California battles more lightning wildfires as humidity helps

Among worst in California history, fires blaze across San Francisco Bay area, Napa wine country as firefighters battle.

California wildfire smoke satellite
Smoke covers the California landscape in this satellite image of the CZU Lightning Complex wildfire over Santa Cruz, California on August 21, 2020 [Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters]

More dry-lightning storms hit Northern California the United States on Monday after sparking more than 625 wildfires the past week, but firefighters got some relief as temperatures eased off record highs.

The worst of the blazes, including the second- and third-largest in California history, burned in the San Francisco Bay Area with roughly 240,000 people under evacuation orders or warnings across the state.

Much of North California, including the Sierra Nevada Mountains and coast, was under a “red flag” alert for dry lightning and high winds, but the National Weather Service dropped its warning for the Bay Area.

Close to 300 lightning strikes sparked 10 blazes overnight and more “sleeper fires” were likely burning undiscovered in areas shrouded by dense smoke, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday.

One huge blaze burned in ancient coastal redwood forests south of San Francisco that have never seen fire due to usually high relative humidity levels, Newsom said.

“We are in a different climate and we are dealing with different climate conditions that are precipitating fires the likes of which we have not seen in modern recorded history,” Newsom told a news briefing.

The wildfires, ignited by more than 13,000 lightning strikes from dry thunderstorms across Northern and Central California since August 15, have killed at least seven people and destroyed more than 1,200 homes and other structures.

Smoke from wildfires that have burned more than 1.2 million acres (485,620 hectares), an area more than three times larger than Los Angeles, has created unhealthy conditions for much of Northern California and drifted as far as Kansas.

California wildfire smoke
Smoke rises from the LNU Lightning Complex wildfires as seen from an AlertWildfire camera looking east from Mount St Helena, north of Calistoga, California, August 19, 2020 [ via Reuters]

The LNU Complex, the second-largest wildfire in state history, began as a string of smaller fires in wine country southwest of Sacramento but has merged into a single blaze that has burned approximately 350,000 acres (141,640 hectares) of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Solano counties.

It was 22 percent contained as of Monday while to the south the SCU Lightning Complex was nearly as large, at 347,000 acres (140,426 hectares), and only 10 percent contained.

“I’m nervous; I don’t want to leave my house, but lives are more important,” Penny Furusho told CBS television affiliate KPIX5 after she was told to evacuate from the south flank of the SCU fire. 

With lower temperatures, clouds gathered over coastal forest north of Santa Cruz helping firefighters achieve 13 percent containment on the CZU Lightning Complex fire.

“With the increase in humidity, the fire has actually extinguished itself,” Cal Fire Operations Chief Mark Brunton told a news briefing.

More than 14,000 firefighters are on the wildfires, with 91 fire crews travelling from seven states and National Guard troops arriving from four states, Newsom said.

Chula Vista firefighter Rudy Diaz monitors the LNU Lightning Complex Fire as it engulfs brush in Lake County, California, U.S. August 23, 2020. REUTERS/Adrees Latif     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Chula Vista firefighter Rudy Diaz monitors the LNU Lightning Complex Fire as it engulfs brush in Lake County, California [Adrees Latif/Reuters]
Source: Reuters