California battles fires ahead of July 4 long weekend

Hundreds of firefighters were working on Friday to contain three wildfires that devoured more than 15,000 hectares in northern California, including in a tourist area that was preparing to welcome many visitors for the long weekend. July 4.

Authorities have ordered evacuations along Shasta Lake, an area popular with campers south of the Oregon border, as rising temperatures, drought and winds are helping the fires spread.

About 40 structures were destroyed, including at least half a dozen homes near Lakehead, according to an AFP photographer on site.

“Everything is so dry with the drought. We had very little rain, the lake level is very low for this time of year. These are perfect conditions for the fires,” says Cecil Hengst, owner of Lakehead Campground. Campground, which he said was full but had to close due to evacuation orders.

The fire “was really close … This one was dangerous,” said Hengst, who has worked in the area for 12 years.

Authorities say the “Salt Fire” threatening the area was caused by a vehicle traveling on Interstate-5, a major highway that runs from Canada to Mexico and had to be briefly closed to traffic on Thursday due to flames.

The “Lava fire” in Weed, California on July 1, 2021 (AFP – JOSH EDELSON)

Farther north, the “Lava” and “Tennant” fires continued to spread into forested areas where billows of dense gray smoke rose.

The “Lava Fire” was caused by lightning strikes last week. More than 500 lightning bolts have been recorded in California in the past 24 hours, threatening to cause more fires to start.

Dozens of fires are currently active in western North America, from Canada to California, after a deadly heat wave.

California has so far had some 600 more fires this year than in the same period in 2020, which was the worst in its modern history with more than 1.5 million hectares gone up in smoke.

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