Publication Date June 29, 2016 | The Christian Science Monitor

California firefighters succeed in controlling Erskine wildfire

Lake Isabella, CA USA
Photo: Noah Berger / Reuters
Photo: Noah Berger / Reuters

The largest and most destructive wildfire of the season is now mostly contained, according to California fire managers...

The fire burned more than 70 square miles and was also responsible for two deaths, a priest and his wife, Byron and Gladys McKaig, who are the first casualties of the California wildfire season...

An early summer heatwave may have contributed to the blazes; high temperatures throughout southern California prompted the National Weather Service to issue excessive heat warnings in Los Angeles and surrounding valleys and deserts on the first day of summer, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The heat wave has had a serious effect on the fire conditions. Ken Plimott director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, notes that last week the state had nearly 300 new fires, and says heat wave temperatures are drying out vegetation, which becomes fuel for fires.

Along with climate change and El Niño-induced temperature highs, California's five-year drought is also causing unprecedented conditions for firefighters to contend with.

"And what we're seeing are fires burn at just exponential rates," Mr. Plimott told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman. "Last year, we had two of the state's top 10 most damaging fires in our history, and they were burning at rates that 30-year veteran firefighters haven't seen. In one afternoon last year, we had a fire – you know, over 20,000 acres in just five hours."

Plimott says that with the combination of the draught and the high temperatures, the "trend is larger, more damaging fires and more acres burned"