In the very early morning of Sunday, August 16th, a dry lightning storm started a bunch of fires all over the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Five of those fires would become significant and eventually merge to form the CZU August Lightning Complex.

(There was a sixth nearby fire that you might be able to see as a small dot northeast of the complex perimeter, to the left of the “me” label. That fire was our initial worry because it was less than a mile from our house. However, before we were evacuated we were watching it closely and it didn’t seem to be growing. Turns out it wasn’t.)

From this progression map (in which I highlighted the first three days of fire growth) you can see that the southern-most fire, which was staffed well because of its proximity to residential areas, was completely contained and didn’t grow after that first day. The other southern fire over on the coast did grow some on the second day but it was apparently also well staffed. The three fires up north were woefully understaffed in these early days and burned pretty much unhindered.

On the third day, the fire absolutely exploded in size growing to over 40,000 acres and connecting four of the original fires into a giant “complex”. (We were evacuated late that afternoon.)

The fire would continue to grow over the next 34 days but it’s pretty wild to think that about half of the total burned area happened in the first 3 days of the fire.

(Thank you, Casey Dunn, for the maps.)

Fire progression map for the CZU Lightning Complex