“The fire behavior we’re seeing in this incident is truly unprecedented,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie said of the Oak Fire, which exploded over more than 16,700 acres and destroy at least seven structures. “It moves extremely fast and the reaction time to get people out is limited because this fire moves so fast.”
Officials, Heggie added, are doing their best to work with law enforcement and let residents know when they need to leave.
“But the reality is it’s going so fast, it doesn’t give people a lot of time, and sometimes they’re going to have to evacuate with the shirts on their backs,” he said. “But their life, safety is obviously the most important thing.”
The fire “remained active in some areas” through Sunday evening “due to dry and dead fuel,” Cal Fire’s update said Monday.
The agency also revised down the number of destroyed structures from 10 to seven and the number of damaged structures from five to zero, calling the earlier figures a “preliminary estimate”.
Among those who lost their homes were Jane and Wes Smith, their son Nick Smith told CNN his parents were left with “just the clothes on their backs and the shoes on their feet.”
“It’s quite sad to see the house I grew up in and grew up in,” he said. “It hits hard.”
His mother only had time to load their horses before escaping the area, Smith said, while his father was busy working on the fire as a Mariposa County sheriff’s deputy. Now the couple stay with friends and family as they recover from the loss.
Severity of fires ‘direct result’ of climate change, official says
Newsom declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County on Saturday, citing the thousands of displaced residents, destroyed homes and threatened critical infrastructure.
“Fire behavior consists of flanking, retreating and creeping through lands, roads and recreation areas in National Forest Systems,” the agency said on its website. “This closure will support public safety by keeping members of the public out of hazardous burning areas and allow firefighting resources to fight the blaze without public interference.”
The Oak Fire is the largest of California’s active blazes, which were fueled by prolonged drought conditions across much of the state, leaving behind brittle vegetation and rapidly burning undergrowth.
The fire is also having an effect on the weather in other states. The National Weather Service of Portland, Oregon, noted in a tweet that high temperatures could be affected or lowered if smoke from the Oak Fire reaches their city.
Heggie also noted that the fire was “indicative” of what has been seen more widely in wildfires across the state and in the American West in recent years: it was “burning with such speed and intensity,” said Heggie, due to prolonged drought and human activity. -caused climate change.
“What I can tell you is that this is a direct result of what climate change is,” he said. “You can’t have a 10-year drought in California and expect things to be the same. And we’re now paying the price for that 10-year drought and climate change.”
“That dead fuel that’s resulted from that climate change and that drought is what’s driving them, what we now call ‘mega fires,'” Heggie said.
In years past, he said, the fires “have never grown at this rate or this magnitude.”
“Now,” he observed, “it’s commonplace.”
CNN’s Stella Chan, Chris Boyette, Sara Smart and Michelle Watson contributed to this report.