They say lightning never strikes in the same place twice, but starting at 4 a.m. on August 16, the Bay Area experienced almost 11,000 lightning strikes in a 72 hour period, putting the old saying to shame. The record amount of lightning coupled with a heat wave was the perfect recipe to start hundreds of fires throughout the Bay Area and the Central Valley.
Cal Fire has grouped the largest clusters of fires into three complexes: CZU (San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties), LNU (Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Solano, and Yolo counties) and SCU (Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties). As of Monday Sep. 7, The SCU Lightning Complex has burned 396,624 acres and is 93% contained.
According to Joshua Rubinstein, Public Information Officer for Cal Fire, there were red flags with dry lightning warnings as recently as a couple of days ago, “So there was a heightened sense of concern and awareness not only for the individuals that are creating the plan but for the men and women that’re working on the fire line. Changes in the weather can be catastrophic if you’re not prepared for them,” Rubinstein said.
Rubinstein explained that thunderstorms can sometimes create downward bursts of wind, which make it harder to tell what direction or how rapidly the fire is going to go. Understanding the topography, hills, valleys and shoots, along with the type of brush or fuel that’s in the fire’s path, is extremely crucial and will dictate how quickly it will spread. However those aren’t the only challenges that they currently face.
“Early on, because of all the fires in the state of California — some of which were in populated areas — there wasn’t enough personnel or aircraft to go around. We have 1,655 total personnel, but this fire would typically have 4,000 to 5,000. So right now we’re resource dependent but because of the magnitude of the other fires in the state, those resources have to be shared,” said Rubinstein. Those working on containing the fires of The SCU Lightning Complex currently have access to 224 engines, 38 water tenders, 42 dozers, 23 hand crews, and 5 helicopters.
The fires have not been limited to Northern California, as there have been over 700 fires caused throughout the entire state since Aug. 15. An update provided by Cal Fire on Monday Sep. 7, reveals that wildfires in 2020 have burned over 2.17 million acres, which has resulted in over 3,850 structures being destroyed and eight confirmed fatalities.
Rubinstein noted that there could be multiple burning operations, and the intent of those is to burn fuel between the fire’s edge and a particular landmark or road.
“Moving forward, an area on the map might be black, and people might be able to go back home, but they see a big column of smoke, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be concerned because that could be done intentionally to remove a future hazard,” he said.
Fortunately some of the evacuation orders that were put in place have already begun to be lifted, thanks to favorable changes in the weather. However it is still recommended that you keep up to date with the fires in case matters worsen and more evacuations are required so that you have time to pack up essentials and leave if necessary. Make sure to visit www.ReadyForWildfire.org so you can learn how to be as prepared as possible for a wildfire and get the latest updates.
Taylour Sparkman is a staff writer for The Express. Follow him @T_Sparkman_330.