We are heading into a scary 48-hour period for the three massive wildfire complexes around the Bay Area as unstable air and possible thunderstorms move north from the remnants of Hurricane Genevieve.
Smoke is still blanketing much of the North and South Bay, but San Francisco may have relatively clearer air quality on Sunday, per the National Weather Service. Still, the unpredictable weather and possible dry-lightning storms pose a significant threat up and down the coast. Storms are currently hovering off the coast near Moro Bay and moving this way — forecasters suggested on Friday that they may remain off the coast, though the NWS is now saying that parts of the Bay Area have a 24- to 35-percent chance of seeing lightning, which could cause new fire starts.
Here is the latest model run of the surface smoke. In general, light winds will allow smoke to drift over the Bay Area this morning before a west to southwest wind pushes the smoke inland in the afternoon. #cawx pic.twitter.com/Jxguc5pDuJ— NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) August 23, 2020
Look for another very warm day across the interior. Thunderstorm chances increase this afternoon and into Monday morning. Thunderstorms that do develop will likely remain dry, resulting in the potential for new fire starts and erratic, gusty winds. #CAwx https://t.co/29VqBg28J7 pic.twitter.com/ROipB8z5IS— NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) August 23, 2020
LNU Lightning Complex Fires
Firefighters expressed some cautious positivity after a relatively calm day Saturday as they battled fires in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, and Solano counties. The westernmost fire, the Meyers Fire north of Jenner, is now 70-percent contained and seems largely under control at 2,360 acres. The Walbridge Fire west of Healdsburg remains zero-percent contained, and has grown to over 51,000 acres. While it has been kept out of most of the city of Healdsburg, western parts of the town have seen fire destruction, including homes like this one on Wallace Creek Road.
The southern end of the Walbridge Fire has been kept out of the towns of Guerneville and Rio Nido so far, though the evacuation zone was expanded on Saturday, and Sunday's weather poses a grave threat as this is a heavily forested area that has not burned in over 100 years.
Chris Waters, Operation Section Chief of the LNU Lightning Complex fire for Cal Fire, called the fire area "very complex terrain" in an update Sunday morning, per the Press Democrat. "Heavy fuels, redwood timber, lots of structures, a highly complex operation. We have resources working in there trying to connect the dots, trying to get a direct line on the fire. Progress is being made but it is still extremely challenging."
Cal Fire is expecting "extreme fire behavior" on Sunday as the potential for wind gusts of upwards of 40 miles per hour will come with the approaching storms.
And Cal Fire further warned Sonoma and Napa County residents to be prepared to evacuate in the next 24 hours in the event that the fire spreads or if new fires are sparked by lightning.
The eastern flank of the fire complex, primarily known as the Hennessey Fire, has been largely held outside of Vacaville. It has grown to 287,811 acres and now stands at 17-percent containment.
SCU Lightning Complex Fires
In the East Bay and into Santa Clara County, the SCU Lightning Complex fires reached 10-percent containment as of Sunday after burning over 340,000 acres. The fires, which began a full week ago, have destroyed only 5 commercial or residential structures so far as they have largely been burning in remote and unpopulated areas of Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, and San Joaquin counties. But as the winds pick up on Sunday, there is the threat that fire will move into the cities of Fremont, Dublin, Pleasanton, and Livermore.
Some of these areas are under new evacuation warnings, and early Sunday morning, the area around Welch Creek Road was evacuated near the Alameda/Santa Clara County border.
Cal Fire issued additional Alameda County evacuations and warnings early Sunday morning. The SCU Lightning Complex was nearly 340,000 acres at last update from fire officials. https://t.co/gMpRtrSgbA via @SFBay pic.twitter.com/TsBjBR9nW6— SFBay.ca (@sfbay) August 23, 2020
CZU Lightning Complex Fires
The large complex of fires straddling San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties had grown to 71,000 acres as of Sunday morning, and firefighters have achieved 8-percent containment. 129 structures have been destroyed by the fires.
The Dolan Fire near Big Sur in Los Padres National Forest has grown to 19,287 acres as of Sunday and it is now 10-percent contained.
#DolanFire Morning Update August 23, 2020— Los Padres NF (@LosPadresNF) August 23, 2020
Total Personnel: 488
Incident Website: https://t.co/RZL6Y34WQJ
Photo: Firefighter from Pennsylvania monitoring fire behavior. Credit, Jeff Gillentte pic.twitter.com/pDJxntM7MT
River Fire and Carmel Fire
The pair of fires burning in Monterey County, the Carmel Fire and the larger River Fire, are threatening to merge into one. The River Fire grew to over 48,000 acres overnight, with 15-percent containment, and winds are pushing its boundaries westward toward the Carmel Fire, which stands at 6,695 acres and 10-percent containment. Together the fires have destroyed 26 structures, and damaged dozens more.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images