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The United States has been hit by its worst dry-lightning storms in nearly two decades. Nearly 12,000 strikes have sent flames racing through lands which are now left parched by a recent heatwave.
Hundreds of wildfires burning across Central and Northern California that have already killed six and have more than doubled in size on Friday. The conflagrations, which broke out over the last week, have blackened an area larger than the US state of Rhode Island and destroyed more than 500 homes and other structures.
In addition to the fatalities, 43 firefighters and civilians have been hurt. "California Governor Gavin Newsom said crews were fighting 560 fires across the state, many of them sparked by lightning storms, straining resources to the breaking point as he seeks reinforcements from as far away as Canada and Australia," stated Reuters.
"We are not naive by any stretch about how deadly this moment is and why it is essential, that you heed evacuation orders and that you take them seriously," Newsom, a Democrat, told Californians at a news briefing.
As many as 1,75,000 people have been asked to leave their homes. In Santa Cruz, a city of around 65,000 people on California's central coast, residents were asked to be prepared as the fire came near the University Of California Santa Cruz campus.
The video footage viral on social media showed giant Redwood trees, some more than 2,000 years old, standing largely unscathed among the torched ruins of buildings in and around Big Basin Redwoods State Park. It has brought huge loss to the forests in the state.
The firefighters and locals pleaded for more support to bring the burning blazes in check.
US News & World Report heard our cries: "We need HELP in the Santa Cruz mountains. SEND IN THE NATIONAL GUARD NOW!" @CAgovernor @GavinNewsom, are YOU hearing us yet? Act NOW to save our homes!#CZUAugustLightningComplexFire #CZUAugustLightningComplex https://t.co/nA41FJ0Xw7— Scott Myers-Lipton (@smlipton) August 22, 2020
The smoke and ash emerging from the fires have worsened the air quality for hundreds of miles around fire zones. It has added to the misery and health risks of residents who are now forced to flee. Some of them are stuck inside sweltering homes that lack air conditioning.
Medical experts warned that the coronavirus pandemic has considerably heightened the health hazards. The smoky air and extreme heat in the state are bad especially for older adults and those already suffering from respiratory illnesses.
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