Wildfires continued to sweep across the western U.S. state of California Thursday, killing at least three people and destroying hundreds of homes.
Fires fueled by high winds and extremely high temperatures have torched more than one million hectares in California, significantly more than what was burned last year.
Authorities said hundreds, if not thousands, of homes have been damaged or destroyed by the fire in the western state’s northern Sierra Nevada mountain range. They said some 20,000 people in Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties were under evacuation orders or warnings.
Many homes in the Butte County hamlet of Berry Creek, with a population of 525, were incinerated.
The so-called North Complex near the small Northern California city of Oroville that had been burning for weeks was 50% contained until wind gusts up to 72 kilometers per hour on Tuesday and Wednesday caused the fire to expand six-fold.
The fire, which killed three people, was 24% contained on Wednesday after the winds subsided, but officials warn it is still a threat.
A separate blaze along the California-Oregon border killed at least one person and destroyed 150 homes near the Happy Camp community. The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s office said about 400 other homes were threatened.
Fires continued to burn in the Southern California city of Los Angeles and in the southern counties of San Bernardino and San Diego. After closing eight national forests in Southern California earlier this week, the U.S. Forest Service took the unprecedented step Wednesday of closing all 18 of its forests in the state.
Smoke from the wildfires was so heavy Wednesday in some areas of the San Francisco Bay area and to the east in Sacramento Valley that much of the sunlight was blocked, forcing temperatures to drop by -6.6 to -1 degrees Celsius from the day before, according to the National Weather Service.
More than two dozen large fires are burning in California, some of which are the largest in recent history.
Wildfires are also raging in the western states of Washington and Oregon. Fires have destroyed entire communities in Oregon, including one in Marion County. Fires also caused extensive damage in the eastern Washington town of Malden in recent days.
Many studies have associated larger wildfires in America to global warming from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.