Two Northern California wildfires have merged to form one that exceeds the size of last year’s biggest blaze in the state, fire officials said Thursday morning.
The Caldwell fire ― which was previously being managed as two separate incidents ― has now burned than 79,000 acres near the town of Canby and the Modoc National Forest in the northeast corner of the state. Combined with two smaller wildfires nearby, the cluster known as the July Complex fire has surpassed 81,000 acres.
While the incident is 45% contained, weather conditions could pose more challenges. A group of fire response teams issued a Red Flag warning for the incidents through Thursday evening, meaning high temperatures, very low humidity levels and strong winds are all expected to increase the risk of fire danger.
“Red Flag conditions may lead to increased fire behavior today, and drought stressed fuels are still holding heat for long period of times,” the California Interagency Incident Management said in a joint statement Thursday morning.
There is a mandatory evacuation order in effect for the Medicine Lake Recreation Area.
Maintaining safety during the COVID-19 pandemic has posed some new challenges for firefighters.
“It’s definitely different, but we’re still able to do our job,” Darrin Mcmillin, the public information officer for the Complex fire told News 10, a local CBS affiliate. Meals, bunking and checking into work are all very different than they were in the past.
“One thing we’ve done for COVID for sleeping is limit the amount of people in one area,” he continued. “So there’s actually going to be two additional sleeping areas tonight to make sure people are spaced out.”
The fire is now bigger than California’s largest blaze in 2019, the Kincade fire, which burned 77,758 acres in October and November across Sonoma County.
It’s the largest since the Camp and Woolsey fires in 2018, which burned 153,336 and 96,949 acres, respectively.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said earlier this month that residents of his state should take fire safety as seriously as the coronavirus this fire season.
“I want to encourage everybody in the same spirit of responsibility as it relates to mitigating the transmission of COVID-19,” he said, “to see what we can do to mitigate the loss of lives and property by focusing on evacuation plans, focusing on [doing] the kind of work at the house to create some defensible space between yourself and some of the wild land.”