Residents in several Bay Area counties fled their homes on Monday under mandatory evacuation orders as inland temperatures rose above 100 degrees and firefighters battled a string of fast-spreading forest fires sparked by thunderstorms – with the risk of more the way.
The National Weather Service was issuing red flag warnings across Northern California by Monday evening as extreme weather conditions increased the risk of wildfires across the area. A heat warning should remain in effect until Wednesday.
Elsewhere in the state, temperatures reached even more astonishing numbers – in Death Valley temperatures hit 130 degrees on Sunday, possibly the hottest global temperature ever recorded, according to the National Weather Service.
The chief of California’s primary power grid manager warned that rolling blackouts were imminent on Monday, but later said they were not needed. Network operators blamed several factors for the power shortage, most important of which was the extreme and widespread nature of the heat wave, which forces seething households to turn up energy-consuming air conditioning systems.
“We will see more thunderstorms across the region,” said Brian Garcia, a meteorologist for the agency’s Bay Area unit. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more forest fires, but it all depends on where lightning strikes.”
This video was captured by CHP Golden Gate Air Operations at 6:36 a.m. near Lake Hennessey and St. Helena. A spokesman said emergency calls reporting a fire came almost 10 minutes after that video was recorded. Courtesy of Golden Gate CHP. Video: San Francisco Chronicle
Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday that tormenting temperatures across California have put “tremendous pressure” on firefighters as the state fights at least 15 fires.
However, the governor said firefighters are confident they can tackle smaller fires quickly, while containing some larger fires, such as the River Fire near Monterey, could take longer.
Napa County officials ordered evacuations Monday due to the LNU Lightning Complex fires – a series of more than 60 lightning-induced fires that began Monday. Most were less than an acre in size, but two were large and not contained: the Hennessey and Gamble Fires. In total, the complex had burned more than 3,100 hectares by Monday evening, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Hennessey Fire burned 2,500 acres in hilly terrain about 25 miles northeast of Santa Rosa. The Gamble Fire burned about 600 acres north of Lake Berryessa.
Evacuation orders were also for the Marsh Fire in Alameda County, which burned 1,775 acres by Monday night, and the Deer Zone Fires in eastern Contra Costa County near Brentwood, which burned more than 1,160 acres on Monday evening.
Smoke rises from the #MarshFire burning in the area of the Calaveras and Welch Creek streets in #Sunol. The fire burned 1,775 acres and is 0% contained @sfchronicle pic.twitter.com/qfCAN8NNuP
– Jessica Christian (@jachristian) August 17, 2020
In the Marsh Fire, a combination of four bursts of vegetation that began Sunday, residents of about 10 houses on Welch Creek Road near Sunol, about 10 miles south of Pleasanton, were ordered to vacate their homes. No injuries were reported.
Mike Cerny, 74, has lived in one of these 10 houses with his wife for 40 years. On Sunday evening, Cerny watched fire engines park in the driveways of his home and those of his neighbors. Before they were forced to evacuate on Monday afternoon, Cerny said he could see the flames of at least two fires from all the windows of the house.
They grabbed their photos and other irreplaceable valuables and left behind the house Cerny had built, including his wife’s antique Barbie doll collection.
“We could see the flames over the ridge, the smoke,” he said from a parking lot by Jack in the Box, eating his first meal of the day, a Sourdough Jack sandwich, and his first coffee in 24 hours. “I don’t think we were hit as far as what could happen.”
The Deer Zone Fires also broke out Sunday night, and Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Deputies evacuated residents along the streets of Marsh Creek and Morgan Territory, southeast of Brentwood and north of Livermore.
The Red Cross placed evacuees from Deer Zone Fires in nearby hotel rooms on Monday, according to a supervisor for Brentwood’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Sarah Ravani / The Chronicle
Over 20 years and numerous fires, Clint C., 49, and Kirsten C., 45, a couple who live in a RV park on Marsh Creek Road, said they were evacuated only four times, including Sunday night. About a dozen fire engines were on the road while the police drove up and down with sirens, honked their horns and ordered residents to flee.
“You get scared and you get excited,” said Clint. “It was stressful.”
“We were scared this time,” said Kirsten. “We thought something was going to get to our house. This fire is not funny. “
They packed up their two cats and their dog and drove to Clint’s mother-in-law’s house in San Ramon, where they spent the night.
“It was a nightmare to get the pets out,” said Clint.
Much further south, in Monterey County, the fast-growing River Fire east of Salinas hit 2,800 acres on Monday, according to Cal Fire. Five houses were destroyed, 1,500 other buildings threatened and four firefighters suffered heat-related injuries while fighting the fire.
Noah Berger / Associated Press
A new round of thunder and lightning storms swept through San Francisco and North Bay on Monday morning as heat warnings and excessive heat warnings continued across the region, officials said.
“We will continue to see temperatures well above normal for the next few days – from 10 to 20 degrees, depending on where you live,” said Garcia.
The unusual weather pattern is caused by a high pressure dome over southwest Utah that is also causing excessive heat in southern California, he added.
“It’s probably too early to say if it’s the result of climate change,” Garcia said. “But it’s an unusual pattern. I have never seen anything like this on the coastal strip for so long. The rule of thumb in our office is: three days of heat and then it breaks. That contradicts every rule of thumb. “
Aidin Vaziri, Sarah Ravani, and Megan Cassidy are contributors to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @MusicSF @SarRavani @meganrcassidy