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California is battling yet another dangerously explosive wildfire — the Jerusalem Fire

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This story has been updated.

The good news is that the Rocky Fire, by far California’s biggest and most dangerous fire so far in 2015, is now more than 80 percent contained — after having consumed more than 69,000 acres north of San Francisco.

The bad news is that another large fire so close to the Rocky Fire that the two have nearly touched — the Jerusalem Fire — has now also exploded in size. It’s currently at 20,500 acres and just 16 percent contained, up from just 6,000 acres on Monday. The fire essentially doubled in size from Monday to Tuesday, and then grew still more to reach the current 20,500 acres.

That’s reminiscent of the Rocky Fire which, as Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant put it, performed an even more dramatic maneuver, burning 20,000 acres in just five hours. “That type of speed for a wildfire, without a weather condition like Santa Anas, is really unprecedented in recent times, or in even veterans of our department’s recollection,” Berlant told the Post last week.

[Forest Service sounds the alarm about sharply rising wildfire costs]

The Jerusalem Fire hasn’t quite pulled that off — but explosive growth is always scary, and seems to be enabled by the incredible drought-fueled dryness of the region. That’s exactly what a lot of people — including the Obama administration — were fearing about this year’s wildfire season.

In a telling interview with KQED, Ken Pimlott, the director of Cal Fire, recently explained just how ready the landscape is to burn this year.

“These fires, particularly these fires in Lake and Napa counties, there really is no significant wind, it’s all being driven by the condition of the vegetation,” Pimlott said. He also brought up the role of climate change.

“Call it climate change, call it just drought, call it a combination of  all of that,” Pimlott said in the interview. “But we’ve been watching these trends….Some of the greatest most damaging fires, over half of those have occurred just in the last 10 or 15 years, and it’s because of the kinds of conditions we’re being faced with.”

Those conditions include the potential for vegetation to give off large amounts of energy as it burns — what Pimlott calls the “energy release component.” “We are seeing record levels of that,” he told KQED.

At present, the Jerusalem Fire is being attacked by 2,053 firefighters and support personnel, using 15 helicopters and 150 fire engines. The fire has recently crossed over from Lake County into part of Napa County. Fifty structures are considered threatened and parts of the Jerusalem Valley are under mandatory evacuation orders.

Most troubling, a heat wave, possibly approaching triple digits, is expected soon in the state. That could definitely exacerbate near term fire risks.

The prime California fire season still has several months to go, and burning is already above average. Overall, nationally, 6,290,234 acres have burned in wildfires so far in 2015, well out ahead of average for this time of year. Most of the burning, however, has been in the state of Alaska, which has seen over 5 million acres consumed so far, and has now officially had its second worst fire year on record.

But activity has picked up in the lower 48 states recently, with 16 large wildfires currently raging in California and another 10 in Oregon.

Fortunately, neither the Rocky Fire nor the Jerusalem Fire compare to any of the worst California wildfires on record, all of which consumed over 200,000 acres.

Stunning images from this summer’s western wildfires

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MIDDLETOWN, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: A CalFire firefighter tends to a backfire as he battles the Valley Fire on September 13, 2015 in Middletown, California. The fast-moving fire has consumed 40,000 acres and is currently zero percent contained. (Stephen Lam/ Getty Images)
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