A Cluster of Wildfires Is Burning in California’s Northwest Corner

The largest wildfire currently burning in the United States is raging in California’s densely forested northwest corner.

The Smith River Complex — actually a cluster of connected blazes — covered a total of 79,000 acres and was only 7 percent contained as of Wednesday evening. The fire began on Aug. 15 with a storm that scattered lightning strikes across the Six Rivers National Forest in Del Norte County, just south of the Oregon border.

Since then, the fire has crossed into Oregon, closed roads, forced power outages that lasted days, and delayed the start of the school year for roughly 4,000 students in Del Norte County’s public schools. On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for the county, where the air quality has been abysmal for days and hundreds of people are still under evacuation orders.

Erin Darboven, a fire information officer for the California interagency management team that’s overseeing the blaze, told me that dry weather and gusty winds were fueling the fire’s spread. At the same time, the forest floor is covered with a dense layer of dead leaves, pine cones and other dried vegetation that is acting as tinder.

“We’re dealing with the consequences of a multiyear drought,” Darboven said.

Del Norte County and Siskiyou County, where the state’s second largest fire, known as the Happy Camp Complex, is burning, are among the few places in California still suffering from drought conditions. And while much of the state has received a fire reprieve thanks to the rains recently delivered by Tropical Storm Hilary, that isn’t the case in California’s far north.

Still, the situation with the Smith River Complex fires may be improving, if only slightly.

If you live in the Sacramento region or the Bay Area, perhaps you noticed unusually hazy air yesterday. That was smoke blown south from Del Norte County, after a change in wind conditions that helped firefighters step up their battle against the blaze.

Improved visibility made it possible to drop water and flame retardants from the air, Darboven said. That’s particularly important for this fire, because the mountainous terrain in the area can make access especially difficult for ground crews.

On top of that, she said, so far this week there has been moister air, cooler temperatures and less wind in the fire area than last week.

“We’ve been making progress for the last few days, and we’re working with favorable weather conditions,” Darboven said.

Another big improvement has been the restoration of electric power to Del Norte County. From Aug. 18 to Aug. 25, almost none of the county’s 28,000 residents had service after the local utility, Pacific Power, made what its chief executive, Stefan Bird, called “the tough decision” to cut off the transmission line feeding the county.

That meant that 13,000 customers in the county, including the entire town of Crescent City, lost electric service. Bird’s staff quickly tried to provide generators to hospitals and customers who have urgent medical needs, and then strategized how to get the rest of the county back online while the fire continued to grow.

Bird said that Pacific Power rented extra generators and borrowed some from other utility companies. By Aug. 25, nearly everyone in the county was connected to a generator, he told me.

Because the fire is still burning, it’s unclear when things will go back to normal, he said. The fire has damaged lines and other equipment that needs to be repaired, so for now, Del Norte County will continue to be powered by a makeshift system of generators.

“It is very unusual,” Bird said. “It’s another example of the new extreme weather conditions that are impacting communities across the western U.S.”

Today’s tip comes from Jacqueline Leventhal, who recommends Blake Garden, a hidden garden in the Bay Area:

“Walk through a gate tucked away on a residential street in Kensington, and you will be in a garden that few in the area know about. Here, the U.C. Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture stewards 10.5 acres of 1,200 types of plants, 50 species of birds, unmarked, meandering paths and sculptures. You can get lost in the overgrown and abundant foliage. There are flowers everywhere, including wild roses and poppies, as well as fruits and berries. It’s an adventure to decide what direction to go in, and each turn an unexpected wonder: a crude chess set made of redwood and cedar sticks, stunning views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, a reflecting pool stocked with colorful koi, a redwood grove, the most amazing and gigantic magnolia tree. You emerge from this magical experience with nature back onto a city street. Don’t miss it.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

A dozen condors were spotted in the past week over the Diablo Range, just south of the Bay Area, the most ever seen at one time in the region and a promising sign of recovery for the rare bird species.

The northern mountain range is new territory for condors, which were once abundant in California but have died out in droves because of lead poisoning, habitat destruction and hunting, The Mercury News reports. The first sighting of a California condor in Contra Costa County in over a century was in 2021, and another was seen in the Mount Diablo region in 2022.

Conservationists are hopeful that the condors’ presence in the Bay Area’s grasslands is a harbinger of more healthy activity there in the future.

“If the condor recovery continues successfully, we can hope that a condor pair will choose to nest and raise their young on Mount Diablo,” the nonprofit conservation group Save Mount Diablo wrote in an article on its website. “It will be historic, the first nesting pair of condors in this region in over a century.”

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