Red flag warnings of extreme fire danger subsided, but warm and dry weather continued to challenge firefighters battling more than two dozen blazes across California on Saturday as the state approaches an astonishing milestone: 4 million acres burned by wildfires this year.
The state is about 20,000 acres from reaching the unprecedented figure, fire officials said.
Meanwhile, two major fires that have killed four people and incinerated hundreds of homes in the wine country and the far north continued to burn.
Powerful winds that had been expected to drive flames since Wednesday hadn’t materialized, and warnings of extreme fire danger for hot, dry and gusty weather expired Saturday morning as a layer of fog rolled in.
But with California a tinderbox of dead trees and dried brush after weeks of scorching weather and drought, fires could explode in rural areas, grasslands and dense forest even without the help of winds.
Above-average temperatures and low humidity persisted Saturday, heightening the fire danger.
“It just leaves us kind of nervous that we’re not out of the woods yet when it comes to what might happen in California,” Jonathan Cox, a deputy chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said.
A cooling trend is expected to slowly begin on Sunday. Long-range forecast models hinted at the possibility of rain early next week.
The easing winds proved a mixed blessing in Sonoma and Napa counties. Although the fire raged on, crews got a break as they struggled to keep flames from jumping containment lines and renewing their march toward communities.
“The good news is that with the lack of wind, we didn’t have continued control issues,” Ben Nicholls, a Cal Fire division chief, said.
“However,” he added, “due to that lack of wind, the smoke has stayed in place” and hindered aircraft from attacking the blaze.
Evacuation orders for many of the 5,000 residents of Calistoga were reduced Friday to warnings, although trees and some homes on the town borders were burning.
The fire, which had destroyed about 600 homes and other buildings, still threatened around 29,000 homes.
The fire had burned 97 square miles and was only 10 percent contained.
In Shasta County in the north of the state, the Zogg Fire that began Sunday has killed four people and destroyed nearly 180 structures. Containment grew slightly to 57 percent.
Altogether, wildfires have killed 31 people and destroyed 8,200 structures in California this year.
Many of the largest fires were started by lightning strikes in mid-August and most of the destroyed acreage has come since then.
Some 17,000 firefighters are still battling over two dozen major blazes.
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