California is facing some of the largest blazes in the state’s history — and the fire season is only just beginning. During a news conference Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom said he has asked Australia and Canada for help fighting the devastating blazes, which have burned during a heat wave and amid the coronavirus pandemic. He called this “an unprecedented moment” in the state’s history.
Firefighters and aircraft from 10 states, including Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Nevada, Iowa, Utah and Montana, began arriving in California on Friday to help to state’s crews who have been tirelessly fighting the blazes all week. The fires have killed at least five people and put at least 100,000 under orders to evacuate.
Newsom said the state has reached out to Canada and Australia for support, specifically in the form of firefighter personnel, to help “overwhelmed” frontline heroes. The state has also secured federal aid as it faces the blazes.
“We have more people but it’s not enough,” Newsom said.
“We simply haven’t seen anything like this in many, many years,” he added.
Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency, said Saturday that 13,700 firefighters are battling more than 585 active fires, nearly two dozen of which are classified as “major fires,” the likes of which the state has never seen before. Northern California has especially been hit hard, following close to 12,000 lightning strikes over a 72-hour period.
By Friday, Cal Fire had called out 96% of its available fire engines. Nearly one million acres have burned, officials said.
“Please take seriously those emergency evacuation orders,” Newsom urged.
Two Bay Area clusters — the LNU Lightning Complex and the SCU Lightning Complex — have become the second-and third-largest wildfires in recent state history by size, according to Cal Fire records, The Associated Press reported.
Reinforcements started arriving Friday, more than doubling the number of personnel assigned to the LNU complex, from 580 to over 1,400 Friday and nearly 200 fire engines were on the scene, fire officials said, according to the AP.
At the same time, California is leading the nation in COVID-19 cases, with over 660,000 confirmed positive cases as of Saturday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University. Newsom emphasized that emergency evacuation centers are taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus among people fleeing their homes.
Masks are required at all times in shelters, people entering are pre-screened with temperature checks and a series of health questions and social distancing is enforced, the governor’s office said.
First published on August 22, 2020 / 12:31 PM
© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.Sophie Lewis
Sophie Lewis is a social media producer and trending writer for CBS News, focusing on space and climate change.