Watch CBS News

Wildfires Update: Crews Scramble to Extinguish Lightning-Sparked Blazes Across Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A rare summer thunderstorm brought lightning that sparked numerous blazes around the Bay Area on Sunday.


A series of brush fires ignited by lightning early Sunday in East Contra Costa changed behavior Sunday evening, leading authorities to issue mandatory evacuation orders near Brentwood shortly after 9 p.m.

The East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District posted about the evacuation order for Marsh Creek Road and Morgan Territory Road from Round Valley north west to Deer Valley at 9:12 p.m. Sunday night. The evacuation order was issued due to a change in the so-called Deer Valley Complex Fire's behavior.

Earlier Sunday, residents on the upper portion of Morgan Territory Road were advised to prepare to evacuate due to fires in the area of Morgan Territory and Marsh Creek roads on Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County, Cal Fire said Sunday. As of 7:45 p.m., the fires had grown to 400 acres.

California Wildfires
Smoke plume in Contra Costa County, Aug. 16, 2020. Firefighters scrambled to contain multiple blazes, sparked by widespread lightning strikes throughout the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

"No evacuation has been ordered at this time, however it is possible one may become necessary," the agency said in urging people in the area to prepare now.

"Gather any essential items you could carry with you, including medications, baby supplies, money, important papers, photos," Cal Fire said in an announcement. "Locate any pets and be prepared to cage or leash them."

Multiple agencies -- including Cal Fire, the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District and San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District responded Sunday morning to several fires in the area.

The fires, together also being referred to as the Deer Complex Fires, are to the south of Briones Valley Road in Brentwood, at Marsh Creek and Deer Valley roads and inside Round Valley Regional Park.


March Creek Complex Fire
March Creek Complex fire near Calaveras Reservoir and Sunol (CBS)

About 10 homes near vegetation fires in unincorporated southern Alameda County have been ordered to evacuate, as the fires together have grown to about 850 acres with zero containment as of 10 p.m. Sunday, the Alameda County Fire Department said.

The homes evacuated are on Welch Creek Road, about four miles southeast of Sunol and about a mile north of the popular Little Yosemite Trail. The fire, dubbed the Marsh Creek Complex, was first reported about 1:30 p.m. Sunday near Calaveras Reservoir.

In addition to Alameda County Fire, crews from Cal Fire and from the Oakland, Fremont and Livermore-Pleasanton departments have been fighting the blazes.

Late Sunday night into Monday morning, as temperatures drop and humidity rises, the fire should become less active. That will allow bulldozers to work overnight to build some solid containment lines.

But people who live in the area are on edge about what could happen with another round of strong storms early Monday morning.

"No plan yet on how we're tying in the end of Welch Creek back into the resevoir. That will happen in the morning," said Assistant Fire Chief Nick Luby for Oakland Fire Department.

Firefighters are still trying to figure out the best way to contain the three fires that now make up the Marsh Fire complex. The fires started sometime between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday morning, probably due to lightning strikes.

"We saw lightning hit the hills and light it on fire, like immediately," said Sunol resident Genevieve Banducci.

Banducci said she was up early this morning driving to work from her house in Sunol when she saw bright flashes of lightning.

"We saw fires in the high, high hills and there's only one way it would get there. There's no roads that go up there. It had to be the lightning that struck and then there's just fires everywhere," she said.

The fires are burning in rugged and remote areas high on the hills, which makes firefighting more difficult.

"We have a lot of dozers coming in and assisting and just have to use a lot of handlines. This is a very rural area with very steep terrain," said Alameda County Fire Department spokesperson Brian Centoni.

Another issue is man power. The Red Flag Warning issued Saturday ahead of the storms allowed local fire departments to pre-position additional crews, but they're still spread thin due to more than 10 brush fires that popped up overnight in Alameda County alone.

"We did staff some extra firefighters and apparatus, so we were ready for this to happen. Obviously we didn't expect this to happen this fierce," said Centoni.

Calfire is bringing in additional resources from other areas of the state, so they say they will be ready to handle whatever Mother Nature throws their way.


Wildfire burns in Santa Clara County Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020
Wildfire burns in Santa Clara County Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. (CBS)

Firefighters are battling a large fire outbreak in the area of Arroyo Hondo and Oakridge roads northeast of Milpitas in Santa Clara County, Cal Fire said Sunday afternoon.

The Marsh Fire, reported before 2 p.m., is burning at three locations and totals about 585 acres, according to Cal Fire.


Additional resources are being summoned to fight the River Fire, caused by a Sunday-morning lightning strike in the unincorporated Monterey County community of Pine Canyon, the Monterey County Regional Fire Protection District.

River Fire
River Fire burns in Monterey County near Toro Peak. (Cal Fire Photo)

"The fire continues to resist control efforts under high temperatures and low humidity," Cal Fire said. "Additional air tankers have been requested to assist with the firefight in steep terrain with limited access."



As of early Sunday evening, the fire had burned 2,000 acres and was 10 percent contained.

The Monterey County Sheriff's Office has issued mandatory evacuation orders for residents on Pine Canyon Road, with evacuation warnings in place for Berry and Indian Springs Road.

Four structures burned with an additional 30 threatened by the fire. Four firefighters are being treated for heat injuries, Cal Fire said.

The River Fire was first reported shortly after 3 a.m. near Toro Peak.


Sunday night, Cal Fire was reporting multiple fires in Santa Cruz County that were all at approximately 30 acres. One fire burning off Highway 1 and Año Nuevo State Park Road east of Año Nuevo State Park, and two additional fires burning east of Pescadero: one off Olmo Fire Road and South Butano Truck Trail, and the other off 4WD Road and North Butano Truck Trail.

Earlier, Cal Fire sent crews to a lightning-caused fire in the area of 20730 Brush Road in Redwood Estates Area that initially threatened homes and forced some evacuations before forward progress was halted around 4 a.m. Another blaze broke out near Highway 1 north of Davenport and had grown to 15 acres and was 25 percent contained by 11:25 a.m.

LIVERMORE (7:50 a.m.)

Aftermath of the Arroyo Fire near Livermore
Scorched hillside near Livermore. (CBS)

Cal Fire said that crews are "aggressively attacking" a brushfire that burned about 50 acres Sunday morning in the the area of 5200 Arroyo Road near Lake Del Valle in south Livermore.

The Arroyo Fire started about 5:30 a.m. and was about 50 percent contained, the agency said, noting that there will be "extensive mop up due to a eucalyptus grove."


Unsettled weather triggered an unusual warning by the weather service of a fire-induced tornado at an out-of-control forest fire that broke out north of Lake Tahoe on Saturday afternoon.

A massive fire cloud known as a pyrocumulonimbus formed over the fire, which started east of the town of Loyalton. When high winds came into contact with the fire and whipped it into the air, a spectacular tornado-shaped spiral of flames was formed.

The fire has burned at least 20,000 acres and triggered evacuation orders for sparsely populated portions of Plumas, Lassen and Sierra County, said Tahoe National Forest spokesman Joe Flannery.

Firefighters aided by water-dropping helicopters and air tankers faced "extreme fire behavior," he said, and worked through the night to extinguish spot fires and protect threatened structures.

Wildfires and a "firenado" plague the West Coast by CBS Evening News on YouTube

The Loyalton Fire has burned 20,000 acres with zero containment according to the Tahoe National Forest.

RELATED: Cal Fire Warns of Evacuations in Deer Valley Complex Fire

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.