And with a red flag warning in effect for northern California, fires in the region could present additional challenges for those on the front lines of the blazes as more than 34,000 people face evacuation orders.
“With extreme fire conditions and unsettled weather in the forecast, residents throughout northern California, including in the wider region around Lake Tahoe, are reminded to listen closely to local authorities and begin preparations to evacuate,” Bryan May, public information officer for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said in a video posted on Twitter
The Caldor Fire, which has been burning east of Sacramento for 12 days, “could spread rapidly into more populated communities,” May said.
If officials issue an evacuation warning, May added, then people should start preparing to leave and anticipate that an evacuation order will follow.
“And if you feel like you or anyone in your family may need extra time to get out, don’t wait. Leave when an evacuation warning is issued. An evacuation order means there’s immediate threat: Get out now,” May said.
The red flag warning issued Thursday by state agency Cal Fire
will be in effect Friday morning through Saturday in anticipation of critical fire weather.
In the upcoming days, temperatures are expected to hit the high 90s, with winds moving at 10 to 20 mph and gusts between 25 and 35 mph, CNN meteorologist Gene Norman said.
Humidity is expected to be low, Cal Fire said, which increases the risk of fire activity.
A red flag warning is issued when imminent weather conditions may result in extreme fire behavior that will occur within 24 hours. Those conditions include low relative humidity, strong winds, dry fuels and/or the possibility of dry lightning strikes, according to Cal Fire.
The Caldor Fire is the state’s number one priority, Cal Fire said
, as the fire has seared 139,510 acres and was 12% contained by Thursday evening.
The fire’s rapid growth has been so alarming that it prompted city officials in South Lake Tahoe to declare an emergency Thursday as winds pushed the blaze closer.
And while the city’s emergency proclamation does not include evacuation orders, it leverages state and federal resources to direct immediate disaster relief funds and waive certain rules for greater flexibility, the city government said in a news release
“At this time, we are prepared should an evacuation become necessary, but the firefighters on the front lines are doing incredible work to secure the perimeter of the fire and our hope is that they are able to prevent the fire from encroaching any further into the Tahoe Basin,” city spokesperson Lindsey Baker told CNN.
The city’s emergency declaration comes after evacuation orders were issued to Echo Summit. Warnings were extended for the first time to portions of the Tahoe Basin, including Christmas Valley just south of South Lake Tahoe.
The last time South Lake Tahoe was under mandatory evacuation orders was in 2007, when parts of the region were ordered to leave due to the Angora Fire, Baker said. The city is home to more than 22,000 people.
More than 34,000 people are under evacuation orders
California wildfires have scorched more than 1.6 million acres this year, according to Cal Fire, which is an area larger than the entire state of Delaware.
On Wednesday alone, firefighters in California battled 34 new blazes, with two large fires ignited due to unrelenting drought conditions, Cal Fire said.
“Fires burning in Northern California are exhibiting extreme fire growth based on critical fuel conditions,” Cal Fire said Thursday. “Under these drought conditions, wildfires are burning rapidly with extreme severity and have traveled up to 8 miles in a single day.”
As of Thursday morning, 33,323 people in California were under wildfire evacuation orders, according to Cal OES
. By the evening, that number jumped to 34,811.
The majority of those under evacuation orders are in El Dorado County, where 24,548 people are directed to leave their homes due to the Caldor Fire.
Meanwhile, the Dixie Fire — which is California’s second largest and 14th most destructive on record — has swelled to 749,713 acres over the course of 43 days. The fire now stretches across five counties: Plumas, Lassen, Butte, Tehama and Shasta.
As containment reached 45%, some evacuations orders and warnings have been lifted, allowing residents in those areas to return home, according to Cal Fire
But the blaze is still threatening more than 11,800 structures.
“Fuel conditions are much worse than previous years and along with wind is causing much greater fire spread. Firefighters are experiencing conditions never seen before, such as increased spread rates, spotting and active nighttime burning,” Cal Fire said Thursday.
At least 696 people are seeking shelter in 16 facilities throughout the state, Cal OES said.