put it out."

Chief Dobo has three volunteer firefighters and one of them is her 75-year old father, the station's fire engineer.

"We are constantly checking the weather forecast and warnings for winds," she said. "It's a real blessing to have the Internet."

Chief Dobo's mother left the area soon after evacuation orders took effect on Sept. 17, taking with her all their important paperwork, mementos and family pictures. Dobo's father helped pack everything into a camper RV and her mother drove to the Arcata coast area, because "she wouldn't be able to handle the smoke or the stress."

The air quality in the region is ranked as "very unhealthy" for Friday and through the weekend, according to the U.S. government air quality monitoring website . It warns people with underlying health issues, older adults and children to stay indoors to avoid inhaling smoke and ash particles.

The National Weather Service has extended a Red Flag warning of critical fire weather conditions, through Saturday morning in the Northern part of the state. The NWS warns that winds are expected to increase "from 10 to 20 mph."

As many as 17,000 firefighters are battling 24 major wildfires statewide.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marisa Peñaloza is a senior producer on NPR's National Desk. Peñaloza's productions are among the signature pieces heard on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as weekend shows. Her work has covered a wide array of topics — from breaking news to feature stories, as well as investigative reports.