Briefing on the largest California fires

August 22, 2020 | 7:36 p.m. PDT

Map SCU Lightning Complex and CZU August Lightning Complex of fires
Map of the SCU Lightning Complex and CZU August Lightning Complex of fires August 21, 2020.

Saturday, on the seventh day after a 72-hour lightning bust started hundreds of wildfires in California, firefighters are stretched thin attempting to suppress the blazes and protect residents and property. Shortages of personnel, fire apparatus, and aircraft are showing up statewide.

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

Nearly 12,000 firefighters are battling over 20 major fires and complexes of fires in California, most of which were started by about 12,000 lightning strikes. There have been 560 new fires in the last week, primarily a result of the lightning. Firefighters contained a large majority of the blazes, but in spite of their best efforts, over 771,000 acres had burned through Friday prompting evacuations of 175,000 residents. About 96 percent of CAL FIRE’s engines are committed throughout the state. The fires have killed at least five people and injured 33.

Governor Gavin Newsom said in a news conference Friday that he has requested the assistance of Australian and Canadian firefighters.

We’ve also reached out across the border into Canada for resources and support. And many of you up here recall, I think it was 2017, the support that we were provided and the support we provided in turn of some of the best wildfire firefighters in the world from Australia. We also have requests out for that talent as well.

The ability for the U.S. to send firefighters to assist Australia and New Zealand is authorized in a formal agreement under the Emergency Wildfire Suppression Act. Last winter the U.S. sent over 150 firefighters to assist with bushfires in Australia, and has been the recipient of assistance from down under on several occasions.

The Monterey Herald reported that due to the River and Carmel Fires prospective visitors to Monterey County have been asked to delay their travel plans. A joint statement released from U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta and four local politicians said, “We also ask anyone considering travel to Monterey County to delay your travel plans. This will ensure that already limited local resources are not strained.”

LNU Lightning Complex

  • Updated August 22, 2020 at 7:24 p.m. PDT, Aug. 22
  • Location: North Bay
  • Counties: Napa, Lake, Yolo, Solano, Sonoma
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Sonoma-Lake-Napa
  • Acres: 314,207. The largest fire in the complex is the Hennessey Fire, 261,793. The Walbridge Fire west of Healdsburg is 50,069, and the Meyers Fire on the coast north of Jenner is 2,345.
  • Structures destroyed: 560
  • Personnel assigned: 1,429
  • Evacuation information:  CAL FIRE LNU Twitter page
  • Notes: Significant fire growth is expected Saturday. Extreme fire behavior with short and long range spotting are continuing to challenge firefighting efforts. Fires that merged to become the Hennessey Fire include Gamble, Green, Spanish, 5-10, Morgan, and Markley Fires.
Map of the LNU Lightning Complex fires
Map of the LNU Lightning Complex of fires at 9:26 p.m. PDT August 21, 2020.

SCU Lightning Complex

  • Updated August 22, 2020 at 7:25 p.m. PDT, Aug. 22
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: Santa Clara, Alameda, Stanislaus, Contra Costa, San Joaquin
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Santa Clara
  • Acres: 291,968
  • Structures destroyed: 5
  • Personnel assigned: 1,179
  • Evacuation information:  CAL FIRE SCU Twitter page
  • Notes:  Fire activity is expected to increase Saturday when the inversion lifts and smoke clears. The complex is comprised of approximately 20 separate fires broken into three zones; the Canyon Zone, the Calaveras Zone, and the Deer Zone.

CZU August Lightning

  • Updated August 22, 2020 at 7:27 p.m. PDT, Aug. 22
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: San Mateo, Santa Cruz
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Mateo-Santa Cruz
  • Acres: 63,000
  • Structures destroyed: 97
  • Personnel assigned: 1,157
  • Evacuation information: CAL FIRE CZU Twitter page
  • Notes: Continued hot and dry weather is predicted for the remainder of the weekend and into next week. Damage Inspection Teams have begun to survey areas where fire activity has diminished and it safe to do so. Firefighting resources are limited due to the number of fires burning throughout California. Visibility reduced due to smoke has been hampering aircraft operations. Approximately 77,000 people have been evacuated.

River, Carmel, and Dolan Fires

The Carmel Fire 2 miles southwest of the River Fire has burned 6,695 acres.

The Dolan Fire on the coast 10 miles south of Big Sur has spread to 8,500 acres on private land and the Los Padres National Forest.

River Carmel Dolan Fires map August 21 California
Map showing the locations of the River, Carmel, and Dolan Fires August 21, 2020.

August Complex

  • Updated August 22, 2020 at 7:34 p.m. PDT, Aug. 22
  • Location: 18 miles southwest of Red Bluff
  • Counties: Tehama, Glenn, Lake, Mendocino, Trinity
  • Administrative Unit: Mendocino National Forest and CAL FIRE
  • Acres: 160,005
  • Structures destroyed: 10
  • Personnel assigned: 357
  • Evacuation information:
  • Notes: The Complex, comprised of 20 fires, grew by over 31,000 acres August 21. The two largest in the Complex are the Doe (120,875 acres) and Glade (86,028 acres). A Structure Damage Assessment Team has been ordered. Firefighters in a remote location were resupplied with a four-day supply of food via four motorized GPS-guided parachutes which descended through smoke.
August Complex of fires map California
August Complex of fires map, 3 p.m. PDT August 21, 2020.

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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.

7 thoughts on “Briefing on the largest California fires”

  1. I live in Santa Cruz, near the CZU Complex Fire. The city appears safe now, as CalFire has established two major firebreaks between the city and the fire. Also, the wind has shifted to come out of the southwest, which steers the fire away from us.
    Air tankers were of little use on this fire in the first few days, because visibility was too poor for them to safely attack the fires. We did see helicopters making bucket drops when they could see well enough.
    The forests here were almost all logged off starting shortly after the Gold Rush, then grew back with dense young forest that is primed to burn. Then houses were built in the midst of it. Don’t blame the firefighters for failing to do the impossible.

  2. Thank you, firefighters. You are doing an indescribably difficult, and heroic job. We the people appreciate you immensely.

  3. Why not fire crews plus planes called in from all over USA. You keep saying you have LIMITED RESOURES YOUWAITED WHY. WHY WHY.

    1. There are planes and fire crews from all over the nation currently on fires. But there are only so many and lots of other states have fires going. Resource competition is fierce especially for aerial resources. Just a quick check of RMACC showed crews from as far away as New Jersey and Florida fighting fires in the Rockies. Doesnt leave alot for a huge lightning bust in California.

    2. WHY? WHY? WHY?…….Check out how many total Fixed wing air tankers are available nationally . OR just take my word for it that all available fixed wing air tankers are being appropriately assigned by fire managers.

  4. Is Fremont, CA threatened?
    My son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter live there.
    I have another son in Sta. Cruz, is he threatened?


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