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Tens of Thousands Forced to Evacuate as Wildfires Rage From North Bay to Peninsula

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Law enforcement personnel enforce a traffic barrier in Boulder Creek as residents of the Santa Cruz mountains continued to evacuate from the CZU Lightning Complex fires on Aug. 20. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Find more details on evacuations and other essential wildfire information here

Updated 11:15 p.m. Thursday

A spate of wildfires sparked by lightning over the weekend continued to spread rapidly across large expanses of the outer Bay Area. The fires — in the North Bay, East Bay and Peninsula regions — remained largely uncontained as crews, already stretched thin, contend with high winds, rough terrain and triple-digit temperatures amid a week-long heat wave. One grouping of fires — dubbed the LNU Lightning Complex in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties — more than doubled in area since Wednesday, blazing across 131,00 acres by Thursday morning and threatening some 30,500 houses and other buildings.

By early Thursday, tens of thousands of residents from the North Bay to the Peninsula were ordered to evacuate in the face of three major groupings — or complexes — of fire blazing throughout the region. Click here to skip to our original post below the updates section.

The latest updates

11:15 p.m. Thursday: Evacuation warning orders for the community of Platina in Shasta County

Effective immediately, an evacuation warning has been issued by Cal Fire for the community of Platina, Calif. in Shasta County. Cal Fire officials are asking citizens of Platina to prepare in the event that evacuations become necessary. Citing "fire behavior, no containment, lack of resources to include personnel and aircraft," Cal Fire advises residents to "get ready, clear vegetation around your property, have your important documents and medications ready to go." For more information, refer to the READY, SET, GO program at fire.ca.gov.

8:30 p.m. Thursday: New evacuation orders for Santa Cruz County

On Thursday evening, Cal Fire issued additional evacuation orders in Santa Cruz County, which includes the campus of University of California, Santa Cruz.

Effective immediately, the following orders apply to:
- All Scott’s Valley residents west of State Route 17.
- The Santa Cruz County area of east of Zayante Canyon, west of State Route 17 and south of State Route 35.
- University of California, Santa Cruz campus only.

Santa Cruz County evacuation centers are located at:
- Santa Cruz County Fairground, 2601 E. Lake Avenue in Watsonville
- Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church Street, Santa Cruz (At Capacity)
- Santa Cruz Seventh Day Adventist Camp Ground, 1931 Soquel San Jose Rd

View the most current evacuation map and information: www.smco.community.zonehaven.com

5 p.m. Thursday: New evacuation orders, warnings issued in Santa Clara County

Cal Fire issued new evacuation orders and warnings to Santa Clara County residents late Thursday afternoon in response to the SCU Lightning Complex of fires that since Sunday has burned more than 137,000 acres across five counties and remained only 5% contained.

The following areas, previously under an evacuation warning,  are now under a mandatory evacuation order:

-  East of Shingle Valley Road and everything east of Anderson Lake, east of Coyote Creek, east of Coyote Reservoir, east of Roop Road, east of Leavesly Road, east of Crews Road, east of Ferguson Road.
- East and north of state Highway 152
- West of the Merced County Line, north of Highway 152
- South of Metcalf Road at Shingle Valley Road, east to the
Stanislaus County Line

Areas now under an evacuation warning include:

- South of Metcalf Road, east of Coyote Creek to the Anderson Lake
Shore, east of Cochrane Road, east of Hill Road, and south of Main Avenue, north of Maple Avenue, east of Foothill Avenue, north of San Martin Avenue, east of New Avenue
- West of Shingle Valley Road and everything west of Anderson Lake, west of Coyote Creek, west of Coyote reservoir, north and west of Roop Road between Coyote Reservoir Road and New Avenue
- East of Lovers Lane and the Santa Cruz County line
- South of Highway 152 to the San Benito County Line
-West to the Merced County Line
- North of the San Benito County Line to Highway 152

There are road closures at Holiday Drive at East Dunne Avenue; Coyote Reservoir Road at Roop Road; Canada Road at Highway 152; and Highway 152 at Belle Station.

An evacuation shelter for Santa Clara County residents is available at Ann Sobrato High School in the Performing Arts Building at 401 Burnett Ave. in Morgan Hill.

Evacuees that need animal services can call Santa Clara County Animal Services at (408) 686-3900.

4 p.m. Thursday: Santa Cruz County asks all visitors to leave to free up shelter capacity

The Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center on Thursday afternoon requested that all visitors and tourists staying in local overnight accommodations like hotels and vacation rentals leave the county immediately in order to free up shelter capacity for wildfire evacuees. With local shelters nearing capacity, the EOC is working with local agencies, including cities and school districts, to provide more shelter space.

Tents set up inside a large exhibition hall at the Santa Cruz County Fairground evacuation center. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The county is also asking evacuees to first seek shelter with friends and family and is urging residents with extra bedrooms or even tents to share their information on social media platforms like Nextdoor and Facebook.

Those leaving the county should depart south on state Highway 1 or north on state Highway 17.

The scale of existing and anticipated evacuation orders because of the CZU August Lighting Complex of wildfires is unprecedented, officials said. As of Thursday morning, the fires had already burned 40,000 acres and were 0% contained.

See the most current  evacuation map here.

3 p.m. Thursday: Evacuation warnings issued for UC Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley

On Thursday afternoon, Cal Fire issued an evacuation warning for the entire UC Santa Cruz campus and the the nearby communities of Paradise Park and the area of Scotts Valley west of State Route 17 (encompassing the downtown area). Cal Fire said said an evacuation warning is issued when "the threat is plausible for fire activity to increase and your residence may be in the affected area."

Gavin Earnest, 62, inside a tent at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds evacuation center on Aug. 20, 2020. He and his mother, Elizabeth Earnest, evacuated from their Boulder Creek home two days ago. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Nearby evacuation centers include:

  • Santa Cruz County Fairground: 2601 E. Lake Ave. in Watsonville
  • Santa Cruz Seventh-day Adventist campground: Soquel San Jose Rd. in Soquel
  • Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium: 307 Church Street in Santa Cruz (was at capacity as of Thursday afternoon).

12:15 p.m. Thursday: Walbridge Fire in Sonoma County now top priority in North Bay

The 14,500-acre Walbridge Fire in Sonoma County is now the top priority for firefighting efforts in the LNU Lightning Complex of fires burning in the North Bay, fire officials said. The lightning-ignited blaze, which merged overnight with the Stewart Fire, poses a serious threat to Guerneville and neighboring Russian River communities. See map of fire perimeters and evacuation zones here.

"Were hoping to make a lot better progress today. We are expecting better conditions than we had the last couple of days," said Santa Rosa Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal at a press briefing Thursday morning.

11 a.m. Thursday: LNU Complex has burned 131,000 acres, with 0% containment

The LNU Lightning Complex of fires raging in the North Bay has collectively burned 131,000 acres, destroyed 105 structures and damaged 70 others as of Thursday morning, Cal Fire officials said.An estimated 30,500 structures remain threatened by the wildfires, which have prompted widespread evacuations in Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties, among other communities. Cal Fire says the fires are at 0% containment.

The largest of the fires is the Hennessey Fire, which started near Hennessey Ridge Road in Napa County and has spread across 105,000 acres, according to Cal Fire. Another large blaze, the Walbridge Fire west of Healdsburg, has charred 14,500 acres while the Meyers Fire north of Jenner is at 3,000 acres as of Thursday morning.

10 a.m. Thursday: Nearly all East Bay regional parks closed

Due to the extreme fire activity in the region, nearly all East Bay regional parks — except some shoreline locations — have been shut down closed until further notice, the East Bay Regional Park District announced.

The district is currently experiencing an unprecedented number of wildfires in parks, including Round Valley Regional Preserve, Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, Del Valle Regional Park, Sunol Wilderness Regional Preserve, Ohlone Wilderness Regional Preserve, Mission Peak Regional Preserve, and Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park. Paved regional trails are not affected by the closures and will remain open.

The following parks remain open:

  • Crown Beach State Park
  • Hayward Regional Shoreline
  • MLK Jr. Regional Shoreline
  • McLaughlin Eastshore State Park
  • Oyster Bay Regional Shoreline
  • Point Isabel Regional Shoreline
  • Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area

8:30 a.m. Thursday: Entire town of Felton in Santa Cruz Mountains ordered to evacuate

Cal Fire has ordered all Felton residents to evacuate immediately due to severe fire danger. That includes all six of Felton's evacuation zones. Evacuation centers have been established in San Mateo County at Half Moon Bay High School (1 Lewis Foster Dr.) and in Santa Cruz County at the Civic Auditorium (307 Church St., and 2601 East Lake Ave., Watsonville) and the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church Street in Santa Cruz.

Incident information line: 831-335-6717

8 a.m. Thursday: PG&E worker dies near Vacaville

A PG&E worker was found unresponsive in his vehicle in the Gates Canyon area in Vacaville Wednesday, where he had been assisting  first responders battling the Hennessey Fire, Cal Fire confirmed Thursday. CPR was performed and the employee was then brought to a local hospital and pronounced dead. The employee's name has not been released.

Original post (last updated Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.):

Tens of thousands of people were under orders to evacuate from the North Bay to the Peninsula early Wednesday as three major series of lightning-sparked wildfires blazed out of control across the Bay Area amid a heat wave now in its sixth day.

"Throughout the state of California right now, we are stretched thin for crews" because of the fires, said Will Powers, a Cal Fire spokesman. "Air resources have been stretched thin throughout the whole state."

Gov. Gavin Newsom blamed "this extraordinary weather we’re experiencing and all of these lightning strikes” for a total of 367 known fires now burning across California. Newsom said the state had recorded nearly 11,000 lightning strikes in 72 hours.

On the outskirts of the Solano County city of Vacaville, police and firefighters went door to door late Tuesday and early Wednesday in a scramble to warn residents to evacuate as one of the eight blazes that are part of the LNU Lightning Complex raced toward the residential areas from the northwest. Fire officials said at least 50 structures were destroyed and 50 were damaged and that four people were injured.

Find the latest evacuation orders here.

The LNU Lightning Complex includes lightning-sparked fires burning from the Sonoma County coast east across Napa County and Solano County. The blazes had burned a total 46,225 acres by early Wednesday. Most of the fires are burning in areas with limited access and steep terrain, making it difficult to get crews in. Fire crews were stretched too thin overnight to focus on more than immediate life-saving measures.

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Matthias Gafni, who traveled down Pleasants Valley Road on the western outskirts of Vacaville shortly after 4:00 a.m., told KQED that houses were on fire when he arrived, but that most people had evacuated from that area.

"It appeared the fire had just crossed the road and swept eastward towards the city proper," Gafni said. "Houses were on fire. Structures, cars, explosions were being heard as propane tanks exploded and gas lines were whizzing. And it was a pretty chaotic scene when I when I first showed up."


Christopher Godley, Sonoma County's emergency management director, said about 10,000 people were under evacuation orders as crews battled two blazes and were working to set up an evacuation center with alternate locations for people exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

He conceded that resources are strapped statewide.

“It’s difficult to second guess what the fire commanders are doing with their aircraft. But it’s not like last year when we saw just a huge wealth of resources flowing into the county," he said. “It is what it is.”

Vehicles burned by the LNU Lightning Complex sit off Pleasants Valley Road near Vacaville on Aug. 19, 2020.
Vehicles burned by the LNU Lightning Complex sit off Pleasants Valley Road near Vacaville on Aug. 19, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

State Sen. Bill Dodd, who represents the area, said the fires burning in Napa and Sonoma counties were mostly affecting less populated areas.

“I think the people around here, even the people that have structures in harm’s way, understand that they’re in a more rural area and that the people in more densely populated areas have to get the resources first," he said.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Cal Fire issued an evacuation order for residents of the Hidden Valley Lake and Jerusalem Valley areas of Lake County, suggesting a potentially dangerous northward move into that county.

In San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, about 22,000 people were ordered to evacuate overnight due to the CZU August Lightning Complex fire, burning in the Santa Cruz mountains, Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox said.

Find the latest evacuation orders here.

That fire – also comprised of multiple lightning-sparked blazes – quickly expanded to 10,000 acres overnight and is at 0% containment.

“Last night we saw a major increase in fire activity in both San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties,” Cox said Wednesday morning. “And we saw several of the fires merge together and make a significant run into Santa Cruz County.”

“This is a very active timber fire burning in two counties with a serious threat to both public safety and for structures that are out in front of it."

Officials issued evacuation orders late Tuesday night for people living in the Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond areas along Highway 9, and for Bonny Doon down towards Davenport on Highway 1 as multiple blazes merged together in the mountains between Big Basin State Park and Bonny Doon, threatening to move further south and east.

Increased winds on Wednesday afternoon appeared to fuel the blaze's growth and cause the formation of a large pyrocumulus cloud - large, thunderhead-like clouds which top out at high altitudes and are themselves capable of producing lightning. All of the three major complex fires were producing pyrocumulus clouds Wednesday afternoon.

Cal Fire issued an additional evacuation warning for the Santa Cruz mountains at 2:00 p.m., requesting that all residents leave from areas west of Highway 9 to Empire Grade, and south from Bear Creek Road to Felton.

Cal Fire spokeswoman Cecile Juliette said crews spent all night and all morning evacuating people with the help of the Santa Cruz County sheriff's office. She said the COVID-19 pandemic has created another challenging layer for evacuees.

"The Red Cross now can't put them all in one big gymnasium. You know, they'll have to get them hotel rooms, and so that just adds another layer."

Evacuees from the CZU August Lightning Complex blazes were being sent to the Santa Cruz County fairgrounds in Watsonville, where tents were set up inside an air conditioned building as a COVID-19 safety measure.

"It's frightening to think maybe you don't have a home to go back to," said Toni Bravo, who evacuated from the Boulder Creek area with her son Josh at midnight.

In San Mateo County, a separate evacuation center has been set up at Pescadero High School in Pescadero.

In the East Bay, a cluster of 20 separate lightning-sparked fires dubbed the SCU Lightning Complex threatened about 1,400 structures in rugged terrain with dense brush.

Find the latest evacuation orders here.

Those fires, burning in Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties have now burned 85,000 acres and are 5% contained. Two people have been injured.

The SCU Lightning Complex is burning in what's regarded as the Diablo Range, east of Mount Diablo, east of Fremont, and northeast of Mount Hamilton. The biggest fires are the Del Puerto, burning west of the town of Patterson along Del Puerto Canyon Road, and the Reservoir, just east of the Calaveras Reservoir.

Most of the blazes are believed to have been sparked by lightning strikes from the unusual series of thunderstorms that rolled across the Bay Area beginning early last Sunday. Meteorologist Jan Null with Golden Gate Weather Services said the lightning storms and ongoing sizzling temperatures created a very dangerous combination.

"With the very dry fuels that we have, both from the temperatures and the fact it's been almost three months since there's been any significant rain in the state... It's just been the perfect scenario for this sort of event to happen."

Regarding the forecast for the next few days, Null sounded a meager note of optimism.

"I think we are past the high point of the heat wave," he said, noting that Wednesday should be the last triple-digit temperature day in the inland Bay Area and into the Central Valley, but temperatures are still expected to reach the 90s.

The slight weather change is more likely to help crews battling the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire along the coast.

"We're starting to see a little bit of a deeper marine layer, so we will see some cooling along the coastal areas that will bring some higher humidities in," Null said. "But again, fuels are extremely dry. We are looking at fuels that, a few weeks ago, were drier by a month than what they normally are."

This post will be updated.

This post includes reporting from The Associated Press, Bay City News and KQED's Dan Brekke, David Marks, Matthew Green, Adhiti Bandlamudi and Hannah Hagemann.


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