A PILOT was killed when he crashed his helicopter while fighting catastrophic wildfires in California — with the impact igniting a 50-acre blaze on top of the one he was battling.
The tragic news came as 22,000 people in the state were forced to evacuate their homes as a state of emergency was declared.
The unidentified pilot of the Bell UH-1H helicopter, who was the only person on board, crashed during a water dropping mission over the Hills Fire in western Fresno County, about nine miles south of Coalinga.
The resulting explosion reportedly sparked a new fire that burned across 50 acres before merging with the original blaze the chopper had been trying to subdue.
Hundreds of fires have been burning across California, including 23 major infernos or groups of fires that have been blamed on a blistering heat wave and lightning strikes.
The stricken state has recorded nearly 11,000 lightning strikes in 72 hours and 367 fires.
These stretch from Napa, Sonoma, San Mateo and Contra Costa counties and have triggered rolling power blackouts and unhealthy air quality across the region.
The mass power outages came as people cranked up their air conditioners to deal with the extreme heat.
Death Valley reportedly got up to 130F on Sunday, which, if it’s confirmed, will be the highest air temperature ever recorded.
Across the West nearly 45 million people are under heat warnings and advisories.
The dangerous temperatures and wildfire disaster has prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency.
At least five people were injured in a fire in Stanislaus County, southeast of San Francisco, Sheriff Jeff Dirkse told the Sacramento Bee.
One had major burn injuries and all were taken by ambulance for treatment, he said.
Someone evacuating had reported that workers at an illegal marijuana farm were still at the ranch but he couldn’t confirm if any were among the patients.
State officials warned that five million people could lose power but said cuts could be avoided if homes and businesses scale back their energy use.
Outages began at 5pm local time yesterday as record-breaking heat pushed the power grid to the brink of collapse.
Grid operators decided against cutting power to 10 million homes on Monday after residents cut back on their electricity use in a direct response to the crisis.
Government officials also made personal phone calls to refineries and other businesses to ask them to reduce their power consumption, reports Bloomberg.
Blackouts were a way of preventing “demand exceeding supply” and ensuring “there’s not a widespread system collapse”, an official told Deadline News.
At least two people have been injured in the flames, according to the CA Fire Scanner Twitter account, in the Vacaville area – about 35 miles southwest of Sacramento.
Authorities are reportedly anticipating more injuries as the city of 100,000 is under partial evacuation orders due to advancing flames.
The Sacramento Bee reported that up to 50 structures – including ranchettes and homes – may have been damaged in the flames so far.
As of Wednesday morning, evacuation orders were in effect or growing in the Napa county wine country north of San Francisco Bay, near Salinas in Monterey county, around Oroville Dam north of Sacramento and near the Nevada state line north of Lake Tahoe.
People took to Twitter to complain that they were trapped and need help evacuating.
The blaze reportedly advanced into Vacaville overnight and into the early morning, prompting urgent evacuations and accounts on social media of homes being consumed by flames, according to The Washington Post.
According to a map by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, some of the fires were caused by lightning from a rare summer thunderstorm on Sunday.
There are reports of “multiple” people being trapped by flames in Vickery Ln, south of San Jose in the north of the state.
Over the weekend, a fiery tornado was spotted near the Nevada border where the Loyalton Fire continues to burn in Tahoe National Forest.
By declaring a state of emergency, agencies will be able to deploy every possible resource available to them, Governor Gavin Newsom said.
The governor said the order was enacted in order to keep residents safe under “extreme” conditions.
Newsom added: “California and its federal and local partners are working in lockstep to meet the challenge and remain vigilant in the face of continued dangerous weather conditions.”
On Monday, Newsom signed an emergency proclamation in order to prevent the rolling blackouts. The order will allow some users and utilities to use “backup energy sources” during peak times.
However, the California Independent System Operator, which manages the grid, announced yesterday that it “anticipates the need to interrupt” in the evenings.
These interruptions would be the result of high demand.
Officials estimated that peak electricity consumption on Monday would likely exceed the available supply statewide by as much as 4,400 megawatts – roughly equivalent to the amount of power needed by 3.3 million homes.
The operator said in a Twitter post yesterday that its website had gone down because of a surge in people looking for information.
According to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Tuesday was the area’s highest recorded demand for power in 2020.
By the early evening, it was still 125 degrees at the Death Valley Furnace Creek visitor’s center, according to the National Weather Service.
Triple-digit temperatures have been commonplace across the region over recent days and the likes of El Centro and San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties have excessive heat warnings in place.
Federal forecasters also said Los Angeles will be under such heat advisory warnings through Thursday night, while the San Francisco Bay Area faces a similar warning today.
The National Weather Service has urged West Coast residents to take the “record high” temperatures seriously.
The agency tweeted: “Yeah, it’s summer, and summer is hot, but this is different.
“These are record high temperatures in what is typically one the hottest times of the year anyways.”