Red flag warnings as wildfires continue to burn in the West

Posted at 7:47 AM, Jul 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-10 09:31:53-04

Red flag warnings have been issued across six states in the West, where firefighters continue to battle dozens of large blazes.

Dry thunderstorms -- which produce lightning without sending rain to the ground -- may spark additional wildfires this week, the National Weather Service warned.

A red flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are happening now or imminent, according to the NWS.


The warnings follow a heatwave that saw more than 40 high-temperature records set or tied Saturday across the West, including in Los Angeles; Las Vegas, Nevada; Helena, Montana; and Boise, Idaho.

Bakersfield, California, is forecast to top 106 degrees again on Monday, before temperatures drop slightly into the low 100s for the rest of the week, CNN Meteorologist Rachel Aissen said.

Conditions are dry, Aissen said.

"Many cities in this region have not seen rainfall since May. Fresno's last date of measurable rain was May 7th, making it 63 days since they've recorded rainfall," she said.

California evacuations

In the hot, dry conditions over the weekend, thousands of Californians evacuated homes at risk from wildfires.

About 5,000 firefighters are batting 14 different fires across the state, Cal Fire said Sunday.

One of the most dangerous is the Whittier Fire in Santa Barbara County in coastal Southern California, which threatened children at a summer camp and has forced about 3,500 people to leave their homes, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Sunday.

Firefighters saved at least 60 campers who were attending the Circle V Ranch, a popular summer camp, authorities said.

One of the campers, Amayah Madere, told CNN affiliate WCBS she was swimming in the pool when a counselor told her to get out of the water and change change clothes in a hurry. Campers were escorted to a dining hall to wait while firefighters battled flames around them, she said.

"I prayed that if I didn't die I would go to church and right when I prayed the firefighters came," Madere said.

Eric Peterson, Santa Barbara County fire chief, said the campers could not be taken out right away.

"They were trapped because the road was completely enveloped by flames and there were trees falling down across the road and there was really just no way to get them out of there," Peterson said. "So we had fire personnel, sheriff's personnel and Los Padres National Forest personnel all back there keeping those kids safe, and they rode it out there with them for hours, until it was safe enough to get them out of there."

All campers and staff were safe, organizers said in a message posted on social media.

CNN affiliate KEYT tweeted a video taken from inside a vehicle driving through the smoke.

Winds out of the southeast are pushing the fire away from Santa Barbara and towards Santa Ynez, authorities said. A path towards Santa Ynez has already burned, which is helping firefighters contain parts of the fire.

The fire began Saturday and expanded quickly, county spokeswoman Gina DePinto said. Its cause was unknown.

The fire has claimed more than 7,800 acres and was only 5% contained Sunday night, Cal Fire tweeted.

The flames spread to several recreational areas such as Camp Whittier and Lake Cachuma, forcing visitors to abandon tents, RVs and boats. A sheriff's vehicle was also destroyed east of Lake Cachuma but the deputy was not hurt, a county spokesman said on Twitter.

More fires in California

On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed a state of emergency in Butte County, in northern California, because of a wildfire.

Officials ordered the evacuation of more than 300 homes in Butte County due to the fire, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire said. By Sunday evening approximately 4,000 people had been evacuated, according to the Cal Fire website.

The blaze known as Wall Fire started Friday and by Sunday evening had burned 5,600 acres and was 25% contained, officials said.

At least 17 structures, including homes, have been destroyed while five others were damaged, officials said. Cal Fire said 5,400 structures were threatened.

"Firefighters are continuing to establish and maintain control lines and reduce the threat of property damage. Evacuation orders and warnings are still in effect," the Cal Fire website said Sunday evening.

Fires spread north

Forty-five fires are burning across the Western part of the US, according to the US Forest Service. Fires are burning from New Mexico and Arizona, to Washington and Montana. Hot and dry conditions will worsen the ongoing wildfire activity in the West, the NWS said Sunday night.

Further north, 10,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders in British Columbia, Canada, where a state of emergency was declared Friday due to wildfires, BC Wildfire Service spokesman Kevin Skrepnek told CNN. About a dozen of the fires are considered major, he said. Military assistance has been brought in to help the 1,000 fire personnel currently fighting the fires, which are mostly in rural areas.