California’s wildfires powered by perfect storm of fire hazards

By Andy Coghlan

Fire has devastated large areas of northern California, killing at least 17, with 155 people missing, and destroying at least 2000 homes. Wildfires have torched almost 30,000 hectares, mostly in the wine-growing regions of Napa and Sonoma counties, including the area around Santa Rosa.

The US National Weather Service (NWS) issued a red-flag warning on Tuesday, blaming near-perfect fire conditions. Warm offshore winds gusting at up to 50 kilometres per hour served as bellows, spreading fire in conditions of low humidity and parched vegetation. “Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” warned the NWS. “Shifting winds may push ongoing fires in new directions.”

The Californian fires are the latest in a year that has seen abnormally high wildfire activity in the US. On 1 October, the US National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho predicted that northern California was at especially grave risk. “Weather patterns along the West Coast allowed fuels to dry and become receptive to fire,” it warned.

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