The fires grew quickly overnight, forcing rushed evacuations.
Wildfires tore through Northern California overnight, spreading quickly and engulfing homes as firefighters battled to get control of the blazes, which have forced a growing number of evacuations and were likely caused by lightning strikes in recent days.
People were ordered to flee neighborhoods in Vacaville, a city of about 100,000 residents near Sacramento, as a combination of uncontrolled fires northwest of the city began to overtake homes. That group of fires, known together as the LNU Lightning Complex, has destroyed more than 50 buildings and is threatening nearly 2,000 more, the authorities said.
It grew more than 14,000 acres overnight and now covers 46,225 acres in Napa and Sonoma Counties — larger than the size of Washington, D.C. — and is completely uncontained, the authorities said. Four people have been injured in the fire.
Videos from Vacaville showed flames leaping through one neighborhood, from trees to homes to picket fences.
The authorities have also ordered residents to evacuate in several other areas where groups of fires, also likely caused by lightning, are spreading quickly. The SCU Lightning Complex, a group of about 20 different fires, more than doubled in size overnight, and is now burning over 85,000 acres across five counties — largely in unpopulated regions near the Bay Area — and is just 5 percent contained. A third combination of fires, known as the CZU August Lightning Complex, has grown to 10,000 acres and forced evacuations in Santa Cruz County.
Firefighters had hoped for calmer weather overnight, but gusty winds arrived instead, pushing the fire toward vegetation and other fresh fuel, said Lynnette Round, a spokeswoman for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
“Today they’re going to be in for another firefight” she said, as the winds and dry, hot weather continues.
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Woken at 2 a.m., a Vacaville resident fled with his dog and not much else.
Clayton Jack, 31, a professional wrestler who lives in Vacaville, said he was woken up by a house guest around 2 a.m. on Wednesday and immediately smelled smoke in the air.
“I go outside and see the big, red, orange glow on the hill and then I see tons of light,” Mr. Jack said. “And then I see a bunch of cop cars that were driving up and down the street.”
Mr. Jack, who wrestles under the name Kal Jak, said that an officer told him it was time to leave.
“I was able to grab my dog, my own stuff, my laptop, my camera and then just from there I drove off,” he said.
In the car, Mr. Jack realized that he smelled “head to toe like fire,” he said. He drove past fire trucks equipped with spotlights and megaphones that were carrying urgent messages to evacuate.
“It was something out of a movie,” said Mr. Jack, who was able to leave Vacaville by 3 a.m. and drove northeast to Lake Tahoe, where his family owns a cabin.
“I’m very fortunate to have a place to stay at the moment,” he said. “Hopefully the house doesn’t burn down.”
The governor has declared a state of emergency.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Tuesday in response to the fires, which have hit the state as it battles the effects of a sweltering heat wave, rolling blackouts and the coronavirus pandemic.
The move will make vital resources available to fight the hundreds of wildfires that are burning throughout the state and have been aggravated by the heat and sustained high winds, the governor’s office said.
“We are deploying every resource available to keep communities safe as California battles fires across the state during these extreme conditions,” Mr. Newsom said in a statement. “California and its federal and local partners are working in lock step to meet the challenge and remain vigilant in the face of continued dangerous weather conditions.”
The fires throughout the state have stressed the state’s mutual aid system, which has made it difficult for jurisdictions to obtain the firefighting resources they need, according to the emergency proclamation. The declaration enables Mr. Newsom to mobilize resources from out of state, a top aide to the governor said in an interview Tuesday night. The governor also mobilized the California National Guard to assist with relief efforts.
The declaration has no impact on health restrictions related to the coronavirus response.
California has faced rolling blackouts as a heat wave raises demand for electricity.
The heat has also taken its toll on the state’s electrical supply, with operators of the state’s power grid twice ordering rolling outages last week and pleading with customers to use less power this week.
On Tuesday, as many as 2 million homes and businesses were warned they could be subject to rotating blackouts of an hour or more, but the California Independent System Operator said a reduction in demand meant that the outages were not needed.
Lawmakers and consumer groups have expressed outrage that the operator had not adequately prepared for the heat wave.
The blackouts, which started on Friday, were reminiscent of an energy crisis 20 years ago, when the state’s botched deregulation of the electricity system left millions of people in the dark and drove the wholesale price of power skyward.
Gov. Gavin Newsom demanded an investigation into why state regulators had failed to prepare for high temperatures, which had been forecast for days.
The state has also used blackouts to avoid sparking wildfires. Last year, Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, shut the power off to millions of customers, some for days, to reduce the risk that its equipment would set off wildfires.
Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Christina Morales, Azi Paybarah, Ivan Penn and Alan Yuhas.