ANAHEIM, Calif. – The LNU Lightning Complex fire was, all by itself, the second biggest fire in California state history, but as firefighters have begun to gain ground in containment, the SCU Lightning Complex fire has overtaken it in burned acreage.
Unfortunately, there are several other significant fires burning simultaneously, as well as hundreds of smaller fire events throughout the state. Lightning has been the main culprit this month, sparking parched vegetation during a prolonged high-heat, low-humidity weather event which has gripped much of the state for weeks now.
California firefighters have been joined by fire crews from at least ten states, as well as more controversial fire crews composed of volunteers from local prisons. However, the number of prison volunteers has been reduced by half with many either being released early due to the COVID-19 pandemic or having contracted the virus which heavily impacted much of the prison populations in the state.
With over four months left to go in 2020, fires have consumed over 1.4 million acres of land, compared to the 56,000 acres that had burned by this time last year.
Of special concern is that the fires have burned through areas that do not normally see extensive fire activity, including the massive redwood groves in Big Basin, the oldest state park. The biggest blazes are currently tearing through central and northern California, and have forced widespread evacuations. Millions have been placed on high alert.
Rachel Gardner, a member of the Pagan community near Suisun City in Solano County, is CEO of Super Fur-iends. While she has been fortunate so far and has not needed to evacuate, her cat rescue has taken in several cats and has had to move many of the rescues out of evacuation zones. While she says the Pagan community there can feel a bit sparse in a predominantly red county, the larger community has really come together to take care of whoever is in need.
Gardner and Super Fur-iends have taken in several beloved pets of those fleeing the fire, including Kitty Meow, a 20-year-old cat who came to the shelter with some smoke inhalation. Her family has lost everything in the fires, but Kitty Meow appears to be doing much better after a cleanup and some TLC.
While most of the evacuations have been in the Vacaville area, Gardner explained that while she and others stand ready to move the sheltered cats if necessary, “Many of our friends and neighbors are moving back into their homes, our local businesses and those not affected have stepped up to provide donations of every kind to those in need … There is an outpouring of support and so far, no one has gone without.”
It’s not just the fires themselves that threaten communities and the people and animals, but also the horrific air quality.
From Santa Cruz to the Oregon border, dingy skies full of ash cast an eerie light even in the middle of the day. Even in Truckee, near the Nevada border, residents are seeing the effects and are limiting their time outside in the toxic air.
Macha Nightmare, who lives in the Bay area said, “Where I am are smoke and rolling power outages. We’re lucky.”
She continued with concern for friends who had to be evacuated, “I know a couple of Witches in the Santa Cruz Mountains who have evacuated and are in shelters. From news footage of that area I can’t see how one didn’t lose her home.”
Jane Miller, a longtime resident, watched the most recent storm front roll in with trepidation. Extensive lightning activity is unusual in California, but fortunately, in her area, they saw very few lightning strikes and even got some rain. Other areas weren’t as lucky—the newest fire sparked south of Kings Canyon National Park on Monday.
The combination of the raging wildfires in the midst of the pandemic has created a truly unique situation in California wildfire history.
Start dates for many schools have been pushed back even further, as school districts attempt to cope with evacuations on top of coordinating distance learning. Hundreds of homes have burned already, displacing students, and creating additional difficulties in accessing online classes.
COVID-19 continues to create additional difficulties, as families and evacuees worry about contracting or spreading the virus when moving into shelters or fleeing to friends’ and neighbors’ homes.
The fire season in California used to wind down around September, as temperatures tend to cool, but many now consider fire season to be a thing of the past, as wildfires threaten year-round now.
Currently, temperatures are expected to remain high—and while firefighters are battling for containment and control, residents concede that they have a few months to go before they can come off of high alert.
Firefighting resources are spread thinner than ever, despite annual budgets now nearing $500 million to support agencies and fire mitigation projects. California alone has had over 7,000 wildfire incidents this year alone, with more than four months left to go.
California is by far the most populous state in the U.S. with close to 40 million residents, nearly everyone is now affected by the round the clock wildfires directly or indirectly.
Displacement has become the norm for many now in Sonoma and Napa counties, and currently, only small pockets of the entire state are not experiencing poor air quality which can contribute significantly to respiratory diseases, including those affected by COVID-19.
This is an ongoing situation that TWH will continue to follow over the coming weeks, and will update our coverage as new developments and information become available.