Several Hundred Thousand Acres Charred in California Wildfires

Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires jump Interstate 80 in Vacaville, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. The highway was closed in both directions shortly afterward. Fire crews across the region scrambled to contain dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes as a statewide heat wave continues. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

(CN) — Over 11,000 lightning strikes in the last four days sparked nearly 400 wildfires across California, with many fires in the San Francisco Bay Area merging into megablazes that have darkened the skies over the region and sent people fleeing from their homes.

“Currently, over 10,000 firefighters are battling nearly two dozen major incidents or complexes with numerous fires across all jurisdictions,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection ­— known as Cal Fire — said in a statement Thursday. “Weather is a critical factor in the firefight including high heat, low humidity and strong winds, and the high heat will continue into the weekend, exacerbating firefighting efforts.”

As of Thursday afternoon, lightning-sparked fires in Northern California have burned several hundred thousand acres across multiple counties, including Butte, Napa, Solano and Alameda counties, according to Cal Fire.

The largest collection of fires, the SCU Complex, has burned over 137,000 acres in less than two days. The complex is roughly 20 separate fires burning in steep terrain across Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, with large swaths of the local population ordered to evacuate their homes. 

Two injuries have been reported and there is no estimate of property damage, according to Cal Fire. The blaze is just 5% contained.

In Napa County, five smaller fires have burned 131,000 acres and firefighters have no containment. An estimated 100 residential buildings have been destroyed along with four businesses and an outbuilding according to Cal Fire. The fire grew 7,000 acres overnight, jumping over Interstate 80 in Vacaville.

That fire is churning through dry brush in high canyon areas and expanding into Solano Canyon. The LNU Lightning Complex — which includes the Hennessy, Gamble and 15-10 fires — is burning across five counties, including Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Lake and Yolo.

Fire officials report a PG&E utility worker died while helping firefighters in the field Wednesday. The name of the utility employee has not been released.

A helicopter crashed while making water drops over the Hills Fire in western Fresno County, killing pilot Michael Fournier, 52. According to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department, Fournier was the only person aboard.

Cal Fire information officer Robert Foxworthy said during a Thursday morning briefing that firefighters were in a better position thanks to slightly cooler temperatures.

“Temperatures are not expected to be as high. We are not expecting large-scale winds like we have had. We are in a lot better place,” Foxworthy said.

Farther north, another complex is burning across Tehama, Butte and Glenn counties. That group of fires has burned over 21,000 acres, while the River Fire in Monterey County has burned over 33,000 acres and is threatening 2,750 structures. About 9,000 people have been ordered to leave their homes there according to Cal Fire.

In the Shasta-Trinity Forest, the Red Salmon Complex has burned over 16,000 acres. And the Loyalton Fire in the Tahoe National Forest has burned over 46,000 acres in Sierra County, according to U.S. Forest Service.

There are several fires burning in the south including the Apple Fire in Riverside County which has burned over 33,000 acres and is nearly contained.

Los Angeles County has two large blazes. The Lake Fire near Lake Hughes in the northwest section of the Angeles National Forest has burned over 27,000 acres, while the Ranch 2 Fire in the southern part of the forest has blackened 4,200 acres.

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