At least 5 firefighters have been injured and two homes destroyed by a 1,300-acre wildfire that’s been burning since Monday in rural Mariposa County, California, according to multiple local media reports.
One firefighter was injured by a chainsaw while trying to trek through the foothills near Lake McClure, where the bulk of the fire is burning, while others suffered sprained ankles, fatigue and dehydration from the treacherous terrain and heat. Along with threatening 100 homes, the fire has so far destroyed one double-wide trailer, a cabin-style home, and a small outbuilding — all of which had been evacuated.
As of Tuesday night, only 30 percent of the fire had been contained. Firefighters say the blaze has been more difficult to fight than expected because of exceptionally dry, hot conditions that more resemble late summer, when California is most at risk for dangerous fires.
“It’s May 26, Memorial Day, but the fire activity or the burning conditions are more consistent with what you would see in probably July or August,” firefighter Kevin Smith told KCRA on Tuesday.
The Mariposa County fire is just the latest in a string of dangerous blazes in California this year, which have sent tens of thousands of residents fleeing their homes in the southern and central portions of the state. California Governor Jerry Brown said last week that the state is “in a very serious fire season”– one that’s seen about twice as many fires this year as the average — fueled by record heat and drought that scientists widely attribute to global warming.
Indeed, the intensity of these fires have been so unprecedented that even long-standing firefighters are blaming climate change for the destruction.
“It is pretty amazing to see these in May,” San Diego Fire Chief Javier Mainar told NBC News earlier this month. “We certainly have seen climate change and the impact of climate change.”
Right now, the entire state of California is in the severest rankings of drought, conditions which have created a soil moisture level reminiscent of the Dust Bowl. The extreme dryness has set up “unprecedented” fire conditions in several areas of the state, but has also depleted reservoirs and even aquifers, increasing the state’s chance of earthquakes, as a new Nature study found.
The extreme drought has also caused more than one “firenado” this year, hybrid wildfire tornadoes described as a “spinning column of burning debris and gas … packing winds as strong as 120 mph.”