The Top Ten Disasters of 2020 - #2 California’s Historic Wildfire Season

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Tidal Basin reviews the biggest disasters of the year

Although there were many regional and local disasters around the U.S. this year, Tidal Basin has identified the Top Ten Disasters of 2020, based on those events that were significant due to historical records, the number of people impacted or the estimated financial impact to insured and uninsured property. Wildfires across the West Coast burned millions of acres in 2020 with California experiencing the worst of the fires.

No. 2 - California’s Historic Wildfire Season

By late summer, a combination of extremely dry conditions, high winds, and lightning strikes from storms sparked a ticking time bomb in California. The state had been a tinder box after repeated years of dry weather and warming temperatures. 

“We are in the midst of a climate emergency,” said California’s Governor Gavin Newsome. “We are in the midst of a climate crisis. We are experiencing weather conditions - the likes we’ve never experienced in our lifetime. We are experiencing what so many people predicted decades and decades ago,” said Newsome.

This summer’s weather also impacted the extent and number of wildfires as storms caused hundreds of lightning strikes in August which ignited numerous fires especially in central and northern California.

“We are essentially living in a mega-fire era,” said Morgan Hill Fire Chief Jake Hess. “We have folks who have been working for Cal Fire for the last five years, and that’s all they can understand – Mega-fires since they’ve started. These significant incidents have been out pacing themselves every year,” he said.

This season’s fires are even more destructive than the 2018 wildfires which burned over 1.8 million acres. Earlier this year, the California Department of Housing and Community Development selected the Tidal Basin Group to support developing the 2018 California Wildfires Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Action Plan. The plan will help the state identify how to spend millions in funds awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the regions which suffered the 2018 fires.

Since January 1st, the state has recorded over ten thousand wildfires according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. On average, the state battles approximately six thousand wildfires per year. Since December 20th, over 4.2 million acres have burned – far exceeding the previous record of just under 2 million acres.

The August Complex Fire which involved Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity, Tehama, Glenn, Lake, and Colusa counties burned over 1 million acres and destroyed 935 structures. The fire was responsible for one death. The fire is the largest in state history and joins four other fires from 2020 that have made the state’s Top Six list of largest fires in California history.

The Santa Clara Unit Lightning complex fires burned nearly 400,000 acres in August. Chief Hess says the fire, which is now the third largest in California’s history, required the evacuation of thousands of people. “All of the counties associated with this incident have been phenomenal to work with,” he said. “The office of emergency management in every county has been a great partner with us because they are the folks that are now engaged with receiving the people who have been evacuated.”    

The deadliest fire in California in 2020 was the North Complex fire which burned over 300,000 acres and killed 15. 

Stay tuned for #1 on our list of the Top Ten Disasters of 2020.

To view what made our Top Ten list so far, click below: