Massive Northern California wildfires rage on; 1 man dead

California_Wildfires_30875 Firefighters Cody Nordstrom, Kyle Harp and Robert Gonzalez, from left, of the North Central Fire station out of Kerman, Calif., look up at a water-dropping helicopter while fighting the CZU Lightning Complex Fire on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Bonny Doon, Calif.
California_Wildfires_25635 A charred vehicle is parked in front of a home after the CZU Lightning Complex Fire went through Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_42242 Firefighter Cody Nordstrom, of the North Central Fire station out of Kerman, Calif., monitors hot spots while fighting the CZU Lightning Complex Fire on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Bonny Doon, Calif.
California_Wildfires_50982 A Pacific Gas & Electric worker moves a downed power line after the CZU Lightning Complex Fire went through Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_18690 Firefighter Cody Nordstrom, of the North Central Fire station out of Kerman, Calif., takes a water break while fighting the CZU Lightning Complex Fire on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Bonny Doon, Calif.
California_Wildfires_51055 Vehicles and homes have been burned after the CZU Lightning Complex Fire went through Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_24102 Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires leap above Butts Canyon Road on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, as firefighters work to contain the blaze in unincorporated Lake County, Calif.
California_Wildfires_33682 Redwood trees catch fire as the CZU Lightning Complex Fire advances Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_46400 Firefighter Cody Nordstrom, of the North Central Fire station out of Kerman, Calif., monitors hot spots while fighting the CZU Lightning Complex Fire on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Bonny Doon, Calif.
California_Wildfires_17984 Firefighter Cody Nordstrom, of the North Central Fire station out of Kerman, Calif., hoses down a hot spot along Empire Grade Rd. while fighting the CZU Lightning Complex Fire on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Bonny Doon, Calif.
California_Wildfires_10603 Ben Slaughter, a firefighter for the Boulder Creek Fire Department, walks along Highway 9 while monitoring flames from the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_42478 A California Department of Corrections crew builds a containment line along Highway 9 to prevent the spread of the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_10283 A California Department of Corrections crew builds a containment line along Highway 9 to prevent the spread of the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_79756 Burned trees and homes are seen after the CZU Lightning Complex Fire went through Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_42927 Ben Slaughter, a firefighter for the Boulder Creek Fire Department, stands on top of a fire truck along Highway 9 while monitoring flames from the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_01281 Burned vehicles and homes have been reduced to rubble after the CZU Lightning Complex Fire went through Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_15737 Ben Slaughter, a firefighter for the Boulder Creek Fire Department, gets down from a fire truck along Highway 9 while monitoring flames from the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_63472 Burned vehicles and a rubble from homes are left after the CZU Lightning Complex Fire went through Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_73355 Crews from the Boulder Creek Fire Department keep an eye out on a flare up from the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire along Highway 9, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_09495 The crescent moon rises over a burning tree along Empire Grade Road in Bonny Doon Saturday night , Aug. 22, 2020 as the CZU August Lightning Complex continues to rage.
California_Wildfires_55756 A forest road is littered with debris and trees are burned after the CZU Lightning Complex Fire went through Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Calif.
California_Wildfires_98786 This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of the SCU Lightning Complex wildfires, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in California. Maxar’s WorldView-3 satellite is equipped with a Shortwave Infrared (SWIR) sensor that penetrates the smoke and enables users to detect active fires, hot spots and accurately map and measure burn areas. With SWIR imagery, burned vegetation appears in shades of orange/rust colors while healthy (not burned) vegetation appears in shades of blue. Active fires and hot spots glow orange/yellow.
California-Wildfires_29434 In this Aug. 7, 2020, photo released by the U.S. Army National Guard shows members of the 132nd Multirole Bridge Company (MRBC), California Army National Guard, maneuver a bay across the Cache Creek River in Yolo County, Calif. The California National Guardsmen were called upon to upstage a floating bridge in the Cache Creek National Park to allow CAL FIRE easier access to battle the Rocky Fire.
California_Wildfires_64672 Howard Forest Helitack firefighters return to their helicopter after battling the LNU Lightning Complex on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in unincorporated Lake County, Calif.
California_Wildfires_37887 A Howard Forest Helitack firefighter looks out from a helicopter while battling the LNU Lightning Complex on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in unincorporated Lake County, Calif.
California_Wildfires_60802 Firefighters ride in the back of a pickup truck while battling the LNU Lightning Complex fires Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in unincorporated Lake County, Cailf.
California_Wildfires_67626 Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires leap above Butts Canyon Road on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in unincorporated Lake County, Calif.
Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires leap above Butts Canyon Road on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, as firefighters work to contain the blaze in unincorporated Lake County, Calif.
California_Wildfires_71381 Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires jump Butts Canyon Rd. on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, as firefighters work to contain the blaze in unincorporated Lake County. The fire has killed four people, destroyed 845 structures and scorched more than 340,000 acres according to Cal Fire.
California_Wildfires_29466 Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires leap above Butts Canyon Road on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, as firefighters work to contain the blaze in unincorporated Lake County, Calif.
California_Wildfires_06503 Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires leap above Butts Canyon Road on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in unincorporated Lake County, Calif.
California_Wildfires_62668 A fired-damaged kiosk is seen at the entrance of the Lockheed Martin campus after the CZU Lightning Complex Fire went through the area Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Bonny Doon, Calif.
California_Wildfires_52710 Karol Markowski, of th South Pasadena Fire Department, hoses down hot spots while fighting the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_58296 A burned out vehicle is left in front of a fire- ravaged residence as smoke from the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire fills the sky Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_62547 A chimney is all that is left standing at a residence after the CZU August Lightning Complex fire passed through Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_62155 An emergency vehicle goes along a smoke- filled mountain road as crews continue to fight the CZU August Lightning Complex fire Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
California_Wildfires_74001 Firefighters, part of joint task force of South Pasadena and San Gabriel fire departments, hose down hot spots as smoke from the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire fills the air Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif.
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SCOTTS VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — Three massive wildfires chewed through parched Northern California landscape Sunday as firefighters raced to dig breaks and make other preparations ahead of a frightening weather system packing high winds and more of the lightning that sparked the huge blazes and scores of other fires around the state, putting nearly a quarter-million people under evacuation orders and warnings.

At the CZU Lightning Complex fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of San Francisco, authorities announced the discovery of the body of a 70-year-old man in a remote area called Last Chance. The man had been reported missing and police had to use a helicopter to reach the area, which is a string of about 40 off-the-grid homes at the end of a windy, steep dirt road north of the city of Santa Cruz.

The area was under an evacuation order and Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Chris Clark said it was a stark reminder of the need for residents to leave the area.

“This is one of the darkest periods we’ve been in with this fire,” he said.

The fatality was the first for the CZU fire and seventh fire victim in the state in the last week that has seen 650 wildfires across California, many of them sparked by the more than 12,000 lighting strikes recorded since Aug., 15. There are 14,0000 firefighters. 2,400 engines and 95 aircraft battling the fires.

The Santa Cruz fire is one of three “complexes,” or groups of fires, burning on all sides of the San Francisco Bay Area.. All were started by lightning.

Fire crew made progress during the weekend, which saw a welcome break in the unseasonably warm weather and little wind. that allowed firefighters to increase what had been precious little containment.

But the forecast late Sunday was ominous — the National Weather Service issued a “red flag” warning through Monday afternoon for the drought-stricken area, meaning extreme fire conditions including high temperatures, low humidity, lightning and wind gusts up to 65 mph (105 kph) that “may result in dangerous and unpredictable fire behavior.”

Mark Brunton, a battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), said while he’s confident firefighters did the most with the time they had to prepare, he’s not sure what to expect.

“There’s a lot of potential for things to really go crazy out there,” he said.

The LNU Lightning Complex fire in wine country north of San Francisco and SCU Lightning Complex southeast of the city have within a week grown to be two of the three largest fires in state history, with both burning more than 500 square miles (1,295 square kilometers). The LNU fire has been the most deadly and destructive blaze, accounting for five deaths and 845 destroyed homes and other buildings. Three of the victims were in a home that was under an evacuation order.

Officials surveying maps at command centers are astonished by the sheer size of the fires, Cal Fire spokesman Brice Bennett said.

“You could overlay half of one of these fires and it covers the entire city of San Francisco,” Bennett said Sunday.

In Southern California, an 11-day-old blaze held steady at just under 50 square miles (106 square kilometers) near Lake Hughes in northern Los Angeles County mountains. Rough terrain, hot weather and the potential for thunderstorms with lightning strikes challenged firefighters on Sunday.

Authorities said their firefighting effort in Santa Cruz was hindered by people who refused to evacuate and those who were using the chaos to steal. Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said 100 officers were patrolling and anyone not authorized to be in an evacuation zone would be arrested.

“What we’re hearing from the community is that there’s a lot of looting going on,” Hart said.

He and county District Attorney Jeff Rosell expressed anger at what Rosell called the “absolutely soulless” people who seek to victimize those already victimized by the fire. Among the victims was a fire commander who was robbed when he left his fire vehicle to help direct direct operations.

Someone entered the vehicle and stole personal items, including a wallet and “drained his bank account,” said Chief Mark Brunton, a battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

“I can’t imagine a bigger low-life,” Hart said, promising to catch him and vowing “the DA is going to hammer him.”

Holly Hansen, who fled the LNU fire, was among evacuees from the community of Angwin allowed Sunday to go back to their homes for one hour to retrieve belongings. She and her three dogs waited five hours in her SUV for their turn. Among the items she took with her were photos of her pets.

“It’s horrible, I lived in Sonoma during the (2017) Tubbs Fire, so this is time No. 2 for me. It’s horrible when you have to think about what to take,” she said. “I think it’s a very raw human base emotion to have fear of fire and losing everything. It’s frightening.”

___

Baker reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press journalists Christopher Weber and Aron Ranen contributed, respectively, from Los Angeles and Angwin, California.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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