California Braces for Difficult Wildfire Day During Record Heat Wave

LOS ANGELES — Firefighters across California braced on Tuesday for a scorching day battling blazes that have ripped through tinder-dry brush and grass, including one fire that killed two people on Monday as it roared through a canyon.

As of Tuesday morning, that blaze, known as the Fairview fire, had burned about 2,400 acres and prompted evacuation orders affecting about 12,000 people in and around Hemet, a small city about 85 miles southeast of Los Angeles in Riverside County. The Hemet Unified School District closed schools on Tuesday for 24,000 students.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Issac Sanchez, a spokesman for Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency, speaking from Hemet.

The Mill fire — an explosive blaze that struck the town of Weed in far Northern California and killed two people — was more than half-contained as of Tuesday morning, while the nearby Mountain fire, the state’s largest active blaze at 11,690 acres, continued to burn in rural Siskiyou County.

The Radford fire, which erupted on Monday near the ski and lake resorts of Big Bear, grew to about 450 acres, prompting evacuation orders.

Record-shattering temperatures brought by a heat dome over the West have left Californians sweating and homebound, if they have air-conditioning. For firefighters, sweltering temperatures magnify the perils of an already difficult job: Crews must carry heavy gear and wear protective clothing as they hike through treacherous terrain.

As a result, firefighters must take frequent breaks, which could leave the ranks stretched thin if several dangerous fires break out at once. Last week, Los Angeles County officials said that seven firefighters were treated for heat-related injuries while battling the Route fire, which was mostly contained as of Tuesday.

Fire officials said that the prolonged wave of extreme heat pummeling California was worrisome because it ensured that vegetation parched by the continuing Western drought was primed to burn.

“It essentially preheats the fuels,” Mr. Sanchez said.

This year’s fire season has by many measures been less intense than those of the past few years. Last year, for instance, the Dixie fire charred more than 963,000 acres, making it the second largest fire on record in the state. It started in July. Over the full year, enormous fires burned more than 2.5 million acres in California. By contrast, just 241,074 acres have burned so far in 2020.

Still, Mr. Sanchez said, the outlook could change rapidly, and climate change has been making fire seasons longer, with fires that often burn hotter and flare more quickly out of control, destroying houses built in what were once wild lands.

“Any time we get any heat wave, we’re looking forward to the end of it,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, a small fire — just 23 acres — broke out in the Sierra Nevada foothills. At first, Placer County officials warned campers at a handful of sites to evacuate. A few hours later, that warning became an order.

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