Record-breaking wildfires on West Coast shuts down numerous highways

September 8, 2020

Tyson Fisher

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Extreme weather conditions on the West Coast are exacerbating the wildfire situation in the region, forcing evacuations and shutting down numerous highways from Southern California to Washington State.

As of publication, only California had issued a state of emergency. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had not issued a regional or state emergency declaration, waiver or exemption specifically for wildfires on the West Coast.

California’s record-breaking wildfires

Year-to-date, California is experiencing one of the worst wildfire seasons on record. Currently, the second, third and fourth largest wildfires in California history are burning across the state.

The Santa Clara Unit Lightning Complex has burned nearly 397,000 acres throughout Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Merced and Stanislaus counties since it began on Aug. 18.

At 94% containment, the SCU fire is the second-largest on record in California.

According to Cal Fire, the wildfire has destroyed 224 structures, damaged 26 more and has caused five injuries.

The Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit Lightning Complex has burned more than 375,000 acres so far in Lake, Napa, Sonoma, Solano and Yolo counties. LNU started just a day before SCU and is at 91% containment. As of Tuesday morning, it is the third-largest wildfire in California historically. So far, LBU has destroyed nearly 1,500 structures, damaged 232 structures and has led to five deaths and five injuries. It is the 10th most destructive wildfire on record in the state.

In Glenn, Lake, Mendocino, Tehama and Trinity counties, the August Complex wildfire has scorched more than 356,000 acres, making it the fourth largest wildfire on record in California. Among the three large complexes of wildfires, the August Complex is the most active at only 24% containment. This complex began as 37 separate fires in Mendocino National Forest on Aug. 17 before merging into one large fire.

Although many of the wildfires in California were the result of natural causes or still under investigation, at least one was human-caused.

The El Dorado Fire near Oak Glen in San Bernardino was caused by a smoke generating pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party, according to a Cal Fire news release.

According to Caltrans, the following highway closures were in place Tuesday morning due to wildfire activity:

  • U.S. 101 (both directions) from Quail MD Overhead Bridge to Route 162 East.
  • SR 1 (both directions) from Gorda to Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
  • SR 2 (northbound) from 300 feet west of Upper Big Tujunga Road to 2 miles east of Islip Saddle, Route 39.
  • SR 14 (northbound off-ramp) at northbound Newhall Avenue.
  • SR 130 (both directions) from Quimby Road to Santa Clara/Stanislaus county line.
  • SR 168 (both directions) from Auberry/Morgan Canyon/Park and Ride to East End of Huntington Lake.
  • SR 236 (both directions) from Oak Avenue to Highway 9 (Watermans Gap).

For traffic updates, check out Caltrans’ QuickMap.

On Sept. 6, Gov. Gavin Newsome declared a state of emergency in the counties of Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, San Bernardino and San Diego due to wildfire activity.

Oregon wildfires

In Oregon, there are three wildfires burning thousands of acres in the state:

  • Indian Creek Fire: More than 48,000 acres 9miles west of Juntura at 75% containment.
  • Lionshead Fire: Nearly 28,000 acres in Lions Head Canyon at 31% containment.
  • White River Fire: Nearly 18,000 acres 20 miles west of Wamic at 70% containment.

Several other smaller fires are also active in the state. According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, wildfire activity have caused the following highway closures:

  • U.S. 97 (both directions) 28 miles south of the intersection with East Diamond Lake Highway SR 138 at mile markers 241-249.
  • SR 18 (both directions) at mile markers 8-10, seven miles east of Otis.
  • SR 22 (both directions) at intersection with Santiam Highway U.S. 20 at mile markers 82-13.
  • SR 36 (both directions) 1 mile west of Swisshome at mile marker 7.
  • SR 47 (both directions) at mile marker 35 in Yamhill.
  • SR 62 (both directions) 5 miles west of the intersection with the Dalles-California Highway U.S. 97 at mile marker 99.
  • SR 99 (westbound) at mile marker 104.
  • SR 126 (both directions) 4 miles west of McKenzie Bridge at mile marker 47.
  • SR 221 (both directions) 7 miles north of intersection with SR 22 in Salem from mile markers 14-15.

Updated closures and reopening can be found at TripCheck.com.

Washington state wildfires

Although there are fewer fires than the other states, wildfire activity in Washington continues to cause issues across the state. According to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, there are six wildfires in the state.

The largest wildfire is the Evans Canyon Fire. It is 8 miles northwest of Naches. That fire has burned nearly 76,000 acres and was at 70% containment as of Tuesday morning. Full containment is not expected until Oct. 1.

The Washington State Department of Transportation is reporting the following highway closures due to wildfire activity:

  • U.S. 2 (both directions) from mile marker 150, just east of Waterville at the junction with SR 172, to mile marker 187.5, at the junction with SR 17.
  • U.S. 2 (both directions) from mile marker 250 near Davenport to mile marker 239 near Teleford rest area.
  • U.S. 97 (both directions) from mile marker 260 at Brewster to mile marker 290, 1 mile south of Omak.
  • SR 17 (both directions) from mile marker 112, at the junction with U.S. 2, to mile marker 144.3, at the junction with US 97.
  • SR 172 (both directions) from mile marker 0, at the junction with U.S. 2, to mile marker 35, at the junction with SR 17.
  • SR 410 (both directions) from mile marker 13.37, near 181st Avenue East, to mile marker 11.46, near 166th Avenue East.
  • SR 821 (both directions) from mile marker 3, 6 miles north of Yakima, to mile marker 24, 5 miles south of Ellensburg.

Up-to-date information can be accessed here.

Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.