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.
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.