Firefighters brace for mudslides as storm moves into California

by Frederic J. BROWN

A tropical storm bubbling up from Mexico will bring strong winds that could fuel the Fairview fire.

Firefighters fighting a growing blaze outside Los Angeles braced themselves for mudslides and flooding on Friday as a storm surged into the blazing areas.

The remnants of a hurricane that hit Mexico could also trigger strong winds that could fuel the Fairview fire further, prompting wider evacuation orders.

The 9,700-acre fire, which broke out Monday in the midst of a severe heat wave, continues to spread, fueled by “extreme downwinds” from nearby mountains, fire officials said.

“I’ve never seen a fire like this burn in Riverside County in my career,” said Cal Fire division chief John Crater.

“It’s a very persistent fire. It does things we just haven’t seen.”

An already widespread evacuation zone was expanded to cover more than 20,000 people as emergency managers tried to evade the fire and stay ahead of the wind.

Sheriff’s officers went door to door urging residents to stay away.

At least two people have already died in the blaze, apparently trapped by fast-moving flames as they tried to flee.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Kay made landfall in Mexico on Thursday and began to move northward.

Even as it weakened to a tropical storm, it was expected to bring heavy rain to parts of California and Arizona.

The Fairview fire exploded Monday and has now consumed 24,000 acres (1,000 hectares)

The Fairview fire exploded Monday and has now seized 24,000 acres (9,700 hectares).

Forecasters from the National Weather Service said up to 18 inches of rain could fall in the area around the fire, raising the risk of flash flooding and mudslides in areas where burned-out soil can’t absorb the sudden downpour.

“We could go from firefighting to significant rain, water rescues, mudslides, debris (flows),” Jeff Veik of Cal Fire’s Riverside Unit told a community meeting.

“We have challenging days ahead of us.”

The tropical storm rising from Mexico appeared to be gradually ending the debilitating heat wave that has enveloped much of the western United States for more than a week.

But temperatures — some of which have surpassed 110 Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) for several days in some places — remained high in central and northern California.

“Nighttime lows will continue to match records this weekend as increased cloud cover traps warm air at the surface,” the National Weather Service said.

“About 29 million Americans currently have an extreme heat warning.”

The warm and dry air also increased the risk of fires over a large area, a risk made even greater by the winds fanned as pressure systems move.

The western United States has been experiencing a historic drought for more than two decades that scientists say is being exacerbated by human-induced climate change.

Much of the countryside is parched and overgrown, creating the conditions for hot, rapid and devastating wildfires.

Climatologists predict that as the Earth continues to warm due to the incessant burning of fossil fuels, these conditions will deteriorate further.

Western US heat wave subsides, but more fire hazard ahead: forecast

© 2022 AFP

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