Scorched California Gets No Relief as Winds Kick Up Fire Threat

(Bloomberg) -- Dry, gusting winds are aggravating fire worries across much of central and western California, including those areas where infernos are still raging and places that were scorched in October, the U.S. Storm Prediction Center said.

Conditions through Sunday will be critical in the mountains and foothills around San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Stockton, encompassing an area of about 17,500 square miles (28,157 kilometers) where about 11.8 million people live. Red-flag warnings, advising fires could start and spread, cover most of those regions, but also reach into the Sierra Nevada range, including Yosemite National Park.

California’s fire season has gotten so dire because of a series of events over the last few years. At least 129 million trees across the state have died because of drought and bark-beetle infestation, according to a joint statement from the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. In addition, smaller plants and grasses that flourished after the state’s multi-year drought broke this past spring have now dried out, providing fuel for the blazes.

A 32-year-old firefighter died Thursday in the Thomas Fire, a 249,500-acre (100,969-hectare) blaze in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, according to official statements.

In October, dry winds swept across northern California, spreading fires that devastated much of Napa Valley and the region north of San Francisco, killing at least 44. More than 1 million acres have burned across the state this year. In the past two weeks, a round of fires has swept through southern California.

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