Rising temperatures challenge California firefighters

Two fire fighting helicopters pass near each other over Willow Creek Canyon as a wildfire continues burning in the Sierra near Bass Lake, Calif., Monday, July 27, 2015. (Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP)

FRESNO, Calif. — Rising temperatures on Tuesday made the fight difficult for crews struggling to make headway against a wildfire threatening about 450 homes and other buildings in the rugged foothills of Central California, fire officials said.

The fire burning near the tiny wooded communities of Bass Lake and Cascadel Woods north of Fresno, California, is just 5 percent contained as crews on the ground work in steep terrain. Helicopters and air tankers are attacking from above.

Residents remain under orders to be prepared to evacuate because of the fire, which has charred nearly 3 square miles.

In the Sierra Nevada foothills northeast of Sacramento, 50 homes remain evacuated because of a wildfire that ignited Saturday. A total of 1,800 homes are threatened depending on the shifting winds, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Temperatures in Northern California could spike to 108 degrees on Wednesday, he said.

“The temperatures and winds are up and the humidity is down,” Berlant said. “Those are the three things we don’t want, especially in a drought year.”

Four firefighters were hurt Sunday while battling the wildfire. One had serious, non-life threatening injuries and remains hospitalized. The fire that grew overnight from 2 1/2 square miles to more than 3 square miles is 30 percent contained.

California has seen more wildfires so far this year compared to last, but the acreage burned is smaller thanks to favorable weather and more firefighters who can quickly be dispatched to corral flames, fire officials say.

Since Jan. 1, about 5,200 fires have burned on state and federal lands, according to the U.S. Forest Service. That’s 10 percent more than last year, but the 74,000 acres is 6 percent smaller.

Spurts of unseasonably rainy weather combined with the availability of hundreds of additional firefighters paid for with emergency drought funding have made a big difference, Berlant said Monday.

“We’ve had more firefighters early,” he said. “That’s allowed us to be more aggressive.”

Cal Fire oversees state land and private property between forests and cities, while the Forest Service is responsible for 21 million acres in 18 national forests.

So far this year, state firefighters have responded to nearly 3,900 blazes — a 41 percent increase from the same period last year, according to Cal Fire. The fires have burned 28 percent less area than last year.

Cal Fire’s map of fire activities showed nine blazes across the state.

A grass fire north of Sacramento Monday burned more than 430 acres in a few hours before it was contained Monday evening. That fire was deemed arson and an arrest was made.

A fire about an hour east of the Napa Valley wine country has burned more than 10 square miles. It was more than three-quarters contained Tuesday.Bass LakeCaliforniaCascadel WoodsFresnowildfire

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