Weekend storms could be a mixed blessing for crews battling California’s largest wildfire, which is now about halfway through its containment mission.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office on Friday reported that the fire’s containment rate has risen to 88 percent, after reaching 79 percent before. The state fire agency said the blaze has destroyed about 19,500 acres.
But the number of fires burning in northern California remained high early Saturday as the blaze swept through the rugged Sierra foothills.
On Friday, authorities lowered the risk level for people and structures to a red alert, which means “extremely high fire danger,” and activated the state’s National Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The news agency CAL-FIRE also said that the number of fire fighting airplanes had been reduced to one dozen in order to cut fuel usage and keep the equipment in the sky for longer.
But they’re unlikely to keep up.
The Associated Press
With so many fires burning in California and so little visibility, California Highway Patrol Lt. Gov. Devon Tarbet said Friday that the number of civilian aircraft flying around the fires has dropped from 1,000 to less than 200. And just over 80 percent of those flights are in the northern half of the state.
The numbers vary widely, but this is the first time that CAL FIRE, the state fire agency, has released information about how many planes have been deployed to fight wildfires. CAL FIRE’s spokesperson, Chris Johnson, told reporters that aircraft are only deployed to fight wildfires if it’s believed they can help.
“They’re deployed when they believe that it’s safe for them to remain in the air,” Johnson said.
The reason those planes aren’t flying over the biggest parts of the state is because visibility has been poor, Johnson said.
CAL-FIRE said most of the planes in Cal Fire’s fleet are flown by the state’s air tankers. That adds to the uncertainty over whether planes are flying over the fires.
Johnson said the aircraft have been flying in the state but have not had to deal with bad weather.
“They’re flying out of the state when