SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The wildfires that have raged through more than 1 million acres in Northern California since igniting during dry lightning strikes last month have left behind massive burn scars across the once green landscape.
Nowhere is this more evident than from space. NASA scientists have trained cameras from the Aqua and Terra satellites orbiting over the West Coast to capture images of the vast destruction.
In addition to these satellite-based efforts, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar instrument will be flying this week over the River and Carmel fires in Monterey County, the CZU Lightning Complex fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, and the LNU Lightning Complex fires in Sonoma, Napa, Solano, and Lake counties.
“When disasters like this occur, we are able to swiftly respond to requests from our partners who need images and mapping data,” said David Green, manager of the Disasters Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Likewise, in the aftermath of the fires, our researchers will use orbital and aerial data of the burn areas to help mitigate hazards such as landslides and mudslides.”
As California experiences one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, we’re using our resources to help responding agencies. From air and space, we’re mapping the current fires, while identifying areas that may be susceptible to future risks. https://t.co/zGzIFFUhi2 pic.twitter.com/3Vwdon2hvV
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) September 1, 2020
— NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) August 31, 2020
Miles below the satellites’ watchful eye, thousands of firefighters continued to make progress on three major dry lightning caused wildfire complexes burning in the San Francisco Bay Area.
SCU Lightning Complex
The largest of the three complex fires, the SCU Lightning Complex, grew to 391,578 acres overnight with 72 percent containment. While its flames once threatened eight counties, it was now mostly burning in Santa Clara County where evacuation orders are still in place for several neighborhoods.
“Interior islands continue to burn out, consuming heavy brush and dead/down material completely,” Cal Fire said Wednesday. “Dry air above 2,000 feet continued to allow fire to burn actively through the night.”
— CAL FIRE SCU (@calfireSCU) September 2, 2020
CZU Lightning Complex
The terrain and timber-rich forests of the Santa Cruz Mountain have slowed containment of the CZU Complex. As of Wednesday morning, the complex had burned 85,467 acres and was 46 percent contained. Many evacuated residents have been allowed home, particularly to communities like Davenport along the San Mateo County coast. But fallen timbers on roadways, downed utility lines and lack of adequate water supply has slowed the re-population efforts elsewhere.
Highway 1 remained closed north of Santa Cruz, but crews were hopeful it could be reopened soon.
The complex has destroyed nearly 1,000 homes — mostly in Santa Cruz County. In total, the blaze has destroyed 1,431 structures in Santa Cruz County — more than the 1,084 destroyed in the county by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
At his Wednesday morning briefing, Cal Fire CZU Operations Chief Mark Bruton said conditions were improving along the Highway 9 corridor.
“Highway 9 corridor every day is getting better and better,” he said. “We do have hose lines put in among those homes. We are getting full extinction in the area, but there is a lot of really steep terrain. Yesterday, we did have a spot (fire) outside the fire lines. Fortunately, one of our helicopters was flying and able to detect that and we were able to get in there and extinguish it.”
LNU Lightning Complex
The LNU Lightning Complex burning in wine country had grown to 375,209 acres overnight and was 76 percent contained as of early Wednesday. So far the blazes that make up the complex have destroyed 299 homes in Solano County, 297 in Napa County and 159 in Sonoma County.
— CAL FIRE LNU (@CALFIRELNU) September 2, 2020
At his Wednesday morning briefing, Cal Fire operations Chief Chris Waters said the Meyers fire was out and that there was enough containment to allow residents evacuated from the Walbridge Fire area to begin returning to their homes on Wednesday.
“The Meyers fire is completed,” he said. “The fire’s been in the fog the last couple days. We’re going to consider that out.”