California wildfires — update on the four largest

The LNU Lightning Complex has grown to 302,388 acres

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August 21, 2020  |  7:17 p.m. PDT

LNU Lightning Complex map
LNU Lightning Complex map

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.”

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the lightning-caused wildfires in California, including the most recent, click HERE.)

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 7:14 p.m. PDT, Aug. 21
  • Location: North Bay
  • Counties: Napa, Lake, Yolo, Solano, Sonoma
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Sonoma-Lake-Napa
  • Acres: 302,388. The largest fire in the complex is the Hennessey Fire, 256,102. The Walbridge Fire west of Healdsburg is 43,286.
  • 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. At 3 p.m. August 21 @CAFireScanner reported, after monitoring radio traffic, that approximately 15 air tankers are working in the North Bay area; seven S-2Ts, a BAe-146, three or four military MAFFS, and three very large air tankers, two DC-10s and one 747.

SCU Lightning Complex

  • Updated August 21, 2020 at 7:11 p.m. PDT, Aug. 21
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: Santa Clara, Alameda, Stanislaus, Contra Costa, San Joaquin
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Santa Clara
  • Acres: 274,968
  • Structures destroyed: 5
  • Personnel assigned: 1,179
  • 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.
SCU Lightning Complex and CZU August Lightning Complex map
SCU Lightning Complex and CZU August Lightning Complex map

CZU August Lightning

  • Updated August 21, 2020 at 4:07 p.m. PDT, Aug. 21
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: San Mateo, Santa Cruz
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Mateo-Santa Cruz
  • Acres: 50,000 (from live briefing at 6:30 a.m. Aug. 21, and a video briefing at about 8:30 a.m. Aug. 21)
  • Structures destroyed: 50
  • Personnel assigned: 1,026
  • Evacuation information: CAL FIRE CZU Twitter page
  • Notes: Multiple large fires in southern San Mateo County and Northern Santa Cruz County merged and continue to actively burn throughout the day due to low relative humidities, inaccessible terrain, and limited resources, according to the Incident Management Team. Approximately 64,600 people have been evacuated.

River Fire

  • Updated August 21, 2020 at 6:30 a.m. PDT, Aug, 21
  • Location: Five miles south of Salinas, near Pine Canyon Rd. and River Rd.
  • Counties: Monterey
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Benito-Monterey
  • Acres: 39,464
  • Structures destroyed: 10
  • Personnel assigned: 696
  • Evacuation information: CAL FIRE San Benito-Monterey Twitter page
  • Notes: The River Fire has not been as active as the other fires.
River Fire map
River Fire map

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

12 thoughts on “California wildfires — update on the four largest”

  1. Bill, thank you for simplifying and mapping out the biggest areas of fire. This really helps to understand the location of things.

    Be safe everyone!

  2. Please include maps of the Tehama-Glenn Lighting Complex Fire and the Elkhorn Fire in Northern California.
    Thank you,

  3. Please give a map of Snow mountain, Hull Mountain, Black Butte Mountain and the South Yolla Bollies. There are four fires active there. I live in Covelo. The east hills are all billowing just behind the ridges!
    The cell phones and even land lines are out. Internet is all we have most days and the folks in the hinterlands need you!

  4. Bill, we have moved recently to Missoula MT and we are definitely seeing the smoke from CA up here. We have some fires here but nothing like what CA has. We will be watching with interest. The maps are very informative, thanks. Steve

  5. Live in Sebastopol, CA- If possible would really appreciate a more detailed information about surrounding communities status. What cities have evacuated in Sonoma County? What is containment status of fire directly above Guerneville? Thanks so much- Steve

  6. The sky is totally overcast and some ash drifting down.
    My wife and I sitting on the patio with coffee, and we can’t smell smoke.


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