Editor's note: This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
THE LATEST: As of Sunday morning:
• Firefighters and law enforcement officials from both Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties held their last scheduled press briefing on Monday, Aug. 31, as containment of the fire increased. Rosemerry Blankswade, spokesperson for the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, said that the emergency had been a learning experience for the responding agencies to improve their communications with each other and the public and urged people to be patient as they work to provide answers.
• As of Sunday morning, the CZU Lightning Complex encompassed 86,509 acres in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, Cal Fire officials.
• Containment of the fire increased to 68%.
• About 8,220 people remained currently under evacuation orders, down from 77,000 when the intensity of the fires peaked.
• 1,531 personnel were fighting the fires.
• Damage inspections have been completed. The fires destroyed 1,490 structures, including 925 homes, three multi-unit residential structures, 171 commercial structures, 388 other minor structures and three mixed-use commercial/residential development. Twenty of those structures were in San Mateo County, six of which were single-family homes, Cal Fire officials said Sunday evening. Fires have also damaged 90 homes, 16 commercial structures and 34 other minor structures.
• About 7,650 structures were threatened. San Mateo County has set up a website with damage assessments of affected structures available here. Access Santa Clara County's damage assessment website interactive map where affected residents can check the damage assessments of their homes. Residents affected by the fires can access Resource Assistance Centers at 140 Front Street, Santa Cruz and at Pescadero Elementary School 620 North St. in Pescadero.
• As of Sunday, critical fire weather caused by high temperatures and low humidity through Labor Day weekend could increase fire activity. People may experience increased smoke production. Firefighters are still building and strengthening fire perimeter lines, and most of the areas affected by the fires are being repopulated, according to Cal Fire.
• Fire crews from the western U.S. states and the National Guard have been sent. On Sunday, 300 California National Guard members arrived to help fight the fires, Cal Fire said in a press release. On Monday, they started assisting with fire suppression and mop-up efforts. They are not assisting in security or law enforcement activities, officials said.
• Evacuation orders were lifted for most of San Mateo County at noon on Thursday, Aug. 27, as were a number of road closures, and a number of other county areas have since been cleared for repopulation. See the most current evacuation areas here. Only two zones touching to the Santa Cruz county border in San Mateo County are still under evacuation orders, as of Friday.
• Sunday proved to be a "great day of progress" in battling the fires, Cal Fire officials said in a press conference Sunday evening, Aug. 30. Crews are doing extensive mop-up work and plan to concentrate suppression efforts in the Butano Park area in the coming days. With a heavy marine layer, air crews couldn't work as much as desired Sunday, Cal Fire said, but they were still able to drop 55,000 gallons of water to help fight the fires.
• Residents can continue to expect "a lot of smoke in and around the control lines," said Ian Larkin, unit chief for the Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz division on Sunday. Drier, hotter weather is expected to hit the region starting Wednesday to Thursday, Sept. 2-3, shifting winds to a northerly direction. Ahead of the warmup, Cal Fire intends to strengthen their fire control lines and mitigate any spread of the fire. Larkin reminded residents to "be ready to go" in case of a flareup or new fire, and said they should remain vigilant as it's "very early in the fire season."
• San Mateo County deputies have driven with Cal Fire to conduct inspection evaluations and identify damaged properties, San Mateo County Detective Rosemerry Blankswade said Aug. 29. The Sheriff's Office on Sunday emphasized that people should avoid the southern end of the county coastline unless they live or work there.
• Firefighters continue to face "known and unknown hazards," such as holes in trails from burnt-out stumps and damaged parking areas and roads. Crews are working to repopulate the evacuated areas and help safely re-enter their communities. Others are working to open roads, manage hazardous trees and restore utilities.
• Along with an unprecedented health crisis, California is currently experiencing wildfires of "historic" magnitude, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Monday. Newsom said at a press conference that there were 625 active fires — 17 of which constitute major fires, including the LNU, CZU and SCU Lightning Complex fires in the greater Bay Area. A total of roughly 1.2 million acres have burned in the recent fires, according to Newsom, and 11 in-state COVID-19 testing labs, including Verily, have been directly impacted. As thousands of residents are being told by local fire authorities to evacuate, Newsom said evacuees have been moved into hotels and congregate shelters that will require health screenings, as well as physical distancing and face mask protocols. Read more here.
• CalFire announced Tuesday afternoon that all Santa Clara County evacuation warnings have been lifted for the CZU Lightning Complex fire.
• Officials reported one fatality on Aug. 23. Crews recovered a fire victim, who had been reported missing, in a car near Last Chance Road in Davenport, according to Cal Fire officials. They announced Monday evening that the victim was Tad Jones, a 73-year-old resident of Last Chance Road. They also received three more missing persons cases.
• Cal Fire has installed three additional lightning detection cameras within the Santa Cruz Mountains to aid its monitoring and verification of lightning strikes that have started new fires.
• There are no active wildfires in Palo Alto. Palo Alto Fire Department crews continue to monitor fire activity and a crew is stationed at Station 8 in Foothills Park for fire watch, according to an Aug. 27 update from the city. Officers from the Palo Alto Police Department were roving the Palo Alto hills west of Interstate. The city of Palo Alto's updates are posted on this webpage.
• Half Moon Bay and the nearby state beaches have been closed. The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office is asking that people stay away from the coastal area for their safety and the safety of personnel involved in fighting the fire.
• San Mateo County Sheriff's Office warned residents to be aware of fraudulent GoFundMe campaigns and other scams being conducted by people claiming to be fire victims.
• The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office reported it had arrested two people and cited two people for being in the evacuation area when they shouldn't have been. "Until this fire gets under control, it's imperative that people stay out of the area," said Deputy Chief Chris Clark.
• Cal Fire is asking that charitable donations be made to charities and food banks, rather than to Cal Fire. Fire crews have what they need and cannot receive donations. "We ask that any voluntary efforts or donations be directed to … assist the community and those displaced by the fire," Assistant Chief Billy See said.
• Livestock and pets are being rescued by volunteer animal handlers.
• Watch a Cal Fire video of what it's like to drive through the wildfire.
Read on for the full story:
As wildfires ravage California, one is taking a heavy toll on the Midpeninsula: the CZU August Lightning Complex fires, which have affected local air quality, closed roads and, in some cases, forced evacuations.
As of Aug. 27, the evacuation was lifted for most San Mateo County residents. Find a detailed list of areas no longer under evacuation orders here.
At its peak, about 77,000 people were ordered to evacuate in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. Cal Fire staff urged residents in evacuation areas to leave so that fire crews do not have to rescue them and so their cars will not block roads that firefighters need to do their work.
In San Mateo County, the evacuation areas had included most of the territory southwest of Highway 84 and Skyline Boulevard, according to the Sheriff's Office Twitter feed. Note that Skylonda as described on the Cal Fire map refers not to the Sky Londa unincorporated area at the intersection of Highway 84 and Skyline Boulevard but to an area just south of it along Skyline Boulevard, near the Coal Creek Open Space Preserve.
Residents of Palo Alto Hills and Los Altos Hills were under an evacuation warning that was lifted Aug. 26.
Numerous areas in Santa Cruz County are under evacuation orders. For the most up-to-date information, view the map of current evacuation orders here.
Firefighters brace for long battle
Lightning strikes early Sunday morning, Aug. 16, started the blazes in northern Santa Cruz and southern San Mateo counties, according to Cal Fire. Due to multiple fires across the state, fewer state or local firefighting resources were available initially — typically, there would be 10 to 20 times the number of personnel, said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mark Brunton Aug. 21.
Fire crews from the western U.S. states have been sent, as well as the National Guard, which underwent several days of training before being sent out, Cal Fire staff said. They will be used on hand crews, which will help to create fire breaks to halt the progress of the wildfire.
"This fire is historic for an area like San Mateo-Santa Cruz. We have not seen fires burn like this in this unit for many, many years, and those fires were much smaller than what we have in front of us today," said Ian Larkin, chief of the San Mateo-Santa Cruz unit of Cal Fire on Aug. 20. "I want to thank all the firefighters out there doing their job today. They're working extremely hard. There are some heroic efforts out there to save people and property every minute this fire is burning."
The Santa Clara County Fire Department coordinates with Cal Fire, the county Emergency Operations Center, local law enforcement and fire partners and California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. If the fire hits the Santa Clara County line, the county Fire Department is preparing and planning to issue evacuation orders through the EOC if needed.
Another set of fires, the SCU Lightning Complex, is burning in the eastern part of Santa Clara County. The complex stretches from Santa Clara County to Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties and began on Aug. 16 at 4 a.m.
The Palo Alto Fire Department sent two engines to assist with the regional effort. One four-member crew is working at the site of the SCU Lightning Complex fires while another is at the River Fire in Monterey County, fire Chief Geoffrey Blackshire said on Aug. 21. Each will be out for a maximum of 14 days, he said.
Meanwhile, Engine 65 has been assisting at River Fire in Monterey County, which started on Aug. 16 around 3 p.m. The crew joined on Aug. 18 and was assigned to a neighborhood that was threatened with fire and charged with protecting six homes, all of which were either on fire or surrounded by fire.
According to an Aug. 21 update from the city, the firefighters were able to save five of the six homes and were "very disappointed that they lost one."
With the wildfire threat in effect, the city is currently staffing Station 8 in the foothills and monitoring the conditions. Blackshire has been in close contact with Santa Clara County fire chief and coordinating contingency plans, given the strained resources, according to the city's update.
"The county has no resources to provide for mutual aid out of the county, and Cal Fire has no additional resources that they can provide to any new fire outbreaks," the city's Aug. 21 update states.
While the Palo Alto Fire Department's staffing model now includes "brownouts" on some evenings and weekends as a result of the city's recent budget cuts, Blackshire said the department's participation in the regional effort will not impact staffing at Station 8 or other stations.
The Menlo Park Fire Protection District deployed 13 personnel to help fight five different fires around California, according to an Aug. 20 press release from Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.
In addition to the CZU August Lighting Complex fires, where personnel were focused protecting the town of La Honda, district personnel were sent to the Dome Fire at the Mojave National Preserve, the SCU Lightning Complex Fire in the South Bay, the River Fire in Monterey County and the LNU Lightning Complex Fire in Napa County. Some personnel within the district, along with their families, have lost their homes or been evacuated themselves, he said.
The Mountain View Fire Department sent 17 of its personnel to wildfires around the state, including two at the CZU complex fire, and Engine 652 was sent to the Canyon Zone fire, part of the SCU complex, said fire department spokesman Robert Maitland.
Engine 152 was deployed to the China Incident in Santa Cruz County. "The crew fought fire all night and was able to save many properties. They also experienced a significant change in conditions and had to escape the area. The crew is tired, but doing well," Maitland said Aug. 21 via email.
Mountain View's fire stations remain fully staffed and equipped, he said.
Residents, particularly in the evacuation zone, should make the necessary precautions to leave if needed, Blackshire said.
"What we encourage people to do is be prepared, be informed, make sure they are signed up for notifications and, if they are in the evacuation zone, to have a go-bag ready to go," he said.
The bag should include items such as clothes, money, medication, pet supplies and other necessities. While some residents may be reluctant to leave their homes during evacuations, Blackshire noted that firefighters cannot focus on protecting property until they are assured that there are no lives in danger. Knowing that people had evacuated makes the task of protecting homes much easier for responders, he said.
"Once we can conclude that there's no one in the home, we can really focus on protecting the home," he said.
Blazes force closures of local open spaces
As of 7 p.m. on Aug. 20, all San Mateo County parks were shut down until further notice so rangers could assist in firefighting efforts, according to a press release. Find information on the closures here.
On that same evening, the city of Palo Alto also announced the closures of Arastradero Preserve and Foothills Park until further notice due to the unhealthy air quality. The city moved forward with the temporary shutdown in an effort to protect visitors and employees from the smoke. The open spaces were reopened as of Aug. 31 in response to an "improvement in fire conditions," according to the city's coronavirus report.
On Aug. 21, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District also closed the following Skyline-area preserves due to fire operations and evacuations in the area until further notice: Coal Creek, El Corte De Madera Creek, Foothills, La Honda Creek, Long Ridge, Los Trancos, Monte Bello, Purisima Creek Redwoods, Russian Ridge, Saratoga Gap, Skyline Ridge, Teague Hill, Thornewood and Windy Hill.
On Aug. 22, Half Moon Bay and nearby state beaches were closed to visitors. The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office asked that people stay away from the coastal area for their safety and the safety of personnel involved in fighting the fire.
Stanford University's popular Dish hiking area and Matadero trails, which had been closed due to poor air quality, reopened Aug. 29 at 6:30 a.m. Updates can be found at dish.stanford.edu.
Spare the Air alerts
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued Spare the Air alerts through Sunday, Aug. 30, because of smoke from wildfires throughout the region that has created unhealthy air pollution.
Burning wood, manufactured fire logs or other solid fuel is banned both indoors and outdoors on days when the alerts are in effect, according to the air district.
The air district is recommending that Bay Area residents stay inside if possible with windows and doors closed until smoke levels subside.
People can find out when a Spare the Air alert is in effect by visiting sparetheair.org, calling 800-HELP-AIR (4357-247), downloading the Spare the Air smartphone app for iPhone or Android devices or connecting with Spare the Air on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
Residents can track the air quality in their neighborhoods through PurpleAir, an interactive, crowdsourced map that uses information from private sensors throughout the region to measure dust, smoke and other particulate matter. here.
People concerned about whether a loved one has evacuated safely from the area should visit redcross.org/safeandwell and click on "search for a family member" to access the American Red Cross's registry of evacuees.
People who don't find loved ones there and can't get in touch should report them missing by calling 831-471-1121, said Chris Clark, chief deputy with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office.
People who want to help should contact shelter sites and not venture near the fires, he added.
In San Mateo County, shelter sites have been set up at Half Moon Bay High School, at 1 Lewis Foster Drive in Half Moon Bay, and at the San Mateo Event Center, 1346 Saratoga Drive in San Mateo. The site at Half Moon Bay High School is full, so evacuees who can travel to the event center location are being encouraged to do so, according to Blankswade.
About 800 large animals have been evacuated from San Mateo County, and large-animal evacuation services are being provided. People who are worried about a pet lost during the evacuations can contact animal control at 831-471-1182, Clark said.
Go to fire.ca.gov/incidents for the latest updates.