By Aya Elamroussi, CNN
California could be dealing with massive wildfires until the end of the year, a top fire official said, warning people to keep their guard up.
“This season is far from over,” Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter cautioned Tuesday. “We are on par with where we were last year. That’s sobering and that is the new reality.”
Wildfires have seared more than two million acres of California land this year. That’s about 150,000 acres less than at this time last year, which saw the most acreage ever lost to wildfires.
There are 12 large fires actively burning in California, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Porter added that forecasters are predicting the weather will continue to create the ideal environment for wildfires to ignite and expand, fueled by dry and windy conditions.
“Nobody has a crystal ball with what’s going to happen in the weather and fire activity going forward,” Porter said. “For September through December, the entire state shows drier, more wind events, and large fire activity to continue.”
Parts of the expansive Caldor Fire remained active as more than 24,000 structures are currently threatened and nearly 1,000 structures have been destroyed, including homes, businesses, and other buildings, Cal Fire said.
“Adverse wind conditions in the Kirkwood Area along Highway 88 challenged firefighters as spotting continues to occur within interior islands,” fire officials said in an update Tuesday.
The fire has scorched more than 217,000 acres and containment reached 50% as firefighters continue to tame the grueling blaze that sparked August 14. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
To be sure, firefighters made substantial headway against the Caldor Fire over the weekend, which allowed for some evacuation orders in the Lake Tahoe region to be downgraded to warnings.
The monstrous blaze forced thousands of residents in the city of South Lake Tahoe to flee last week as the fire was closing in on the popular resort area.
Parts of El Dorado County, where the fire is raging, also saw evacuation orders downgraded to warnings Saturday, and warnings in other areas were lifted altogether, Cal Fire said.
Still, officials are urging people in the Lake Tahoe region to stay ready to evacuate in the event circumstances become threatening again.
“We are not completely out of the woods yet,” warned Mark Ghilarducci, who heads the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
As significant progress is made, US Forest Service Supervisor Tony Scardino said he expects to see plenty more growth in both the Caldor and Dixie Fires.
The Dixie Fire which has been charring northern California, is burning its way toward possibly becoming the state’s largest wildfire in history, officials said. It had scorched 922,192 acres as of Wednesday morning, with containment of 59%, Cal Fire said.
The cause of the fire, which started July 14, is under investigation. The Dixie fire has a perimeter that spans 800 miles, which is greater than the distance between Chicago and New York. It is closing in on California’s largest ever fire by acreage, which is last year’s August Complex that burned 1,032,648 acres, according to Cal Fire.
Californians asked to conserve energy ahead of blistering temperatures
As Western states grapple with drought conditions, temperatures are expected to spike Wednesday.
The National Weather Service (NWS) issued an excessive heat warning for portions of northwest Arizona, southeast California and southern Nevada that is expected to be in effect through Wednesday night.
In Death Valley National Park, temperatures could reach up to 122 degrees, the NWS said, adding that cities including Lake Havasu and Needles are expected to reach up to 113 degrees while Las Vegas and Barstow will likely reach 110 degrees.
“Extreme heat will significantly increase the potential for heat-related illnesses, particularly for those working or participating in outdoor activities,” the NWS wrote in its warning.
Meanwhile, officials asked Californians Tuesday to conserve electricity because of the anticipated searing temperatures.
The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), the operator of the state’s largest power grid, issued a statewide Flex Alert, urging people to cut back their electricity use from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to prevent rotating power outages during excessive heat.
“Conserving electricity during the late afternoon and early evening is crucial because that is when the grid is most stressed due to higher demand and declining solar energy production,” CAISO said in a statement.
During the alert time period, residents are asked to adjust their thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, if health permits, to help maintain the state’s power grid stability. Residents are also urged to pre-cool their homes and avoid using unnecessary lights or major appliances.
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CNN’s Cheri Mossburg, Alexandra Meeks, Kelly McCleary and Alta Spells contributed to this report.