5 of the 6 Most Recent California Wildfires are the Largest in History

Reuters

The staggering statistics keep piling up for California’s wildfire season: August and September account for five of the six biggest fires in nearly 90 years of recorded history for the state.

The destructive Creek Fire that continues to burn in Fresno County grew about 3,000 acres between Monday and Tuesday for a new total of 283,724 acres, leapfrogging the 2017 Thomas Fire for the No. 6 spot, according to Cal Fire records. It is 30% contained.

Ahead of the Creek Fire, which started Sept. 4, are four massive wildfire complexes that sparked during a freak mid-August thunderstorm. The storm pummeled Northern California and the Bay Area with thousands of lightning strikes, igniting dozens of large fires and hundreds of smaller ones. Then, gusty winds within the next few weeks caused some of the larger incidents to swell or erupt in size.

The 2018 Mendocino Complex had previously been the state’s largest fire on record, reaching 459,123 acres. Until 2020, it was the only wildfire to eclipse 300,000 acres, dating back to the start of reliable record keeping in 1932.

The Mendocino Complex is now the second-biggest in state history, behind the 847,000-acre August Complex burning with just 38% containment near Mendocino National Forest as of Tuesday morning, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Two of the 2020 behemoths, the SCU Lightning Complex (No. 3 at 396,624 acres) and the LNU Lightning Complex (No. 4, 363,220 acres) in the South and North Bay areas, respectively, are almost fully contained. Early last week, Cal Fire reported each at 98% containment and said fire activity had ceased and stopped issuing daily incident reports.

Rounding out the all-time list at No. 5 is the North Complex burning in parts of Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties, which reached 299,723 acres as of Tuesday morning updates from Cal Fire and the Forest Service. At least 15 people have died in the North Complex, which ties it for the fifth-deadliest wildfire in California history.

Those five fires that have started in the past six weeks have burned nearly 2.4 million combined acres — an area of about 3,750 square miles, which is more than triple the size of Rhode Island.

They’re among more than 7,800 major and minor wildfire incidents that have sparked this year, combining for nearly 3.4 million acres — the most ever in a calendar year — as of mid-September, according to the Cal Fire website. About 1.4 million of those acres have burned in jurisdiction handled by Cal Fire, with the remaining 2 million in U.S. Forest Service territory.

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SOURCE: The Sacramento Bee, Michael McGough