Explosive fire activity in California – at least 5 people killed, more than 690 000 acres scorched and 770 structures destroyed


At least 5 people have been killed and more than 30 injured as destructive wildfires continue burning across California. More than 770 structures were destroyed, nearly 283 279 ha (700 000 acres) of land scorched, more than 60 000 people evacuated and 100 000 more placed under evacuation warnings. Entire California is under a state of emergency since August 18.

The LNU Lightning Complex, a major cluster of fires in the Wine Country — a region in the northern Bay Area, known worldwide as a premier wine-growing region — has so far scorched 118 087 ha (219 000 acres) of land, destroyed 480 structures and triggered the evacuation of nonessential personnel from Travis Air Force Base in Solano County and patients from Adventist Health St. Helena Hospital in Napa County. It's only 7% contained.

According to the Los Angeles Times, four civilian deaths are now tied to the LNU complex and a pilot who was killed when his firefighting helicopter crashed in Fresno County on Wednesday, briefly sparking another brush fire to join the dozens burning across the state.

More than 66 000 people were placed under evacuation orders on Friday morning (LT), August 21, 2020.

Late Thursday, August 20, authorities ordered the evacuation of the UC Santa Cruz campus and Scotts Valley, a hub of Santa Cruz County's tech industry.

California's oldest state park — Big Basin Redwoods State Park, NE of Santa Cruz, was seriously damaged by the fire (CZU August Lightning Complex) on Tuesday, August 18. Early reports mention much of the park's facilities destroyed. Its historic core and campgrounds were also damaged.

The SCU Lightning Complex is currently 10% contained and at 93 064 ha (229 968 acres).

Smoke over California as seen by satellite on August 20, 2020

Smoke over California on August 20, 2020. Credit: NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP/VIIIRS

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Altogether, at least 779 structures have been destroyed across the state and 280 851 ha (694 000 acres) of land.

More than 10 000 firefighters are battling the fires, some of them working 72-hour shifts.

"Today we saw a growth of approximately 700 to 1 000 acres (283 – 404 ha) an hour in heavy timber," Cal Fire Assistant Chief Billy See said.

"That’s a dangerous rate of spread for our firefighters and for all those residents out there."

CalFIre said there are concerns that some people are trying to organize through social media to create volunteer brigades and fight the fire themselves. "The dangers out there to their own lives outweigh anything they can accomplish," he said. "They’re putting their lives in jeopardy."

Image credit: NASA Terra/MODIS. Acquired August 19, 2020

The number of fires burning in Western states has resulted in a strain on California’s mutual aid system, making it increasingly difficult for jurisdictions to obtain the necessary in-state and out-of-state firefighting resources to respond to these fires, California Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

"Governors in Nevada, Arizona, and Texas have agreed to send engines or crews to support California, but the call for mutual aid from other states is complicated by a historic heatwave across the West."

More than 10 800 lightning strikes have hit the state in 72 hours to August 19, pushing the number of active wildfires to more than 400. California has experienced 6 754 fires by August 19 this year, significantly more than around 4 000 in August 2019.

Featured image credit: NASA Terra/MODIS. Acquired August 20, 2020.


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