Trump administration approves disaster declaration for Carr Fire

Firefighters are battling 17 wildfires across California.

The Trump administration has approved a request from Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a federal disaster in Shasta County for the Carr Fire.

While California and the Trump White House have been at odds on major issues including immigration and the environment, the Democratic governor said earlier in the day that he felt confident the Republican president would send aid, as he did last year when California's wine country was hit hard.

"The president has been pretty good on helping us in disasters so I'm hopeful," Brown said. "Tragedies bring people together.

A Presidential Major Disaster Declaration helps fire victims with unemployment assistance, food aid and legal and mental health counseling among other federal programs.

The declaration also make counties and cities eligible for federal financial assistance and help with repairing the billions of dollars of damage done to infrastructure.

The declaration was approved for Shasta County, according to the governor's office. FEMA is reviewing requests for Lake, Mendocino and Napa counties.

The Carr Fire has burned 145,000 acres since it started July 23. Two firefighters have died battling the blaze. PG&E said Saturday night one of its employees died while working in Shasta County near the Carr Fire.

Authorities said there are 17 major fires burning throughout California. In all, they have destroyed hundreds of homes, killed eight people and shut down Yosemite National Park.

"Fire season is really just beginning," said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection chief Ken Pimlott.

The biggest blazes continue to burn north of San Francisco, including twin wildfires fueled by dry vegetation and hot, windy weather. Those fires destroyed 55 homes and forced thousands of residents to flee their neighborhoods about 100 miles north of the city. They have grown to almost 250 square miles.

The two fires have charred an area of the forested, rural area five times the size of San Francisco and were only 27 percent contained. Thousands of people remain evacuated.

The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings of critical fire weather conditions through Saturday night, saying a series of dry low-pressure systems passing through the region could bring wind gusts of up to 35 mph (56 kph) that could turn small fires or even sparks into racing walls of flames.

"This is a particularly dangerous situation with extremely low humidity and high winds. New fires will grow rapidly out of control, in some cases people may not be able to evacuate safely in time should a fire approach," the weather service said in its bulletin for the Mendocino area north of San Francisco.

As a precaution, new evacuations were called Friday for an area of Mendocino and Lake counties where the week-old twin fires are threatening about 9,000 homes.

The fire remained several miles from the evacuated communities along the eastern shore of Clear Lake but "it looks like there's dicey weather on the way," California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Jane LaBoa said.

However, some days-old evacuations were lifted Friday in an area near Redding, where armies of firefighters and fleets of aircraft continue battling an immense blaze about 100 miles south of the Oregon line. Some areas on the fire's southeastern flank were reopened to residents.

Cal Fire officials said the Carr Fire, which killed six people and incinerated 1,067 homes, started two weeks ago with sparks from the steel wheel of a towed-trailer's flat tire.

The blaze is currently 41 percent contained.

The fire burned slowly for days before winds suddenly whipped it up last week and drove it furiously through brush and timber.

It burned so furiously on July 26 that it created a "fire whirl." The twirling tower of flame reached speeds of 143 mph (230 kph), which rivaled some of the most destructive Midwest tornados, National Weather Service meteorologist Duane Dykema said. The whirl uprooted trees and tore roofs from homes, Dykema said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which uses acres to describe fire size, said the blaze had blackened nearly 206 square miles (533 square kilometers).

In the Sierra Nevada, firefighters achieved 41 percent containment of a forest fire that has shut down Yosemite Valley and other adjacent portions of Yosemite National Park at what is normally the height of summer tourism.

The fire had reached into remote areas of the country's third-oldest national park. Workers who live in Yosemite's popular Valley region were ordered to leave Friday because of inaccessible roads.

The blaze has killed two firefighters.

A new report says the first firefighter, a California bulldozer operator, nearly slipped off a steep mountain trail three times before his vehicle finally rolled into a ravine and fatally crushed him.

Each earlier slip alone qualified as a "near miss" warning that the century-old mining trail could collapse, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's preliminary report.

Braden Varney, 36, was working alone overnight July 14 fighting the wildfire while his assistant went to get a new hydraulic hose. Varney's radio wasn't communicating with headquarters, so his assistant relayed messages - until they lost contact.

The report says the death of the 10-year veteran highlights the need for better risk assessment, communication and supervision.
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