(CNN)More than 42,000 Californians have been forced to flee their homes as nine large wildfires continue to burn out of control in the northern part of the state, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to request a major disaster declaration from President Biden.
More than 42,000 Californians evacuate as state battles out-of-control wildfires
The Caldor Fire, which has scorched 106,562 acres, is the top firefighting priority in the nation, according to Chief Thom Porter of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (Cal Fire).
Officials fear the fire, which is just 5% contained, may push its way into the populated Lake Tahoe Basin, and they warned all Californians to be ready to evacuate.
"I personally don't believe the fire is going to get into the basin proper," Porter said of Lake Tahoe. "But I could be born wrong by that. The weather has outstripped and Mother Nature has taken over and taken fires like the Dixie to places that I never thought possible."
Thick smoke from the raging wildfire turned the sky over Lake Tahoe an ominous orange on Monday, with the Environmental Protection Agency reporting hazardous air quality in the region.
The Dixie Fire -- the second-largest fire in state history -- which has been burning for more than a month, has grown so large that its perimeter stretches more than 500 square miles. That blaze has swelled to more than 725,000 acres and is now 40% contained.
Two other large fires, the Walker Fire and the French Fire, are still growing, and each inferno has its own specific needs, said Porter, who is helping coordinate the massive effort to deploy resources, including firefighters, aircraft, and equipment to each area as appropriate.
"We're also working to make sure that we're resetting and getting our own people home and rested so we can sustain this fight. This is a marathon," said Porter, noting that late August is about the middle point of the season for large and damaging fires that are expected to burn into the deep fall.
If granted, the presidential declaration would help provide help with housing, unemployment, counseling, and medical and legal services. Public assistance for repairs and replacement of schools, roads, utilities also would be included.
Several counties have already been declared states of emergency.
Nine national forests in California were closed Monday.
The US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region issued an emergency forest service closure through at least September 6, citing "extreme fire conditions throughout northern California, and strained firefighting resources throughout the country."
"These temporary closures are necessary to ensure public and firefighter safety, as well as reduce the potential for new fire starts," regional forester Jennifer Eberlien said.
The closures include Tahoe National Forest, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Plumas National Forest, Lassen National Forest, Mendocino National Forest, Klamath National Forest, Six Rivers National Forest, Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Modoc National Forest.
The forest service said anyone violating the order could face fines up to $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for an organization, as well as up to six months in jail.
Additionally, the Eldorado National Forest, also in California, was closed on August 17 due to the Caldor Fire. That closure will last through at least September 30, the agency said.