Wildfire Near California’s Sequoia National Forest Forces 500 Evacuations

California’s Shirley Fire CREDIT: INCIWEB (HTTP://INCIWEB.NWCG.GOV/)
California’s Shirley Fire CREDIT: INCIWEB (HTTP://INCIWEB.NWCG.GOV/)

A wildfire in central California has destroyed at least two structures and has forced the evacuation of more than 500 homes.

The Shirley Fire, which broke out late Friday and has so far burned through about 2,000 acres of land, was only about 10 percent contained as of Sunday. The fire is burning in and around Sequoia National Forest, which is home to 34 groves of giant sequoias. Right now, more than 1,100 firefighters are working to contain the fire, dropping fire retardant on the blaze from helicopters, and more are expected to join.

“Our current outlook for the forecast is such that we are really ramping up suppression operations over the next couple of days because it’s going to be even hotter and dryer at the end of the week,” Forest Service spokeswoman Jennifer Chapman said.

Wind gusts could reach up to 30 miles per hour through Wednesday, high speeds that could make containing the Shirley fire difficult. Officials are warning nearby residents that smoke could cause health issues for some sensitive populations.

Right now, the entire state of California is under severe to exceptional drought, dry conditions that are helping fuel wildfires in the state. Last month, a 1,300-acre wildfire in Mariposa County, CA injured five firefighters and destroyed at least two homes. Also in May, a major wildfire spurned a “fire tornado” in the state, a “spinning column of burning debris and gas … packing winds as strong as 120 mph.” Another May wildfire forced the evacuation of more than 20,000 residents in San Diego County, fueled by heat and strong Santa Ana winds.

Climate scientists have long predicted that climate change could make wildfires more common and more intense in some parts of the U.S., a trend we’re already seeing today. On average, fire seasons in the country are two months longer than they used to be, and wildfires are becoming more common. California Gov. Jerry Brown acknowledged this link last month, saying that his state is in the middle of a “serious fire season” — one that’s seen about twice as many fires in 2014 as it usually does.

“As we send billions and billions of tons of heat-trapping gases, we get heat and we get fires and we get what we’re seeing,” Brown said. “So, we’ve got to gear up. We’re going to deal with nature as best we can, but humanity is on a collision course with nature and we’re just going to have to adapt to it in the best way we can.”