Lightning-Sparked Wildfires Force Evacuations in 3 Bay Area Counties

A section of the Marsh Complex Fire burns near Sunol on Sunday, Aug. 16.  (Alameda County Fire Dept./Twitter)

Firefighters on Monday continued battling a string of wildfires in rural areas of Contra Costa, Alameda and Napa counties, which have so far forced residents in more than 150 homes to evacuate.

The National Weather Service issued Red Flag warnings across much of Northern California as extreme heat and the threat of continued widespread thunderstorms raised the risk of more lightning-sparked fires.

In Contra Costa County, four blazes burning on the northeast side of Mount Diablo — collectively called the Deer Zone Fires — are believed to have been ignited by lightning strikes early Sunday.

As of Monday morning, the fires had burned 1,161 acres of vegetation and were 0% contained, according to Cal Fire.

Residents in the area were ordered to evacuate at about 9:20 p.m. Sunday after what firefighters said was a "change in behavior" of the fire, according to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District. The orders cover as many as 200 houses along the length of Morgan Territory Road south to the Alameda County line and along Marsh Creek Road from Bragdon Way east to the Round Valley Regional Preserve parking lot, including the Clayton Palms mobile home community about three miles southwest of Brentwood.

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As of Monday morning, no homes were reported destroyed or damaged by the fires, officials said. One firefighter suffered a minor injury Sunday night.

“They’re under investigation, but early on it looks like they’re all lightning-related,” said Pam Temmermand, a Cal Fire spokeswoman. “The high temperatures and low humidity we have right now, that’s a given for this time of year. I think the odd thing we had was this lightning storm that came through.”

Fire crews from the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District, Cal Fire and the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District are battling the blaze.

An evacuation center, operated by the Red Cross, at the Brentwood Community Center at 35 Oak St. in Brentwood, east of the fire zone, is available for residents who were ordered to leave their homes. The Clayton Library, at 6125 Clayton Road in Clayton, west of the fire zone, was also being used as an evacuation center, but most residents have been taken to hotels, according to a spokesman for the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.

Fire crews on Monday were also battling blazes in rural areas of Alameda, Napa and Monterey counties.

Active fires in and around the Bay Area. Source: Cal Fire. (Matthew Green/KQED)

A group of fires near the Sunol Regional Wilderness and the Calaveras Reservoir in southeastern Alameda County — called the Marsh complex — was first reported Sunday afternoon, and as of Monday morning had burned more than 1,775 acres, with 0% containment, according to Cal Fire.

Firefighters with the Alameda County Fire Department, Cal Fire and fire departments in Oakland, Fremont and Livermore-Pleasanton began battling the blaze late Sunday.

The fires forced the evacuation of about 10 homes along Welch Creek Road, located about four miles southeast of Sunol and one mile north of the Little Yosemite Trail area.

Meanwhile, crews on Monday continued to battle the River Fire in rural Monterey County southeast of Salinas, which was first reported shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday near Toro Peak. By early Monday, the fire had scorched 2,800 acres of steep terrain and was 10% contained, according to Cal Fire. The blaze had already damaged five structures and was threatening 1,500 more, with four firefighters suffering from heat-related injuries, the agency reported.

By Monday morning, the blaze had spread across Pine Canyon, and was continuing to move to the south toward River Road, Cal Fire said.

Residents have been ordered to evacuate their homes along Pine Canyon Road, Parker Road, Laurel Lane and Trimble Hill Lane, while an evacuation advisory covers Indian Canyon Road, Mt. Toro Access Road and San Benancio Road from Troy Lane to Corral de Tierra, including Corral del Cielo Road, Lucie Lane and Covie Lane.

The number of evacuees was not immediately known.

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An evacuation center has been set up at Buena Vista Middle School at 18250 Tara Drive in Salinas. An animal evacuation center is at the SPCA, Marina Equestrian Center.

Evacuations were also ordered Monday morning in the area near a wildfire in rural Napa County. The Hennessey Fire — burning near the 60 block of Hennessey Ridge Road — was reported at 6:40 a.m., authorities said, and the evacuation order was given just before 11 a.m.

It's not yet known how many homes are in the area or if the cause of the fire was also a lightning strike, Cal Fire said. By early afternoon, the fire had grown to 750 acres.

A nearby 375-acre fire — the Gamble Fire — was also reported Monday off Berryessa Knoxville Road, west of Brooks.

“Once again you have the same issues: high temperatures, low humidities, the potential for storms to come in through there, heading through the Pacific up through San Francisco into Santa Rosa,” Cal Fire's Temmermand said.

“We’ve been hit pretty good today and yesterday.”

This story includes additional reporting from Bay City News and KQED's Hannah Hagemann.