On Sunday, August 16, thousands of lightning strikes hit Northern California and started hundreds of forest fires.
In a year of difficulty, a heatwave struck the Bay Area with a week of record-breaking temperatures well over 100 degrees. It was then quickly followed up with a tropical depression from the south that delivered a few drops of rain but thousands of spectacular lightning strikes hitting Northern California soil. Three days later, some of these fires grew and merged into massive fires, some in areas that haven't burned in over a hundred years.
Many fires grew in Northern California but the SF/San Jose area in particular was surrounded by four huge fires.
1. Bike companies and employees affected
With over half a dozen companies in the Bay Area including Santa Cruz, Specialized, Ibis, Fox, Praxxis and Kali, many bike companies and their employees were affected. Santa Cruz had at least five employees lose their home to the CZU fire and Specialized had two of their own lose homes. Beloved engineer from Easton and now Specialized, Chuck Texiera lost his home and his story is told here in Bicycle Retailer. Many fundraisers have been set up to help the employees and their young families get back on their feet. Some are listed here:
Santa Cruz Employees Gofundme
Chuck Teixeira (Specialized) - Gofundme
Garen Becker (Santa Cruz) - Gofundme
In 2017, Santa Cruz Bicycles and many Bay Area companies collaborated to create a bike to raise funds for the trail rebuilding efforts in Santa Barbara.
In addition, hundreds of employees at these companies were evacuated from their homes as the fires threatened the communities of Bonny Doon, Scotts Valley, Felton, and Boulder Creek. Most of these folks have been allowed to return as the fire containment lines have been established to protect these communities.
The oldest state park in California, Big Basin suffered major damage as it was near the start of the CZU fire.
2. It's Norcal that's burning, not Socal and there are four major fires surrounding the SF Bay Area
In the past decade, when there's news of a fire in California early in the season, one could assume that it's in Southern California. But this event is mainly a Northern California occurrence as the lightning storm stayed in the Pacific ocean until it made landfall in Central and Northern California.
Redwood trees have so much water content and a center that can withstand fire, allowing them to survive most fires.
It was an unusual scene indeed as a convoy of trucks from Southern California arrived in the Santa Cruz area to help in the early effort to fight the CZU fire. The CZU fire, though not the biggest is perhaps the most concerning to mountain bikers since it burned 85,000+ acres to date of densely wooded forest. In Big Basin and Butano state park, the forest was dominated by giant redwoods, some over 2000 years old. The forest was so dense since it hadn't burned in at least a hundred years in parts. Most of the redwoods will recover since they have other-worldly abilities to survive the fire. But many have toppled over and all the smaller trees and lush vegetation around are lost.
3. About 1000 homes were lost or damaged in the Santa Cruz fire alone
In the CZU fire of Santa Cruz, over 900 residences were destroyed and close to 100 were damaged. One life was lost. The LNU fire saw over 1400 structures burned and 5 lives lost. All the details are updated daily here in the Calfire Incident site.
The fires are largely under control now as good weather and persisted fog has blanketed the are in the past week. But crews are quickly trying to mop up and secure containment lines as another heatwave is forecasted for the area.
4. Air quality is bad and will continue to be touch and go for weeks
The Bay Area has had 16 straight 'Spare the Air' days, breaking the previous record of 14. And there's no end in sight as the fires are expected to smolder for weeks even after full containment is established.
Biking and exercise have been a very difficult affair with air quality well beyond unhealthy levels the past two weeks. The area smells like a campfire and there are days when ash blankets the area as well, depending on the direction of the wind.
Two great resources are Airnow here and Purpleair here. We find Purpleair a lot more useful because it has pinpoint data that are updated in real-time. It gets data from air sensors that folks purchase for their own use but are willing to share the data for the greater good.
5. Many trails were lost or damaged.
In the coming weeks, we hope to fully assess the extent of the damage on the trail network but many, many miles of pristine biking and hiking trails have been burned. Most notable are the trails in Big Basin State Park with it's famous Waddell Creek Trail that starts at the beach and ends 12 miles later at the foot of a waterfall called Berry Falls. There are many trails there too used in the Old Cabin Classic race. And there's the iconic Skyline to the Sea hiking trails that extended from the ridge and ended at ocean 30+ miles later.
Other trails that have sustained damage are:
Toro Park in Monterey
Henry Coe State Park in Morgan Hill
Grant Ranch in San Jose
UCSC Trail network in Santa Cruz.