‘Hydrate like champions today:’ Firefighters increase containment ahead of scorching California heat wave

05 August 2020

Published by https://www.mercurynews.com

USA – Firefighters battling three Bay Area complex wildfires, including the second and third-largest fires in recorded California history, increased containment and lifted some evacuation orders ahead of what is expected to be a blisteringly hot Labor Day weekend.

The CZU Complex Fire, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is now 86,509 acres and 61 percent contained. The fire has killed one civilian and destroyed 925 single-family homes, six multi-family and mixed residential and commercial housing complexes and 171 commercial buildings. The fire is the 10th-most destructive in recorded state history. Residents have been allowed back to their homes everywhere except in some parts of Bonny Doon, Cal Fire officials said. As of Saturday afternoon, the evacuation orders were reduced to warnings for areas of Santa Cruz County, including the community of Pineridge, portions of Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek.

Officials said there were still some challenges in Butano Park, and crews continued mop-up operations throughout the wildfire. But they warned dry, hot weather could present a challenge, with temperatures at higher elevations of the fire reaching the high 90s Saturday and as high as 105 degrees Sunday.

“Hydrate like champions today,” Cal Fire Chief Mark Brunton told crews at a 7 a.m. briefing.

The heat would likely lead to more smoke in the interior of the fire perimeter, so officials warned about an increase in calls for service in the coming days from fire-wary residents.

Another potential challenge came from the reopening of Highway 1, with officials at the briefing warning of increased traffic from residents escaping the heat wave, as well as what one official called “looky-loos” driving through fire-ravaged areas, at a time when residents are moving back home and PG&E crews are repairing downed powerlines.

“The holiday weekend, there’s going to be a lot of people … throughout this entire fire wanting to see what happened out there,” Brunton said. “That can be a hazard to us.”

The SCU Complex Fire in parts of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa counties and beyond is now 396,624 acres and is 88 percent contained. It has destroyed 114 structures and had, at times, led to evacuation warnings and orders in Fremont and the outskirts east of San Jose. On Saturday morning, officials lifted all evacuation orders in Santa Clara County.

The fire, which is the second-largest in recorded state history, has been moving toward unburn island within the fire perimeter, according to an incident update from Cal Fire.

The LNU Complex Fire in Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties is now 375,209 acres and is 89 percent contained. The fire has caused three deaths in Napa County and two deaths in Solano County. It has also destroyed 1,491 structures, including 786 single-family homes, making it the ninth-most destructive and third-largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history. Crews continued expanding containment zones, and many of the repopulated communities remain under an evacuation warning, according to a Cal Fire incident report.

Statewide, crews are working to contain 22 major fires and lightning complexes. Since August 15, when the state was battered by a rare lightning barrage, 900 wildfires have burned 1.5 million acres, caused eight deaths and destroyed 3,300 structures. More than 10,500 people remain evacuated throughout California.

Update: This story has been corrected to reflect the acreage burned by the SCU Complex Fire, which is the second-largest wildfire in California’s recorded history, followed by the LNU Complex Fire.

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