'Sums up 2020': Chilling photo emerges amid state's devastating battle on two fronts

Josh Dutton
·News Reporter
·5-min read

A photo of California’s devastating bushfires tearing through an aged care home has summed up the state’s devastating battle with mother nature and coronavirus.

The California wildfires have already burnt through 1,250 square kilometres of land destroying 175 structures, including homes, and were threatening 50,000 more. The fires were sparked by lightning strikes on Monday.

Two people have died including a pilot on a water-dropping mission in central California on Wednesday when his helicopter crashed.

Adding to the state’s anguish is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic – Los Angeles and San Diego have at least 260,000 cases between them.

Flames from the LNU Complex fires burn in unincorporated Napa County, California.
The LNU Complex Fire rips through a senior centre. Source: AAP

One of the blazes, dubbed the LNU Complex Fire or “megafire”, has ripped through more than 53,000 hectares after doubling in size since Wednesday.

It’s made up of nine fires burning in California’s Napa County renowned as the state’s wine country.

Associated Press photographer Noah Berger has been on the ground in the county taking photos of the horrific impact of the megafire.

One photo he shot shows an aged care home being enveloped by flames.

“Wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance, stay safe,” a sign outside the home reads as it's torched.

Pacific Gas and Electric firefighters extinguish spot fires as the LNU Lightning Complex fire burns through the area in Fairfield, California.
Crews battle the LNU blaze at Fairfield. Source: Getty Images

Mr Berger’s photo has been widely shared on Twitter with some saying it “pretty much sums up 2020 so far”.

“2020 - the hits just keep coming,” one woman tweeted.

Another woman called the image “the embodiment of 2020”.

“This photo gives me chills,” one man tweeted.

‘The scariest thing’

Some residents in fire-affected areas have described their horror at witnessing the blaze while dealing with COVID

Cheryl Davis, who evacuated to flee the LNU Complex Fire, told CNN she went to a community centre but chose to sleep in her car instead concerned about social distancing.

“We didn't want to go inside because there are too many people," Ms Jarvis told CNN.

"Not only are we dealing with Covid, but with also the heat and now the fires.”

A house burns in a residential neighbourhood near Empire Grade in Bonny Doon, California.
A house burns down in Bonny Doon. Source: Getty Images

Stacey Kline, who also fled her home, said the fire is “the scariest thing” she’s seen and “it came so fast”.

Incident Commander Mike Smith at the fire near Santa Cruz said firefighters have been “taxed to the limit”.

Tim Edwards, president of the union representing 7,000 Cal Fire firefighters, said lawmakers need to allocate more money at a time when firefighters are working 40 to 50 days at a time without real relief.

“Here we are, we’re not even into our peak fire conditions, and we don’t have enough resources throughout the whole state because we’re stretched so thin,” he said.

A bicycle and palm tree burn at a residence during the LNU Lightning Complex fire in the Spanish Flat area of Napa, California.
A bicycle and palm tree burn in wine country. Source: Getty Images

Jeff Cooley, who lives in the area near the LNU Complex Fire, told WLOX he’s concerned firefighters won’t be able to help him.

“California is out of resources to be able to fight the fires,” he said.

“They’re just making decisions on whether your house burns or not. That’s why I am kind of staying around to see exactly what may happen tonight (Wednesday).”

Concerns for COVID patients as smoke seen from space

Such is the size of the fires the smoke can be seen from space in images captured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The American Lung Association warned that the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated health hazards posed by smoky air and extreme heat.

Inhaling smoke and ash will likely worsen the weakened lungs of people infected with coronavirus and undermine the natural defences of those who do not have it, Dr Afif El-Hassan, a physician spokesman for the lung association, said.

Smoke from the California wildfires is seen from space.
The smoke from the fires can be seen from space. Source: Reuters

Trump blames excess leaves for forest fires

US President Donald Trump spoke about the California wildfires on a visit to Pennsylvania for a campaign rally on Thursday.

Mr Trump said the reason fires are starting in the state is due to unclean forest floors.

“I said, you’ve got to clean your floors. You’ve got to clean your forests.”

The president said California has “many, many years of leaves and broken trees”.

“And they’re like, like so flammable. You touch them and it goes up. I’ve been telling them this now for three years, but they don’t want to listen,” he said.

Mr Trump gave a similar assessment in 2018 when wildfires ripped through the state in 2018.

At the time he said Finland doesn’t have forest fires because “they spend a lot of time raking” - something Finnish President Sauli Niinistö told him

The Finnish president later told Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat he couldn’t recall ever telling Mr Trump about raking but they had discussed the fires.

with Reuters and The Associated Press

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