Over 15,000 personnel are battling California fires

Cooler weather has slowed some fires, but the August Complex grew by over 16,000 acres Tuesday

Updated August 26, 2020 | 11:38 a.m. PDT

California Fires August 26, 2020
California Fires August 26, 2020.

The  growth of the big complexes of fires in California, LNU, CZU, and SCU, has slowed in recent days, but the LNU and SCU Lightning Complexes still gained 4,509 and 5,717 acres respectively in the last 24 hours. The August Complex southwest of Red Bluff increased by 16,097 acres.

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

The blazes have charred more than 1.32 million acres, killed seven people, and destroyed nearly 2,000 structures. The fires are being fought by 280 hand crews, 2,400 fire engines, 300 dozers, and 370 water tenders for a total of 15,000 personnel.

In addition to the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group working on a request for firefighting assistance from Australia and Canada, California activated the National Guard for help containing the blazes. On August 23 CAL FIRE issued equipment to 270 soldiers as they were beginning basic fire training at Camp Roberts. Another group of 300 soldiers will arrive next week for training. CAL FIRE will embed with each 20-person crew a Captain and two firefighters for supervision.

Below are updates on some of the largest incidents in California, with data from CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service.

LNU Lightning Complex

  • Updated August 26, 2020 at 1:13 p.m. PDT
  • Location: North Bay
  • Counties: Napa, Lake, Yolo, Solano, Sonoma
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Sonoma-Lake-Napa
  • Acres: 357,046. The largest fire in the complex is the Hennessey Fire, 299,763 . The Walbridge Fire west of Healdsburg is 54,923, and the Meyers Fire on the coast north of Jenner is 2,360.
  • Structures destroyed: 978
  • Personnel assigned: 2,207
  • 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 26, 2020 at 1:13 p.m. PDT
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: Santa Clara, Alameda, Stanislaus, Contra Costa, San Joaquin
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Santa Clara
  • Acres: 365,772
  • Structures destroyed: 31
  • Personnel assigned: 1,655
  • Evacuation information:  CAL FIRE SCU Twitter page
  • Notes: Fire activity has lessened due to favorable weather conditions and increased humidity across the complex. Deep seated heat still remains in the bottom of the steep, inaccessible drainages. During the evening fire crews held existing control line around the fire perimeter continuing to both reinforce and add new containment lines. When weather and conditions are favorable there will be a controlled burn operation inside the control line. This controlled burn will widen the buffer and consume fuel between the edge of the fire and the control line.

CZU August Lightning

  • Updated August 26, 2020 at 1:13 p.m. PDT
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: San Mateo, Santa Cruz
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Mateo-Santa Cruz
  • Acres: 79,640
  • Structures destroyed: 443
  • Personnel assigned: 1,697
  • Evacuation information: CAL FIRE CZU Twitter page
  • Notes: It is burning in Southern San Mateo County and Northern Santa Cruz County actively above the marine layer in the heavy timber and thick undergrowth.  Approximately 77,000 people have been evacuated.

River and Carmel Fires

  • Updated August 26, 2020 at 1:13 p.m. PDT
  • Location: Five miles south of Salinas, near Pine Canyon Rd. and River Rd.
  • Counties: Monterey
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Benito-Monterey
  • Acres: 48,424
  • Structures destroyed: 30
  • Personnel assigned: 1,183
  • Evacuation information: CAL FIRE San Benito-Monterey Twitter page, and see maps produced by Monterey County here.
  • Notes: Firefighters patrolling the fire Tuesday confirmed that the fire remained within containment lines. The onshore winds from the northwest allowed the fire to travel very slowly to the south with in containment lines.The Carmel Fire 2 miles southwest of the River Fire has burned 6,901 acres and destroyed 37 structures.

Dolan Fire

  • Updated August 26, 2020 at 1:13 p.m. PDT
  • Location: on the coast 10 miles south of Big Sur
  • Counties: Monterey
  • Administrative Unit: U.S. Forest Service, Los Padres NF
  • Acres: 21,844
  • Structures destroyed: 0
  • Personnel assigned: 880
  • Evacuation information:
  • Notes: Fire behavior was moderate throughout Tuesday night. Crews performed structure defense in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and continued to protect private property and clear roadways around Partington and along Hwy. 1. Crews continued to secure direct and indirect lines to keep the fire out of Hermitage, Lucia and Morning Glory. Progress is slow due to rough terrain and lack of available crews. On Wednesday, crews will continue to focus on the northern and southern edges of the fire by constructing and enhancing control lines, with the priority being lines along McWay ridge and above Lucia northeast to Twin Peaks.

August Complex

  • Updated August 26, 2020 at 1:13 p.m. PDT
  • Location: 18 miles southwest of Red Bluff
  • Counties: Tehama, Glenn, Lake, Mendocino, Trinity
  • Administrative Unit: Mendocino National Forest and CAL FIRE
  • Acres: 197,148
  • Structures destroyed: 10
  • Personnel assigned: 476
  • Evacuation information:
  • Notes: As of Tuesday evening: firefighters are opening preexisting fire breaks as control lines on the south portion of the Doe fire (160,436 acres 31% contained). Structure protection is continuing when it is safe to do so. Line construction is continuing on the Glade Fire (18,307 acres 0% contained). Firefighters are working in coordination with Crane Mills Timber and using dozers to tie in the north portion of the Tatham fire (8,958 acres 11% contained). .

Predicted dry lightning could worsen the fire situation in California and other western states

Red Flag Warning in effect for Northern California Sunday and Monday

August 24, 2020 | 7:45 a.m. PDT

Map fires California Bay Area
Map of fires in the California Bay Area, August 23, 2020.

As if firefighters and residents evacuating or battling lightning-caused wildfires in California didn’t already have enough to worry about, another round of dry lightning is in the forecast for Sunday and Monday.

Thunderstorms with little or no rain is what ignited over 500 fires earlier last week. Now scattered or isolated dry thunderstorms could hit northern California and portions of Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado through Monday.

Nick Nauslar, a Fire Meteorologist at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, wrote about the forecast in a tweet at 11:30 p.m. Saturday:

Hundreds of new fires are likely if this event pans out. And thunderstorm outflow winds will impact some ongoing fires which would lead to an increase of fire spread/behavior. I hope I'm wrong and this forecast busts. But for now, data points to another big event.

So it’s not just the potential for new fires that that is cause for concern — the strong outflow winds associated with the thunderstorms could greatly increase the rate of spread of the existing fires. It can also put firefighters in even greater danger as the winds can shift 180 degrees very quickly changing the direction a fire is moving, possibly overrunning personnel.

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

Check out this video showing the effect the passage of a thunderstorm had on the just-ignited Hennessey Fire August 17 in Napa Valley. That fire has now burned 287,811 acres. The effect of outflow winds is temporary, but a blaze that is suddenly much larger can outstrip the ability of firefighters to quickly suppress it.

Red Flag Warnings are in effect for the northern half of California through Monday evening. The highest threat of dry lightning is Sunday afternoon through Monday morning.

With existing shortages of personnel, equipment, engines, and firefighting aircraft, more fires would put further strain on the systems that are already being managed at the highest planning level nationally, Preparedness Level 5. In PL 5 over 80% of the nation’s incident management teams and wildland firefighting personnel are committed to incidents. Resource orders are being prioritized to fires across California and the west.

Aircraft that can map a fire using infrared imagery have not yet flown all of the large incidents and some maps and acreages are estimates. One of the two mapping aircraft owned by the U.S. Forest Service, N144Z which is the most capable, has not successfully mapped a fire since November 16, 2018 because an avionics issue has not been repaired. The Forest Service has hired privately owned mapping aircraft in an attempt to fill the void.

Below are updates on the largest incidents in California.

LNU Lightning Complex

  • Updated August 24, 2020 at 7:38 p.m. PDT
  • Location: North Bay
  • Counties: Napa, Lake, Yolo, Solano, Sonoma
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Sonoma-Lake-Napa
  • Acres: 350,030. The largest fire in the complex is the Hennessey Fire, 293,602. The Walbridge Fire west of Healdsburg is 54,068, and the Meyers Fire on the coast north of Jenner is 2,360.
  • Structures destroyed: 871
  • Personnel assigned: 1,857
  • 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.
LNU Lightning Complex map
Map of the LNU Lightning Complex of fires at 9:21 p.m. PDT August 22, 2020.

SCU Lightning Complex

  • Updated August 24, 2020 at 7:44 a.m. PDT
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: Santa Clara, Alameda, Stanislaus, Contra Costa, San Joaquin
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Santa Clara
  • Acres: 347,196
  • Structures destroyed: 12
  • Personnel assigned: 1,336
  • Evacuation information:  CAL FIRE SCU Twitter page
  • Notes: 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 24, 2020 at 7:44 a.m. PDT
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: San Mateo, Santa Cruz
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Mateo-Santa Cruz
  • Acres: 74,000
  • Structures destroyed: 163
  • Personnel assigned: 1,511
  • Evacuation information: CAL FIRE CZU Twitter page
  • Notes: The fires continue to actively burn above the marine layer in the heavy timber and thick undergrowth. Damage Inspection Teams have begun to survey areas where fire activity has diminished and it is safe to do so. The number of destroyed structures reflected may change as teams continue to make progress. Firefighting resources are limited due to the number of fires burning throughout California. Limited visibility due to smoke is hampering aircraft operations. Approximately 77,000 people have been evacuated.
Map SCU Lightning Complex and CZU August Lightning Complex of fires
Map of the SCU Lightning Complex and CZU August Lightning Complex of fires at 7:54 a.m. August 23, 2020.

River and Carmel Fires

  • Updated August 24, 2020 at 7:44 a.m. PDT
  • Location: Five miles south of Salinas, near Pine Canyon Rd. and River Rd.
  • Counties: Monterey
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Benito-Monterey
  • Acres: 48,424
  • Structures destroyed: 21
  • Personnel assigned: 1,274
  • Evacuation information: CAL FIRE San Benito-Monterey Twitter page, and see maps produced by Monterey County here.
  • Notes: The Carmel Fire 2 miles southwest of the River Fire has burned 6,695 acres and destroyed 37 structures.

Dolan Fire

  • Updated August 23, 2020 at 9:31 a.m. PDT
  • Location: on the coast 10 miles south of Big Sur
  • Counties: Monterey
  • Administrative Unit: U.S. Forest Service, Los Padres NF
  • Acres: 19,287
  • Structures destroyed: 0
  • Personnel assigned: 488
  • Evacuation information:
  • Notes: On private land and the Los Padres National Forest, threatening the communities of Hermitage, Partington Ridge, and Lucia. Multiple businesses, communications sites, parks and recreational sites are also threatened. On Saturday crews continued to focus on point protection operations around Hermitage and Lucia to the South, and Partington Ridge and Anderson Peak communications infrastructure to the North. As the threat diminishes these priorities will shift. After more resources arrive the plan will expand to include additional perimeter control operations. The fire was mapped for the first time Saturday night with a fixed wing aircraft. This accurate method is the reason for the large increase in the known acreage.
River Carmel Dolan Fires map August 22 California
Map showing the locations of the River, Carmel, and Dolan Fires August 22, 2020.

August Complex

  • Updated August 24, 2020 at 7:44 a.m. PDT
  • Location: 18 miles southwest of Red Bluff
  • Counties: Tehama, Glenn, Lake, Mendocino, Trinity
  • Administrative Unit: Mendocino National Forest and CAL FIRE
  • Acres: 177,750
  • Structures destroyed: 10
  • Personnel assigned: 433
  • Evacuation information:
  • Notes: Of the 20 fires in the Complex the two largest are the Doe (136,430 acres) and Glade (13,088 acres). A Structure Damage Assessment Team has been ordered. Limited information is available about this incident.
August Complex Map
August Complex Map, August 22, 2020. Incident Management Team.

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.

River Fire prompts evacuations south of Salinas, California

August 17, 2020  |  6:22 p.m. PDT

Map River Fire at 2:28 p.m. PDT August 17, 2020
Map of the River Fire at 2:28 p.m. PDT August 17, 2020.

Not much additional information is available about the River Fire. Monterey County has current evacuation information. CAL FiRE has not updated the size since they announced it was 2,800 acres this morning.

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

Five structures have been damaged and there have been four “Confirmed Fire Personnel and Civilian Injuries” according to CAL FIRE.

Resources assigned include 10 hand crews, 2 helicopters, 55 fire engines, 9 dozers, and 6 water tenders for a total of 520 personnel.


August 17, 2020  |  7:13 a.m. PDT

map River Fire Salinas California
The red and yellow dots on the map represent heat detected by a satellite on the River Fire at 2:18 a.m. PDT August 17, 2020. The locations are estimates and the fire has continued to spread since then.

Monday morning at 6 a.m. PDT CAL FIRE reported that the River Fire five miles south of Salinas has burned 2,800 acres and threatens 1,500 structures. Five structures have been damaged but none destroyed. Four firefighters have suffered heat-related injuries.

The fire has crossed Pine Canyon Road, CAL FIRE said, and is moving south toward River Road.

Mandatory evacuations were in effect at 6 a.m. PDT August 17 for Pine Canyon Road, Parker Road, Laurel Lane, and Trimble Hill Lane. The evacuation center is at Buena Vista Middle School, 18250 Tara Drive in Salinas. More information about evacuations can be found at CAL FIRE.


August 16, 2020 | 8 p.m. PDT

map River Fire
The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite on the River Fire at 1:54 p.m. PDT August 16, 2020.

CAL FIRE said at 5:40 p.m. Sunday that the River Fire reported at 3:14 a.m. PDT Sunday morning had burned 500 acres. It is in northern California about 5 miles south of Salinas and 6 miles northeast of Carmel Valley. Evacuations are in effect.

Sunday afternoon the wind recorded at the Rana Creek Tower near the fire was out of the north at 6 to 12  mph with gusts between 12 and 18. After 6 p.m. it switched to come out of the southwest at 10 mph with gusts to 13, pushing the fire to the northeast toward the valley. The relative humidity in the afternoon was around 30 percent with the temperature in the high 80s.

The forecast for Monday is for a high temperature around 90, relative humidity in the afternoon of 35 percent, and wind out of the west at 5 to 10 with gusts up to 21 in the afternoon.

The area has not been visited by fire for many years, so there should be abundant fuel available, offering firefighters a high resistance to control.

Mendocino Complex of Fires grows larger across three counties

Together the two fires, which have not merged, have burned 290,000 acres

(Originally published at 12:39 p.m. PDT August 7, 2018)

The two wildfires that comprise the Mendocino Complex of Fires continue to chew up acres in three counties in northern California — Mendocino, Lake, and Colusa Counties.

The Ranch Fire, north and east of Clear Lake, has been expanding on all sides for the last two days except for the northwest side. Firefighters have slowed the growth near Upper Lake, Nice and Lucerne, but it has kept moving on the southeast side around Indian Valley reservoir and on the northeast side in the remote areas west of Lodoga.

To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Mendocino Complex, including the most recent, click HERE.

The River Fire west of Clear Lake has only spread substantially in recent days on the north side east of Talmage. In spite of reports that the two fires have merged, as of Monday night they were more than two miles apart.

If the size of the two fires are considered together, they have burned 290,692 acres, which would make the complex of two fires, which are managed together, the largest in modern recorded state history. But if added to the list, it would need an asterisk since it is two fires. The Ranch Fire has blackened 241,772 acres, and considered alone it qualifies as the 5th largest in modern California history. To reach the number one position it would have to exceed the 281,893 acres attributed to last December’s Thomas Fire near Santa Barbara. The River Fire has burned 48,920 acres.

map Mendocino complex Fires California wildfires
Map showing the perimeter, in red, of the Mendocino Complex of Fires at 9 p.m. MDT, August 6, 2018. The white line was the perimeter two days before. The red shaded areas represent intense heat. Click to enlarge.

Mendocino Complex burns more than 273,000 acres

(Originally published at 8:12 a.m. PDT August 6, 2018)

The Mendocino Complex of Fires east of Ukiah, California has blackened more than 273,664 acres, becoming the second largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history if the size of the two fires in the “complex” are combined. Since we last reported on the fire two days ago it has grown by 120,000 acres, according to the numbers released by CAL FIRE Monday morning.

(To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Mendocino Complex of Fires, including the most recent, click HERE.)

The Ranch Fire, north of Clear Lake, over the last two days has spread five miles east, one to two miles north, and three miles south. Sunday it spread into the footprint of the Pawnee Fire that in June of this year burned 14,000 acres west and south of Indian Valley Reservoir north of Highway 20.  The blaze is threatening communities on the east shore of Clear Lake, including Nice, Lucerne, Pepperwood, Glenhaven, and Clearlake Oaks.

The other fire that makes up the “complex” is the River Fire west of Clear Lake. About three-quarters of the perimeter has been quiet recently, but it is still moving aggressively north, coming to within less than two miles of merging with the Ranch Fire to the north. The report by one local media outlet that they had already merged was premature.

largest California wildfires fires
The table released by CAL FIRE on August 4, 2018 does not include the Mendocino Complex, since it is still very actively growing.

On the two fires 75 residences have been destroyed and another 9,300 remain threatened.

Resources assigned to the fire include 432 fire engines, 89 water tenders, 15 helicopters, 57 hand crews, and 80 dozers, for a total of 3,781 personnel.

map Mendocino Complex fires
Map showing the perimeter, in red, of the Mendocino Complex of Fires at 7 p.m. MDT, August 5, 2018. The white line was the perimeter two days before. The red shaded areas represent intense heat. Click to enlarge.

Nationwide on wildfires 558 hand crews, 186 helicopters, and 1,907 fire engines are assigned on wildfires, for a total 28,234 personnel including overhead and other firefighting resources.

Australia and New Zealand have sent 138 fire personnel to assist. They are currently deployed in California, Oregon, and Washington.