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Wildfires churned through bone-dry California on Tuesday after a scorching Labor Day weekend that saw a dramatic airlift of more than 200 people trapped by flames and ended with the state’s largest utility turning off power to 172,000 customers to try to prevent power lines and other equipment from sparking more fires.
“We’re completely trapped. There’s fire on all sides, all around us,” said Jeremy Remington, as he stood on a beach surrounded by fire in the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, a popular recreational site in California’s Sierra National Forest, in a video posted on Twitter. Mr. Remington was later airlifted to safety, local news reported.
The blaze was 0 percent contained on Sunday afternoon, while nearly 15,000 firefighters were battling some two dozen fires across the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).
Late on Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, San Bernardino and San Diego counties due to the wildfires.
Eight people have been killed and some 3,300 structures have been destroyed over the past three weeks in wildfires across the state.
California is heading into what traditionally is the teeth of the wildfire season, and already it has set a record with 2 million acres burned this year.
The previous record was set just two years ago and included the deadliest wildfire in state history that swept through the community of Paradise and killed 85 people.
That fire was started by Pacific Gas & Electric power lines amid strong winds and tinder dry conditions. Liability from billions of dollars in claims from that and other fires forced the utility to seek bankruptcy protection. To guard against new wildfires and new liability, the utility last year began preemptive power shutoffs when conditions are exceptionally dangerous.
That is the situation now in Northern California, where high and dry winds are expected until Wednesday.
Two of the three largest fires in state history are burning in the San Francisco Bay Area. More than 14,000 firefighters are battling those fires and about two dozen others around the state.
Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said it’s “unnerving” to have reached a record for acreage burned when September and October usually are the worst months for fires because vegetation has dried out and high winds are more common.
This article contains information from Reuters and The Associated Press.