By Vincent Moleski and Molly Burke
The Sacramento Bee
Oct. 3—Nearly 4 million acres of California have been burned by wildfires this year, with dozens of large fires currently burning.
Among the most destructive are the Glass Fire, located in Napa and Sonoma counties near Calistoga, and the Zogg Fire, burning in Shasta and Tehama counties.
Firefighters have been making progress in containing the two wildfires, but have been fighting off numerous other fires during this year’s highly active fire season.
“This year has shown us how devastating wildfire can be,” said Jeremy Rahn, a Cal Fire SHU information officer.
Red flag conditions, which diminished Friday evening, came back with new urgency on Saturday afternoon after the National Weather Service issued an immediate red flag warning for the North Bay, effective through Sunday morning.
“Today’s clearing smoke allowed for very hot, dry conditions to develop in North Bay,” the weather service said in a social media post at 4 p.m. “Gusty northwest winds returned with the sharp temperature gradient.”
The sudden change underscores what Cal Fire officials have said all along — warm weather and low humidity are creating challenging conditions for fire crews as the peak of the fire season draws closer. State officials said earlier in the day that crews across the state contained 34 new wildfires in a day on Friday.
As containment continues to rise on the Glass and Zogg fires, upcoming weather forecasts offer a mixed outlook with the red flag warning expiring at 6 a.m. Sunday.
“A cooling trend will begin slowly tomorrow, with more seasonal temperatures expected by the end of the week,” Cal Fire officials wrote in a statewide update Saturday morning. “Locally gusty winds could bring critical fire weather to some locations.”
Double-digit containment on Glass Fire
The Glass Fire has reached 63,450 acres, according to Cal Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit, but firefighters have finally reached double-digit containment levels.
As of Friday, the fire was just 6% contained, a number which rose to 15% by Saturday evening.
The Glass Fire started as a cluster of smaller fires in the early hours of Sept. 27 in Napa Valley before quickly spreading west toward Santa Rosa, fueled by strong winds.
In Napa County, 173 homes had been destroyed as of Saturday and 40 had been damaged, while 264 commercial buildings had been burned. In Sonoma County, 120 homes had been destroyed and 57 damaged.
Among the carnage were several large wineries. The Chateau Boswell winery was destroyed, and at least five other wineries in the area suffered damages. The Restaurant and Meadowood, recognized with three Michelin stars, was also destroyed.
Although the fire has not injured any firefighters or residents, many homes remain threatened. Officials from Cal Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit said that nearly 29,000 structures are still in danger.
The city of Calistoga remains under a mandatory evacuation order, as does the town of Angwin. Some evacuation orders in Santa Rosa were reduced to warnings on Friday, but thousands of people remain displaced.
Zogg Fire containment jumps up
The Zogg Fire, which is burning 56,305 acres, was 57% contained Saturday, up from 46% Friday.
The wildfire started near the communities of Igo and Ono on Sept. 27 and, like the Glass Fire, grew rapidly during windy conditions.
Cal Fire’s Shasta-Trinity unit reported calm overnight conditions Saturday morning. Officials said helicopters were no longer using Whiskeytown Lake for water so National Park Service officials have reopened Whiskeytown National Recreation Area to the public.
“The fire had minimal growth in size and the fire continues to burn in grass, oak woodland, chaparral and mixed timber. Hot and dry conditions are forecasted again today. Winds will be generally light and terrain driven during the day. Damage assessment teams will be out again today to verify damaged or destroyed buildings.”
During a Saturday morning update, Cal Fire SHU operations section chief Chris Waters said crews along the southern and eastern edges are working on mopping up spot flares. More repopulations are expected in areas along these edges, he said. The northern side of the fire is where the “heavy work is taking place,” incident commander Sean Kavanaugh said.
Two inmate firefighters working in steep terrain on the north side were injured Friday evening while battling the Zogg Fire. They were both taken via helicopter to a hospital, where one still remains. The fire has killed four residents in rural Shasta County.
Cal Fire officials said in a Saturday morning update that 179 structures have been destroyed, 23 have been damaged and 101 are currently threatened by flames.
Many have been forcibly evacuated as the fire moved toward communities, but Cal Fire SHU lifted some orders Saturday morning. Residents along Placer Road and Foster Road were allowed to return home, but those along South Fork Road and its adjacent roadways, as well as those on Platina Road, were still under evacuation orders. There are no active evacuation orders in Tehama County.
Kavanaugh said he expects containment on the fire to rise steadily daily.
August Complex forces more evacuations
The August Complex, which is burning in Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity, Tehama, Glenn, Lake and Colusa Counties, has reached 979,386 acres with 51% as of Saturday morning.
The fire is the largest by far in the state’s history, more than 1,500 square miles.
Its reported size continues to grow on a daily basis, and it could conceivably reach 1 million acres by Sunday. No other fire in state history has reached 500,000 acres.
On Saturday around 10:30 a.m., Cal Fire ordered immediate evacuations for parts of Mendocino County in the fire’s west zone, north and east of Round Valley.
The evacuation orders cover regions north of the Middle Fork of the Eel River, including the Eel River Ranger Station and Black Butte Store. They also cover the area west and south of the National Forest Boundary and east of Williams Creek.
The Mendocino Pass Road and Indian Dick Road at the Eel River are also closed. Highway 162 is under a road closure at Short Creek.
Parts of Trinity and Humboldt County also remain under evacuation orders and warnings, with a full list on the Cal Fire website.
Gov. Gavin Newsom voiced concern on Monday that the Zogg Fire could merge with the August Complex Fire, adding to the immense size of the blaze and further challenging firefighting efforts.
Air quality poor in Northern California region
Once again, the skies of Sacramento region are filled with smoke due to the ongoing wildfires.
The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District recorded an Air Quality Index of 124 for the region on Saturday, which is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as those with lung disease.
According to the National Weather Service, the Bay Area and the areas to the north and south of Sacramento are experiencing even worse air quality, with AQI levels considered unhealthy for all groups.
Air quality is expected to improve somewhat Sunday, with AQI levels predicted to reach 89, considered moderate and prompting reduced activity or exertion outdoors among sensitive groups.
Climate change and California wildfires
Wildfires have always been part of life in California. The past four years have brought some of the most destructive and deadliest wildfires in the state’s modern history.
Nearly 180 people have lost their lives since 2017. More than 41,000 structures have been destroyed and nearly 7 million acres have burned. That’s roughly the size of Massachusetts.
So far this year, 30 people have died, according to Cal Fire.
Meanwhile, this year’s August was the hottest on record in California. A rare series of lightning storms sparked a series of fires, including the August Complex that has burned nearly 1 million acres, making it by far the largest wildfire in California’s recorded history.
Our climate is becoming more severe.
The 2017 wildfire season occurred during the second-hottest year on record in California and included a devastating string of fires in October that killed 44 people and destroyed nearly 9,000 buildings in Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte and Solano counties.
The following year was the most destructive and deadliest for wildfires in the state’s history. It included the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people, and the enormous Mendocino Complex.
The Bee’s Rosalio Ahumada and Bay City News contributed to this story.