By Dan Whitcomb
LOSANGELES (Reuters) – Crews battling the largest wildfire in California’s history face a return of gusting winds and high temperatures on Thursday that are expected to stoke a blaze that has burned an area nearly the size of Los Angeles.
Northern California’s Mendocino Complex fire was 47 percent contained on Wednesday, up from 34 percent a day earlier, after firefighters took advantage of cooler temperatures, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
But breezy conditions are expected to return on Thursday afternoon and last through Saturday, the National Weather Service said on Twitter.
“This combined with dry conditions will increase the fire weather danger for portions of #NorCal,” the tweet said.
So far, two firefighters have been injured fighting the blaze, which has consumed more than 300,000 acres. While sprawling, the wildfire has destroyed 119 homes, far less than the 1,077 torched by the Carr Fire about 100 miles (161 km) northeast near Redding. Both fires have forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents.
Some 4,000 firefighters were working to stop the Mendocino fire from reaching communities at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, about 100 miles (161 km) north of San Francisco. The blaze is still threatening more than 10,000 structures, according to Cal Fire.
The Mendocino Complex is one of 17 major fires burning in California that have destroyed more than 1,500 structures and displaced tens of thousands of people.
Cal Fire on Tuesday pushed back the date when it expected to bring the Mendocino fire under full control to Sept. 1, the fourth time the department has revised its timetable as the massive wildfire expanded.
The blaze became the largest in California history on Monday, only eight months after the previous record fire, after officials began battling two separate blazes in the Mendocino area as a single event.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Wednesday directed federal agencies to use any water that was needed to “protect life and property” threatened by California wildfires.
On Sunday, President Donald Trump claimed that California was letting water run into the ocean instead of using it to fight fires.
The comments baffled California firefighters, who said they had more than enough water to douse the flames.
The California fires are on track to be the most destructive in a decade, prompting Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and state Republican leaders to call for thinning of forests to reduce fire danger.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Barbara Goldberg in New York, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Phil Berlowitz and Michael Perry)