A cluster of wildfires that has been burning for nearly a month in Northern California became the largest fire in modern state history on Thursday, as the West Coast deals with a rising death toll from a spate of recent blazes.
"Northeast winds continued through most of the day Wednesday," fire officials said. "There was significant fire spread from increased fire activity on the west side of the fire, with heavy smoke production across the area."
The August Complex was initially 37 different fires on the Mendocino National Forest that started on Aug. 17 as devastating storms with lightning strikes that swept through the northern part of California. The cause of the blaze is listed as lightning.
The updated size on Thursday means that the August Complex is now on top of Cal Fire's official list of the state's largest wildfires dating back to 1932.
"There is no doubt that there were fires with significant acreage burned in years prior to 1932, but those records are less reliable, and this list is meant to give an overview of the large fires in more recent times," the agency states.
The blaze is burning in and near the Mendocino National Forest in Tehama County and overtook the Mendocino Complex, which burned 459,123 acres in July 2018 in Colusa, Lake, Mendocino and Glenn counties.
One firefighter has died so far fighting the August Complex and 26 structures have been destroyed, according to Cal Fire.
More than 1,100 fire personnel are involved in fighting the blaze. Statewide there are over 14,000 firefighters battling 29 wildfires, according to Cal Fire.
As of Thursday, Cal Fire said that more than 2.6 million acres have burned statewide.
"2020 has already taken the number one spot for acres burned and there are still several months to go," the agency tweeted.
This grim new record comes as another blaze in the state is threatening thousands of homes after winds whipped flames into one community and killed at least three people.
Several other people have been critically burned and hundreds, if not thousands, of homes and other buildings are believed to have been damaged or destroyed by the fire in the foothills of the northern Sierra Nevada, authorities said.
The blaze linked to the three deaths was known as the Bear Fire, but now dubbed the North Complex West Zone, has scorched 247,358 acres and is 0% contained. Some 2,000 structures are believed to have been destroyed or damaged, according to Cal Fire.
Some 22,356 are still threatened by the blaze. The Butte County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday night that 12 people were still missing.
“Our community is, unfortunately, becoming accustomed to this. I certainly hoped after the Camp Fire that I wouldn’t be back up here talking with you about a wildland fire of this magnitude,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told FOX40.
About 20,000 people were under evacuation orders or warnings in Plumas, Yuba and Butte counties.
At least seven people have died from the recent blazes along the West Coast and tens of thousands are under evacuation orders across the region.
In Washington, a 1-year-old boy died after his family was apparently overrun by flames while trying to flee a wildfire burning in the northeastern part of the state, Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley said Wednesday.
FOX12 reported that police confirmed that a boy and his grandmother died in a wildfire near Lyons, Ore. The Mail Tribune in Medford, Ore., reported that Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler confirmed at least one death and a criminal investigation at the origin point of a wildfire that started near Ashland. There are still missing people in Oregon.
Others have shared terrifying footage of evacuations from areas under threat by a wall of flames.
Since the middle of August, fires in California have killed 12 people, destroyed more than 3,600 buildings, burned old growth redwoods, charred chaparral, and forced evacuations in communities near the coast, in wine country north of San Francisco and along the Sierra Nevada.
For those who have lived through other blazes like the Camp Fire in 2018, which became the state's deadliest when 85 people lost their lives, the orange skies and ash falling in recent days was too much.
“It was extremely frightening and ugly,” former Paradise Mayor Steve “Woody” Culleton told the Associated Press. “Everybody has PTSD and whatnot, so it triggered everybody and caused terror and panic.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.