California secures disaster declaration as wildfires spread

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As massive destructive wildfires continue to spread across regions in Northern California, the US state has secured a major disaster declaration from President Joe Biden.

“California is grateful for President Biden’s swift approval of our request and the ongoing work of our heroic firefighters and emergency responders to protect communities across Northern California,” state Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

He noting that the declaration makes vital resources available as the state continue to work in lockstep with local and federal partners to meet the challenge of these catastrophic wildfires and support communities in recovery, reports Xinhua news agency.

Newsom had submitted the request for a major disaster declaration on Monday to bolster the ongoing emergency response to wildfires and support impacted communities in Lassen, Nevada, Placer and Plumas counties in Northern California.

The request approved by Biden is specific to the Dixie and River fires.

Other fires, including the Caldor Fire, may be included once the conditions allow state, local and federal officials to safely assess the scope of damage, according to the release from the governor’s office.

The declaration will help residents in the impacted counties through eligibility for programs and support that can include housing assistance, counselling, medical services and legal services.

It also includes public assistance to help state, tribal and local governments with ongoing emergency response and recovery costs and hazard mitigation, which helps state and local governments reduce the risks and impacts of future disasters.

Newsom has activated California’s State Operations Center to its highest level and proclaimed a state of emergency in counties impacted by multiple massive wildfires across the state.

The Dixie Fire, which started on July 13, has grown to the largest wildfire so far this year in the country and the second largest one in California’s history.

The devastating wildfire has incinerated more than 735,000 acres and destroyed 1,273 residential, commercial and other structures with only 45 percent containment as of Wednesday morning, said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

The Caldor Fire, now the third-largest active fire in California, has burned over 126,000 acres and destroyed 637 structures to date.

The 11-day explosive wildfire is moving closer to Lake Tahoe, which straddles the state line between California and Nevada.

Tahoe, North America’s largest mountain lake is a major tourist attraction in the country, attracting around 15 million people per year.

Multiple local news outlets reported that smoke from the blaze southwest of Lake Tahoe is making air in the area hazardous to breathe.

Local residents and tourists were enveloped in a thick haze of the nation’s worst air.

“Northern California has experienced large fire activity and will likely experience an extended fire season,” Cal Fire said in an update.

“Under these drought conditions, wildfires are burning rapidly with extreme severity and have spread up to 12.87 km in a single day. Fuel conditions are much worse than previous years and along with wind is causing much greater fire spread,” the agency noted.

It added that firefighters are experiencing conditions never seen before, such as increased spread rates, spotting and active night-time burning.

The state and most of the US West are in the grip of a severe drought of historic proportions.

“Today, over 14,200 firefighters remain on the frontlines of 12 active large wildfires that have burned over 1.62 million acres,” Cal Fire tweeted.

–IANS

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