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2020 California wildfires

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2020 California wildfires
West coast wildfires ESA22200484.jpeg
September 10 satellite image of the wildfires burning in California and Oregon
Statistics[1]
Total fires7,718
Total area3,451,428 acres (1,396,743 ha)[2]
Cost>$1.080 billion (2020 USD)[2]
Buildings destroyed6,391
Deaths29
Non-fatal injuries37
Season
← 2019
2021 →
Five of the twenty largest wildfires in California history were part of the 2020 wildfire season.
Aurora Fire
An August 19, 2020 satellite image of the wildfires burning in Northern California, covering a significant portion of California and nearby states.

The 2020 California wildfire season is a series of ongoing wildfires that are burning across the state of California. As of September 14, 2020, a total of 7,718 fires have burned 3,451,428 acres (1,396,743 ha), more than 3% of the state's roughly 100 million acres of land, making 2020 the largest wildfire season recorded in California history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.[2][3][4] The intensity of the fires has been boosted by drying and heating from human-induced climate change in combination with poor forest fire management leading to a build-up of fuel.[5][6]

On August 19, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom reported that the state was battling 367 known fires, many sparked by intense thunderstorms on August 16–17 caused by moisture from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fausto. Response and evacuations were complicated by a historic heatwave and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor declared a state of emergency on August 18.[7] In early September 2020, a combination of a record-breaking heat wave, and Diablo and Santa Ana winds sparked more fires and explosively grew the active fires, with the August Complex surpassing the Mendocino Complex to become California's largest recorded wildfire.[8] The North Complex explosively grew in size as the winds fanned it westward, threatening the city of Oroville, and triggering mass evacuations.

Early outlook

Early in the year, there was a concern for the 2020 fire season to potentially be prolonged and especially grave, due to the unusually dry months of January and February, one of the driest such periods of any calendar year on record.[9] On March 22, a state of emergency was declared by California Governor Gavin Newsom due to a mass die-off of trees throughout the state, potentially increasing the risk of wildfires.[10] However, throughout March and April, rain began to consistently fall in the state, which alleviated the drought conditions. Despite this, Northern California was still expected to have severe wildfire conditions due to the moderate or severe drought conditions in the area, whereas Central and Southern California were expected to have serious fire conditions later in the year due to the late wet season and precipitation.[11]

Seasonal fire risk

The year 2020 has been the largest wildfire season recorded in California history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.[2][3] However, from a historical perspective, the average annual acres burned prior to 1850 were probably significantly larger than years since reliable fire records began. Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science at UC Berkeley, estimated that prior to 1850, about 4,500,000 acres (1,800,000 ha) burned yearly, in fires that lasted for months, with wildfire activity peaking roughly every 30 years, as the Indigenous peoples of California historically set controlled burns and allowed natural fires to run their course.[12]

The peak of the wildfire season usually occurs between July and November when hot, dry winds are most frequent. The wildfire season typically does not end until the first significant rainstorm of autumn arrives, which is usually around mid October in Northern California, and roughly between the end of October to early November in Southern California.

Causes

Fire policy

Prior to development, California fires regularly burned significantly more acreage than has been seen in recent history. Wildfires have been aggressively suppressed in recent years, resulting in a buildup of fuel, increasing the risk of large uncontrollable fires. There is broad scientific consensus that there should be more controlled burning of forest in California in order to reduce fire risk. A 2020 ProPublica investigation blames the culture of Cal Fire, greed on the part of fire suppression contractors, and risk aversion on the part of the U.S. Forest Service from preventing appropriate controlled burns from taking place.[13] A sharp increase in the population and development of fire-prone areas has contributed to the increase in flammable tinder.[14]

Climate change

The Los Angeles Times on 13 September described the fire as a climate apocalypse.

Leading climate scientists argue that climate change increases the temperature of wildfires in California, the risk for drought, and potentially also the frequency of such events.[15][5] For example, David Romps, director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center summarizes the situation as follows: "To cut to the chase: Were the heat wave and the lightning strikes and the dryness of the vegetation affected by global warming? Absolutely yes. Were they made significantly hotter, more numerous, and drier because of global warming? Yes, likely yes, and yes."[6] Similarly, Friederike Otto, acting director of the University of Oxford Environmental Change Institute states, "There is absolutely no doubt that the extremely high temperatures are higher than they would have been without human-induced climate change. A huge body of attribution literature demonstrates now that climate change is an absolute game-changer when it comes to heat waves, and California won't be the exception."[16] Susan Clark, director of the Sustainability Initiative at the University at Buffalo argues, "This is climate change. This increased intensity and frequency of temperatures and heat waves are part of the projections for the future. [...] There is going to be more morbidity and mortality [from heat.] There are going to be more extremes."[16]

Arson

A suspect named Ivan Geronimo Gomez has been charged by the Monterey County Sheriff with arson relating to the Dolan Fire; however, this has not been officially determined as the cause of the fire.[17][18]

List of wildfires

The Government of California's video about COVID-19 protocols in place at wildfire evacuation centers.
Bobcat Fire on September 10

The following is a list of fires that burned more than 1,000 acres (400 ha), or produced significant structural damage or casualties.

Name County Acres Start date Containment date Notes Ref
Interstate 5 Kings 2,060 May 3 May 7 [19]
Range San Luis Obispo 5,000 May 27 May 28 [20]
Scorpion Santa Barbara 1,395 May 31 June 1 [21]
Quail Solano 1,837 June 6 June 10 3 structures destroyed [22][23]
Wood San Diego 11,000 June 8 June 12 Burned on Camp Pendleton [24]
India San Diego 1,100 June 8 June 14 Burned on Camp Pendleton [25]
Soda San Luis Obispo 1,672 June 10 June 11 2 structures destroyed [26][27]
Grant Sacramento 5,042 June 12 June 17 1 structure damaged [28]
Walker Calaveras 1,455 June 16 June 20 2 structures destroyed [29]
River San Luis Obispo 15 June 22 June 23 2 structures destroyed, 9 damaged [30]
Grade Tulare 1,050 June 22 June 26 [31]
Pass Merced 2,192 June 28 June 30 [32]
Bena Kern 2,900 July 1 July 3 [33]
Crews Santa Clara 5,513 July 5 July 13 1 structure destroyed; 1 damaged; 1 injury. Resulted in evacuations of rural Gilroy. [34]
Soledad Los Angeles 1,525 July 5 July 15 1 injury [35]
Mineral Fresno 29,667 July 13 July 26 7 structures destroyed [36] [37]
Coyote San Benito 1,508 July 15 July 18 [38]
Hog Lassen 9,564 July 18 August 8 2 structures destroyed [39]
Gold Lassen 22,634 July 20 August 8 13 structures destroyed; 5 structures damaged; 2 firefighters injured in burnover [40]
July Complex 2020 Modoc, Siskiyou 83,261 July 22 August 7 1 structure destroyed; 3 outbuildings destroyed [41]
Blue Jay Mariposa, Tuolumne 3,132 July 24 20% contained as of September 16 Lightning-sparked [42]
Red Salmon Complex Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity 95,210 July 26 18% contained, as of September 16 Originally started as both the Red and Salmon fire (both started by lightning strikes), but have since merged into one fire [43][44]
Apple Riverside 33,424 July 31 95% contained as of September 16 4 structures destroyed; 8 outbuildings destroyed; 4 injuries [45]
Pond San Luis Obispo 1,962 August 1 August 8 1 structure destroyed; 1 damaged; 13 outbuildings destroyed[46] [47]
North Lassen 6,882 August 2 August 10 6,882 acres in total, of which approximately 4,105 acres burned in Washoe County, Nevada [48]
Stagecoach Kern 7,760 August 3 August 16 23 structures destroyed; 4 damaged; 25 outbuildings destroyed; 2 damaged;[49] 1 firefighter fatality[50] [51]
Lake Los Angeles 31,089 August 12 96% contained as of September 16 Lightning-sparked, 33 structures destroyed; 6 damaged; 21 outbuildings destroyed; 2 injuries [52][53]
Ranch 2 Los Angeles 4,237 August 13 96% contained, as of September 14 Lightning-sparked [54]
Loyalton Lassen, Plumas, Sierra 47,029 August 15 September 14 Lightning-sparked, Caused National Weather Service to issue first ever Fire Tornado Warning; 5 homes, 6 outbuildings destroyed [55][56]
Hills Fresno 2,121 August 15 August 24 Lightning-sparked; 1 fatality [57]
River Monterey 48,088 August 16 September 4 Lightning-sparked; 30 structures destroyed; 13 structures damaged; 4 injuries [58]
Dome San Bernardino 43,273 August 16 September 14 Lightning-sparked, Burned in the Mojave National Preserve [59]
Beach Mono 3,780 August 16 August 28 Lightning-sparked [60]
SCU Lightning Complex Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Merced, Stanislaus 396,624 August 16 98% contained, as of September 16 Deer Zone, Marsh, Canyon Zone and other surrounding fires combined into one multi-fire incident by CalFire; all believed to have been sparked by an intense and widespread lightning storm; 222 structures destroyed; 26 structures damaged; 6 injuries. It is the third-largest fire complex in California history. [61]
August Complex Glenn, Mendocino, Lake, Tehama, Trinity 817,952 August 16 30% contained as of September 16 Information for the August Complex as a whole. Originally 38 separate fires, became California's largest recorded wildfire. 1 firefighter fatality; 2 injuries; 14+ structures destroyed. [62][63]
August Complex (August Complex South Zone) Glenn, Mendocino, Lake, Tehama, Trinity 531,471 August 16 28% contained, as of September 12 Lightning strikes started 37 fires, several of which grew to large sizes, especially the Doe Fire; 1 firefighter injury; 1 firefighter fatality. It became the largest fire complex in California history and combined with the Elkhorn Fire on September 10. [62][64][8]
CZU Lightning Complex San Mateo, Santa Cruz 86,509 August 16 95% contained, as of September 17 Several lightning-sparked fires burning close together across San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties; 1,490 structures destroyed; 140 structures damaged; 1 injury; 1 fatality. [65]
Rattlesnake Tulare 1,441 August 16 0% contained, as of September 14 Lightning sparked a slow-growing fire in inaccessible terrain. [66]
Elkhorn (August Complex North & West Zones) Tehama, Trinity 286,481 August 17 Merged with August complex as of September 10 Lightning strikes, 14 structures destroyed; 1 structure damaged; 1 injury. Southern segment of the fire perimeter eventually merged into the August Complex, while the western front of the fire absorbed the Hopkins, Vinegar Peak and Willow Basin Fires, all of which are now managed under the Elkhorn Complex. Individually, it is the sixth-largest fire in California history. [67]
LNU Lightning Complex Colusa, Lake, Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Yolo 363,220 August 17 98% contained, as of September 16 Multi-fire incident that includes the Hennessey Fire (305,651 acres), the Walbridge Fire (55,209 acres), and the Meyers Fire (2,360 acres) sparked by lightning; 1,491 structures destroyed; 232 structures damaged; 5 injuries; 5 fatalities. It is the fourth-largest fire complex in California history. [68]
Holser Ventura 3,000 August 17 September 6 [69]
Butte/Tehama/Glenn Lightning Complex (Butte Zone) Butte 19,609 August 17 97% contained as of September 17 Lightning sparked 34 fires throughout Butte County [70]
North Complex Plumas, Butte 280,775 August 17 36% contained, as of September 17 Lightning strikes, includes the Claremont Fire and the Bear Fire; 865 structures destroyed; 60 structures damaged; 15 fatalities; 13 injuries; It is the seventh-largest fire complex in California history. [71][72]
Jones Nevada 705 August 17 August 28 Lightning sparked, 21 structures destroyed, 3 structures damaged, 7 injuries [73]
Sheep Plumas, Lassen 29,570 August 17 September 9 Lightning-sparked, 26 structures destroyed, 1 injury [74][75]
Salt Calaveras 1,789 August 18 August 24 Lightning-sparked [76]
W-5 Cold Springs Lassen, Modoc 84,817 August 18 September 14 Lightning-sparked. Fire spread eastward into Washoe County, Nevada. [77]
Carmel Monterey 6,905 August 18 September 4 Lightning-sparked, 73 structures destroyed; 7 structures damaged [78]
Dolan Monterey 122,178 August 18 40% contained as of September 16 Cause not officially determined; however, a suspect was charged with arson in connection to the fire [79][80][81]
Woodward Marin 4,910 August 19 96% contained, as of September 16 Lightning-sparked [82]
SQF Complex Tulare 122,835 August 19 12% contained, as of September 17 Lightning-sparked, contains the Castle Fire and the Shotgun Fire [83]
Moc Tuolumne 2,857 August 20 August 30 Lightning-sparked [84]
Slink Alpine, Mono 26,752 August 29 71% contained, as of September 16 Lightning-sparked [85]
Creek Fresno, Madera 244,746 September 4 18% contained, as of September 17 650 structures destroyed, 52 structures damaged; 12 injuries; 1 fatality [86][87][88]
El Dorado San Bernardino, Riverside 18,092 September 5 63% contained, as of September 16 Sparked by a pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party. 10 structures destroyed, 6 structures damaged. Burned into the western perimeter of the Apple Fire on September 7. [89][90]
Valley San Diego 17,665 September 5 90% contained as of September 16 61 structures destroyed, 11 structures damaged, 3 injuries [91]
Bobcat Los Angeles 42,263 September 6 3% contained, as of September 17 Unknown cause [92][93][94]
Oak Mendocino 1,100 September 7 September 14 Unknown cause, 25 structures destroyed, 20 structures damaged [95]
Slater / Devil Siskiyou, Del Norte 148,344 September 7 10% contained, as of September 16 Includes the Slater Fire (141,403 acres) and the Devil Fire (6,180). 2 fatalities, 1 structure destroyed. Spread northward into Josephine County, Oregon. [96][97]
Fork El Dorado 1,752 September 8 24% contained, as of September 16 Unknown cause [98]
Willow Yuba 1,311 September 9 September 14 41 structures destroyed, 10 structures damaged [99]
Snow Riverside 1,200 September 17 0% contained, as of September 17 Unknown cause [100][101]

See also

References

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External links