California firestorm could claim more than 3,000 homes and structures

California firestorm could claim more than 3,000 homes and structures

SAN FRANCISCO — Nearly 2,000 structures have been destroyed by the historic fires sweeping across Northern California, but officials say that number could almost double before the blazes are extinguished.

Crews are now going through the many fire zones conducting an assessment of burned structures, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, noting that this is possible because of significant progress on the front lines over the last two days.

The count of destroyed structures is ongoing, and the department’s “preliminary assessments indicate that number could rise in total to over 3,000,” Berlant said in a briefing.

“We are busy trying to get that information and provide it to the public,” he added.

Santa Cruz County has released an online map so residents can see whether their homes have been damaged. But officials cautioned that the assessment is ongoing, so the map may not be current.

Here is a partial breakdown of the losses:

— 978 structures destroyed in the LNU Lightning Complex fire (wine country).

— 538 destroyed in the CZU Lightning Complex fire (San Mateo-Santa Cruz).

— 73 destroyed in the Carmel fire (Monterey County).

— 37 destroyed in the SCU Lightning Complex fire (Santa Clara County/east of San Jose and west of Central Valley).

— 30 destroyed in the River fire (Monterey County).

— 21 destroyed in the Jones fire (Nevada County).

Since Aug. 15 — which marked the beginning of a “lightning siege” that has seen almost 14,000 lightning strikes statewide — crews have contended with more than 700 new wildfires that have charred more than 1.3 million acres.

However, despite the devastation, officials are continuing to report promising progress in battles against the firestorm.

“All of the firefighters are continuing to make very good progress, though it has been a grueling couple of weeks,” Berlant said Wednesday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom added Wednesday that the state is “putting every single asset we possibly can, deploying every conceivable resource to battle these historic wildfires.”

Though containment of some of the largest blazes burning across the state has improved, crews are being kept busy responding to new fires. In the 24-hour period ending early Wednesday afternoon, Newsom said there were 423 additional lightning strikes throughout the state and 50 newly reported fires.

“As of an hour or so ago, they have been effectively suppressed, all 50 of those new fires, but it gives you a sense of the magnitude and scope of what these incredible leaders, these incredible front-line heroes, are doing every single day,” Newsom said shortly after noon.

Containment of the CZU Lightning Complex fire, which has burned more than 80,000 acres, now stands at 19%. Newsom said this particular conflagration “has generated a lot of stress, for no other reason than, in recorded history, we’ve never seen a fire this size and scope in this region of the state.”

Ian Larkin, unit chief for Cal Fire’s San Mateo Santa Cruz Unit, said Wednesday that “we’re starting to make some progress.”

“Though it’s slow and methodical, it is happening,” he said during a morning briefing.

Crews are continuing to build containment lines around the flames, and plan to do a controlled burn to create a protective barrier around the community of Felton.

“That will then button up that part of the fire above Felton, so that is excellent news,” Cal Fire Operations Chief Mark Brunton said Wednesday. “It’s going to take a couple days once we do that to continue to mop up, take out the hot spots and then render that safe.”

While reluctant to commit to an exact timeline, officials said they’re hopeful the repopulation of evacuated areas could begin in a matter of days. Already, authorities on Tuesday afternoon lifted all evacuation warnings in Santa Clara County.

“If we can successfully go through the next 24 to 30 hours, get the perimeter established in there, (then) over the course of the next 72 to 120 hours … we will look at hopefully bringing some sense of normalcy back to this area,” Cal Fire Incident Commander Billy See said Wednesday. “Obviously, it’s all dependent upon the weather conditions, how successful we are out on the ground itself, but we have detailed plans to start moving folks back in when it’s safe to do so.”

Crews also plan to soon restore power to the community of Davenport, Brunton said.

Six people are still missing in the area of the CZU Lightning Complex, according to Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Chris Clark. Two people who had been unaccounted for were located Tuesday, but the department received another missing persons report to add to its total, he said Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, deputies also found a 63-year-old woman dead in her home in Felton. It appears she died of natural causes, Clark said.

The SCU Lightning Complex fire — which at 365,772 acres ranks as the second-largest in California history — was 25% contained as of Wednesday morning.

“A lot of good work has happened in the last 24 hours,” Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Tim Ernst said Tuesday. “We no longer see a threat of forward movement of the fire.”

He added that “we currently have only about three or four areas that still have a lot of fire activity.”

Authorities on Wednesday downgraded an evacuation order issued amid a fire in Stanislaus County to a warning.

The third-largest fire in state history, the LNU Lightning Complex, has charred 357,046 acres and was 33% contained as of Wednesday morning.

“I assure you that every resource available to us is working tirelessly and as hard as they can to ensure your safety and get you home as quickly as possible,” Cal Fire Unit Chief Shana Jones said during a briefing.

While continued progress in containment of the widespread wildfires is encouraging, the blazes have taken a dramatic toll — and not just in terms of acres burned.

More than 136,000 people across the state have been evacuated from their homes, officials said Tuesday.

There have been seven fire-related fatalities, including five people who died in the LNU Lightning Complex fire — three in Napa County and two in Solano County — and one in the CZU Lightning Complex fire. A pilot also died in a helicopter crash in Fresno County while on a water-dropping mission for the Hills fire.

However, officials said the hard work of front-line firefighters, with an assist from Mother Nature in the form of cooperative weather, is making a significant difference.

“This weather pattern is fantastic,” Brunton said, as increased humidity and fuel moisture levels have allowed crews to get a better handle on the CZU Lightning Complex fire.