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California wildfires ‘likely to worsen as season peaks’

Firefighters from El Dorado Hills keep watch on a smoldering cliff at Garrapata State Park during the Soberanes Fire north of Big Sur, California

Drought conditions in California risk stoking new and ongoing wildfires as the season enters its peak, a forecaster said on Wednesday after several blazes already killed at least six people and charred thousands of acres so far this year.

The warning came as 5,500 firefighters battled a wildfire near the Big Sur coast, a well-known tourist destination. Dubbed the Soberanes Fire, it has scorched some 17,800 hectares and dozens of homes in the area, fire officials said.

Little rain and the strong, dry Santa Ana winds will likely stoke more wildfires as the peak of the wildfire season begins, AccuWeather said. The wildfire season officially begins in May and stretches into September.

“It’s bad now and it’s only going to get worse,” long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok said.

The Soberanes Fire began on July 22 and was sparked by an illegal, unattended camp fire in a section in Garrapata State Park that was closed to camping, the US Forest Service said on Tuesday. No arrests have been made, the service said.

Fire personnel battling the blaze have been able to draw containment lines – a measure of how much of its perimeter has been cleared by fire crews of unburned vegetation – around only 25 percent of the wildfire so far.

A bulldozer operator hired by property owners to help battle the Soberanes blaze died last week when his vehicle rolled over. It was the second wildfire-related death in California in a week, another person having been found dead in his car in the path of the Sand Fire in Los Angeles County. Four people were killed in other blazes in June.

The fire threat has prompted the closure of several popular California campgrounds and recreation areas along the northern end of the Big Sur coastline, including Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

Another fire that broke out on Saturday in grass and brush about 30 miles northeast of Fresno, in central California, has since charred about 2,185 acres and is threatening 400 structures, prompting evacuations in the area, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

Nine structures, including four homes, have been destroyed, fire officials said. On Tuesday evening, the so-called Goose Fire was listed as 60 percent contained.

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