California Wildfires 2020

The Western United States and Canada typically see wildfires each year, especially between August and  November. In 2020 “Above Normal significant fire potential is expected across much of the Great Basin, northern California, Pacific Northwest, and northern Rockies.” According to the National Interagency Fire Center’s (NIFC) National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) – the body that coordinates wildfire resources across the U.S in their August 1 update.

And we’re already seeing that prediction come to be. There are several major fires burning across North America and as of the morning of August 19, there were 75 large uncontained fires identified by the NICC with the goal of full suppression and another 18 major wildfires being managed under another strategy such as controlled burn.

In California, as of Aug. 19, there have been at least 5,762 fire incidents so far in 2020. Compared with 5,800 incidents by the end of October in 2019. California Governor Gavin Newsome declared a state of emergency for the entire state of California on August 18th as a result of the significant fires and the critical fire weather conditions.

Immediate needs include shelter, evacuation support, family reconnection, food, health care (especially due to the excessive smoke and poor air quality during the COVID-19 pandemic) and case management. Due to COVID-19, additional resources will be required to evacuate safely into non-communal facilities.

Long-term support will be needed for the rebuilding of homes, income recovery, agricultural needs and additional preparedness support to vulnerable populations and mental health and psychosocial support. The combined threat of COVID-19 and wildfires are causing extraordinary anxiety and trauma in affected populations.


We are watching and monitoring the following major fires in CA:

The following fire update is courtesy of The Center for Disaster Philanthropy. 

  • The Lake Fire started in the afternoon of Aug. 12 on the outskirts of the city of Lancaster in Los Angeles County, and is currently burning into the Castaic Lake State Recreation area just north of Santa Clarita (60 miles north of Los Angeles). As of Aug. 20, it had burned 27,041 acres and was 48% contained. The fire is fast and grew over 8,000 acres in the three days between Aug. 14 and 17. Officials are expecting extreme fire behavior to continue, and the fire to grow over the coming days helped by high temperatures and low humidity. Officials said that this particular area had not burned since 1968, and has a very dense fuel load that adds to the challenges of accessing the area. More than 4,500 structures are currently threatened, 21 structures have been destroyed and at least 100 homes have been evacuated.
  • The River Fire began on the afternoon of Aug. 16 and is burning just east of the city of Salinas. As of Aug. 20, 33,653 acres had been burned, and the fire was only 7% contained, a loss of 3% of containment since Aug. 17. While the fire continues to burn mainly to the south, firefighters are trying to defend structures that are imminently threatened along the north edge of the fire. As of Aug. 19, eight structures had been damaged or destroyed and there had been four injuries to fire personnel or civilians. FEMA authorized a Federal Fire Management Assistance Declaration (FM-5329-CA)on Aug. 17.
  • The Loyalton Fire is burning northeast of the community of Loyalton, near the border with Nevada and only a few miles northwest of the city of Reno. This fire has been extremely active. It started early in the evening of Aug. 14 and grew to more than 46,617 acres in size with 38% containment as of Aug. 20.
  • The SCU Lightning Complex is composed of approximately 20 fires spread across six counties around Santa Clara. These fires were all started the morning of Aug. 18 as lightning moved across the area and had burned 137,475 acres with only 5% containment the morning of Aug. 20. By merging these smaller fires into one larger incident, wildfire crews can reduce the demand for the limited number of Incident Management Teams that are available throughout the U.S.
  • The LNU Lightning Complex is composed of seven fires in Napa and Sonoma counties that have burned 131,000 acres and were 0% contained as of the morning of Aug. 20. These fires have damaged or destroyed approximately 105 structures and at least four people have been injured. Over 1,000 other structures are imminently threatened and there are evacuation orders throughout the area. On Aug. 18, FEMA authorized a Fire Management Assistance Declaration (FM-5331-CA) for this complex.
  • The CZU August Lightning Complex is composed of five major fires and numerous smaller fires in Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties. These lightning-caused fires started late in the evening on Aug. 17 and had burned 40,000 acres with 0% containment as of Aug. 20. There are a large number of evacuation orders throughout the area and at least two people have been injured.
  • The August Complex is composed of 35 lightning-caused fires that started across the Mendocino National Forest in California. As of Aug. 20, these fires had grown to approximately 65,030 acres and no estimated containment percentage was available. There are several evacuation orders in place for nearby communities and officials are expecting the fire to continue to grow.
  • The Red Salmon Complex is composed of the Red and Salmon fires that were ignited close to each other by a July 27 lightning storm in the Six Rivers National Forest near Willow Creek. As of Aug. 19, the combined fires have burned 16,255 acres and are 38% contained but this complex is expected to grow towards the south as a result of terrain that cannot be safely accessed by firefighters.
  • The Dome Fire is burning in the Mojave National Preserve near Cima, California and was mapped at 43,273 acres with only 74% containment as of Aug. 20. While it does not present an imminent threat to populated areas, a large number of historic and sensitive ecological sites are threatened. These include two historical mines, a desert tortoise habitat and the largest natural occurring Joshua Tree forest. In addition, several pieces of critical infrastructure are threatened including a railway, electrical transmission lines and at least one natural gas line.

For a complete list of all active wildfire incidents across the United States, please visit the National Interagency Fire Center or the National Wildfire Coordination Group’s InciWeb.

As with most disasters, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the greatest area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.

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