At least 26 dead as strong winds, dry grounds fuel California wi - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

At least 26 dead as strong winds, dry grounds fuel California wildfires

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PHOTO: View of the Pocket Fire in Northern California as a 747 Fire Tanker drops a load of fire retardant PHOTO: View of the Pocket Fire in Northern California as a 747 Fire Tanker drops a load of fire retardant
CALIFORNIA (WAOW) -

Massive wildfires in California have killed at least 26 people and damaged thousands of homes, businesses and other buildings according to reports from ABC News.

Firefighters were still battling 22 wildfires in multiple counties as of Thursday morning.

Red Flag Warnings continue in the mountains in California through the afternoon on Thursday for strong winds and very dry air that continue to fuel fires. 

Winds are not as strong as previous days outside of the mountains, but they're still from the NNE which is continuing to bring smoke into the San Francisco Bay area. 

Winds are expected to increase Friday and Saturday, sustained from the NNE at 15-25 mph, gusting occasionally to 45 mph or higher in the mountains.

Wind from this direction is bringing in very dry air, with relative humidity levels between 10-20% around the area. Because winds are expected to increase again, a Fire Weather Watch is in effect for Friday afternoon through Saturday evening for the entire North Bay area.

The strong winds have intensified the flames which ABC reports have charred more than 190,000 acres of land. ABC News said at least 3,500 structures have been damaged or destroyed and the fires have forced nearly 20,000 residents to evacuate.

Smoke will continue to stream into the Bay area through this period, but it will not be as bad on Sunday. Winds are expected to turn onshore to start next week, which should clear the air of smoke. 

Five years of severe drought were followed by record snow/rainfall this past Winter in California. 

This allowed for vegetation to make a bountiful return this Spring. However, since April there has been less than an inch of rain in much of the area and many locations saw some of their hottest weather on record over the Summer, which quickly dried up the plants.

The dried up bushes, shrubs, and grasses have been the main fuel for these fires, and will continue to feed the fires into the weekend.

California's Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties in Northern California.

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