SAN FRANCISCO (Ben Caxton) — Firefighters and aircraft from 10 states began arriving in California Friday to help weary crews battling some of the largest blazes in state history as weekend weather threatened to renew the advance of flames that have killed six people and incinerated hundreds of homes .
Some 560 wildfires were burning throughout the state but many were small and remote. The bulk of damage was from three clusters of blazes that were ravaging forest and rural areas in the wine country and San Francisco Bay Area.
Those complexes, consisting of dozens of fires, exploded in size Friday. Together, they had scorched 991 square miles (2,566 square kilometers) and destroyed more than 500 homes and other buildings, fire officials said.
At least 100,000 people were under evacuation orders.
Two Bay Area clusters, the LNU Lightning Complex and the SCU Lightning Complex, became respectively the second- and third-largest wildfires in recent state history by size, according to Cal Fire records.
The third blaze, the CZU Lightning Complex, is in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.
The fires were sparked by lightning from unsettled weather earlier in the week. Cooler, more humid weather overnight helped firefighters make ground against the fires but the National Weather Service issued a fire weather watch from Sunday morning into Tuesday for the entire Bay Area and central coast.
Forecasters said there was a chance of thunderstorms bringing more lightning and erratic gusts.
More than 12,000 personnel were fighting fires around the state, aided by fleets of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. By Friday, the state’s fire agency, Cal Fire, had called out 96% of its available fire engines. But reinforcements began to arrive.
The number of personnel assigned to the LNU complex, in the heart of wine country north of San Francisco, more than doubled from 580 to over 1,400 Friday and nearly 200 fire engines were on the scene, fire officials said.
“I’m happy to see the jumps that we’ve had today,” said Sean Kavanaugh, Cal Fire incident commander.
That could help crews make further progress against the sprawling fire, which was just 15% contained. Most evacuations for the town of Vacaville were lifted Friday. The fire threat there was reduced after reaching the edges of town.
“I feel like we’re up on our feet, standing straight and actually moving a little bit forward,” Kavanaugh said Friday night.
However, the number of large fires was “staggering” and had put “tremendous strain” on firefighting resources throughout the Western states, he said.