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What we know Wednesday about North State wildfires: Cost to fight North Complex exceeds $100M

David Benda
Redding Record Searchlight

Update, 7:30 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020

The cost to battle the North Complex of fires has crossed the $100 million threshold, the U.S. Forest Service reported Wednesday.

The complex has cost an estimated $101 million.

Burned out vehicles and frames are all that was left in Berry Creek, California after the Bear Fire struck the area on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The town is about 25 miles northeast of Oroville. The fire is part of the lightning-sparked North Complex. It began to rapidly spread fueled by strong winds.

Estimated containment on the complex, which has burned more than 300,000 acres, is Nov. 15, officials said.

The North Complex started Aug. 18 in the Plumas National Forest, but the fire blew up into Butte County on Sept. 8 and devastated  the community of Berry Creek.

Fifteen people have died and 1,784 structures have been lost.

The wildfire is considered the fifth largest in state history, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. 

Meanwhile, weather conditions through Thursday are expected to be relatively stable. Winds during the day are expected to be southwesterly around 10-15 mph with gusts to around 25 mph, mainly above 6,000 feet, officials said.

However, changes are coming for the weekend and early next week, which is expected to be hotter and drier with strengthening winds. There is a chance for a fire weather watch to be issued, officials said.

Original story

Fire crews continued their work Monday to protect homes in the northern part of the August Complex, which ranks as the largest wildfire in California history.

Firefighters are working to prevent flames from crossing Highway 36.

The August Complex of fires is burning in Tehama, Trinity, Mendocino, Humboldt, Lake and Glenn counties. The complex's huge size is due to many lightning fires merging, including the Elkhorn, Hopkins, Willow, Doe and Vinegar fires.

Containment was 34% Monday — the same as Sunday.

The August Complex burns in Tehama, Mendocino, Humboldt, Lake, Glenn and Trinity counties. Firefighter Mike McMillan - a task force leader from Boise, Idaho - took this and other photos of the complex of fires on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. The complex of fires reached 846,732 acres and was 34% contained as of Monday, Sept. 21, 2020.

Crews are conducting burning operations to contain the south portion of the complex. The east side of the south zone is fully contained, officials said.

The perimeter of the August Complex is more than 565 miles, which officials say is a greater distance than the drive from Red Bluff to Boise, Idaho.

In the north zone, Lower Mad River Road between Dam Camp and Fir Cove is closed due to smoke and fire traffic in the area. Fire operations were conducted to secure the area along South Fork Mountain down behind homes in Ruth, which brought controlled fire down the western slope. Additional dozer lines were constructed between houses to bolster structure defense. Officials said that this operation will continue throughout the week.

The August Complex burns in Tehama, Mendocino, Humboldt, Lake, Glenn and Trinity counties. Firefighter Mike McMillan - a task force leader from Boise, Idaho - took this and other photos of the complex of fires on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. The complex of fires reached 846,732 acres and was 34% contained as of Monday, Sept. 21, 2020.

Most of the complex has burned in the Mendocino National Forest. Latest figures as of Saturday show 565,990 acres were in the Mendocino forest with 101,985 acres in Six Rivers National Forest and 82,758 acres in Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Tall grass up to 2½ feet, chaparral brush up to 6 feet and timber have burned, contributing to the wildfire smoke that's fouled the air around Northern California.

North Zone of the August Complex on Sept. 21, 2020.

Here's a rundown of fires burning around the North State:

Slater/Devil Fires

  • Location: Siskiyou, Del Norte, Josephine (Oregon) counties
  • Size: 156,135 acres (148,677 Slater; 7,458 Devil as of Tuesday)
  • Containment: 24% for Slater, 18% for Devil
  • Notes: Two fatalities, 150 residences destroyed, 11 structures damaged, 5,058 structures threatened. Residents next to the Cave Junction, Oregon, city limits remain at a Level 1 "be ready to evacuate" level. Wildland crews are continuing to establish control lines, including along Highway 199 to protect Gasquet in Del Norte County. Crews are digging line alont the fire's north side, south of Cave Junction, Takilma, Sun Star and over to Browntown. The Slater Fire to the south is mainly in mop-up and patrol status. Evacuation warnings were lifted Monday for the town of Happy Camp, Seiad and Elk Creek area. Evacuations remain for Indian Creek Road and Indian Creek Meadows, where the roads are closed.
  • Cost: $17.1 million ($17 million Slater, $100,000 Devil) (as of Wednesday)
  • Incident management page: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7173/

'Folks, the danger is not over yet.':Fire officials update the North Complex Fire in Butte Co.

Fox Fire

  • Location: Siskiyou County, Callahan area
  • Size: 2,188 acres (Tuesday)
  • Containment: 43% 
  • Notes:  No significant fire activity from Sunday night into Monday. The fire is holding south of Forest Road 40N17 as crews continue to build a control line into the Trinity Alps. Evacuations have been lifted for west of Callahan at the South Fork of the Scott River, but an evacuation warning remains. The Fox Lake Trail and Forest Service Road 40N17 remain closed along with the Klamath National Forest until Sept. 24.
  • Cost: $1 million (as of Wednesday)
  • Incident management page: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7203/

Red Salmon Complex

  • Location: Trinity and Humboldt counties, northeast of Willow Creek mainly in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area
  • Size: 104,667 (Tuesday)
  • Containment: 29%
  • Notes: Crews are working to build control lines while waiting for the right weather conditions to do firing operations. The southwest section remains active. As the air clears, helicopter pilots are dropping buckets of water on key hot spots. Hose lays, pumps and other structure-protection measures remain in Denny and Forks of Salmon. An evacuation warning in effect for Forks of Salmon.
  • Cost: $67.5 million (as of Wednesday)
  • Expected containment: Sept. 30, 2020
  • Incident management page: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/article/6891/56526/

Wildfire maps:Here are 7 online fire maps Californians can use to stay in-the-know

August Complex 

  • Location: Tehama, Mendocino, Humboldt, Lake, Glenn, Trinity counties
  • Size: 846,898 acres (all zones as of Tuesday evening; West Zone at 95,168 acres and 35% contained)
  • Containment: 38% 
  • Notes: 1 death (volunteer firefighter Diana Jones, 63, died in the fire Aug. 31); 11 injuries; largest fire in California history, third largest fire in U.S. history; 86 structures destroyed; merged fires include Elkhorn, Hopkins, Willow, Doe and Vinegar
  • Incident management page: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/6983/
  • Cost: $47.5 million (as of Wednesday)
  • Expected containment: Nov. 15, 2020
Shasta County District Attorney Investigator Alex Houston makes an arrest for illegal possession of a firearm while patrolling parts of Butte County that were under evacuation due to the North Complex fire. Shasta County investigators were helping the Butte County Sheriff's Office during the ongoing fire emergency in September 2020.

North Complex

  • Location: Plumas and Butte counties, southwest of Susanville
  • Size: 300.204 acres (Tuesday evening) 
  • Containment: 75% 
  • Notes: A bear found injured in the West Zone of the North Complex is in guarded condition, but stable. The blaze is burning west toward the Ponderosa Reservoir and southwest down to the South Fork of the Feather River, as welll as south toward Forbestown Reservoir Road. Crews are building both direct and indirect control lines to keep the fire away from Forbestown, Woodleaf, Clipper Mills and Strawberry Valley. The fire's western and southern perimeters are holding with no fire growth expected. Some 140 California National Guard soldiers arrived Sunday to help in mopping up. Fifteen people have died and 1,784 structures have been lost.
  • Incident management page: https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/2020/8/18/north-complex-fire/
  • Cost: $101 million (as of Wednesday)