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Trump tweets California wildfires magnifying as water is being diverted; confusion erupts

Collectively dubbed the Mendocino Complex, the wildfires have burned through 114,850 hectares -- an area nearly the size of the sprawling city of Los Angeles -- and are just 30% contained.

world Updated: Aug 07, 2018 10:55 IST
Agencies
Agencies
Los Angeles
California’s largest wildfire,Largest forest fire,Twin blazes
Wind-driven flames roll over a hill towards homes during the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) near Lakeport, on August 2. (Reuters photo)

US President Donald Trump raised eyebrows by tweeting about the wildfires inaccurately, claiming there was not enough water to fight them.

“California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized,” Trump said.

“It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!”

Fire authorities insisted on Monday that they have ample water supplies to fight California’s devastating wildfires, contrary to Trump’s tweets.

Officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) and the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, stressed that wild-land blazes are battled primarily by crews hacking away at dry brush with hand tools and bulldozers, not with water.

“Yes, we have plenty of water,” CalFire Chief Scott McLean said by telephone, adding that the two largest blazes in California this week - the Carr Fire and the Mendocino Complex Fire - were each ringed by at least three major reservoirs.

He said the tweets, after Trump on Sunday approved a federal disaster declaration requested by Governor Jerry Brown for the fires, sparked a barrage of media queries to CalFire.

The White House did not respond to requests to clarify Trump’s tweets, and did not immediately respond when asked about Gleick’s comments.

Neither McLean nor Jessica Gardetto, a spokeswoman for the Idaho-based fire agency, would address the tweets directly, but Gardetto said by telephone, “Most wildfire suppression efforts involve firefighters and boots on the ground.”

‘Twin blazes form California’s largest wildfire in history’

Two blazes mercilessly charring northern California have grown so rapidly that they became the US state’s largest in recorded history on Monday, authorities said.

The River and Ranch fires, collectively dubbed the Mendocino Complex, have burned through 283,800 acres (114,850 hectares) -- an area nearly the size of the sprawling city of Los Angeles -- and are just 30% contained, according to state fire authority CalFire.

“Today a higher pressure system brought warmer weather, drying, and strong winds to the region,” CalFire said in an evening update.

“Tonight fire crews will try to take advantage of the lower temperatures to increase suppression and hold current containment lines.”

Embers smoulder along a hillside after the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, burned though the area near Clearlake Oaks, California, on August 5. (AFP)

It was the second fire to break records in the fire-prone, most populous US state in as many years, following the Thomas Fire in December 2017, which stood at 281,893 acres.

Further north in the state, the deadly Carr Fire has scorched more than 164,400 acres of land since July 23, and killed another seven people along the way.

Its intensity was so great at one point, that it generated a tornado-like whirl of fire -- as well as its own weather system.

Authorities said it was triggered by the “mechanical failure of a vehicle” that caused sparks to fly in tinderbox-dry conditions.

The fire has razed more than 1,600 buildings, including some 1,000 homes, state officials say.

More than 14,000 firefighters were battling the blazes across the state.

Several thousand people have been evacuated as the fires swept across the state, although some have been given permission in recent days to return to their homes.

The wildfires are “extremely fast, extremely aggressive, extremely dangerous,” said Scott McLean, a deputy chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“Look how big it got, just in a matter of days... Look how fast this Mendocino Complex went up in ranking. That doesn’t happen. That just doesn’t happen.”

First Published: Aug 07, 2018 08:48 IST