In mid-August, 2020, an unusual heat wave fixated over California, leading to a series of lightning storms across the state and numerous wildfires. Hundreds of thousands of acres were burned and tens of thousands of residents were forced to evacuate their homes. Below is an account of how the fires spread and officials responded to the emergency.
Read the previous updates from Sept. 8-9
Updates from Friday, Sept. 11
8:35 p.m. LNU Complex remains at 95% contained: The LNU Lightning Complex has burned 363,220 acres and was 95% contained as of Friday, Cal Fire said. Officials said crews are still working to reinforce containment lines, and fire suppression repair teams are still working throughout the fire area.
8:15 p.m. Containment of CZU Complex grows to 86%: The CZU Lightning Complex, which has burned in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, has burned 86,509 acres and was 86% contained as of Friday night, Cal Fire said. Cal Fire officials said that a thick layer of smoke will help maintain cooler-than-normal temperatures, “particularly inland,” through at least Saturday.
6:54 p.m. Nine, not 10 remains found in North Complex fires: Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea on Friday corrected the office’s statement from the previous night, saying that there were nine human remains, not 10, found in the county’s deadly blaze. Honea attributed the miscount to a life-like anatomical model of a skeleton, which a homeowner confirmed they owned. The sheriff said 28 people reported missing were still unaccounted for. The sheriff’s office additionally released names of two people who lost lives to the fires: 16-year-old Josiah Williams, and 77-year-old Millicent Catarancuic.
6 p.m. SCU Complex remains at 98% containment: The SCU Lightning Complex, which is burning in seven Northern California counties, has burned 396,624 acres and was 98% contained as of Friday, Cal Fire said. Officials expect the fires to be fully contained on Saturday.
5:35 p.m. Cal Fire hand crew bus destroyed in North Complex: A Cal Fire hand crew bus was destroyed by fire on Thursday when the crew was battling the North Complex West Zone, Cal Fire said Friday. The crew was working east of Forbestown Road, “one of the very active areas of the fire,” Cal Fire said. “Due to changes in weather patterns and the dry fuel conditions the fire quickly progressed to the area of the road where the crew bus was located.” No one was injured, and the crew continued working, Cal Fire said. Officials said the incident is under review.
5:20 p.m. Evacuation order reduced to warning for portions of Butte County for North Complex: The Butte County Sheriff’s Office has reduced an evacuation order to a evacuation warning for the area of Kelly Ridge and Lower Mount Ida. Officials said “Everything from” Oakvale Avenue to Miners Ranch Road has been reduced to an evacuation warning.
4:37 p.m. Injured firefighters released from hospital as Dolan Fire rages on: Two of the three firefighters hospitalized Tuesday after being injured in the Dolan Fire have been released from a Fresno hospital, while the third remains hospitalized in stable condition, the interagency team managing the fire said Friday. A total of 14 firefighters were injured as they fought unsuccessfully to prevent flames from overtaking the Nacimiento Station in the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County south of Big Sur. The 113,486-acre Dolan Fire was 26% contained Friday, officials said.
3:35 p.m. Displaced voters in Santa Cruz County have ‘options’: County residents displaced from the fires “have options to get” their ballots for the Presidential Election in November, according to Santa Cruz County officials. Ballots will be mailed to registered voters by October 5. If residents cannot access their regular mail, county officials said they can submit change of address at votescount.us. For more information, visit santacruzcounty.us.
3:21 p.m. Evacuation orders downgraded in part of Santa Cruz County: Evacuation orders have been reduced to evacuation warnings for some areas of Santa Cruz County affected by the CZU Complex fires. Cal Fire reminded residents returning home road closures still include: Route 236 and Midway Ranch Road; Swanton Road entirely at Route 1, including Last Chance Road; Southbound Jamison Creek Road at 16595 at Jamison Creek Road; and Acorn Road.
3:15 p.m. Wildfires took 20 lives so far: Cal Fire reports, “There have been 20 tragic fatalities on the devastating wildfires that have made their footprint on California” as of Friday. Two died in the Slater Fire; one in the August Complex fires; 10 in the North Complex, Bear Fire; five in the LNU Lightning Complex; one in the CZU Lightning Complex; and one in the Hills Fire, Cal Fire said.
3:06 p.m. Evacuees line smoky roadside near Oroville: The cars of evacuated residents lined the side of the Oro Quincy Highway near Oroville under a shroud of thick smoke Friday as the massive North Complex Fire raged to the east. Residents waited near the roadblock for word of whether they could get back in – and whether their homes were still standing. “It’s just wonder and wait,” one said. Read more details here.
3 p.m. Creek Fire threatens more than 14,000 buildings: The Creek Fire, burning along the San Joaquin River in Fresno and Madera counties, grew to more than 175,000 acres by Friday, having destroyed 369 buildings and threatening more than 14,000, Cal Fiire said. The fire was 6% contained Friday, with officials not anticipating full containment until October.
2:03 p.m. Huge Oregon blazes threaten ‘mass fatality’: Hundreds of firefighters battled two large wildfires Friday that threatened to merge near the most populated part of Oregon, including Portland suburbs, and the governor said dozens of people are missing. The emergency management director said officials are “preparing for a mass fatality event.” Gov. Kate Brown said more than 40,000 Oregonians have been evacuated and about 500,000 are in different levels of evacuation zones, either having been told to leave or to prepare to do so.
1:35 p.m. International help comes from as far as Middle East: Firefighters arriving to help with California’s record wildfires are coming from as far away as Israel, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday. Among other states, New Jersey has sent engines, and Newsom said he’s spoken to officials in Canada. This year’s 3.1 million scorched acres amount to 26 times more than last year’s burned acreage at this time, he said.
12:53 p.m. Air quality threatens 49ers opener: On the brink of Sunday’s season opener, after weathering coronavirus concerns that wiped out NFL exhibition games and threatened the regular season, the 49ers now face another obstacle: Terrible air quality. Friday’s air quality index reading in Santa Clara exceeded the NFL threshold at which league officials would contemplate postponing a game. Read what that may mean.
12:47 p.m. Newsom says 2045 goal for carbon neutrality is too late: Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday that he will speed up California’s current goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2045. The existing goal of 2045 is “too late” to meet the urgent need to push back against global warming that is devastating the state, he said. His administration will push ahead “new ideas, new strategies” to meet the goal at an unspecified sooner date, he said.
12:41 p.m. Newsom signs bill giving prisoners a path to firefighting career: Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed a legislation allowing prisoners trained as firefighters to pursue that career once their sentences end. “This bill will give those prisoners hope of getting a job in the profession where they have been trained,” he said during a tour of wildfire damage in Butte County,
12:29 p.m. ‘We’re in the midst of a climate emergency:’ While touring fire-ravaged Butte County Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom called on the rest of the nation to step up response to global warming. “We’re in the midst of a climate crisis,” Newsom said. “We are experiencing what so many people predicted decades and decades ago. … Across the entire spectrum, our goals are inadequate to the reality that we’re facing.”
12:20 p.m. Newsom attacks ‘ideological BS’ on climate change: A visibly angry Gov. Gavin Newsom stood in the smoke of a wildfire in the Oroville Lake area on Friday and warned, “California is America, folks, fast forward”: Horrific effects of global warming are “coming to communities all across America .. unless we disabuse ourselves of all the BS that is being spewed” by a small number of people in ideological debates over the reality of climate change. Newsom said the state will comprehensively “dust off our current processes our current strategies and accelerate all of them across the board … not just to just broadly decarbonize our economy” but focus on land use and industrial practices, and increasing use of electric vehicles. “The debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California,” Newsom said. “It’s not even debatable any longer.”
12:12 p.m. Newsom orders ‘step up’ in state’s attack on climate change: Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday he is ordering a top-to-bottom review and escalation of state goals and actions to fight climate change, saying that the current record wildfires and temperatures prove “We’ve got to step up our game.” Although the state is a global leader in actions on climate change, “We’re going to have to fast track our efforts” and become more aggressive to meet goals sooner, he said.
11:50 a.m. Bad air won’t shut down outdoor dining in SF: San Francisco has no plans to order a temporary halt to outdoor dining despite the city’s advice that residents should remain inside to protect their health during air quality currently at unhealthy and very unhealthy levels, Dr. Naveena Bobba, deputy director for the Department of Public Health, said at a Friday briefing. Coronavirus restrictions thus far do not yet allow indoor dining in San Francisco.
11:40 a.m. ‘Stay inside’ emergency officials advise: With smoke making the air unhealthy to breathe, people should stay inside with doors and windows closed, S.F.’s Department of Emergency Management director, Mary Ellen Carroll, advised Friday. “If you are able to stay home, we encourage you to stay home,” except when checking on friends and neighbors who have health issues or sensitivities, she said.
11:30 a.m. More SF relief centers for escaping unhealthy air: San Francisco emergency weather relief centers opened Friday and will continue at least through the weekend, the Department of Emergency Management stated. In addition to the Main, Mission Bay and Chinatown libraries, the Southeast Community Facility at 1800 Oakdale Ave. will be available for people, including the homeless, who need to escape the polluted air. Informaiton is at sf72.org
11:13 a.m. Newsom to visit North Complex damage area: Gov. Gavin Newsom was heading Friday to survey damage from the North Complex wildfire, his office said.
10:57 a.m. August Complex now a behemoth: The August Complex blaze, which on Thursday became California’s largest ever, has merged with several other fires including the Elkhorn Fire to cover 746,607 acres — up from 471,185 a day earlier, Cal Fire said Friday. The blaze burning in Tehama, Trinity, Glenn, Lake, Mendocino and Humboldt counties, has now dwarfed the 459,123-acre Mendocino Complex fire of 2018, bumping it to No. 2. The August Complex was 25% contained as of Friday morning, Cal Fire said.
10:40 a.m. California wildfire season continues to smash records: Five of the 20 largest fires in modern state history are now burning across the state, Cal Fire said Friday. The August Complex fires, in Tehama, Mendocino and four other northern California counties, holds the No. 1 spot. The SCU and LNU lightning complex fires, largely contained now in the Bay Area, are No. 3 and No. 4. Also in the top 20 are two other ongoing blazes: the North Complex in Plumas County, at No. 9; and the Creek Fire in Fresno and Madera counties, at No. 16. Read more and see the full list.
9:51 a.m. SF libraries open as air respite centers: Some San Francisco library branches were open Friday for people to escape highly unhealthy air qality outside. The Main Library and Chinatown and Mission Bay locations were serving as “air respite centers” 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
9:31 a.m. National Park Service closes local sites: The National Park Service announced closure on Friday of Muir Woods, Alcatraz and Fort Point due to unhealthy air quality throughout the region.
9:27 a.m. Cal Fire has 14,000 firefighters on the line: Twenty-nine major wildfires were still burning across California on Friday morning, with approximately 14,000 firefighters battling them, Cal Fire reported. across California. Thirty-seven new fires flared on Thursday, but most were contained quickly. Two grew to large wildfires, Cal Fire said. Improved weather conditions is expected to aid firefighters in some areas.
9:12 a.m. On Orange Wednesday, “The world didn’t end”: One of the pearls of wisdom from Mary Ellen Carroll on the Fifth & Mission podcast is to remember just that and keep yourself in the present moment. As S.F.’s director of the Department of Emergency Management, she knows a thing or two about handling crisis and chaos. She talks about how Bay Area residents can cope with the onslaught of disasters, from coronavirus to wildfires to economic distress, and what adults should tell kids about all the doom and gloom. Click here to listen.
8:44 a.m. North Complex fire teams construct protection around LaPorte: The North Complex fires expanded to 252,534 acres as of Friday morning, but firefighters held containment at 23%, Cal Fire reported. Firefighters successfully responded to spot fires on the north edge of the fire overnight, and in the southern section constructed lines to protect the town of LaPorte.
8:22 a.m. Bad air likely to persist into Sunday: Thick, smoky fog packing the faint aroma of an extinguished campfire — and awful air quality — settled into the Bay Area Friday morning — and it’s likely to linger until at least Sunday. As wildfires continued to pour smoke into the skies, monitoring stations recorded unhealthy and very unhealthy categories, with the worst conditions in the East Bay, North Bay and downtown San Francisco. Read The Chronicle’s update.
8:09 a.m. Fake rumors accuse antifascist activists of setting fires: Officials dealing with catastrophic West Coast fires have had to counter social media rumors that the blazes were set by antifascist activists. Despite their pleas that people not share unverified rumors, misinformation about the fire origins continues to spread on Facebook and Twitter. Several Oregon law enforcement agencies said they were flooded with inquiries about rumors that activists were responsible.
7:34 a.m. OK to drink the wine: It’s clear that smoke’s possible effects on grapes will be the question of the California wine industry’s 2020 harvest, as it seems inevitable that some grapes will be irreparably tainted, The Chronicle’s Esther Mobley reports. But for the drinkers of California wine, there are no risks, and people in any event are unlikely to ever taste a smoke-tainted wine, as wineries are bending over backwards to ensure that no compromised liquid enters a bottle.
7:27 a.m. Oregon evacuations reach 500,000: Deadly wildfires in heavily populated northwest Oregon were growing, with hundreds of thousands of people told to flee encroaching flames while residents to the south tearfully assessed their losses. The number of people evacuated statewide rose to an estimated 500,000 — more than 10 percent of the state’s 4.2 million people, officials reported late Thursday.
7:22 a.m. Another day of gray skies, bad air: Unhealthy air quality persisted around the Bay Area as Friday morning dawned gray and foggy, and unseasonably cool. Ratings of “very unhealthy” air were prevalent.
7:10 a.m. History repeats in lack of evacuation warnings: Even after years of fire preparation and lessons from previous diasters, wildfire warning systems by text, email, cell phone alert, or reverse 911 calls don’t always reach remote areas. Sometimes the system can’t keep up with the wildfire speed and unpredictability. One community that got no warning this year — flames upon them already when an evacuation order arrived — was Last Chance Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Read the story here.
Latest updates from Thursday, Sept. 10:
10:14 p.m. Missing teen among the dead in Butte County fires: Family and friends begging for information on the whereabouts of 16-year-old Josiah Williams, a boy who was last seen at home just before the North Complex fires tore through his neighborhood in Berry Creek, got the bad news late Thursday night that he had died. “We are at a complete loss for words right now,” his aunt, Bobbie Zedacker, told The Chronicle.
10:10 p.m. Containment of Creek Fire grows to 6%: The Creek Fire has burned 175,893 Acres and was 6% contained as of Thursday evening, Cal Fire said.
10:05 p.m. Containment of CZU Complex grows to 85%: The CZU Lightning Complex, which is burning in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, has burned 86,509 acres and was 85% contained as of Thursday evening, according to Cal Fire. Cal Fire officials smoke and haze are continuing to impact the region, which could keep temperatures cool through Friday. “Crews continue to mop up and control hot spots throughout the fire area in an effort to support repopulation efforts,” Cal Fire officials said.
10 p.m. Containment of LNU Complex grows to 95%: The LNU Lightning Complex, which has burned in Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Solano counties, was 95% contained as of Thursday evening, Cal Fire said. Officials said 892 firefighters were battling the blazes along with 56 engines, eight water tenders, four helicopters and 11 dozers.
6:40 p.m. Containment of SCU Complex grows to 98% : The SCU Lightning Complex has burned 396,624 acres and was 98% contained as of Thursday evening, according to Cal Fire.
6:32 p.m. Seven more found deceased in North Complex Fire: Butte County Sheriff’s officials on Thursday evening confirmed finding the remains of seven more people who died in connection to the North Complex fires. Those remains are in addition to the three that were announced Wednesday evening, bringing the fire’s official death toll to 10.
5:51 p.m. PG&E says power almost completely restored after fire-prevention outages: After shutting off power to 172,000 customers in 22 counties starting Monday to prevent fires sparked from wind-damaged utility equipment, PG&E said 99% of those customers had regained power by Thursday afternoon. The remaining 1,700 customers should have power by 8 p.m., the utility said. Inspections of almost 10,000 miles of power lines revealed 52 incidents of damage that could have posed fire danger. Sonoma and Napa counties were included in the shut-offs.
3:31 p.m. LA has worst air pollution in nearly three decades: Lung-damaging ozone pollution in Los Angeles reached its highest levels in a generation and set records in other parts of Southern California during the blistering Labor Day weekend heat wave, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. Ozone pollution spiked to 185 parts per billion in downtown Los Angeles at midday Sunday, the highest hourly reading in Southern California since 2003 and the highest in downtown in 26 years.
2:53 p.m. Dolan Fire in Los Padres National Forest 26% contained: Firefighters engaged in “burnout operations” which led to perimeter growth to more than 111,000 acres, with 26 percent containment, of the Dolan Fire southeast of Big Sur, officials said Thursday. Burnouts were done along the Nacimiento-Ferguson and Del Venturi Roads and around Fort Hunter Liggett. Cooler temperatures kept fire activity minimal. Two of the firefighters involved in the shelter deployment have been released from the hospital and the third is in stable condition and will be released this week.
2:43 p.m. More weird stuff likely to come: While a mundane gray gloom Thursday replaced the sky’s orange glow, experts say Wednesday’s eerie-looking sky was a reminder that in an era of new climate extremes and heightened wildfire risk, we should expect the unexpected, and conditions that led to the eerie orangeness can be tied to global warming. Read the story here.
2:33 p.m. ‘Fire breathing dragon of clouds’ said to be nation’s biggest ever: A giant thunderstorm that blasted smoke plumes into the stratosphere Saturday as the Creek Fire’s flames tore through the Sierra National Forest below highlighted an obscure meteorological term: pyrocumulonimbus. The dramatic and rare formation forms when scorched air meets moist, buoyant air a few miles above the earth, and this one is thought to be the largest ever above the U.S. Read the story here.
1:55 p.m. Surviving thin line between life and death in wildfire: Thousands of lives have been threatened by the California wildfires, and hundreds of campers had to be resuced by National Guard helicopters at the Mammoth Pool Reservoir water line. Rescue is not always on the way. Tom Stienstra offers a list of life-and-death training tips for how to rely on yourself if you get caught.
1:41 p.m. More than 3 million acres now have burned: Wildfires now have burned more than 3.1 million acres in California since the start of the year, officials said, dramatically increasing the extent to which this fire season has charred more land than any other in the state’s recorded history. The previous record-setting fire season occurred in 2018, when about 1.98 million acres burned.
1:38 p.m. Hundreds of homes destroyed in Butte County: The North Complex fire, surging through mountain towns on winds up to 60 mph, has burned more than 2,000 structures, devastating several communities including Berry Creek and Feather Falls, while still threatening others Thursday, including Oroville and Paradise. More than 22,000 structures were still in danger, adn 12 people remained missing. Cal Fire officials said. Read the latest here.
12:18 p.m. PG&E power restorations in North Bay nearly complete: Power has been restored to nearly all of the 17,500 customers in Sonoma and Napa counties whose power was shut off by PG&E as a wildfire precaution, said PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith. At least 97% of the customers have had electricity turned back on, and the rest should have it by mid-afternoon, he said. PG&E cut power in its program to prevent its wires and equipment from sparking wildfires in dry and windy conditions.
12:01 p.m. August Complex now largest in state history: The massive August Complex raging in the Mendocino National Forest is now the largest wildfire in California’s recorded history. As of Thursday morning, the fire had burned 471,185 acres, overtaking the 2018 record set by the Mendocino Complex fires, which burned about 459,000 acres. The news comes just one day after Cal Fire said the August Complex had become the state’s second-largest fire ever, surpassing last month’s record by the SCU Lightning Complex in the South and East Bay Area. Six of California’s top 20 largest fires have occurred this year. The top five have occurred in the last three years, according to Cal Fire.
11:29 a.m. Point Reyes seashore stays closed: Point Reyes National Seashore remained closed Thursday although the Woodward Fire was 95% contained. Hot spots near the fire perimeter continued to pose a threat, and the park has not yet been able to assess the fire damage, the park’s ecologist Dave Press said Thursday. Staff are hoping to survey the coastal chaparral areas this week if it’s safe to do so, he said.
11:20 a.m. Creek Fire grows, may not be contained for months: The Creek Fire was 0% contained Thursday morning, unchanged since the fire was sparked by unknown causes Labor Day weekend. Full containment is not expected until October, according to a Cal Fire update. Fast-moving flames have engulfed 175,893 acres, destroying 361 structures and threatening 14,074 others in Fresno and Madera counties. Firefighters were monitoring the area around Shaver Lake and the San Joaquin River for any spreading flames, Cal Fire said.
11:15 a.m. North Complex blaze 23% contained: A mid-morning update from Cal Fire put the North Complex fires at 23% contained and covering 247,358 acres. The fire is burning across Butte, Yuba and Plumas counties. Crews maintained existing fire lines overnight, limited the spread, and continued structure protection efforts, Cal Fire said.
9:37 a.m. When will recreation spots reopen?: Four of the greater Bay Area’s most treasured recreation destinations, Lake Berryessa, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Point Reyes National Seashore and the Los Vaqueros Watershed, could open within weeks or face recoveries that take years. The first to reopen likely will be Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County, which avoided infrastructure damage when fire crews set a backfire that burned into the Deer Fire. Read Tom Stienstra’s update on recreation sites.
9:13 a.m. Fire catastrophes highlight need for overdue new thinking: The worsening wildfire disasters in California and other states mean the United States needs to drastically rethink its approach to managing fire in the decades ahead, experts warn. Millions of Americans are moving into wildfire-prone areas and communities often resist development restriction. A century of federal policy to aggressively extinguish all wildfires is now seen as misguided, leaving plenty of forest fuel for destructive blazes, as global warming loads the dice, the New York Times reports.
8:32 a.m. SCU Complex at 97% containment but hotspots remain: Full containment of the 396,624-acre SCU Complex fires is expected by Saturday, Cal Fire said Thursday. The blaze inched closer, at 97% containment Thursday, but flames continued to smolder and ignite brush fields near the perimeter line, according to a Cal Fire report. The red flag warning for high winds ended at 8 a.m., but crews continued to monitor the seven affected counties including Santa Clara, Alameda and Stanislaus, Cal Fire said.
8:45 a.m. Point Reyes area fire contained: The Woodward Fire in the west Marin County and Point Reyes area remained 95% contained as of Thursday morning, after burning 4,905 acres, Cal Fire reported.
8:34 a.m. Marine layer keeps temps low in Bay Area: The Bay Area fog thickened overnight and pushed further inland, meteorologists said Thursday; some smoke mixed into the fog though much of it remained above. With the sun blocked, temperatures are expected to remain low — in the 60s around most of the bay — and the thick, gray curtain of smoke and fog is likely to stick around probably through Friday. Read the update here.
8:15 a.m. Thursday skies not as orange: Thursday dawned more gray than orange, but thick haze still obscured the sun and a Spare the Air alert remained in effect as wildfire smoke drifted above the region. Air quality in San Francisco and Oakland was rated unhealthy.
7:59 a.m. Hennessey and Walbridge fires almost out: The massive LNU Complex fire that burned 363,220 acres in the greater North Bay was 94% contained as of Thursday morning, Cal Fire said, although smoke from other wildfires remained visible and fire suppression repair teams remained active throughout the area.
7:21 a.m. Evacuations grow as Butte County ablaze: Some 20,000 Butte County residents were ordered or warned to evacuate from the path of the furious North Complex fires as of Wednesday night, officials said. The fires had scorched 252,163 acres as of Thursday, and firefighters managed to get 24% containment.
Credit: Source link