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USA Current Events: California Wildfires in the San Francisco Bay Area

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In this post we share photos that demonstrate how Northern California’s wildfires have impacted the San Francisco Bay Area’s sky.


Last Updated: August 27, 2020

California wildfires in 2020

This month 37 concurrent fires began in California, due to a combination of drought, lightning storms and typical wildfire season brought on by hot and dry conditions.

The large number of fires stretched the state’s fire fighting resources thin causing many manageable fires to grow into complex fires (two or more individual incidents located in the same general area).

Within the San Francisco Bay area, two major fires are burning on opposite sides of the valley: the CZU August Lightning Complex and the SCU Lightning Complex. The photos that follow show the sky above the two fires.

The CZU August Lightning Complex has burned over 48,000 acres along the San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties with 0% containment, forcing over 77,000 residents to evacuate at the time of writing.

The red shaded area indicates the current burn zones. Via CAL FIRE.

The SCU Lightning Complex is 20 separate fires broken into three zones that have spread to 230,000 acres, or ten times the size of Manhattan. With only 10% containment, over 21,000 residents have had to evacuate at the time of writing.

The red shaded area indicates the current burn zones. Via CAL FIRE.

Views from the Bay Area – west side of the valley

August 16: The morning after the thunderstorms and 50-60 mile/hour winds. Intermittent lightning flashes over different parts of the valley followed by intense thunder.

August 17: Early morning.

August 18: Mid-morning views. The Bay Area’s air quality is rated the worst in the world, measuring as “hazardous” by the U.S. Air Quality Index. A face covering is needed to breathe properly.

August 18: Late afternoon views. The heavy smoke from the fires begins to overwhelm the area. The evacuation border line quickly pushes from Santa Cruz to the eastern border of the valley. Wind patterns show that the fire will push directly in to paths of hundreds of homes at its current trajectory. The air is heavy scented with smoke, similar to the concentration of incense.

August 19: The wind changes directions from west to south bound providing relief to some residents on the borders of evacuation zones but concern for those in newly impacted south of Santa Cruz areas. The air slowly clears. A plume of smoke emerges from a new set of fires from across the valley.

August 19: Evening. The fires continue to push south, further impacting the Santa Cruz county. Calls go out for volunteers to home displaced evacuees and their pets. Locals rely on Reddit, Twitter and Google Docs to share information and offer resources.

August 21: Morning views. A thin layer of fog and smoke hangs above the valley. The air carries a light smoke scent, like that of a bonfire.

August 21: Evening views. The air quality drops dramatically and visibility is limited across the valley.

August 23: Early evening rain provides needed water to remove the ash and smoke from the previous days. There is a small window of blue sky before the heavy smoky air once again overwhelms the sky. CAL FIRE establishes a new evacuation line for Santa Clara county residents as reports of a second wave of thunderstorms will pass through the area.

August 26: The weekend’s expected thunderstorms never arrive, giving firefighting crews an opportunity to build containment lines and set boundary controls. The evacuation warnings are lifted for Santa Clara County residents.

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