A photo from CalFire, posted Aug. 31 by Henry W. Coe State Park, shows a dramatic view of control burns set on the west side of a dozer line.
music in the park san jose

More than four months after it ignited then slowly burned almost 400,000 acres, the SCU Lightning Complex is fully controlled as 2020 comes to a close.

CalFire Santa Clara Unit Chief Jake Hess made the declaration on Dec. 28 about the wildfire that burned through vast stretches of wilderness east of Morgan Hill.

“I feel very comfortable that we have reached the point of calling the SCU Lightning Complex controlled,” Hess said. “We are finished with all fire suppression activity.”

The SCU Lightning Complex was one of the summer of 2020’s largest fires during one of the most destructive and widespread fire seasons in the state’s history. The SCU fire started Aug. 16 as a series of blazes ignited by numerous lightning strikes in seven counties.

The fires quickly merged into one enormous wildfire that ended up burning about 396,000 acres. That includes about 56,000 of wilderness on the east side of Henry W. Coe State Park.

At times over the summer, while the SCU Complex fire grew and spread, some neighborhoods in east Morgan Hill were warned, then ordered, to evacuate their homes. However, the blaze—unlike others burning elsewhere at the same time—did not reach major population centers. A total of 120 structures were destroyed by the SCU Complex fire.

Statewide, wildfires burned nearly 1.5 million acres this summer. The infernos—compounded by numerous multi-day heat waves that sent outdoor temperatures into the triple digits—resulted in poor and, at times, harmful air quality in Santa Clara Valley.

In the South Bay, the CZU Lightning Complex fire burned in the Santa Cruz Mountains in July and August, displacing hundreds of residents. In July, the Crews Fire burned about 5,500 acres in the hills southeast of Gilroy.

Add to these the normal summertime caseload for the region’s various firefighting agencies—including scores of vegetation fires sparked by Fourth of July fireworks—and it turns out more than 15,600 firefighters throughout the state at one point this summer were responding to 19 major fires.

On Dec. 28, the CalFire Santa Clara Unit formally transitioned out of peak fire season, according to a press release. The SCU consists of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and the western side of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

By the end of the 2020 fire season, CalFire and local agencies responded to more than 8,056 wildfires in California. In the SCU, 278 wildfires charred 405,331 acres.

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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