Berryessa fire

Berryessa fire DEFAULT

LAKE BERRYESSA, Calif. — In the sprawling destruction of California’s wildfires, one photo became an instant icon for 2020’s miseries: On a hillside roaring with flames stood a sign that asked visitors to a senior center to wear masks, wash their hands and be safe. “Come Join Us,” it beckoned creepily.

The virus. Lost jobs. A world aflame.

Yep, said Judi Vollmer, whose trailer home down the road from the sign burned down last week, just days after she learned that her 92-year-old father had tested positive for the coronavirus — that pretty much sums up life right now.

Ms. Vollmer, 65, was succinct: “2020 can go to hell. This has been the worst year of my life.”

Somehow, that welcome sign outside the Lake Berryessa senior center was still standing on Tuesday as residents trickled back through police barricades and road closures to check out what little had survived.

Three people were killed — one of them a 71-year-old man in a wheelchair — when flames swarmed their mountainside property. Family members said they had tried to escape, but as a last resort took refuge in a homemade “burn shelter.” Relatives identified the victims as Mary Hintemeyer, 70, her boyfriend, Leo McDermott, 71, and Mr. McDermott’s 41-year-old son, Tom.

Much of the lakefront community of retirees and young families who commute to landscaping, winery and service jobs in wealthier corners of Napa County had been reduced to a thicket of tangled steel and ash.


Now, as people in this community of 1,700 salvaged chipped tea saucers and wooden lanterns from the char of about 100 destroyed homes, their worries were a microcosm of the question haunting so many people during this season of pandemic and strife: Would they ever get their old lives back?

“We’ve lost so many people who won’t be back,” said Jerry Rehmke, 80, who runs the country store with his wife, Marcia Ritz, 77. Her trailer home, with all of the drawings and paintings she had made, burned in the Spanish Flat Villa mobile home park, along with Ms. Vollmer’s trailer and about 50 others.

“Everything,” Ms. Ritz said. “It’s down to the ground.”

The constellation of wildfires staining California’s skies and stinging people’s lungs across the West have now killed seven and destroyed at least 1,690 homes and other buildings, officials said. It is still early in a wildfire season expected to rage through the fall. So as 15,000 firefighters pushed to gain control of the blazes around the state, thousands of families who evacuated are now streaming back and wondering whether they will have to flee again.

On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the accounting of death and damage could rise as people return home. “We’ve never seen fire of this scale in this part of the state,” he said. “It demonstrates the reality — not just the point of view — of climate change and its impact in this state.”

Ms. Ritz moved to Lake Berryessa 13 years ago and took over running the country store (which survived, as did some marinas and campgrounds). Their store actually boomed during the pandemic as stir-crazy boaters and anglers flooded the area and snapped up orders of chicken sandwiches and meatloaf. That is over now, and faced with years of rebuilding and a bleak economic future, Ms. Ritz said she was ready to quit altogether.

“Our customers have gone,” Ms. Ritz said on Tuesday morning, a few minutes after she woke up from another night sleeping outside on an air mattress beside the country store. “By the end of the year I’ll be out. This is it.”

Her husband piped up: “We should take down the sign that says ‘Only Five People in the Store.’ There may not be five people up here.”

It was never simple living along Lake Berryessa, a reservoir stocked with trout and catfish that is also famous for a drain that creates a vortex-like hole during wet years. Work is scarce, and cities and groceries are a 40-minute drive along vertiginous mountain roads. The roads can glaze with ice in the winter, and on 90-degree summer days, pints of ice cream melt into soup before you can get them home.

People said they moved from bigger cities because they liked the rural quiet and seeing mountain lions out their windows. On Tuesday morning, a singed fox limped through the mobile home park, paying no heed to the residents and power crews in the street.

Some people had been drawn to the lake by California’s affordable-housing crisis, pushed out of the rest of Napa. They said this was one of the last corners of affordable housing for people earning minimum wage or living off Social Security in a county where the average home costs more than $700,000.

Fire had always been a threat, but evacuations and smoke have gotten even more common as climate change compounds the risk of fires in what is known as the wildland-urban interface. Hillsides overgrown with dry fuel are broiling, and the greenery that people say they cherish about life here has gone as brown as scorched crust.

For the past four years, people around the lake said they watched fires march toward their homes, only to be beaten back. The local Lions Club would donate money to fire victims. Local officials installed a cache of emergency beds and supplies and a big new generator at the senior center to be used as a fallback spot, residents said.

“We know what devastation it does,” Pam Stadnyk, whose trailer home burned, including the wood deck she had just put in, said as she walked through the area on Tuesday for the first time since the fires. “We’ve been living with it. You just get to a point where you —” and she trailed off.

Months of the pandemic already had worn on the mobile home park’s working-class residents. Some lost work at Napa’s wineries and restaurants.

Edward Morrison, 57, had lost overtime work doing delivery runs to businesses that closed as the pandemic dragged on. One of his sons had been living near Paradise last year when a wildfire gutted the town and killed more than 50 people. Now, his trailer was rubble and his cat was missing. He called a dispatcher.

“Your address?” she asked Mr. Morrison.

“Well my address burned down,” he said.

Ms. Vollmer, who had lived at the lake for 18 years, kept working throughout the pandemic. Her $13-an-hour job at the country store was considered essential work, and though she had asthma and customers sometimes refused to wear masks, she kept going and did not get sick.

She had stayed away from her 92-year-old father’s nursing home since February until a couple of weeks ago, when Ms. Vollmer said she got a call telling her that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Ms. Vollmer said that he had Alzheimer’s disease and sometimes did not know if she was his daughter or wife, but that he seemed fine when she visited him through his window recently.

“I don’t know if it could get any more stressful than this,” she said.

The fire, like the pandemic, has hit California’s poorest residents hardest. Homeowners able to keep up with the complications and rising costs of insuring property in a fire zone had a safety net. But Ms. Vollmer said her carrier dropped her after a wildfire a few years ago. The trailer was her life’s investment and her retirement plan, and it burned alongside the $3,000 in cash she had tucked away inside.

The Red Cross is putting her up in a hotel near the airport in Napa along with three of her five cats — the ones she was able to rescue. She received a paper bag stuffed with donated clothes, but said she did not know where to go at the end of the week when her hotel stay was up.

She said she loved the community. When her husband died eight years ago, people took up a collection to pay for his cremation. She said she did not know how to start over at 65.

“We’re survivors from up there,” she said. “We dodged the bullet so many times. We always were OK.”

Jill Cowan contributed reporting from Los Angeles.


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Forget about spending the Labor Day weekend at Lake Berryessa.

Because of the devastating blaze that raged through the wooded hills all around it last month, the popular lake is off limits to the throngs of Bay Area residents who usually flock to its cooling waters for recreation and summer heat relief.

Instead of the steady drone of outboard motors and the buzz of jet skis, a dead silence filled the air after officials closed the lake to all, including locals, after the Hennessey Fire swept through the area on Aug. 18-19. The blaze, part of the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, killed three people and destroyed roughly 100 homes as well as the Markley Cove Resort, a fixture on the lake since 1963.

Mary Hintemeyer, 70, her boyfriend Leo McDermott, 71, and McDermott’s 41-year-old son Tom tried to flee, but died inside a homemade fire shelter on their property off Highway 128 near the cove. Two other people also died from the fire in Solano County, making it the most deadly of all of the Lightning Complex conflagrations that have consumed hundreds of thousands of acres the past few weeks and darkened the Bay Area’s skies with soot and smoke.

For locals who had counted on an economic boost from visitors seeking healthy outside recreation after being cooped up from coronavirus shelter-in place orders, California’s third-largest wildfire couldn’t have struck at a worse time.

The lake is expected to remain closed for at least a month. All reservations at Markley Cove, Pleasure Cove, Steele Canyon, Spanish Flat and Putah Canyon Resorts are canceled, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the lake and its leased concessions.

“We are working hard to make Lake Berryessa safe for our employees and visitors, and that will take time,” said the agency’s regional director, Ernest Conant. “We ask the public to be patient during this process, and we look forward to opening as soon as possible.”

Hundreds of workers from PG&E, AT&T and other agencies are working to restore essential services to the large swath of the area devastated by the fire, which burned all the way to Vacaville and even jumped Interstate 80. The Napa County Sheriff’s Department issued a community alert, warning those who were tempted to seek relief from the holiday weekend heat wave to stay away.

“Currently, Lake Berryessa is closed to the public while infrastructure is being rebuilt for future use. We want to thank everyone for their patience and complying with the closure orders. Avoiding the area during closure allows hundreds of workers to do their jobs in a safe and timely manner. Please respect the closure,” said Napa County Sheriff John Robertson.

Lake Berryessa, with its many nooks and crannies, is Napa County’s largest lake, formed in 1957 when the Monticello Dam was built on Putah Creek. It’s long been a popular destination for Bay Area residents seeking a nearby summer escape, though it’s also known as a party spot and has had its share of drownings, including five so far this year.

Markley Cove Marina owner Chad Frazier, whose grandfather Carl Frazier established the resort in 1963, lost nearly everything. He said it was tough to comprehend until he saw the destruction in person three days after the fire raged through. High winds and towering walls of flame blackened the hillsides surrounding the lake, tearing apart the rural working-class community.

“We didn’t realize how much was damaged down here until we got back up. It’s a kick in the gut. You kind of hope for the best, understanding the worst is out there,” Frazier said, as he and his employees cleaned up and PG&E worked to restore power on the property.

The resort lost more than 20 new boats on the rental dock, seven out of eight cabins, the store and office. Labor Day has historically been their biggest weekend, which Frazier described as a “last hurrah” for the summer.  He had to refund about $500,000 in reservation fees so far, but isn’t complaining.

“I don’t want anybody to ever think we’re victims up here. We have insurance, and we didn’t lose our home, we didn’t lose our history,” Frazier said. “Lake Berryessa is still here; it isn’t going away. We’re going to rebuild, and we’re going to be stronger and better than ever,”  Frazier said.

There are huge amounts of rubble and burned boats to clear, docks and buildings to rebuild, and an environmental inspection that must be passed before reopening. Frazier said he’ll do everything in his power to return as soon as it’s safe. A majority of his customers are from the Bay Area, and longtime visitors lamented the destruction of a place that’s given them many fond memories.

“In the grand scheme of things, we’re OK. We’re a business. What happened is tragic and it’s sad, but it’s not someone’s home, it’s not anybody’s life, it’s not their livestock,” Frazier said. “We’re not looking for sympathy, we’re more concerned about the people who lost their homes.”

Kailey Brown’s newly remodeled home, perched on East Ridge Drive in the hard-hit Berryessa Highlands, was completely flattened. She bought the 1974 home last October, adding new hardwood floors and a wraparound porch with stunning views of the nearby mountains and the Wragg Canyon section of the lake.

Brown, a registered nurse, got home too late from work to drive up to her house and save any valuables before evacuating. She said she was in shock when she first viewed her home last week.

“I was crying, I couldn’t believe it. It felt like a bad dream, a nightmare,” Brown said. “I guess I’m kind of over it, there’s nothing I can do.”

Cal Fire firefighter Phillip Radford and others helped Brown and her cousin, Christopher Moulton, sift through the ashy rubble looking for sentimental items. She was pleased to find some of her grandmother’s jewelry, a ceramic tea set and a few other treasured things. Brown plans to rebuild on the same idyllic spot.

“It’s actually just as much healing for us to help. You feel helpless when you can’t save something.” Radford told Brown.

Marcia Ritz, 77, and her husband Jerry Rehmke, 80, who married last year, were luckier than many. Or at least half as lucky.

The couple’s store, The Spanish Flat Country Store and Deli, was left standing after the Hennessey Fire swept through the tiny community on the western shore of Lake Berryessa. But almost everything else in the neighborhood — including the mobile home park where Ritz lived — was destroyed. Also badly damaged were the small hillside communities off of Berryessa Knoxville Road.

“I’m an artist. I lost all of my artwork. I lost all of my friend’s original art that I had, and everything I owned,” Ritz said.

Now, Ritz, originally from San Leandro, thinks she’ll have to close her business in the close-knit Lake Berryessa town of about 1,700. It recently started booming as the lake became an even more popular spot for people to get away from it all and socially distance during the pandemic.

“There is no customer base. There are maybe two houses remaining on the hill,” she said, waving her hand to gesture down Berryessa Knoxville Road.

Still, Ritz is glad to have her life, and the lives of her friends. It was a close call. As the fire surrounded them, she, Rehmke and eight others boarded a pontoon boat and headed to the middle of the lake, where for four or five hours they stared in awe and terror at the towering flames as the hills around them burned.

Marty Rodden, owner of Lake Berryessa Boat and Jet Ski Rentals, was spared the loss of his home in Berryessa Highlands and his business in Spanish Flat near the country store. Rodden, who grew up in Oakland near Lake Merritt, began the business 27 years ago. Five of his employees’ houses burned, and all of the homes from two houses above him are gone.

“I was very, very fortunate,” Rodden said. “It was terrifying, and now it’s heartbreaking. Everybody knows everybody up here.”

He evacuated and came back two days later, but then police told him he had 20 minutes to leave.

“I grabbed my clothes and animals and left. I was the last car out. There were 200-foot flames. I couldn’t even see the top of them,” Rodden said. ” I’ve been evacuated six times in five years. Everything’s drying out, and every year we’re having more and more and more fires.”

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Rodden is back home now and estimates he’s lost about $500,000 so far from cancellations, including some $100,000 for the Labor Day weekend alone. Although he lost a month’s worth of business when shelter-in-place orders were issued in March, he said rental sales recovered and actually were up 20% as people sought a break from the pandemic lockdown. Every weekend before the fire was like a holiday, with complete sellouts of boat rentals, he added.

“We’re not going to have a Labor Day weekend. There is no Labor Day,” Rodden said.

Looking forward, Napa County will seek bids in November for three resort concessions on the federally-owned and managed land. Rancho Monticello, Spanish Flat and Steele Park will all be brand new and get 50-year contracts, and Rodden hopes to lease one of them as the lake rebuilds.

“I love my business and I love the people up here. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful, it’s beautiful, we live in a piece of paradise,” Rodden said.

Staff reporter Annie Sciacca contributed to this report.

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LNU Lightning Complex: Residents Return To Destroyed Spanish Flat Mobile VillaIt was only a few days ago when families lived here. Children running up and down the street, riding their bicycles; and now, total destruction. 
UPDATE: Hennessey Fire In Napa County Grows To 2,500 Acres; Evacuations Near Lake BerryessaThe Hennessey Fire in central Napa County grew to 2,500 acres Monday afternoon, with crews dealing with rugged terrain, adverse weather, and unfavorable fire conditions, according to Cal Fire.
Drowning Reported At Lake Berryessa; Body Yet To Be RecoveredA dive team from the Napa County Sheriff’s Office was working to recover the body of someone believed to have drowned at Lake Berryessa on Wednesday evening, a sheriff’s spokesman said Thursday.
Lake Berryessa In Napa County Reopens With RestrictionsBoaters will now be able to enjoy more of the outdoors in Napa County as Lake Berryessa reopened Saturday with restrictions.
Fatal Solo Motorcycle Accident Near Lake Berryessa Briefly Closes Highway 128The California Highway Patrol is investigating a fatal accident involving a motorcyclist late Sunday afternoon near the intersection of State Highway 128 and Berryessa Knoxville Road in rural Napa County.
Power Fully Restored To Sonoma, Napa Counties After PG&E ShutoffSonoma County officials said electric power was fully restored in the county as of 4 p.m. Wednesday, ending PG&E's planned public safety power shutoff that began 12 hours earlier.
Canyon Fire Near Lake Berryessa Close To Being Fully ContainedThe 64-acre Canyon Fire south of Lake Berryessa in Napa County is 90 percent contained as of Wednesday morning, Cal Fire said.
Canyon Fire: Cooler Temps, Higher Humidity Help Firefighters Get Upper HandThe Canyon Fire south of Lake Berryessa in Napa County has burned 64 acres and is 85 percent contained as of Tuesday evening, Cal Fire said.
Canyon Fire Near Lake Berryessa Grows To 55 Acres, 60% ContainedCal Fire is battling a vegetation fire at Wragg Canyon Road and state Highway 128 near Lake Berryessa that has forced evacuations Monday afternoon.
North Bay Residents Grapple With Daylong Power OutagesPG&E turned electricity off around 6 a.m. to 1,600 customers in parts Napa, Solano and Yolo counties to guard against wildfires as the weather turned very windy, dry and hot.
VIDEO: Wayward Duck Gets Sucked Down Lake Berryessa's SpillwayA wayward duck was captured on video being sucked down the morning glory spillway at Lake Berryessa on Monday.
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LNU Lightning Complex Fires damage boats, marina on Lake Berryessa

LNU Lightning Complex fires

2020 wildfire in California

LNU Lightning Complex fires
The Hennessey and Spanish Fires burn towards Lake Berryessa on Aug. 18, 2020.jpg

The Hennessey and Spanish Fires burn towards Lake Berryessa on August 18, 2020.

LocationNorthern California
Total fires250
Total area363,220 acres (146,990 ha)
Date(s)August 17, 2020 (2020-08-17) – October 2, 2020 (2020-10-02)
Buildings destroyed1,491 structures destroyed, 232 damaged
Deaths6 civilians[2][3]
Non-fatal injuries5

The LNU Lightning Complex fires were a large complex of wildfires that burned during the 2020 California wildfire season across much of the Wine Country area of Northern California – Lake, Napa, Sonoma, Solano, and Yolo Counties, from August 17 to October 2, 2020. The complex was composed of numerous lightning-sparked fires, most of which were small. However, while they initially started separate from each other, the Hennessey Fire eventually grew to merge with the Gamble, Green, Markley, Spanish, and Morgan Fires, scorching 192,000 acres (777 km2) by itself, for a total burn area of 363,220 acres (1,470 km2) in the complex. The fire, which burned in the hills surrounding several large cities, such as Fairfield, Napa, and Vacaville, destroyed 1,491 structures and damaged a further 232.[1] In all, six people were killed and another five injured.[2] The LNU Lighting Complex is currently the fourth-largest wildfire in the recorded history of California.[4]


The name of the complex fire refers to the name of the local unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), the Sonoma–Lake–Napa Unit (LNU).[5]


In the early morning hours of Sunday, August 16 through Monday, August 17, a series of highly unusual thunderstorms rolled through most of northern California, which came from the moisture of the diminishing Tropical Storm Fausto.[6] With these thunderstorms came a reported 10,849 lightning strikes that – within a 72-hour period – had then presumably sparked 376 known fires across much of the state.[7]

Monday, August 17[edit]

Early on Monday, August 17, at around 6:40 am PDT a spotfire was reported burning in the 60 block of Hennessey Ridge Road near Lake Hennessey which was initially dubbed the 14-3 Fire but then later named the Hennessey Fire.[8] The incident was reported alongside several other fires burning not far from it, most notably the Gamble Fire which began burning in an area off Berryessa Knoxville Road north of Lake Berryessa and west of state Highway 16, the Spanish Fire which was burning near Spanish Flat, the 15-10 Fire burning near the Putah Bridge and the Markley Fire near the Monticello Dam.[9] All of which had been reportedly burning almost completely unchecked as resources meant to combat the incidents had been stretched thin due to the onslaught of new and persisting fires throughout the state. Due to this factor, the fires were not contained during their most critical early phases, and by the evening of that day, the multiple conflagrations sizes were all ranging between 1,000 and 8,000 acres with 0% containment for each fire.[9]

Tuesday, August 18[edit]

The Hennessey Fire as seen from Sonoma.

By the morning of August 18, the complex of fires burning through much of the Napa County region had already expanded to collectively encompass over 12,000 acres. By this time, only several hundred firefighters were actively engaging the firelines.[10] Air attack reported additional spotfires beginning to flare up due to the deteriorating weather conditions as between at least 20 to 30 new fires that had been ignited by lightning the day prior were discovered. One of those ignitions was the actively expanding Walbridge Fire (then the 13-4 fire) that had started in rugged hills north of the Austin Creek State Recreation Area of Sonoma County and was now 75 acres in size with vitally no firefighter apparatus engaging the fire.[11] Evacuation warnings were put in place for the rural area in the hills between Healdsburg and Stewarts Point as the fire burned virtually unchecked.[11] Those evacuations were then expanded to include areas east of Sewell Road and King Ridge Road; north of Old Cazadero Road and Austin Creek; west of East Austin Creek and Wal Bridge Ridge; and south of Stewarts Point Skaggs Springs Road --as well as Guerneville, Monte Rio and other areas north of the Russian River-- which displaced hundreds of residences by nightfall as the fire grew to 500 acres.[11]

Meanwhile, a 15 acre fire had also been spotted burning between Meyers Grade and Highway 1 north of the community of Jenner after being caused by lightning the day prior and would later be dubbed the Meyers Fire as it also rapidly expanded in the area.[11] Mandatory evacuations were put in place for areas west of Meyers Grade Road, south of Fort Ross Road and North of the intersection of Meyers Grade Road and Highway 1 throughout the day.[12]

Evacuations orders that initially were put in place for roads near the Hennessey Fire off of Hennessey Ridge Road and Highway 128 and along Chiles Pope Valley Road and Lower Chiles Valley Road began to expand for much of the surrounding Lake Berryessa area as the fire and multiple other conflagrations effectively exploded in size in that area. These mandatory evacuations were put in place for the Berryessa Highlands and Spanish Flat areas as the fires rapidly raged towards those communities.[11] By this time, the Hennessey Fire has reportedly only destroyed one structure and two outbuildings in the area and threatened 205 structures, however an additional 390 homes in the Berryessa Estates area were now reportedly threatened and multiple structures were reported burning throughout the valley.[11] Later that afternoon, the fire further threatened additional rural areas along Highway 128 as it jumped the two-lane winding highway twice and it raced towards the Vaca Mountains bordering Napa and Solano County.[10]

At 8:15 pm on Tuesday night, CAL FIRE has reported that the Hennessey Fire had consumed 10,000 acres, the Gamble Fire off of Berryessa Knoxville Road has also consumed 10,000 acres, the Spanish Fire near Spanish Flat had grown to 1,000 acres, the "15-10" near Putah Creek Bridge had burned 8,000 acres, and the newly-ignited Markley Fire near the Monticello Dam had also grown to 2,500 acres. All of them were reported to be zero percent contained that night.[13] By 11:30 pm, the Hennessey Fire was seen still burning at a critical to dangerous rate of spread as the massive conflagration had traveled 13 miles to the southeast scorching the Vaca Mountains and rolled down the canyons towards the city of Fairfield and Vacaville.[10] This dangerous fire spread spurred additional mandatory evacuations for north Fairfield and northwest Vacaville as the fireline made its way down Mix Canyon Road to Pleasants Valley Road and proceeded to destroy hundreds of structures in areas to the west and north of the cities.[10]


In September, fire activity decreased significantly within the complex, as firefighters brought most of the fire complex under control. By mid-September, only the Hennessey and Walbridge Fires were still burning within the complex. On October 2, 2020, CAL FIRE reported that the entire complex had been extinguished.[1]


Smoke from the Walbridge Fire over Santa Rosa.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ abcdef"LNU Lightning Complex Fire". CAL FIRE. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  2. ^ ab"LNU Lightning Complex: Cal Fire confirms 5th death". Sacramento, California: KCRA-TV. August 24, 2020.
  3. ^"Northern California Wildfires: Where To Find Updates On Air Quality, Evacuations, And Official Information". CapRadio. October 2, 2020. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
  4. ^"Top 20 Largest California Wildfires"(PDF). CAL FIRE. October 2, 2020. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
  5. ^"How LNU, CZU Lightning Complex wildfires in the Bay Area got their names". ABC7 San Francisco. August 21, 2020. Retrieved August 21, 2020.
  6. ^Barmann, Jay (August 17, 2020). "Lightning Strikes Spark Multiple Fires in Napa, Knock Out Power In Healdsburg". SFist. Retrieved August 17, 2020.
  7. ^Sandler, Adam (August 19, 2020). "California Sees 10,849 Lightning Strikes In 72 Hours As Wildfires Rage". Forbes. Retrieved August 19, 2020.
  8. ^Barnard, Cornell W. (August 18, 2020). "Some Napa County residents choose to stay despite evacuation orders as Hennessey Fire explodes in size". KGO-TV | ABC 7 Bay Area. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  9. ^ abStaff, CBS SF (August 18, 2020). "LNU Lightning Complex Fires: Evacuations Expand In Napa, Sonoma Counties, School Closures". KPIX-TV | CBS SF Bay Area. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  10. ^ abcdGafni, Matthias; Johnson, Lizzie (September 3, 2020). "A lightning fire, a thunderous path". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
  11. ^ abcdefCallanhan, Mary; Schmitt, Will; Chavez, Nashelly; Carter, Lori; Barber, Phil (August 18, 2020). "Live updates: Evacuations expanded once again due to 13-4 wildfire". The Press Democrat. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  12. ^Sonoma, County of [@CountyofSonoma] (August 18, 2020). "MANDATORY EVACUATION ORDER (FORT ROSS FIRE)" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  13. ^LNU, CAL FIRE [@CALFIRELNU] (August 18, 2020). "LNU Lightning Complex - Evening Update 08-18-2020" (Tweet) – via Twitter.

External links[edit]

Largest California wildfires

  1. August Complex(2020) (1,032,648 acres, 4,178.98 km2)
  2. Dixie(2021) (963,309 acres, 3,898.37 km2)
  3. Mendocino Complex(2018) (459,123 acres, 1,858.00 km2)
  4. SCU Lightning Complex(2020) (396,624 acres, 1,605.08 km2)
  5. Creek(2020) (379,895 acres, 1,537.38 km2)
  6. LNU Lightning Complex(2020) (363,220 acres, 1,469.9 km2)
  7. North Complex(2020) (318,935 acres, 1,290.68 km2)
  8. Santiago Canyon (1889) (300,000 acres, 1,200 km2)
  9. Thomas(2017) (281,893 acres, 1,140.78 km2)
  10. Cedar(2003) (273,246 acres, 1,105.79 km2)
  11. Rush(2012) (271,911 acres, 1,100.38 km2 in California)
  12. Rim(2013) (257,314 acres, 1,041.31 km2)
  13. Zaca(2007) (240,207 acres, 972.08 km2)
  14. Carr(2018) (229,651 acres, 929.36 km2)
  15. Monument(2021) (222,323 acres, 899.71 km2)
  16. Caldor(2021) (221,774 acres, 897.49 km2)
  17. Matilija (1932) (220,000 acres, 890 km2)
  18. River Complex(2021) (198,248 acres, 802.28 km2)
  19. Witch(2007) (197,990 acres, 801.2 km2)
  20. Klamath Theater Complex(2008) (192,038 acres, 777.15 km2)

Note: The Santiago Canyon Fire dates before 1932, when reliable fire records began.


Fire berryessa

California wildfire that killed 2 was started to cover up murder, officials say

A 2020 wildfire in Northern California that killed two people was intentionally set to cover up a murder, officials said Wednesday.

The Markley Fire was set near a dam in Solano County where the burned body of Priscilla Castro, 32, was found, according to the Solano County sheriff's office and Vacaville police.

Two other people — Douglas Mai, 82, and Leon “James” Bone, 64 — were found dead from that fire in their homes, Sheriff Tom Ferrara said at a news conference.

Victor Serriteno was arrested by Vacaville police in September and charged with murder in Castro's death, and prosecutors will file to add two more murder charges and arson charges, the district attorney said.

"Based on an extensive eight-month investigation, we believe Serriteno deliberately set the Markley Fire in an attempt to conceal his crime," Ferrara said.

The Markley Fire began Aug. 18, and Castro's burned body was found in a rural area near Lake Berryessa the next month, Vacaville police have said.

Investigators think Castro, of Vallejo, went to Vacaville to meet Serriteno on Aug. 16. She was never heard from again, police said.

Online court records show Serriteno is represented by a public defender but do not appear to identify an attorney by name.

The Markley Fire merged with a larger fire, the Hennessy Fire, which was eventually considered part of the massive "LNU Lightning Complex."

That larger complex of fires was a result of two days of lightning strikes and is considered one of the largest wildfires in California history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire.

The LNU Complex burned more than 363,000 acres across five counties, destroyed almost 1,500 structures, and is blamed in six deaths.

That LNU complex was fully contained in early October. It burned in Lake, Napa, Sonoma, Yolo and Solano counties.

Cal Fire said in a report that the 2020 fire season will be counted as one of the most severe in the history of the United States.

In California, the "2020 Fire Siege" burned 4.2 million acres; killed 31 people, including three firefighters; and destroyed more than 9,200 structures.

CORRECTION (April 29, 2021, 2:35 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the date of full containment for the LNU Lightning Complex. Full containment was announced on Oct. 2, not in September.

Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.

Lake Berryessa Couple Recovers After Narrowly Escaping LNU Complex Fire

Will Napa’s Lake Berryessa recover from the Hennessey Fire?

PG&E crews swarmed the area installing hundreds of new power poles in less than a week. Power was finally restored to the Berryessa Highland residential area on Sept. 2, about two weeks after it was lost in the original lightning storm, but other areas may yet take weeks to be restored. The official PG&E estimate is that all power should be restored to the region by Sept. 20.

My house, the Lake Berryessa News headquarters, survived the fire due to my son’s well-engineered system of a 5,000-gallon water tank and generator-driven industrial sprinklers all around the periphery of our house. We now have generator power (8 gallons of gas per day), well-water, internet, WiFi, TV and air conditioning. We are aware of how fortunate we are.

As of Sept. 5, dozens of PG&E trucks carrying pole-digging equipment and power poles are moving back and forth on my rural road. They are supported by many helicopters flying over my house ferrying equipment to the repair sites in the hills.

Napa County stepped up to provide immediate support with local assistance centers in the Berryessa Highlands and at the county's Health & Human Services campus. The state was declared a federal disaster area, and FEMA is on site to provide emergency resources and long-term financial aid. Thirty-year fixed-rate loans at 1.5% are available to qualified fire victims.

As with the last fires here in Napa County, the big issue will be the response of insurance companies to the challenges of helping their clients as quickly as possible. And as last time, people are finding out that many insurance companies are not particularly responsive.

As most North Bay Business Journal readers are aware, one of the largest segments of the American economy is, ironically again, FIRE: finance, insurance and real estate. Since the present economic system is a cult of predatory capitalism, FIRE is in the business of making money — not helping people.

Some of my neighbors are receiving excellent customer service from reputable insurance companies, but some are not. A good friend had just sold his house in Spanish Flat a few weeks ago.

The buyers were Silicon Valley people trying to escape the COVID crisis. They requested a two-week extension on their closing, which my friend allowed. The next day, his house burned to the ground and he lost everything — including signed copies of movie scripts he had worked on with Robin Williams.

Unfortunately, for some reason he had only been able to get homeowners insurance, at more than $4,000 a year, from an out-of-state company. That company, affiliated with Lloyd’s of London, first gave him a paperwork runaround and is now disputing his claim because his house supposedly did not meet the company’s standards for fire protection — which they had never shared with him. This is an unconscionable business practice.

Recovery — long term

In the aftermath of this disaster there a several business questions to be addressed. For example, will private insurance companies be able to continue to offer fire insurance coverage.

Even after the fires two years ago most companies either canceled homeowner’s insurance coverage or more than doubled their homeowner policy premiums in the Lake Berryessa region. In response Napa county built two local fire stations in the Berryessa Highlands and Berryessa Estates. Companies then lowered their premiums.

But with the extent of the present California disaster, will they cancel all fire coverage as happened many years ago with earthquake insurance. The state had to step in with the California Earthquake Authority. Will a similar agency be created for fire coverage?

A more important question to many of us who have worked long and hard on the revitalization of Lake Berryessa is whether the fire will have any impact on Napa County’s willingness to continue with the signed managing partner agreement and get the bids out soon.

For rational business people who understand the future recreational value of the lake as described in detail in the Ragatz report “Lake Berryessa: An Untapped Resort Development Opportunity” the results of the fire should not make an impact on their decision. The resorts will be built on the lakeshore and made as fire safe as modern technology and the latest safety codes can make them — virtually bulletproof to wildfires.

This view was validated recently by the Napa County supervisors. The supervisors interviewed for the original North Bay Business Journal article were positive in their outlook for the future of Lake Berryessa. They apparently still are.

On Aug. 18 — ironically, the day the fires began — the Board of Supervisors agreed to create a Lake Berryessa concessions manager position to oversee the resort sites. The next steps were to be filling that position and inviting proposals from potential private sector concessionaires to both redevelop and operate the resorts. How quickly the county seeks bids is up to the Board of Supervisors.

Board of Supervisors Chair Diane Dillon in a recent interview said that she doesn’t think the Hennessey Fire will keep the county from reaching this goal.

“I think there are still more positives than otherwise in terms of why people would come to Lake Berryessa,” she said. “That landscape does look different,” Dillon said. “But when you look at other places where fire has occurred, in 2017, 2018 or even 2019, it springs back pretty readily.”

Dillon said that optimally, renovation work at the resorts could still begin next spring. There wouldn’t have been any construction this year even without the fire, she said.

Opportunity, irony, tragedy, recovery: The Lake Berryessa business cycle appears to have returned to the opportunity phase — hopefully a long-lived one.


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