The destructive CZU Lightning Complex fire in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties was declared fully, 100-percent contained on Wednesday, five and a half weeks after it was sparked and 86,000 scorched acres later. The larger SCU and LNU complexes to the east and north are both 98-percent contained, and will hopefully be fully contained before some possible winds kick up this weekend.
The CZU Lightning Complex began on August 16 and burned through a large swath of wilderness east of Pescadero in San Mateo County, and down through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Notably, the history Big Basin Redwoods State Park sustained significant damage, particularly to its campgrounds and historic visitors' center. Most of the ancient, fire-resistant redwood grove, however, survived and two of the oldest, tallest trees in the park made it through just fine.
Despite being the smallest of the three Bay Area fire complexes sparked in the same spate of lightning storms in mid-August, the CZU Lightning Complex was equally as destructive as the LNU Complex in Napa, Sonoma, and Solano counties — both fires destroyed 1,490 structures, and the CZU fires destroyed more single-family homes overall, with 925 destroyed in the final damage assessment, compared to around 750 in the LNU Complex.
At the peak of evacuation orders in the CZU Complex, some 77,000 residents were displaced from their homes. As the Mercury News reports, about 1,000 people remained displaced as of Tuesday.
Fire danger from these fire zones does not fully disappear with containment, however.
"Remember, contained is not controlled,” says the Cal Fire CZU (San Mateo-Santa Cruz) Unit in a tweet. “We will continue to monitor this fire for smoldering areas."
The deadliest of the California wildfires this season to date is the North Complex Fire, which continues burning in Butte County. That fire, which began with the other lightning complex fires but flared up again on September 7, claimed at least 15 lives, most of them in the small wooded town of Berry Creek — and the stories of those who failed to evacuate in time bring with them tragic echoes of the Camp Fire two years ago, which occurred just about 20 miles to the northwest. The North Complex is currently 75-percent contained.
Such flare-ups and new spread of these weeks-old fires are the nightmare scenario the Bay Area wants desperately to avoid — and the scenario that Cal Fire doesn't want to see repeated in the North Complex.
Similarly high winds are due to hit Northern California this Saturday, September 26, which could spell disaster in any number of areas where fires are still burning or smoldering, including within the perimeter of the August Complex Fire to the north. That fire, now the largest in state history at 860,000 acres, is only 39-percent contained as of Wednesday, and spans four counties (Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte, and Trinity). It's burning in very remote, undeveloped terrain, and therefore despite its size it has only destroyed 51 structures to date.