With well over 4 million acres burned in California this year, more than 16,500 fire personnel continue to battle 23 major wildfires across the state.
Red flag warnings subsided Friday, but they were brought back with urgency Saturday as officials warned residents of hot and dry weather. The National Weather Service issued an immediate red flag warning for the North Bay, as gusty northwesterly winds could spread existing fires rapidly or cause rapid growth of a new flame.
The rapid alert emphasized the concerns facing firefighting efforts, with high temperatures and low humidity allowing for rapid spread of flames. The weather contributed to 27 new wildfires beginning Saturday, including one near Sloughhouse in Sacramento County, though Cal Fire has assured that it has been fully contained.
With red flag warnings lifted by Sunday at 6 a.m., Cal Fire looks forward to a cooling trend in the coming days, with lower temperatures and higher humidity. However, as of Sunday, the weather remains hot and dry, presenting a challenge to fire containment.
Since the beginning of the year, California has faced more than 8,200 wildfires which have caused 31 fatalities and destroyed nearly 8,500 structures. Concerns of further destruction and danger persist as the state nears the peak of fire season.
Among the most destructive wildfires currently being battle are the Glass Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties, and the Zogg Fire in Shasta County. Cal Fire officials hope to progress toward full containment aided by the expected cooling trend in the coming week. Firefighting efforts across the state continue, with officials hoping gusty winds won’t return and spread flames of existing fires.
“This year has shown us how devastating wildfire can be,” said Jeremy Rahn, a Cal Fire SHU information officer.
Glass Fire grows minimally, containment jumps
The Glass Fire has forced new evacuations in Napa County on Sunday morning, Cal Fire announced around 9:45 a.m. Residents of northern Napa County east of Highway 29 at the Robert Louis Stevenson trailhead, south of Livermore Road and west of Aetna Mine Road. The existing orders south of the region remain in place.
Pope Valley Road between Pope Valley Cross Road and Aetna Springs Road is closed, along with Highway 29 between the Lake County line and Deer Park Road.
The Glass Fire has reached 63,885 acres, according to Cal Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit, with over 1,000 acres of growth overnight. However, containment jumped up to 17% as of Sunday morning, up from 10% on Saturday morning. The containment of the fire was only measured at 6% on Friday, showing significant strides to put out the flames over the weekend.
The Glass Fire started as a cluster of smaller fires in the early hours of Sept. 27 in Napa Valley before quickly spreading west toward Santa Rosa, fueled by strong winds.
In Napa County, 173 homes have been destroyed and 40 have been damaged, while 264 commercial buildings have been burned. In Sonoma County, 120 homes have been destroyed and 57 have been damaged. The fire has destroyed a total of 826 structures and damaged 163 structures in the less than a week that it has burned.
Among the carnage were several large wineries. The Chateau Boswell winery was destroyed, and at least five other wineries in the area suffered damages. The Restaurant and Meadowood, recognized with three Michelin stars, was also destroyed.
Although the fire has not injured any firefighters or residents, many homes remain threatened. Cal Fire officials said that nearly 22,000 structures are still in danger.
The city of Calistoga remains under a mandatory evacuation order, as does the town of Angwin. Some evacuation orders in Santa Rosa were reduced to warnings Friday, but thousands of people remain displaced.
Containment on Zogg Fire soars with no new growth
The Zogg Fire, which is burning 56,305 acres, is now 68% contained, up from 57% Saturday and 46% Friday.
The wildfire started near the communities of Igo and Ono on Sept. 27 and, like the Glass Fire, grew rapidly during windy conditions.
With hot and dry conditions on Sunday, firefighters are cautious of possible fire activity, but expect to continue rapid increases on the containment of the flames. While some evacuation orders and warnings remain in place, repopulation of some areas in the region is continuing on Sunday.
Cal Fire’s Shasta-Trinity unit reported calm overnight conditions Saturday morning. Officials said helicopters were no longer using Whiskeytown Lake for water so National Park Service officials have reopened Whiskeytown National Recreation Area to the public.
“The fire had minimal growth in size and the fire continues to burn in grass, oak woodland, chaparral and mixed timber. Hot and dry conditions are forecasted again today. Winds will be generally light and terrain driven during the day. Damage assessment teams will be out again today to verify damaged or destroyed buildings.”
Cal Fire SHU operations section chief Chris Waters said crews along the southern and eastern edges are working on mopping up spot flares. More repopulations are expected in areas along these edges, he said. The northern side of the fire is where the “heavy work is taking place,” incident commander Sean Kavanaugh said.
Two inmate firefighters working in steep terrain on the north side were injured Friday evening while battling the Zogg Fire. They were both taken via helicopter to a hospital, where one still remains. The fire has killed four residents in rural Shasta County.
Cal Fire officials said in a Sunday morning update that 196 structures have been destroyed, 26 have been damaged and 91 are currently threatened by flames.
Many have been forcibly evacuated as the fire moved toward communities, but Cal Fire SHU lifted some orders Saturday morning. Residents along Placer Road and Foster Road were allowed to return home, but those along South Fork Road and its adjacent roadways, as well as those on Platina Road, were still under evacuation orders. There are no active evacuation orders in Tehama County.
Kavanaugh said he expects containment on the fire to rise steadily daily.
A mountain lion cub injured in the Zogg Fire was rescued by firefighters on Wednesday and is now recovering at the Oakland Zoo.
August Complex nears 1 million acres
The August Complex, which is burning in Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity, Tehama, Glenn, Lake and Colusa Counties, has reached 987,654 acres with 54% as of Sunday morning.
The fire is the largest by far in the state’s history, burning more than 1,500 square miles.
Its reported size continues to grow on a daily basis, and it could conceivably reach 1 million acres by Monday. No other fire in state history has reached 500,000 acres.
As smoke lifts from the northeast region of the fire, high temperatures and low humidity present themselves, leading to increased fire activity, furthering challenging firefighting efforts.
On Saturday around 10:30 a.m., Cal Fire ordered immediate evacuations for parts of Mendocino County in the fire’s west zone, north and east of Round Valley.
The evacuation orders cover regions north of the Middle Fork of the Eel River, including the Eel River Ranger Station and Black Butte Store. They also cover the area west and south of the National Forest Boundary and east of Williams Creek.
The Mendocino Pass Road and Indian Dick Road at the Eel River are also closed. Highway 162 is under a road closure at Short Creek.
Parts of Trinity and Humboldt counties also remain under evacuation orders and warnings, with a full list on the Cal Fire website.
Gov. Gavin Newsom voiced concern on Monday that the Zogg Fire could merge with the August Complex Fire, adding to the immense size of the blaze and further challenging firefighting efforts.
Massive North Complex nears full containment
The North Complex Fire is nearing complete containment as the California Interagency Incident Management Team reported 83% containment on Sunday morning. The complex, burning in largely in the Plumas National Forest, reached a size of 317,459 acres on Sunday.
The North Complex continues to hold as the fifth-largest wildfire in California history, behind the LNU Lightning Complex. The fire began on Aug. 17 and has killed 15 people and damaged or destroyed 2,471 structures.
With 102 engines, 35 handcrews, 36 dozers, 13 helicopters, 47 water tenders and 1,604 total personnel fighting the flames, steady progress toward containment has been achieved.
Overnight, crews reinforced containment lines, patrolling them and using retardant to make sure they held. On Sunday, firefighters will continue to build up containment lines to the north and south of the complex in the corridor of Highway 70. If flying conditions allow given smoke and other weather concerns, helicopters and air tankers will aid in the containment.
Butte and Plumas Counties continue to have evacuation warnings and orders near the Highway 70 corridor and the surrounding region.
Cooler temperatures expected soon
With warm temperatures and low humidity across California, fire officials are on the look out for increased fire activity.
A cooling trend is expected to begin this week, with slow progression toward slightly decreased temperatures daily. Weather officials expect more seasonal temperatures by the end of the coming week, with possible rain in the northern part of the state, which may aid efforts to fight the Zogg Fire and August Complex.
Winds will persist for the next few days on the west edge of the Sacramento Valley, across the North and East Bay and over Southern California mountain ranges. A warning for fire weather is in effect in the northeastern tip of California for strong winds with low humidity in the Tulelake Basin region from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. on Sunday.
Air quality poor in Northern California region
Once again, the skies of Sacramento region are filled with smoke due to the ongoing wildfires.
The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District recorded an Air Quality Index of 147 for the region on Sunday, which is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as those with lung disease.
According to the National Weather Service, areas to the north and south of Sacramento are experiencing even worse air quality, with AQI levels considered unhealthy for all groups. Meanwhile, the Bay Area is experiencing improved air from Saturday, reaching moderate levels on Sunday, according to Spare the Air.
Air quality is expected to improve somewhat by Wednesday, with the AQI predicted to reach moderate levels, prompting reduced activity or exertion outdoors among sensitive groups.
Climate change and California wildfires
Wildfires have always been part of life in California. The past four years have brought some of the most destructive and deadliest wildfires in the state’s modern history.
Nearly 180 people have lost their lives since 2017. More than 41,000 structures have been destroyed and nearly 7 million acres have burned. That’s roughly the size of Massachusetts.
So far this year, 30 people have died, according to Cal Fire.
Meanwhile, this year’s August was the hottest on record in California. A rare series of lightning storms sparked a series of fires, including the August Complex that has burned nearly 1 million acres, making it by far the largest wildfire in California’s recorded history.
The 2017 wildfire season occurred during the second-hottest year on record in California and included a devastating string of fires in October that killed 44 people and destroyed nearly 9,000 buildings in Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte and Solano counties.
The following year was the most destructive and deadliest for wildfires in the state’s history. It included the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people, and the enormous Mendocino Complex.