A smoky view from the eastern Morgan Hill foothills Aug. 21 shows the impact of wildfires burning throughout the region. Photos by Robert Eliason.
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Wildfires east of Santa Clara Valley have burned through nearly 300,000 acres, Cal Fire announced early this morning.

Neighborhoods east of Hill Road in Morgan Hill remain under evacuation warnings established by CalFire. City officials in an Aug. 21 online town hall urged residents in the warning zone to leave as soon as they can.

Just 10 percent of the blazes known as the SCU Complex are under control after consuming 291,968 acres—and counting—by 7am today in Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. The fire is burning in a southeastern direction.

Two firefighters and two civilians have been hurt by the cluster of blazes, according to Cal Fire, and five buildings have been destroyed.

Still 20,000 more structures remain threatened.

Morgan Hill Fire Chief Jake Hess explained in an Aug. 21 town hall resources have been limited in fighting the SCU Complex because CalFire and other agencies are fighting so many other wildfires in the region and throughout the state.

He said CalFire prioritizes its resources based on a fire’s threats to property and people. The SCU Complex is burning “out in the wilderness” and cannot be extinguished with “engine companies and hose,” Hess said. Other fires burning in other Bay Area regions—specifically the LNU Complex and CZU Complex—have caused significant property loss and even some fatalities.

“This fire is going to do what it does,” Hess said. Still, crews have been cutting control lines with bulldozers and have even set controlled burns to fight the main blaze. Hess said the effort against the SCU Complex is a “marathon.”

“Seeing the growth of this fire, I’m very concerned for South County,” said Hess, urging residents in the evacuation warning zone to leave as soon as they can. 

In response to a question from the public, Morgan Hill Police Chief Shane Palsgrove said if the evacuation warning in Morgan Hill becomes upgraded to an order, officers will patrol neighborhoods in those zones to look out for looters, trespassers and vandals.

City staff urged residents to call or text the Morgan Hill call center (408) 762-1635 if they have any questions about the emergency. The line might not be answered live, but voicemail and text messages will be responded to, Tobin said.

Authorities have also set up an evacuation resource center at Sobrato High School, 401 Burnett Ave.

The SCU Complex—one of three major groups of fires scorching the Bay Area this week—started as 20 separate lightning-struck blazes on Sunday and have since morphed into a few bigger blazes broken into three distinct areas. Cal Fire said the SCU Complex now comprises the Canyon Zone, Calaveras Zone and Deer Zone.

Thankfully, nightfall brought some humidity in lower elevations, which somewhat slowed the fires’ spread, officials said in the most recent incident update.

However, high clouds formed by tropical moisture are headed northward, perhaps a sign of storms ahead, according to the National Weather Service, which predicts dry lightning on Sunday and through early next week.

“Expect an increase in fire activity when the inversion lifts and smoke clears the area today,” Cal Fire cautioned in today’s incident report. “The protection of sensitive wildlife and critical power and communication infrastructure remains a top priority.”

Evacuations remain in effect for the areas east of San Jose and Morgan Hill. Click here to view the latest evacuation zones as established by Cal Fire.

Holiday Drive is closed at Morgan Hill. The Holiday Lake Estates neighborhood and surrounding homes are under an evacuation warning due to the SCU Complex fire.

To the west of Santa Clara Valley, the CZU Complex of fires still rages, encroaching on more than 63,000 acres today with 5 percent containment from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Peninsula. So far, more than 90 buildings have been destroyed and more than 60,000 people were ordered to evacuate.

Up in the North Bay, the LNU Complex has exploded in size to 314,000 acres—once again exceeding the SCU Complex in scope to become the biggest fire in California.

Fifteen percent of the LNU is contained, four people injured, 560 structures destroyed and 125 buildings damaged, Cal Fire reported today.

Smoke from the Northern California lightning fires has turned the regional air quality into some of the worst on the planet.

In the South Bay today, sunlight filters through a smoky haze that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District categorizes as a range of orange, meaning, “unhealthy for certain groups,” and red, which is unhealthy for most people.

To check the air quality in your specific area, click here.

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