1 person remains missing in North Complex Fire; more than 600 structures destroyed


Cal Fire map of North Complex Fire, Sept. 16, 2020

Cal Fire officials confirmed Wednesday that at least 3.3 million acres have burned in California at a community briefing in Chico. This estimate is up from the 2.8 million acres that was reported on Tuesday. 

Areas of risk for continued fire activity include areas south of Bucks Lake and Little Grass Valley. Weather conditions have aided firefighters and officials’ efforts to contain the North Complex Fire in previous days, but Cal Fire is still urging residents to remain alert. 

“You’ve heard some devastating stories about people that wanted to wait until they saw the flame front,” said Ron Bravo, deputy operations section chief for Cal Fire Team 4. “A lot of times that’s too late and that’s why we always err on the side of safety and ensure that we always have enough added time built in so people can leave when there’s an order given.” 

News items from Wednesday’s community briefing included: 

  • The North Complex Fire has burned over 273,000 acres with 36% containment 
  • The West Zone of the fire has burned over 77,600 acres with 30% containment 
  • 17,000 firefighters are working throughout the state
  • 29 major fires or complexes are burning in California, with 29 new fires starting since Tuesday
  • 635 single-residence structures have been destroyed 
  • Butte County has responded to 185 welfare calls; 169 people have been located, 1 remains missing, and 15 are confirmed dead

Two additional arrests have been made since Tuesday. An additional suspect, whom police identified as Sunshine Galvez, may have connections to another man arrested for burglary and illegally entering an evacuated property. Police said Galvez allegedly used a stolen credit card from the burlgarly to buy tools at a Home Depot in Oroville. Police applied for the warrant after obtaining video surveillance of Galvez at the Home Depot.

Dan Borsum, an incident meteorologist, noted that weather conditions were smokier today, causing higher humidity levels and lower temperatures. 

“The smoke came all the way out of the great basin, back into California from the south along with the fires we had going on through the states,” Borsum said. “A lot of the smoke we saw today was high level.” 

The weather patterns are expected to continue until a more dangerous, east-to-west cold front arrives Thursday. 

“There is a cold front that is going to move through the area on Thursday,” Borsum said. “I want to stress what I said in previous nights that this is a west to east moving cold front. This wind direction is a completely different result from what happened Sept. 8, which was a north to south moving cold front.”

Troy York, a media spokesman for FEMA, encouraged citizens of Butte County to register with FEMA online in order to start the recovery process. You can register by visiting their website at https://www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362. 

A call center for information about the fire and evacuation orders and warnings opened today. It’s targeted toward residents who do not have internet access and need fire updates. The center is staffed by members from the Community Emergency Response Team and other volunteers. 

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the call center is experiencing a high volume of calls and encouraged the public to remain patient if they have questions. 

“In the last eight days, our dispatch center has answered over 10,000 calls, which is a 50% increase from what they would normally do at a time like this,” said Honea.

Honea also confirmed that property owners can receive a police escort when cleared to visit their property. The county hopes to have the program up and running by early next week. 

Matthew Wreden and Chloe Curtis can be reached at [email protected] or @bymattwreden and @ChloeCurtis__ on Twitter.