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Raging fires, warmth wave and coronavirus: California is battling a number of crises

A Pacific Gas and Electric firefighter walks down a street as flames approach during the LNU Lightning Complex fire in Fairfield, California.

Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images

Major forest fires continued to spread across Northern California on Thursday as thousands more residents are forced to evict their homes and resource-scarce firefighters battle the flames.

California has been hit by nearly 11,000 lightning strikes that have caused more than 367 known fires across the state in the past few days, 26 of which are serious. The state's forest fire season is becoming increasingly devastating as climate change causes hotter, drier temperatures.

By Thursday morning, the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, a group of fires that had hit counties Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Solano, had burned more than 124,000 acres and was 0% contained.

Travis Air Force Base in Solano County called for the mandatory evacuation of all "non-mission essential personnel". Four residents were injured and at least two people died. A helicopter pilot died after a crash attempting to drain water in Fresno County, and an employee of Pacific Gas & Electric died in Solano County.

California, which is in need of emergency resources, faces a number of crises this summer: fast-spreading fires, power outages, a suffocating heat wave, and a coronavirus pandemic that becomes more dangerous as smoke affects air quality.

The stifling heat wave that caused temperatures in the state over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the past week has resulted in rolling power outages on the state's electrical grid.

Climate change has also extended the California fire season to most of the year as arid conditions, heat, and drought aggravate forest fires.

A view of the location of the Hennessey fire exploded Tuesday afternoon and doubled in minutes on August 19, 2020 in Vacaville, California.

Neal Waters | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

In recent months, the state has struggled to prepare for a particularly busy fire season as the pandemic weighed on emergency resources.

The combination of poor air quality from smoke and the spread of the coronavirus is dangerous: Polluted air makes people more susceptible to infections of the respiratory tract and weakens their immune system.

Studies show that coronavirus patients are more likely to die from the virus in areas with high air pollution.

About 130 firefighters from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety are in quarantine because they have either contracted or are exposed to the virus. More than 600,000 people have been infected with the virus in California.

Firefighters are particularly vulnerable to the virus because of the overcrowding of base camps during outbreaks that are breeding grounds for the spread of virus.

In the event of major fires, there is not much fire brigades can do to control the spread of the virus in base camps as staff shortages make it impossible to replace staff.

"My recommendation is that all California citizens be ready to go if it comes to wildfire," said Lynnette Round, a Cal Fire spokeswoman, on Wednesday.

"Residents have to pack their bags with their noses toward the driveway so you can leave quickly," she said. "Everyone should be ready to go, especially when you find yourself in a devastating area."

Vehicles catch fire in front of a burning house along Peaceful Glen Road during the Hennessy Fire in Solano County, California on Wednesday, August 19, 2020.

Philip Pacheco | Bloomberg | Getty Images

California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency earlier this week to provide more help fighting the fires.

"We're experiencing fires like we haven't seen for many, many years," Newsom said on Wednesday.

California has had 6,754 fires so far this year, compared with about 4,000 around that time last year, the governor said.

The California National Guard is helping with relief efforts, and firefighting groups have called in 375 fire trucks from overseas to help fight the flames. The governors of Arizona and Texas have also sent resources to California to help with the fires.

Pacific Gas and Electric firefighters extinguish point fires as the LNU Lightning Complex fire burns through the area on August 19, 2020 in Fairfield, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

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