Nearly 14,000 firefighters are battling 17 major fires across California, many ignited by lightning strikes from a week ago in Northern California.
Luckily, damper weather moved in Sunday night, and the predicted recurrence of lightning strikes had less impact than expected. Weather service officials revoked red flag warnings for parts of Northern California this morning. Cooler weather is expected next week, and 91 fire crews from other states are providing mutual aid. The situation continues to evolve rapidly, and Visit California is monitoring developments and communicating the latest conditions to travelers across the state.
The blazes are affecting tourism destinations from Big Sur to Santa Cruz to Napa and Sonoma counties. Poor air quality has disrupted outdoor activities far beyond the active fire zones, including at restaurants and wineries now forced to serve exclusively outside because of coronavirus restrictions. As it was learned from past crises, air quality can be challenging to communicate effectively because it is so geographically specific and can change in minutes.
Here is the status of the major fires as of this morning:
• LNU Complex (350,000 acres/22% contained) – Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo, Solano counties.
• SCU Complex (340,000 acres/10% contained) – Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Stanislaus counties.
• CZU August Lightning Complex (78,000 acres/13% contained) – Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.
• River Fire (48,424 acres/20% contained) – Monterey County.
• Dolan Fire (20,000 acres/10% contained) — Monterey/Big Sur.
The fires have affected a variety of tourism assets. More than two dozen state parks have closed, and Big Basin State Park suffered major damage. Several sections of Highway 1 are closed to traffic, from Monterey to Sonoma, and there are road closures near the intersection of Highways 120 and 49 approaching the West Entrance of Yosemite National Park. The Castle Fire is burning near the Giant Sequoia National Monument in Tulare County, but thankfully no giant sequoia trees are currently threatened.
VisitCalifornia.com’s updated travel alert provides traveler resources and notes that the vast majority of the state, particularly Southern California, remains unaffected at this time.
Also, while the acreage burned in the SCU and LNU complexes place them in the top 10 of California’s record books, the impact on lives and structures thankfully has not approached what we have seen in recent years in Paradise and Sonoma wine country. Still, seven have died, at least 1,200 structures have been destroyed, and tens of thousands have been evacuated in the fire zones. Local officials are minimizing the use of traditional evacuation shelters at high schools and other large public spaces because of the pandemic, and hotels and motel properties across the affected area have stepped up to house evacuees. As of this morning, 31 hotels were housing nearly 1,500 evacuees.
Visit California has deployed its crisis communications plan and crisis evaluation matrix to measure the impacts of the fires and the coverage and to inform messaging. The matrix quantitatively measures the impact of the crisis from a statewide tourism perspective, as well as the impacts to infrastructure, social media sentiment and news coverage. The crisis score remains in the red zone.