The Maria Fire, which is mostly affecting residents in Ventura County, has burned more than 8,000 acres so far since exploding on Thursday night. By this morning, however, the flames had spread dramatically. Mandatory evacuations are in place. So far, firefighters are having a tough time containing the fire, but the winds may finally shift in their favour Friday.
“We’re seeing a marked reduction in the wind speeds,” U.S. National Weather Service senior meteorologist Patrick Burke told Reuters. “We’ll see steady winds of 15-20 mph (24-32 km/h) through Friday, so that still doesn’t help, but it’s way down from what it was. We’ll continue to see a marked reduction through the weekend. I’d say this wind event is about over.”
That’s a relief. These wild-arse hot and dry winds—dubbed Santa Ana winds in the south and Diablo winds in the north of the state—have been helping fuel the hellscape that’s taken over California. The Maria Fire is only the latest blaze.
The Getty Fire continues to rage just southeast of the Maria Fire where evacuation orders remain in place. The Easy Fire is also burning in Ventura County and only remains 10 per cent contained. Meanwhile, the Kincade Fire continues to burn north in Wine Country though officials have finally been able to contain it to nearly 70 per cent. The fire has already burned over more than 77,000 acres (31,160 hectares), though, injuring four people and damaging or destroying 352 structures along the way.
Firefighters are having to contend with flames and smoke, but officials have also raised the alarm about another, non-fire related threat: unauthorised drone usage. A drone caused helicopters to stop dropping water during firefighting efforts for the Maria Fire. If there’s a drone in the air, firefighting aircraft gotta land to ensure there’s no collisions.
“This is a major issue for us, and we work hard to get the word out about the dangers of flying drones near wildfires,” Ian Gregor, a public affairs manager for the Federal Aviation Administration, said in an email to Gizmodo.
In 2019, firefighting efforts from the sky were disrupted nine times due to drones. Most have been in California, but firefighting efforts have also been disrupted in Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Washington. And it seems more and more people are sending their drones into the air above wildfires. That puts firefighters at-risk and by slowing down firefighting operations, also opens the door for fires to do more damage.
The spate of California wildfires in recent years have really messed with people’s lives. The state’s largest utility, PG&E, has been in a constant state of shutting people’s power off in Northern California since the wildfire season hit full swing in October in an effort to cut down on blazes sparked by down power lines. On Thursday, the utility finally began restoring power to some customers who had been without power since the weekend.