2020 California wildfires

The 2020 California wildfire season, part of the 2020 Western United States wildfire season, was a record-setting year of wildfires in California. By the end of the year, 9,917 fires[1] had burned 4,397,809 acres (1,779,730 ha),[2][3][3] more than 4% of the state's roughly 100 million acres of land, making 2020 the largest wildfire season recorded in California's modern history (according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection),[5][6] though roughly equivalent to the pre-1800 levels which averaged around 4.4 million acres yearly and up to 12 million in peak years.[7] California's August Complex fire has been described as the first "gigafire", burning over 1 million acres across seven counties, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. The fires destroyed over 10,000 structures[1] and cost over $12.079 billion (2020 USD) in damages, including over $10 billion in property damage and $2.079 billion in fire suppression costs.[4][2] The intensity of the fire season has been attributed to a combination of more than a century of poor forest management[8][9] and higher temperatures resulting from climate change.[10][11]

2020 California wildfires
From top to bottom, and left to right;
September 10 satellite image of the wildfires burning in California and Oregon; The Aurora Fire on June 26, 2020; The Bobcat Fire burning in the San Gabriel mountains near Monrovia; Smoke from the North Complex over the Bay Bridge at noon on September 9; An orange sky over Eureka on Sept 9; The CZU Lightning Complex fires along Butano Ridge on August 18; The Loyalton Fire near Calpine; The Hennessey and Spanish Fires burn towards Lake Berryessa on August 18, 2020
Statistics[1]
Total fires9,917[1]
Total area4,397,809 acres (1,779,730 ha)[2][3]
Cost>$12.079 billion (2020 USD) (Third-costliest on record)[4][2]
Date(s)
February 15, 2020–January 5, 2021
Buildings destroyed10,488 (CAL FIRE)[1]
9,211 (NIFC Year-to-Date report)[2]
Deaths33[1]
Non-fatal injuries37[1]
Map
A map of wildfires across California in 2020 using MODIS satellite data of wildfire detections
A map of wildfires across California in 2020 using MODIS satellite data of wildfire detections
Season
← 2019
2021 →
Five of the twenty largest wildfires in California history were part of the 2020 wildfire season.
An August 19, 2020 satellite image of the wildfires burning in Northern California, covering a significant portion of California and nearby states.

On August 18, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency,[12] and on August 19, 2020, reported that the state was battling 367 known fires, many sparked by intense thunderstorms on August 16–17 caused by moisture from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fausto. Response and evacuations were complicated by a historic heatwave and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On August 22, President Donald Trump issued a major disaster declaration (DR-4558), which provides Individual Assistance and/or Public Assistance.

In early September 2020, a combination of a record-breaking heat wave and strong katabatic winds, (including the Jarbo, Diablo, and Santa Ana) caused explosive fire growth. The August Complex became California's largest recorded wildfire.[13] The Creek Fire expanded in the Big Creek drainage area, temporarily trapping hundreds of campers near the Mammoth Pool Reservoir. The North Complex explosively grew in size as the winds fanned it westward, threatening the city of Oroville, triggering mass evacuations, and causing 16 fatalities.[14]

Governor Newsom's request for a federal disaster declaration for six major wildfires was approved on October 17 after having been rejected the previous day.[15][16]

On November 10, 2020, the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) reported that there were around 3,400 firefighters plus personnel fighting the wildfires in the United States.

Early outlook edit

Early in the year, there was a concern for the 2020 fire season to potentially be prolonged and especially grave, due to the unusually dry months of January and February, one of the driest such periods of any calendar year on record.[17] On March 22, a state of emergency was declared by California Governor Gavin Newsom due to a mass die-off of trees throughout the state, potentially increasing the risk of wildfires.[18] However, throughout March and April, rain began to consistently fall in the state, which alleviated the drought conditions. Despite this, Northern California was still expected to have severe wildfire conditions due to the moderate or severe drought conditions in the area, whereas Central and Southern California were expected to have serious fire conditions later in the year due to the late wet season and precipitation.[19]

On June 18, climate scientist Daniel Swain predicted the 2020 Arizona wildfire season was a sign of what was to come in California, due to similar drought and weather conditions between Arizona and Northern California.[20]

Seasonal fire risk edit

External videos
  "What are California megafires? Things to Know", 11.20.2019, Knowable Magazine

The year 2020 was the largest wildfire year recorded in California history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.[2][5] From a historical perspective, the average annual acres burned prior to 1850 were probably significantly larger than years since reliable fire records began. Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science at UC Berkeley, estimated that prior to 1850, about 4,500,000 acres (1,800,000 ha) burned yearly, in fires that lasted for months. Activity peaked roughly every 30 years, with up to 11,800,000 acres (4,800,000 ha) burning during peak years.[8][9][21] The indigenous peoples of California historically set controlled burns and allowed natural fires to run their course.[8][7]

The peak of the wildfire season usually occurs between July and November when hot, dry winds are most frequent. The wildfire season typically does not end until the first significant rainstorm of autumn arrives, which is usually around October in Northern California, and early November in Southern California.[citation needed]

As wildfire becomes more frequent, the wildland–urban interface has increasingly become more dangerous when it comes to property damage and risk to life.[22]

Causes edit

Land development and forest management edit

Scientists believe that, prior to development, California fires regularly burned significantly more acreage than has been seen in recent history.[23] Wildfires have been aggressively suppressed in recent years, resulting in a buildup of fuel, increasing the risk of large uncontrollable fires. There is broad scientific consensus that there should be more controlled burning of forests in California in order to reduce fire risk.[23] A 2020 ProPublica investigation blames a combination of climate change and a history of insufficient controlled burning for the increase in "megafires."[9] A sharp increase in the population and development of fire-prone areas has also contributed to the increase in flammable tinder.[24]

Climate change edit

 
The Los Angeles Times on 13 September described the fire as a climate apocalypse.

Climate change increases the temperature of wildfires in California, the risk for drought, and potentially also the frequency of such events.[25][10] David Romps, director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center summarizes the situation as follows: "To cut to the chase: Were the heat wave and the lightning strikes and the dryness of the vegetation affected by global warming? Absolutely yes. Were they made significantly hotter, more numerous, and drier because of global warming? Yes, likely yes, and yes."[11]

Similarly, Friederike Otto, acting director of the University of Oxford Environmental Change Institute states, "There is absolutely no doubt that the extremely high temperatures are higher than they would have been without human-induced climate change. A huge body of attribution literature demonstrates now that climate change is an absolute game-changer when it comes to heat waves, and California won't be the exception."[26] Susan Clark, director of the Sustainability Initiative at the University at Buffalo argues, "This is climate change. This increased intensity and frequency of temperatures and heat waves are part of the projections for the future. [...] There is going to be more morbidity and mortality [from heat.] There are going to be more extremes."[26]

The National Interagency Fire Center's (NFIC) National Interagency Coordination (NICC) reported that monthly outlooks for the entire country will still drive wildfires across the country but especially California. The main drivers through fall and winter seasons will be La Nina, and drought conditions are going to continue through California, causing the wildfires to continue. The shift will start from Northern California to Southern California as precipitation will lessen the impact of wildfires across northern California.[citation needed][needs update]

Arson edit

In August 2020, a suspect was charged by the Monterey County Sheriff with arson relating to the Dolan Fire; however, this has not been officially determined as the cause of the fire.[27][28] In April 2021, another suspect, already arrested and charged for the murder of a woman, was charged with arson relating to the Markley Fire, one of the wildfires involving in the LNU Lightning Complex fires; according to authorities, the fire was set to cover up the aforementioned murder.[29] Arson has also been suspected as the cause of the Ranch 2 Fire in Los Angeles County.[citation needed]

Effects edit

A 2023 study found that these wildfires are affecting the California ecosystem and disrupting the habitats.[30][31] It found that in the 2020 and 2021 fire seasons 58% of the area affected by wildfires occurred in those two seasons since 2012.[30][32] These two fires destroyed 30% of the habitat of 50 species as well as 100 species that had 10% of their habitats burn. 5-14% of the species' habitats burned at a "high severity."[30][33]

List of wildfires edit

The Government of California's video about COVID-19 protocols in place at wildfire evacuation centers.
 
Smoke from the Slater fire on September 8

The following is a list of fires that burned more than 1,000 acres (400 ha), or produced significant structural damage or casualties.

Name County Acres Start date Containment date Notes Ref
Interstate 5 Kings 2,060 May 3 May 7 [34]
Range San Luis Obispo 5,000 May 27 May 28 [35]
Scorpion Santa Barbara 1,395 May 31 June 1 [36]
Quail Solano 1,837 June 6 June 10 3 structures destroyed [37][38]
Wood San Diego 11,000 June 8 June 12 Burned on Camp Pendleton [39]
India San Diego 1,100 June 8 June 14 Burned on Camp Pendleton [40]
Soda San Luis Obispo 1,672 June 10 June 11 2 structures destroyed [41][42]
Grant Sacramento 5,042 June 12 June 17 1 structure damaged [43]
Walker Calaveras 1,455 June 16 June 20 2 structures destroyed [44]
Grade Tulare 1,050 June 22 June 26 [45]
Pass Merced 2,192 June 28 June 30 [46]
Bena Kern 2,900 July 1 July 3 [47]
Crews Santa Clara 5,513 July 5 July 13 1 structure destroyed; 1 damaged; 1 injury. Resulted in evacuations of rural Gilroy. [48]
Soledad Los Angeles 1,525 July 5 July 15 1 injury, caused by fireworks [49]
Mineral Fresno 29,667 July 13 July 26 7 structures destroyed [50][51]
Coyote San Benito 1,508 July 15 July 18 [52]
Hog Lassen 9,564 July 18 August 8 2 structures destroyed [53]
Gold Lassen 22,634 July 20 August 8 13 structures destroyed; 5 structures damaged; 2 firefighters injured in burnover [54]
July Complex 2020 Modoc, Siskiyou 83,261 July 22 August 7 1 structure destroyed; 3 outbuildings destroyed [55]
Blue Jay Mariposa, Tuolumne 6,922 July 24 November 20 Lightning-sparked, 1 structure destroyed. [56]
Red Salmon Complex Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity 144,698 July 26 November 17 Originally started as both the Red and Salmon fire (both started by lightning strikes), but have since merged into one fire [57][58]
Branch San Luis Obispo 3,022 July 28 August 1 Started near CA 58 [59]
Apple Riverside 33,424 July 31 November 18 4 structures destroyed; 8 outbuildings destroyed; 4 injuries [60][61]
Pond San Luis Obispo 1,962 August 1 August 8 1 structure destroyed; 1 damaged; 13 outbuildings destroyed[62] [63]
North Lassen 6,882 August 2 August 10 6,882 acres in total, of which approximately 4,105 acres burned in Washoe County, Nevada [64]
Stagecoach Kern 7,760 August 3 August 16 23 structures destroyed; 4 damaged; 25 outbuildings destroyed; 2 damaged;[65] 1 firefighter fatality[66] [67]
Wolf Tuolumne 2,057 August 11 November 19 Lightning-sparked [68]
Lake Los Angeles 31,089 August 12 September 28 Lightning-sparked, 33 structures destroyed; 6 damaged; 21 outbuildings destroyed; 2 injuries [69][70][71]
Ranch 2 Los Angeles 4,237 August 13 October 5 Human-caused, suspected arson [72]
Hills Fresno 2,121 August 15 August 24 Lightning-sparked; 1 fatality [73]
Loyalton Lassen, Plumas, Sierra 47,029 August 15 September 14 Lightning-sparked, caused National Weather Service to issue first ever Fire Tornado Warning; 5 homes, 6 outbuildings destroyed [74][75]
Beach Mono 3,780 August 16 August 28 Lightning-sparked [76]
River Monterey 48,088 August 16 September 4 Lightning-sparked; 30 structures destroyed; 13 structures damaged; 4 injuries [77]
Dome San Bernardino 43,273 August 16 September 14 Lightning-sparked, burned in the Mojave National Preserve; 6 structures destroyed and 1.3+ million Joshua trees killed [78]
CZU Lightning Complex San Mateo, Santa Cruz 86,509 August 16 September 22 Several lightning-sparked fires burning close together across San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties; 1,490 structures destroyed; 140 structures damaged; 1 injury; 1 fatality. [79]
SCU Lightning Complex Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Merced, Stanislaus 396,624 August 16 October 1 Deer Zone, Marsh, Canyon Zone and other surrounding fires combined into one multi-fire incident by CalFire; all believed to have been sparked by an intense and widespread lightning storm; 222 structures destroyed; 26 structures damaged; 6 injuries. It is the third-largest fire complex in California history. [80][81]
August Complex Glenn, Mendocino, Lake, Tehama, Trinity, Shasta 1,032,648 August 16 November 12 Information for the August Complex as a whole. Originally 38 separate fires, which later merged to become California's largest recorded wildfire. Main fires were the Doe and Elkhorn Fires, which merged on September 11. One firefighter fatality; 2 injuries; 935 structures destroyed; 5 structures damaged. [82][83][84][13]
Rattlesnake Tulare 8,419 August 16 December 29 Lightning sparked a slow-growing fire in inaccessible terrain. [85]
LNU Lightning Complex Colusa, Lake, Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Yolo 363,220 August 17 October 2 Multi-fire incident that includes the Hennessey Fire (305,651 acres), the Walbridge Fire (55,209 acres), and the Meyers Fire (2,360 acres) sparked by lightning; 1,491 structures destroyed; 232 structures damaged; 5 injuries; 6 fatalities.[86] It is the fifth-largest fire complex in California history. [87][88]
Holser Ventura 3,000 August 17 September 6 Unknown cause [89]
Butte/Tehama/Glenn Lightning Complex (Butte Zone) Butte 19,609 August 17 October 17 Lightning sparked 34 fires throughout Butte County; 14 structures destroyed; 1 structure damaged; 1 injury [90][91]
North Complex Plumas, Butte 318,935 August 17 December 3 Lightning sparked, includes the Claremont Fire and the Bear Fire; 2,342 structures destroyed; 113 structures damaged; 16 fatalities;[92] 13 injuries; It is the sixth-largest fire in California history and scorched more than 300,000 acres of land. [93][94]
Jones Nevada 705 August 17 August 28 Lightning sparked, 21 structures destroyed, 3 structures damaged, 7 injuries [95]
Sheep Plumas, Lassen 29,570 August 17 September 9 Lightning-sparked, 26 structures destroyed, 1 injury [96][97]
Salt Calaveras 1,789 August 18 August 24 Lightning-sparked [98]
W-5 Cold Springs Lassen, Modoc 84,817 August 18 September 14 Lightning-sparked. Fire spread eastward into Washoe County, Nevada. [99]
Carmel Monterey 6,905 August 18 September 4 Lightning-sparked, 73 structures destroyed; 7 structures damaged [100]
Dolan Monterey 124,924 August 18 December 31 Cause not officially determined; however, a suspect was charged with arson in connection to the fire; 19 structures destroyed. [101][102][103]
Woodward Marin 4,929 August 19 October 2 Lightning-sparked [104]
SQF Complex Tulare 174,178 August 19 January 5 Lightning-sparked, contains the Castle Fire and the Shotgun Fire; 228 structures destroyed; 12 structures damaged; 15 injuries [105]
Moc Tuolumne 2,857 August 20 August 30 Cause: Equipment [106]
Moraine Fresno, Tulare 1,316 August 21 December 29 Lightning-sparked [107]
Slink Alpine, Mono 26,759 August 29 November 8 Lightning-sparked [108]
Creek Fresno, Madera 379,895 September 4 December 24 856 structures destroyed, 71 structures damaged; 15 injuries; At the time, it was the fourth-largest fire and the largest single (non-complex) fire in California history (surpassed by the Dixie Fire in 2021). [109][110][111]
El Dorado San Bernardino, Riverside 22,744 September 5 November 16 Sparked by a pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party. 10 structures destroyed, 5 structures damaged; 1 firefighter fatality; 13 injuries.[112] Burned into the western perimeter of the Apple Fire on September 7. [113][114][115]
Valley San Diego 16,390 September 5 September 24 61 structures destroyed, 11 structures damaged, 3 injuries [116][117]
Bobcat Los Angeles 115,997 September 6 December 18 Unknown cause, 171 structures destroyed. One of the largest fires in Los Angeles County's history [118][119][120]
Oak Mendocino 1,100 September 7 September 14 Unknown cause, 25 structures destroyed, 20 structures damaged [121]
Slater / Devil Siskiyou, Del Norte 166,127 September 7 November 16 Includes the Slater Fire (157,270 acres, 100% contained on November 12) and the Devil Fire (8,857 acres, 100% contained on November 16). 2 fatalities; 440 structures destroyed. Spread northward into Josephine County, Oregon. [122][123]
Fork El Dorado 1,673 September 8 November 9 Unknown cause [124]
Bullfrog Fresno 1,185 September 9 November 9 Cause under investigation [125][126]
Willow Yuba 1,311 September 9 September 14 41 structures destroyed, 10 structures damaged [127]
Fox Siskiyou 2,188 September 14 September 29 Human-caused [128][129]
Snow Riverside 6,254 September 17 October 6 Unknown cause [130][131][132]
Glass Napa, Sonoma 67,484 September 27 October 20 Unknown cause; 1,555 structures destroyed; 280 structures damaged [133]
Zogg Shasta 56,338 September 27 October 13 204 structures destroyed; 27 structures damaged; 4 fatalities, 1 injury; historic town of Ono destroyed [134][135]
Silverado Orange 12,466 October 26 November 7 Downed SCE power line; 2 hand crew firefighters critically injured; over 90,000 people evacuated; 5 structures destroyed, 9 structures damaged [136][137]
Blue Ridge Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside 13,694 October 26 November 7 Downed SCE power line; 1 structure destroyed, 10 structures damaged; at least 30,000 people evacuated [138][139][140]
Laura 2 Lassen 2,800 November 17 November 24 Unknown cause; 48 structures destroyed; 4 structures damaged [141][142]
Mountain View Mono, Alpine 20,385 November 17 December 11 Unknown cause; 81 structures destroyed; 1 fatality [143][144][142]
Airport Riverside 1,087 December 1 December 12 Unknown cause [145]
Bond Orange 6,686 December 2 December 10 Started by a house fire; 31 structures destroyed; 21 structures damaged; 2 firefighter injuries [146][147][148][149][150]
Sanderson Riverside 1,933 December 13 December 14 Unknown cause [151]
Creek 5 San Diego 4,276 December 23 December 31 Unknown cause; over 7,000 people evacuated from housing areas on Camp Pendleton [152][153][3]

See also edit

References edit

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Further reading edit

External links edit