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Pilot crashes, dies fighting California wildfires

A pilot battling fire in central California died after his helicopter crashed as thousands of people in the San Francisco Bay Area were under orders to evacuate.
Credit: AP
Seen in a long exposure photograph, embers burn along a hillside as the LNU Lightning Complex fires tear through unincorporated Napa County, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. Fire crews across the region scrambled to contain dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes as a statewide heat wave continues. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

VACAVILLE, Calif. — A pilot battling fire in central California died after his helicopter crashed as thousands of people in the San Francisco Bay Area were under orders to evacuate Wednesday amid a blistering heat wave now in its second week. 

The Bell UH-1H helicopter was on a water-dropping mission for the Hills Fire when it crashed a few miles south of Coalinga. The pilot was the only person on the helicopter and did not survive. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom blamed the extraordinary weather and thousands of lightning strikes for 367 known fires, including 23 major fires or groups of fires. 

He said the state has recorded nearly 11,000 lightning strikes in 72 hours. Ash and smoke filled the air over San Francisco, which is surrounded by wildfires burning in multiple counties to the north, east and south.  

WATCH MORE: LNU Lightning Complex Fire burns into Solano County near Vacaville | RAW

The Hennessey Fire exploded in size overnight triggering thousands of evacuations in Vacaville. It's currently burning over 46,000 acres with 0% containment.