By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) – At least 90% of condors on the central California coast survived a wildfire that tore through their forest range and destroyed a sanctuary for the endangered birds, a wildlife group said on Wednesday.
Word that 90 of the 100 condors in California’s Big Sur had been accounted for came as home losses mounted from much larger blazes burning to the north in the San Francisco Bay Area.
A siege of dry-lightning strikes during a record heat wave sparked blazes that have raced through coastal redwood forests, destroying hundreds of homes and burning California’s oldest state park in the Santa Cruz mountains.
Cooler temperatures for a second straight day helped firefighters battle the largest blazes, as state wildfire authority Cal Fire reported 1,700 houses and other structures burned in fires that have killed seven people.
There were no condors inside pens at the sanctuary when it was destroyed last week, but 10 free-flying birds are missing and four nesting chicks are unaccounted for, said biologist Kelly Sorenson, who is hopeful they may be alive.
“They often nest in redwood trees high off the ground and redwood trees are quite fire resistant,” said Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, which ran the sanctuary and is raising funds to rebuild it.
As biologists hunted for signals from the condors’ radio transmitters, fire authorities began going through burned communities to quantify the number of homes destroyed.
“We anticipate that number to grow substantially in the coming days and weeks,” Governor Gavin Newsom told a news briefing. “Once the fires are suppressed and we get back in and start seeing repopulation we’re likely to discover additional fatalities.”
Over 120,000 people remained under evacuation orders and some like Bryan Miller learned their homes had been lost.
“I have one remaining picture of my parents,” said Miller, 31, who stuffed the photograph in a backpack as he fled the fire that burned his studio in Brookdale, one of 538 homes and structures destroyed in the Santa Cruz mountains fire.
Across Northern and Central California over 15,000 firefighters from around a dozen states battled dozens of fires sparked by the barrage of over 14,000 dry-lightning strikes that have scorched an area larger than the state of Delaware.
Newsom pointed to the CZU fire, the largest in recorded history in the area’s coastal rainforests, as a consequence of rising temperatures.
“This is again another testament, a demonstrable example of the reality, not just the assertion, the reality of climate change in this state,” he said.
In the north Bay Area, nearly 1,000 homes and structures, many in farms and vineyards, were incinerated in the wine country of Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties.
The so-called LNU Lightning complex fire, the third-largest in California history, jumped to 33% containment.
In the south Bay Area evacuation orders were lifted for communities across four counties where the state’s second largest fire in history was 25% contained after burning an area larger than Los Angeles.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Tom Brown and Leslie Adler)