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Fires rage through drought-ridden Bay Area as residents brace for more lightning, extreme heat

Severe drought conditions, an extreme heat wave and lightning strikes don’t bode well for fire prevention. Storms that traveled north through the night and into Sunday morning brought roarous thunder that shook homes across the Bay Area and lightning that sparked fires in dry vegetation.

Scot Tucker/SFBay A mix of thunder, lightning and rain moved through the Bay Area early Sunday morning before sunrise on Sunday, August 16, 2020. (Jun Ueda /

The red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service Sunday has now been extended until 11 a.m. Monday. According to forecasts, the continued thunderstorms, lightning strikes, winds and an ongoing heat wave threaten dry fuel conditions throughout the entire Bay Area. The NWS fire weather message said:

“A secondary pulse of moisture and instability arrives later Sunday into early Monday.”

In unincorporated Contra Costa County, at least six fires had burned about 100 acres by 11:30 a.m. Sunday, even after some areas were doused with surprising spurts of rain.

By nearly 1 p.m., the number of fires had been reduced to four with 200 acres burned.

Approximately 25 crews responded Sunday morning to a group of blazes dubbed the Deer Complex fires in East Contra Costa County, in areas south of Briones Valley Road in Brentwood, at Marsh Creek and Deer Valley roads and inside Round Valley Regional Park. 

Cal Fire Evacuation warnings are issued for residents at the upper portion of Morgan Territory Road due to the Deer Complex fires burning at the base of Mt. Diablo on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020.

Cal Fire issued an evacuation warning around 10:45 a.m. for residents living in the upper portion of Morgan Territory Road. Though no evacuations had yet been ordered, the agency said people in the area should locate pets and pack what they would need if they have to leave quickly. 

Just before noon, Alameda County Fire Department officials said the Arroyo Fire in Livermore had been stopped at 50 acres. Crews with Livermore-Pleasanton and Alameda County fire departments, aided by Cal Fire, responded to the blaze reported just before 5:30 a.m.

According to fire officials the Arroyo Fire in the south Livermore Sycamore Grove Park was one of several fires sparked by Saturday night’s lightning storm.

Marin County Fire Department officials reported around 8 a.m. that crews were battling several small lightning strike fires, with smoke visible from Mount Tamalpais below Throckmorton Station. No evacuations had been ordered as of Sunday afternoon. 

The National Park Service reported downed trees blocking several trails at Point Reyes National Seashore. 

A 120-acre fire is burning in the Santa Clara County area near Arroyo Hondo and Oakridge road, Cal Fire officials said at 1:21 p.m. The blaze, about 7 miles east of Milpitas was first reported around 6 a.m.

Another large fire is burning south of Salinas in Monterey County just outside the greater Bay Area. The River Fire near Toro Peak had burned 20 acres and was 5 percent contained around 8 a.m., according to a Cal Fire update. Crews are using both ground and air resources with about 110 firefighters responding. No structures were threatened Sunday morning.  

The weekend fire conditions are a ‘perfect storm’ of several factors, largely fueled by dry vegetation. According to the National Drought Resilience Partnership, almost 19 percent of the state, including much of the Bay Area is experiencing a severe drought.  

National Drought Resilience Partnership Much of the Bay Area is experiencing severe drought conditions according to data recorded Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued an air quality advisory through Monday due to smoke both current and expected as the extreme fire conditions persist.   

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