Containment on the three major wildfire complexes around the Bay grew overnight on Tuesday, and evacuation orders began to be lifted in parts of the North Bay that either burned last week or were largely spared.
Thousands of residents in Napa and Sonoma County, some who lost homes in the LNU Lightning Complex fires last week and many of whom did not, were able to return to the evacuation zones on Tuesday. As KTVU reports, that included residents of the burned-out Spanish Flat mobile home park that was one of the first areas to burn in the Hennessey and Spanish Fires early last week. The majority of the mobile homes in the park were destroyed, and KTVU speaks to 77-year-old resident Marcia Ritz, who was with nine other people on a pontoon boat in Lake Berryessa watching their homes burn.
"I'll just say that was one part of my life and I'll start a new life," Ritz told the station.
Much has been reported on the burning of Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County, and how the 1,000- and 2,000-year-old trees there appear to have largely survived what was certainly not their first bought with fire. But there has been less attention paid to another ancient redwood grove north of Guerneville in Sonoma County, Armstrong Woods. The grove was spared from being logged in the late 19th century when much of the surrounding area, including present-day Guerneville, was similarly filled with old-growth redwoods and logged and sold as building material through several nearby sawmills. Colonel James Boydston Armstrong bought the property in 1875, and in the early 20th century, after he had spent years trying to preserve this section of especially old redwoods, his daughter succeeded in getting the land legal protection following his death.
One of the oldest trees, a 1,400-year-old redwood known as the Colonel Armstrong Tree, survived the Walbridge Fire, as did most of the grove. As Brendan O’Neil, a state natural resources manager who oversees the park, tells the Chronicle, the tree was looking "happy" on Tuesday, and much of the burning that happened in the park was just underbrush that needed to be cleared anyway.
"We’ve been working cooperatively [with Cal Fire] too, as carefully as possible, to help guide the fire through the forest to minimize damage to the irreplaceable resources that we have there," O'Neil told the paper.
Below, some more updates.
LNU Lightning Complex
The LNU Complex stands at 357,000 acres of Wednesday morning, with 33-percent containment overall. That includes the previously less contained Walbridge Fire, which now stands at 19-percent contained, and the coastal Meyers Fire, which is at 97-percent containment. While parts of Sonoma County west of Healdsburg remain under evacuation orders and could still see a threat from fire if the weather shifts, firefighters are now using the fire to clear underbrush and allowing it to burn slowly in some wooded areas to protect against future fire.
Controlled backfiring and extra water drops were happening in Lake County Tuesday in an effort to keep the northeastern section of the fire from moving into Middletown — which was ravaged by the Valley Fire just five years ago.
The number of structures destroyed by the fire complex stands at 978.
SCU Lightning Complex
The number of hot-spot areas in the largest of the fire complexes, the SCU Lightning Complex, continues to decline. The fire grew by 2,000 more acres overnight to 365,772 acres, and it now stands at 25-percent containment, up from 15 percent on Tuesday. The fire complex is the second-largest in state history, but only around 20 structures have destroyed. 20,000 homes and buildings remain under threat from the fires, which span seven counties though containment is moving in the right direction, with only three or four main areas still being battled. Still, officials noted on Tuesday that "deep-seated heat" remains at the bottom of some steep canyons.
CZU Lightning Complex Fires
As seen in the map above, there are still scattered hot spots in the CZU Complex, with one still burning east of Pescadero, and another primary one burning around Bonny Doon, west of Felton. Evacuation orders remain in place, though we learned Tuesday that a "rag-tag group" of amateur firefighters remain in the area trying to protect neighbors' homes, and their own.
This complex continues to grow slowly, as SFGate reports, and it remains the least contained of the three major fire complexes at just 19 percent as of Wednesday morning. The CZU Complex now stands at 80,137 acres, up from 79,640 acres on Tuesday.
"The fire's not explosive," said Cal Fire Operations Chief Mark Brunton in a Wednesday briefing. "We're not seeing the fire runs we saw a week ago. The weather has changed... As we start getting into the weekend, it's going to start drying a little bit more. Any fire that is there, we will see slight intensity, but nothing we've seen in the past week."
The number of homes and structures destroyed rose by about 100 since Tuesday, to 538, as damage assessments continue. The vast majority of the damage has been in Santa Cruz County.
The Woodward Fire near Point Reyes in Marin County remained about the same size as Tuesday, 2,739 acres, and it still is only 5-percent contained. Cooler temperatures and a thick marine layer are both a boon and a hindrance to the firefight — as the Marin Independent Journal reports, the fog and smoke made air support nearly impossible Tuesday evening and night.
Evacuation warnings remain in place for Olema, Bolinas, and the Lagunitas Creek area, however firefighters have said they have been able to hold their fire lines so far in the last 24 hours.
Below, an update on the Woodward Fire from Wednesday morning.
Top photo: Vaca Strong is spelled out on a hill charred by the LNU Lightning Complex fire on August 24, 2020 in Vacaville, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)