Trump approves disaster declaration for California wildfires

By Sommer Brokaw & Jean Lotus
Trump approves disaster declaration for California wildfires
A firefighter keeps a eye on a back fire to burn off fuel near a home in Boulder Creek, Calif., as the CZU Lightning Complex fire continues to burn into its fourth day. Photo by Peter DaSilva/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday approved a major disaster declaration for California releasing federal aid for recovery in areas scorched by wildfires.

Areas including Lake, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and Yolo counties, will receive expedited aid, the White House said.


Meanwhile, a Santa Cruz shelter site reached capacity Saturday as wildfires raged in California, killing at least five people and burning down hundreds of homes.

One of the evacuation centers for the CZU August Lightning Complex fires has reached capacity, KGO-TV reported, with 79 evacuees living in tents inside the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.

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"It's really been nice here, it's the unknown that hurts," evacuee Michael Martyn said. "It's going to be bad ... when you really get down to the nitty gritty and find out the results of this fire, it's going to be devastating, devastating."


The CZU August Lightning Complex fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties is the third-largest group of fires among hundreds of wildfires statewide, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It has injured two people and burned through 63,000 acres with 5% containment. It has destroyed nearly 100 structures and forced approximately 77,000 people to evacuate.

The CZU August Lightning Complex fires also caused extensive damage to California's oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, including damaging the headquarters, historic core and campgrounds, leading to closure of the park, a California Department of Parks and Recreation statement said.

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Elsewhere in the state, the largest active fires burning in the state are the LNU Lightning Complex Fire in north and the SCU Lightning Complex in the south.

LNU Lightning Complex Fire

Cal Fire said four people have died in the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, three in Napa County and another in Solano County. The deaths included three bodies found in a burned down home in Napa County, The New York Times reported, and a Pacific Gas and Electric worker, who died Wednesday while clearing electric poles and lines in the Gates Canyon area to make it safe for firefighters.


Cal Fire data. Over four days, the fire has also resulted in four injuries and damaged 560 structures, as tens of thousands remain under evacuation orders. according toThe LNU Lightning Complex has grown to 314,207 acres with 15% containment, making it the second-largest wildfire in state history,

"At this early stage, we're just now getting the damage assessment crews out there and on the ground," Cal Fire spokesman Scott Ross told "I think it'd be safe to say they're mostly homes."

"I'm sick to may stomach and I don't really have words," a Solano County resident Laura Souza told CBS Sacramento. "I don't really have words."

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SCU Lightning Complex

The second largest active fire, the SCU Lightning Complex, has burned through 291,968 acres in Santa Clara, Alameda, and Stanislaus counties over three days with 10% containment. It has resulted in two injuries and five structures destroyed.

Cal Fire spokeswoman Christine McMorrow told NPR there were several of protocols in place to protect hundreds of people in the firefighting crew from getting sick from COVID-19, including requiring face masks and providing more space at base camps for firefighters to practice physical distancing.


McMorrow added that the state is falling short of nearly 200 inmate crews that usually battle brush fires in the state due to early release programs being expedited because of the pandemic.

Hills Fire

A fifth death was reported was in the Hills Fire, which has burned through 1,900 acres. A pilot of a helicopter that crashed Wednesday died while fighting a wildfire in Fresno County, Calif., authorities said.

The fire has burned 1,900 and is 60% contained.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced earlier in the week that an additional 830 seasonal firefighters have been hired to offset the losses and more help is expected to arrive from Texas in the coming days

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Tuesday as extreme heat overtook the state, fueling dozens of wildfires.

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