The CZU August Lightning Complex Fires have been fully contained, as of a 9 p.m. announcement from Cal Fire on Sept. 22.
The fires that roared through the coastside and Santa Cruz Mountains in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties were ignited by lightning in the morning hours of Aug. 16. Ultimately, they burned 86,509 acres, or about 135 square miles, claiming one life and destroying 1,490 structures. About 22,755 of the acres burned were in San Mateo County.
While the fires are 100% contained, the area is still not completely controlled, according to a tweet from Cal Fire's San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit. The agency announced it will continue to monitor the fire for smoldering areas.
The fire complex was the largest on record in San Mateo County, Cal Fire reported. Five of the largest six wildfires on record in California have happened in August and September this year, according to Cal Fire. Before that, the largest was the Mendocino Complex fire in July 2020, but it has been surpassed by the August Complex fire in Tehama County, which measured nearly 860,000 acres on Sept. 23.
Cal Fire CZU, the agency's San Mateo-Santa Cruz unit, created a video showcasing all of the thank you letters they've received from grateful residents.
As the fires blazed, locals also stepped up to help fight the flames. The Almanac went for ride-alongs with Andy Kerr, co-owner of Alice's Restaurant, as he made meal deliveries to firefighters and holdouts who stayed behind in defiance of evacuation orders.
The scale of the blazes triggered an all-hands-on-deck response, with many community members providing assistance in addition to the efforts of local professional firefighters.
Plus, the professional firefighters themselves also took extra steps to support the firefighting efforts. The Menlo Park Fire Protection District at one point delivered supplies like cots, portable showers and water to exhausted volunteer firefighters in Boulder Creek.
Local volunteer firefighters, including chiefs Ari Delay of the La Honda Fire Brigade and Hank Stern of the Kings Mountain Fire Brigade, stepped up alongside professional firefighters to battle the blazes and defend their hometowns.
Local equestrians and other members of the San Mateo Large Animal Evacuation Group also took on the herculean task of evacuating nearly 1,500 animals from areas impacted by the fires. They identified evacuation sites, relocated animals and coordinated food deliveries to protect horses, cattle, donkeys, goats and more from the fires.
Even local park rangers and arborists contributed their expertise and machines to help protect public lands like Memorial Park, Sam McDonald Park and Pescadero Creek County Park. While an estimated 2,700 acres of Pescadero Creek County Park burned, county arborist Dan Krug noted that the way that the fire burned on county property helped to reduce the fire fuel loads on the ground, and could help the department better manage the forest moving forward.
With the fire contained, the next steps are to evaluate the damage and work toward restoration, he said. "There's going to be a broad closure likely for some time until we're really able to assess what is hazardous, and we would implore the public to heed the closures," he told The Almanac.
Though there are still some minimal road closures in San Mateo County, the evacuation orders have ended and people have been permitted to return to their homes, with the exception of 14 single-family homes that were destroyed by the fires.
As recovery efforts move forward, one challenge will be to protect the watershed and prevent sedimentation — and later flooding — in areas like Pescadero Creek, said Kellyx Nelson, executive director of the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District.
The resource conservation district provides non-regulatory, confidential, free assistance and offers technical services to households affected by the fires.
Go to smcgov.org/smc-wildfire-recovery for more information and resources about how to access help if you have been affected by the wildfires.