California weather helps firefighters but triggers flooding

FORESTHILL, Calif. — Calmer weather in Northern California helped firefighters battle a wildfire threatening thousands of mountain homes on Monday, as the remnants of last week’s Pacific hurricane continued to produce thunderstorms which caused flash flooding in the southern part of the state, where crews made progress against another huge fire.

The Mosquito Fire in the foothills east of Sacramento has expanded nearly 73 square miles (189 square kilometers), with 10% containment, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

Forecasters predicted a respite from the hot, gusty weather that plagued firefighters last week, but possible fuel sources, from fine grass to tall trees, remain very dry and flammable, according to an incident report from Cal Fire Sunday night.

After a reconnaissance flight on Sunday afternoon, Operations Commander Rick Young said that although the fire’s growth had slowed, “where it was burning, it was really burning.”

More than 5,800 structures in Placer and El Dorado counties were under threat and some 11,000 residents of communities such as Foresthill and Georgetown were under evacuation orders.

In Southern California, milder temperatures and rain helped crews battle the massive Fairview Fire about 121 miles southeast of Los Angeles after days of sweltering heat.

The 44-square-mile (114-square-kilometer) blaze was 49 percent contained Sunday night. The fire destroyed at least 30 homes and other structures in Riverside County. Two people died while fleeing the fire last Monday.

The southern part of the state welcomed cooler weather over the weekend after what’s left of Hurricane Kay deflected off the Pacific coast and subsided, helping to end blistering temperatures that nearly overwhelmed the state power grid.

But the unstable air persisted and powerful thunderstorms triggered flash floods that inundated roads and highways in inland regions. More than 50 people have been rescued after landslides trapped at least 24 cars and a fire truck in the mountainous Lake Hughes area north of Los Angeles on Sunday. No injuries were reported.

Flood watches and advisories had mostly expired, but slow-moving thunderstorms were possible Monday, the National Weather Service said on Twitter.

To the north, the remnants of Kay caused flooding on Saturday that stranded about 40 vehicles and closed a section of State Highway 190 in Death Valley National Park. The park is still cleaning up from flooding five weeks ago that closed many key roads.

The California Mosquito Fire blanketed much of the Northern Sierra region in smoke. State health officials have urged residents in affected areas to stay indoors whenever possible. Tour de Tahoe organizers canceled Sunday’s annual 72-mile (115 km) bike ride around Lake Tahoe due to thick smoke from the fire more than 80 km away. Last year’s trip was canceled due to smoke from another large fire south of Tahoe.

The cause of the Mosquito Fire remained under investigation. Pacific Gas & Electric said unspecified “electrical activity” when the fire was reported on Tuesday.

Crews also battled large fires that blanketed large swaths of Oregon and Washington in smoke.

In Washington, firefighters were scrambling to secure resources in the battle against a blaze sparked Saturday in the remote Stevens Pass area that scared hikers and forced evacuations from mountain communities. There was no containment Sunday of the Bolt Creek Fire, which had burned nearly 12 square miles (31 square kilometers) of forest land about 65 miles (104 kilometers) east of Seattle.

“The fire will continue to progress in areas that will be unmanned. With limited resources, only point protection will be in place while resources continue to mobilize against the fire,” an incident report said Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, large areas of western Oregon that have been choked with thick smoke from the fires in recent days are expected to see improved air quality on Sunday thanks to the return of overland flow, reported Oregon Public Broadcasting.

South of Portland, more than 3,000 residents were under new evacuation orders due to the 134-square-mile (347-square-kilometer) Cedar Creek Fire, which burned for more than a month in the Lane and Deschutes counties. Firefighters were protecting remote homes in Oakridge, Westfir and surrounding mountain communities.

According to the North West Interagency Coordination Center, this weekend there were more than 400 square miles (1,035 square kilometers) of active, uncontained fires and nearly 5,000 people on the ground fighting them in Oregon and Washington.

Scientists say climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. Over the past five years, California has experienced the largest and most destructive wildfires in its history.

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