The Mosquito Fire became the largest wildfire to burn in California this year after cultivating more than 63,000 acres on Wednesday evening, fueled by dried vegetation in an area that was cooling after record heat last week.
The massive fire has been burning for more than a week since its ignition on September 6. It has spread over 14,000 acres since Tuesday. As of Wednesday evening, the blaze now covers more than 63,000 acres in El Dorado and Placer counties, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
As the fire died down over the weekend, strong winds blew smoke away and created fresh oxygen for the fire’s active behavior Tuesday night, Cal Fire said. Containment went from 25% on Tuesday to 20% on Wednesday.
East end fire behavior is expected to increase as winds push the fire into extremely dry fuel.
“We’re ready for an absolute blast here,” Cal Fire fire behavior analyst Jonathan Pangburn said during Wednesday’s U.S. Forest Service briefing. “He doesn’t need a lot of wind.”
The Mosquito Fire has overtaken the McKinney Fire as California’s largest wildfire this year. The McKinney Fire has burned over 60,000 acres in Siskiyou County and is currently 99% contained.
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Dangerous conditions in Northern California and Nevada
More than 11,000 residents of surrounding California communities have been evacuated due to the Mosquito Fire, according to Cal Fire. The towns of Foresthill, Michigan Bluff, Georgetown and Volcanoville remained under mandatory evacuation early Wednesday.
The fire destroyed 64 structures and damaged 10 in Placer and El Dorado counties, according to Cal Fire’s latest damage assessment report. More than 9,000 structures were threatened.
Smoke from the Mosquito Fire hangs over Northern California, creating unhealthy air quality in the region and in Nevada.
Public school officials in Reno and Sparks, Nevada, closed most campuses to in-person instruction on Wednesday. Washoe County School District officials cited the current hazardous air quality, National Weather Service projections, and potential harm to vulnerable students and those who walk or bike to school.
The University of Nevada, Reno and Truckee Meadows Community College also canceled in-person classes Wednesday, but said online classes and essential services would continue.
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Historic drought and record heat waves fuel dry conditions for wildfires
A historic drought has affected much of the West, and recent sweltering heat waves have further dried out vegetation in the region. Extremely dry vegetation is known as extremely dry fuel and fire officials have warned that these conditions can easily start a fire.
Pangburn recalled the King fire in 2014, where similar conditions occurred and noted that firefighters were forced to use emergency fire shelters due to fast-moving flames.
“Not wind driven events, just fuel that was primed and ready, and decided to get up quickly,” Pangburn said during Wednesday’s briefing.
Contributor: The Associated Press