Tens of thousands flee as fires rage across California

Pilot killed, dozens of homes reduced to ash as US state reports hundreds of fires, including 23 major fires or groups of fires that officials blame on “extraordinary weather” and “lightning strikes.”

Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires consume a home in Vacaville, California, August 19, 2020. (AP)

A firefighting helicopter pilot has been killed and dozens of homes have been burned in California after lightning sparked hundreds of fast-moving blazes, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their dwellings.

California suffered nearly 11,000 lightning strikes in 72 hours in the worst such storm in over a decade that ignited 367 fires, nearly two dozen of them major blazes, authorities said on Wednesday.

Multiple fires raced through northern California’s drought-hit wine country, shutting Interstate 80 at Fairfield about 56 km southwest of Sacramento as flames leapt across the highway, trapping motorists caught in a hectic evacuation.

In central California, a helicopter was on a water-dropping mission in Fresno County about 258 km south of San Francisco when the aircraft crashed, killing the pilot, a private contractor, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

To the north, wind-driven fires covering over 18,615 hectares near Fairfield and Vacaville raged through hills and mountains during the night, burning at least 50 homes and other structures, according to CalFire.

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