Mendocino Complex Fire explodes to become the largest blaze in California history

By Kristina Pydynowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
August 09, 2018, 11:01:11 AM EDT

The Mendocino Complex Fire has charred more than 304,000 acres, making it the largest blaze in California's history in terms of acreage burned. Firefighters will continue to face local gusty winds and building heat this week.

To put this in perspective, the massive blaze is burning an area larger than New York City.

The Mendocino Complex fire is comprised of the Ranch and River fires. A total of 10,300 structures are being threatened, while 143 have been destroyed.

california wildfire record

In this Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, file photo, a helicopter drops water on a burning hillside during the Ranch Fire in Clearlake Oaks, Calif. Authorities say a rapidly expanding Northern California wildfire burning over an area the size of Los Angeles has become the state's largest blaze in recorded history. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson, File)

The previous record was set by the Thomas Fire just eight months ago, which scorched 281,893 acres and destroyed over 1,000 buildings.

As AccuWeather predicted, hot and dry weather allowed the Mendocino Complex Fire to spread rapidly this past weekend, which resulted in mandatory evacuations for portions of Colusa County, California, on Saturday evening.

Heat and low relatively humidity will continue to plague firefighters battling this complex fire each afternoon and evening this week.

Residents who have not been forced to evacuate but living in the vicinity of the fires should closely monitor alerts from government officials and be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice.

The shifting blazes can further put the lives of firefighters at risk. Smoke may also be spread farther away from the fires than in recent days, creating dangerously poor air quality conditions throughout the western U.S.

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As windy conditions become more localized, attention will turn toward dangerous heat set to build back across the West this week.

Temperatures soared well into the 90s in Downtown Los Angeles at midweek. A high near 85 F is more common this time of year.

While temperatures will throttle back a bit into this weekend, conditions will remain hot and dry over much of the region.

Fire aftermath Aug 4

A resident, in yellow, wishing not to be identified, is comforted after seeing her fire-ravaged home for the first time Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, in Redding, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Temperatures climbed farther north across the West this week. Tuesday and Wednesday, widespread highs in the 100s occurred from Sacramento and Redding, California, to Reno, Nevada; Medford and Pendleton, Oregon; and Boise, Idaho.

The ongoing heat will further feed the ongoing blazes. Residents and firefighters will once again have to take the necessary precautions to protect against heat exhaustion and stroke.

West heat Aug 5

"Rapidly-rising air caused by the extreme heat helps the fire to grow explosively as the fire will create its own wind, as well as fire vortices (firenadoes) and tree crowning (when the leaves get engulfed by flames), even on otherwise calm days," AccuWeather Meteorologist and volunteer firefighter Evan Duffey said.

On Thursday, July 26, the Carr Fire produced a fire whirl that caused damage equal to that of an EF 3 tornado with winds in excess of 143 mph.

Latest on the other ongoing destructive blazes

The Carr Fire has destroyed over 1,000 residential structures with about 1,000 structures still threatened. Seven people have died in the fire, including two firefighters. The blaze has charred more than 176,000 acres and is 47 percent contained as of Thursday morning.

The Carr Fire is currently the sixth-most destructive wildfire, in terms of structures burned, in California’s history and the 13th deadliest on record in state.

Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning III said two hundred active-duty soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, will join western firefighting lines as early as Aug. 13.

wildfires graphic

Yosemite National Park announced that Yosemite Valley is among the areas of the park that will remain closed "indefinitely" due to ongoing wildfires and unhealthy smoke impacts in and around the scenic valley due to the Ferguson Fire.

The Ferguson Fire has burned nearly 95,000 acres and is 79 percent contained as of Thursday morning. Two firefighters have died while battling the fire.

Anyone planning to visit Grand Canyon National Park will also face side effects of local wildfire activity.

The Obi Fire, which started on July 21 and now encompasses over 7,000 acres, has spread toward the park in recent days. This has lead to planned closures of several roads and hiking trails as firefighters work to contain the blaze this week.

Stay updated on the latest fire news with AccuWeather. Download the free AccuWeather app to stay aware of fire-related advisories as well as the risk for any potential thunderstorms.

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