History Tells Us That Fire Season May Be Just Getting Started in Northern California

The past couple weeks have been very successful for fire officials as the largest and most damaging fires currently burning in Northern California have seen dramatic increases in containment. The August Complex Fire, California’s first recorded million-acre wildfire, is now up to 70 percent containment, while the devastating Zogg, Glass and North Complex fires are near full containment.

There’s certainly reason for optimism during the final months of the devastating 2020 fire season, but caution must be used when looking at the light at the end of the tunnel. The question has to be asked – what’s next?

Historically, the biggest and most destructive fires in California happen after September 1. In fact, nine of the top ten most destructive fires in California’s history have occurred from September to December. This is due to the long drying period over the summer months creating more dangerous fuel sources in forested areas. The only exception to the list was 2018’s devastating Carr Fire, which started in July (North Complex started in August, but saw its most destruction in September).

Most notably, 2017’s Tubbs Fire in Sonoma started on October 8 and burned 5,643 structures, including 22 fatalities. It was the most destructive fire in California’s history, that is until the Camp Fire began just over a year later on November 8, 2018. That fire destroyed 18,804 buildings and took 85 lives.

Here are the other notable NorCal fires that made the top ten in destructive California fires:

  • Tunnel Fire – Alameda County – 2,900 structures destroyed in October 1991
  • Valley Fire – Lake County – 1,955 structures destroyed in September 2015
  • Nunns Fire – Sonoma County – 1,355 structures destroyed in October 2017
  • Jones Fire – Shasta County – 954 structures destroyed in October 1999

The larger fires (in acreage) in California’s history typically occur between July and August, but it’s the fires in the fall months that see the most structure damage. In spring, it seemed we may be able to avoid another devastating fire season. But without any significant precipitation in the following weeks, we may just be seeing a delay of the inevitable.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

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