U.S. News

California declares state of emergency as it fights fires, extreme weather

Doha Madani
A car burns at a residence in the valley area of Vacaville, northern California during the LNU Lightning Complex fire on August 19, 2020.
Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Tuesday to ensure that the state gets vital resources amid wildfires that have aggravated a stifling heat wave.

At least 27 fires are raging across the state, including some caused by lightning from a rare summer thunderstorm Sunday, according to a map by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The flames have intensified temperatures from a serious heatwave that rolled in over the weekend.

About 20 fires were being tracked as the single SCU (Santa Clara Unit) Lightning Complex Fire and have consumed 25,000 acres in two days, Cal Fire said. They're in the counties of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus.

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Three lightning-sparked fires in Napa County known collectively as the LNU (Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit) Lightning Complex Fire had consumed more than 12,000 acres, with no containment reported Tuesday night, according to Cal Fire.

Multiple communities in Napa County were either under evacuation orders or warnings.

Newsom's office said Tuesday night it has secured grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help the state fight  the LNU Lightning Complex Fire and the Jones Fire in Nevada County.

Bay Area air quality officials advised residents to stay indoors "if temperatures allow" Tuesday and Wednesday as a result of smoke in the atmosphere.

On Saturday, a fiery tornado was spotted near the Nevada border where the Loyalton Fire continues to burn in Tahoe National Forest.

The emergency order will allow agencies to deploy every possible resource to keep residents safe under such "extreme" conditions, Newsom announced Tuesday.

"California and its federal and local partners are working in lockstep to meet the challenge and remain vigilant in the face of continued dangerous weather conditions," Newsom said.

The state has been under the threat of rolling blackouts since Friday as the high temperatures have stretched the state's energy grid to its limits.

The governor signed an emergency proclamation Monday to prevent rolling blackouts. The order allowed some users and utilities to use "backup energy sources" during peak times.

The power grid's manager, the California Independent System Operator, said on Twitter Tuesday night that the possibility of outages seemed to have passed, at least until Wednesday.

"You did it, California consumers," it said. "No rotating power outages expected tonight."

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which on Friday said it wouldn't be participating in rolling outages, said on Tuesday some of its customers were in the dark.

"Extreme #LAHeat and electricity demand has overloaded distribution equipment in some neighborhoods," the taxpayer-run utility said on Twitter.

The department said that on Tuesday it had recorded the highest electricity demand yet for 2020.

The National Weather Service urged residents on the West Coast to take the heightened temperatures seriously to prevent heat-related illnesses.

"Yeah, it's summer, and summer is hot, but this is different," the agency tweeted. "These are record high temperatures in what is typically one the hottest times of the year anyways."

In the early evening Tuesday, it was still 125 degrees at the Death Valley Furnace Creek visitor's center, according to the National Weather Service.

Triple-digit temperatures baked the state from Redding in the north to El Centro near the border, the latter of which recorded a reading of 112 degrees shortly after 6 p.m.

El Centro and San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties were under excessive heat warnings through Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

An excessive heat warning was in effect for Los Angeles through 9 p.m. Wednesday, when it was expected to be reduced to a heat advisory through Thursday night, federal forecasters said.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, an excessive heat warning was in effect through Wednesday night.

The National Weather Service office in Los Angeles said in its forecast discussion Tuesday that little relief was expected.

"Only slight cooling is expected later in the week and temperatures will remain above normal through early next week," it said.