Firefighters in northern California are struggling for the sixth day with the aftermath of 10,800 lightning strikes that hit the area during a 72-hour period that began Sunday. Since there was not much rain with the lightning, over 300 fires started. Most of the blazes are under control, but still remaining are over 450,000 acres on active fires, and in some areas, the remains of structures that were destroyed. CAL FIRE spokesperson Jeremy Rahn described the situation as a “historic lightning siege.”
At least four people have died; a pilot whose helicopter crashed while dropping water on a fire near Coalinga, a PG&E worker, and two other civilians.
The fires are so numerous that three groups of fires have been formed, called “complexes”. This simplifies the organization and reduces confusion and duplication of personnel.
According to CAL FIRE more than 50,000 residents in California have evacuated because of the fires. On the four largest fires and complexes, CAL FIRE reports that 540 structures have burned, a number that includes residences, commercial, and outbuildings.
All non-essential personnel at Travis Air Force Base south of Vacaville were told Wednesday night to evacuate. They were ordered to not exit through the Main or Hospital Gates, but to instead use the North and South Gates.
The 50 patients that were at the 151-bed St. Helena Hospital northeast of St. Helena were ordered to evacuate.
Shortages of aircraft and firefighters are hampering the suppression of the fires. The dry, windy, and very hot weather conditions which are expected to continue through the weekend make control of any vegetation fire difficult even when an adequate number of resources are available.
The largest of the complexes is the LNU Lighting Complex. As of Thursday it had burned 215,000 acres in Napa, Lake, Yolo, Solano, and Sonoma Counties. The Hennessey Fire within the complex stretches for 45 miles north to south. It spread into the outskirts of Vacaville and crossed Interstate 80 between the city and Fairfield. As of Thursday night firefighters had been able to limit the burned area south of the Interstate.
Two other complexes are in the South Bay area, and the River Fire is south of Salinas.
The information below is updated when the data is provided by CAL FIRE.
LNU Lightning Complex
Updated August 21, 2020 at 8:24 a.m. PDT, Aug. 21
Location: North Bay
Counties: Napa, Lake, Yolo, Solano, Sonoma
Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Sonoma-Lake-Napa
Acres: 219,067. The largest fire in the complex is the Hennessey Fire, 194,942. The Walbridge Fire west of Healdsburg is 21,125.
Structures destroyed: 480
Personnel assigned: 1,059 (an increase of 472)
Evacuation information: CAL FIRE LNU Twitter page
Notes: Fires that merged to become the Hennessey Fire include Gamble, Green, Spanish, 5-10, Morgan, and Markley Fires.
SCU Lightning Complex
Updated August 21, 2020 at 8:26 a.m. PDT, Aug. 21
Location: South Bay
Counties: Santa Clara, Alameda, Stanislaus, Contra Costa, San Joaquin
Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Santa Clara
Personnel assigned: 1,114
Evacuation information: CAL FIRE SCU Twitter page
Notes: comprised of approximately 20 separate fires broken into three zones; the Canyon Zone, the Calaveras Zone, and the Deer Zone.