Colorado sending help as California wildfires torch 134,000 acres — and counting

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CLEAR LAKE, Calif. -- Wildfires engulfing parts of California could intensify Monday, with gusty winds potentially fanning fires caused by lightning strikes.

More than 9,300 firefighters are now battling at least 21 wildfires, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

The largest inferno, the Rocky Fire, has already incinerated 54,000 acres in three counties. As of Sunday night, it was only 5 percent contained and was feeding on the state's drought to grow, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

"This has been a very fast-moving wildfire with the dry conditions, and the weather not really cooperating with us over the past week," Berlant told KCRA.

The Rocky Fire was burning in Lake, Yolo and Colusa counties northwest of Sacramento. More than 12,100 people in more than 5,100 structures were under some type of evacuation order or advisory as of Sunday afternoon, according to Cal Fire.

Almost 2,000 fire personnel, 180 engines, four air tankers and 19 helicopters are battling that blaze.

Across the state, more than 134,000 acres have been torched by the ongoing fires, according to Cal Fire.

Colorado sending help

Colorado is sending some much-needed help to the firefighting efforts.

Two C-130 air tankers are getting ready to leave from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and head west on Monday.

This will be a major addition to the air attack on the fires. The C-130 Hercules planes have been in action before in Colorado. This is the first time this year they are being activated to do battle.

The giant tankers played a major role in the fight against Colorado's wildfires two years ago. This time their activation comes after the U.S. Forest Service sent a request for assistance to the Department of Defense over the weekend asking for help.

The planes will be flown by Colorado Air Force reservists and will be based at McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento.

The planes carry a self-contained aerial firefighting system. Each will have the ability to discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than 5 seconds and can refill in less than 12 minutes.

The planes will be in California but will be able to respond to other wildfires burning throughout the West, including Washington and Oregon.

Lightning adds to misery

Lightning has helped fuel the flames. There have been thousands of lighting strikes over the past several days, igniting hundreds of small wildfires in the northern part of the state.

And the accompanying thunderstorms have produced little or no rain, Berlant said.

Most of the region will have stronger winds Monday, which could fan any lightning strikes from over the weekend, Cal Fire said.

Little relief after dark

Nighttime typically allows firefighters to make headway against wildfires because humidity will go up and fire activity will die down, but that hasn't been the case with the Rocky Fire, Berlant said.

"This fire was very active throughout the night," he told KCRA. "It was really burning very fast, all the way up into the late hours, so unfortunately we're really not getting a break."

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Friday, mobilizing the National Guard to support the disaster response.

Firefighter killed

The U.S. Forest Service said David Ruhl, a father of two from Rapid City, South Dakota, died fighting the Frog Fire in Northern California's Modoc National Forest near Adin.

Rescuers found Ruhl's body Friday morning, the Forest Service said. His death remains under investigation.

Fires big and small

The fires vary in size. The White Fire in Santa Barbara County is about 50 acres, and the deadly Frog Fire has consumed at least 3,900 acres since it was spotted Thursday and is just 4 percent contained. The recently snuffed-out Lake Fire in San Bernardino County burned more than 31,000 acres before it was contained.

Cal Fire says most of the fires are more than 60 percent contained. But the land damage has been substantial in some cases. Fires in Southern California's San Bernardino County and Northern California's Alpine County have incinerated nearly 50,000 acres.

California's record-setting drought has "turned much of the state into a tinderbox," Brown said.

Temperatures in Sacramento and other areas of Northern California, where many of the fires are located, have topped 100 degrees recently.

Progress in some places

Authorities reported strides in two other fires: the Willow Fire northeast of North Fork in the Sierra National Forest and the Cabin Fire east of Porterville in the Sequoia National Forest.

The Willow Fire was 60 percent contained, and firefighters made "good progress" with a controlled-burn operation intended to deprive the blaze of more fuel, the South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team said.

"Air resources will support ground crew as needed (as) soon as smoke conditions clear and allow for safe aerial operations," the team said.

Evacuation orders remain in effect for those around the fire, which has already consumed more than 5,600 acres.

The Cabin Fire, which has burned 2,600 acres since mid-July, remained relatively calm, but was only 2 percent contained, according to a news release from the Sequoia National Forest.

Neither the Willow nor the Cabin fires has destroyed any structures, but six people have been injured in the Willow Fire.