California fires claim 5 lives, threaten thousands of homes
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) — Wildfires that blackened skies, took at least five lives and forced tens of thousands of people from their homes have blazed through California — straining firefighting resources by the sheer vastness of the battle lines.
Three major collections of fires — dozens in all — carved their way Thursday through forests, canyons and rural areas in the San Francisco Bay Area and central California.
Tens of thousands of homes were threatened by flames that drove through dense and bone-dry trees and brush. Many of the fires were sparked by lightning strikes from brief thunderstorms this week as a high-pressure area over the West brought a dangerous mix of triple-digit weather and monsoonal moisture pulled from the south.
Some fires doubled in size within 24 hours, fire officials said.
And while some evacuations were lifted in the small city of Vacaville, between San Francisco and Sacramento, other areas expanded their evacuation areas. The University of California, Santa Cruz was evacuated and a new fire burning near Yosemite National Park also prompted evacuations.
Santa Cruz itself, a coastal city of 65,000, wasn't affected but Mayor Justin Cummings urged residents Thursday evening to be prepared to evacuate by gassing up their vehicles and packing important documents, medicines and other belongings.
“Prepare early so that you are ready to go at a moment's notice," Cummings said.
Although temperatures were predicted to ease slightly on Friday, they were also expected to be hot enough so that firefighters will not be able to count on cool evening weather aiding them. Erratic winds also could drive the fires unpredictably in multiple directions, state fire officials said.
“There’s so much heat in these fires that they create their own...