BY: BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Firefighters battling a barrage of ferocious wildfires across California say they got a break from the weather when a forecasted dry lightning storm in the northern part of the state failed to materialize overnight. That gave them a chance to make progress in containing the three biggest conflagrations.
“Mother Nature’s helped us quite a bit,” said Billy See, an incident commander for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, aka Cal Fire.
Firefighters were able to increase containment lines around the so-called CZU Lightning Complex fire — multiple blazes in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, south of San Francisco — from 5% to 13% overnight and into Monday. They are working Monday to keep flames from reaching nearby freeways. CZU fire has burned 78,000 acres and destroyed 163 structures.
North of San Francisco, firefighters battling the LNU Lightning Complex and the CSU Lightning Complex fires, now ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively on the list of all-time biggest wildfires in California, were also able to make progress in their efforts to bring the blazes under control.
“The predicted weather that we were expecting overnight did not produce the lightning that we were expecting. This is great news,” said Shana Jones, the Cal Fire unit chief assigned to the LNU fire, said at a news conference on Monday.
The LNU conflagration — comprised of multiple blazes, some of which have merged — has already burned more than 350,000 acres across Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Yolo and Solano counties and was 22% contained on Monday, up from 17% on Sunday, according to Cal Fire. The fire has destroyed 871 residential and commercial structures and damaged another 234, according to Cal Fire.
Farther south, near San Francisco, the SCU Lightning Complex fire, also made up of multiple blazes, has scorched nearly 347,000 acres in Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. The fire, which has destroyed or damaged 24 residential and commercial structures, was 10% contained as of Monday, the same as it was on Sunday, according to Cal Fire.
The promising news from the front lines of the conflagrations was tempered by the death toll from the fires throughout the state, rising to seven over the weekend.
Chief Sean Kavanaugh, the Cal Fire incident commander on the LNU blaze, said the latest victim to perish was a man whose body was found Sunday on a road in Solano County where the LNU fire swept through.
“Our condolences go out to the family and friends of that individual in Solano County,” said Kavanaugh, adding that five deaths have now been linked to the LNU fire.
A 70-year-old man was also found dead over the weekend in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the CZU fire is burning, according to Cal Fire.
Meanwhile, Cal Fire officials said on Monday that some of the more than 100,000 people evacuated during the fires are being allowed to return to their homes.
More than 1.4 million acres have burned in California since Aug. 15, according to Jones.
“That is a little more than the state of Delaware,” she said.
During a news conference on Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that at this stage last year, the state had 42 wildfires that burned about 56,000 acres.
Newsom said there have been 7,000 wildfires already this year in California and there are still several months left in the fire season, which runs through October.
Cal Fire officials said there are at least two dozen fires simultaneously burning throughout the state. At least 14,000 firefighters, including crews from Washington and Oregon, were battling the flames from the ground and air, officials said.
Other fires include the River Fire, just east of Salinas in Monterey County, that has burned nearly 50,000 acres, injured four people, destroyed or damaged 30 commercial and residential structures. The fire was 23% contained on Monday, up from 15% on Sunday.
In Southern California, firefighters have nearly extinguished the Apple Fire in the Cherry Valley of Riverside County, according to Cal Fire. The blaze, which ignited July 31, was 95% contained on Monday after burning more than 33,400 acres and destroying four structures.
In the Santa Clarita Valley of Los Angeles County, the Lake Fire, which started on Aug. 17 in the Angeles National Forest near Lake Hughes, was 62% contained on Monday, up from 52% on Sunday, after burning nearly 32,000 acres, officials said.
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