California has first million-acre megafire as devastating season sets new records

By Colby Bermel 10/05/2020 05:06 PM EDT

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The August Complex of wildfires surpassed the grim milestone Monday of over 1 million acres burned, the first blaze in recorded California history to reach seven figures of acreage.

The update by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on the August Complex in the north coastal range of mountains came just after the agency announced Sunday that the state has seen over 4 million acres burned so far this year. That’s more than the double the total destruction of 1.9 million acres burned in all of 2018, the previous record year.

The August Complex started in Mendocino National Forest almost two months ago after lightning strikes ignited 37 fires that merged together. The complex exploded in size last month when winds blew flames beyond previously established control lines.

Details: Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service are fighting the fires together, which are burning in Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity, Tehama, Glenn, Lake and Colusa counties. As of Monday morning, according to the agencies, the August Complex burned 1,002,097 acres and was 54 percent contained.

The Forest Service said hot and dry conditions continue, challenging firefighting efforts. The air quality in and around the fire ranges from “unhealthy” to “hazardous,” with the region experiencing the country’s worst air quality aside from areas near the Creek Fire in Fresno and Madera counties, which is the state’s second- largest active incident that has burned over 322,000 acres and is 48 percent contained.

Since the megafires began, weather patterns have spread their smoke across much of California, creating days of unhealthy air conditions that have forced millions of residents to remain inside.

The August Complex and the Creek Fire, along with the North Complex in the Sierra foothills, are three of the largest wildfires in California history. According to Cal Fire, over 16,000 firefighters are battling 23 major blazes right now. More than 8,300 fires have occurred so far this year, which have killed 31 people and destroyed nearly 8,700 structures.

What’s next: California has yet to experience the full extent of its annual Diablo and Santa Ana winds, which in recent years have led to some of the state’s deadliest and most destructive blazes. Those winds occur in the normal peak fire months of October and November.

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