August Fire grows to over one million acres

Gigafire in Northern California

Map of the August Complex of fires
Map of the August Complex of fires in Northern California, October 6, 2020.

On August 16 a weather pattern that does not occur often began working its way slowly through northern California. During the next three days about 2,500 lightning strikes were recorded that started over 600 fires, creating what became the Siege of ’20. The lightning was a result of moist unstable air from Tropical Storm Fausto colliding with a high pressure ridge during a heat wave. Many of the thunderstorm cells produced little or no rain that reached the ground. The lightning ignited dry fuels causing fires that spread rapidly, quickly overwhelming the suppression capability of local, state, and federal fire organizations. Some fires were not staffed at all for days, and for weeks most incidents struggled, with fewer resources than they needed.

The August Complex of fires is the result of 37 blazes that started on August 17 and eventually burned together on the Mendocino National Forest. It has now blackened 1,004,373 acres becoming a gigafire, the largest fire in the recorded history of California, by far. The scope of the fire is almost difficult to comprehend — approximately 72 miles by 32 miles. It is larger than Rhode Island which is 988,832 acres.

Resources assigned include 65 hand crews, 353 fire engines, and 31 helicopters for a total of 4,075 personnel. About 100 residences and 104 other structures have been destroyed . The estimated costs to date are $166 million.

The fire is divided into two zones with individual areas managed by four Type 1 Incident Management Teams overseen by an Area Command Team.

Largest fires, California, October 6, 2020
Largest fires in the recorded history of California as of October 6, 2020. The number of structures includes all types of structures, from small sheds to large commercial buildings.
August Complex fire
A firefighter bucks a log near Van Duzen Road on the Northwest Zone of the August Complex. Credit: Jacob Welsh

Our take on the largest fires list

The next three fires on the “Top 20 Largest California Wildfires” are all complexes, comprised of multiple separate fires that were arbitrarily clumped together on paper and called a complex. If they are listed at all on a Top 20 list, they should at least have an asterisk indicating each complex is actually multiple fires. If they burn together they should be treated as one fire. Geographically separate fires should be listed independently.

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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.

One thought on “August Fire grows to over one million acres”

  1. Bill, you’re the greatest! THANK YOU so much for this vital public service.


    PS: I tried to send you a message directly the other day, but apparently because it had a link, it was identified as spam and denied, even when I removed the link.


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