The Route Fire Plus Record Heat is Hell for Firefighters and Residents

The Route Fire incinerated 5,200 acres since Wednesday as temperatures surge well above 100 and heat-related issues are reported

Firefighters continued to battle the explosive blaze of the Route Fire, 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, on Friday as a massive heat wave continues to grip California. The fire erupted on Wednesday in dramatic fashion as it quickly incinerated over 5,000 acres near Castaic.

By Friday, the fire had grown to 5,200 acres with seven firefighters injured and two structures destroyed. No fatalities have been reported.

“This fire took off with some explosive fire behavior,” said Chief Robert Garcia of the Angeles National Forest in a press conference on Thursday. He added that the catastrophe “should be a wake-up call to us all about the potential that we’re in and we’re entering into the next few days in terms of the fire conditions—very rapid fire growth and very, very explosive fire behavior.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Progress is being made, however, with containment rising to 27 percent on Thursday, allowing for evacuation orders to be lifted along with the reopening of some of I-5’s lanes. On Friday, the fire was 37 percent contained. 512 firefighters continue to be supported by two planes and eight helicopters.

But firefighters all over Southern California find themselves fighting fire in midst of a massive heat wave that has been testing the power grid, causing outages. The heat is adding another dangerous dynamic, increasing the likelihood of a heat-related injuries.

“It’s hot, it’s dry. All the normal things we deal with on a daily basis, throw on all this extra gear as well as hiking up and down the hills, holding the extra weight of a hose, being right next to the flames and the heat,” Captain Brian McGrath of the Venture County Fire Department told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s extremely exhausting for firefighters that are on the direct line.”

Temperatures were recorded at 112 degrees near the Route Fire and officials have ordered ground crews to find time to rest and let the planes and helicopters take over, the Associated Press reported. The seven firefighters that were injured were all sent to the hospital due to heat-related issues.

“It’s a tactical pause for the crews that are experiencing the greatest heat impact,” Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Thomas C. Ewald told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re just trying to reduce the strain being placed on line firefighters.”

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