SCU control burns add more smoke to South Valley air

Lightning Complex blaze is 35 percent contained

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CalFire's incident map for the SCU Lightning Complex fire on Aug. 27 shows more activity in Henry W. Coe State Park.

If South Valley residents are seeing even more smoke than usual today, it’s likely because CalFire has begun setting controlled burns in east Santa Clara County as they continue to fight the SCU Lightning Complex.

CalFire officials wrote in an Aug. 27 press release, “CAL FIRE Incident Management Team 6 will be conducting firing operations in areas of the Henry W. Coe State Park and surrounding ranch lands starting today and over the next several days. Large columns of smoke will be visible during these operations. CAL FIRE will work effectively and safely to address State Parks and Ranchers needs.”

San Benito County officials also sent out a warning to residents that the smoke from these back burns could fill the air even in that county. “(Those) concerned about poor air quality or have medical issues should remain indoors. For those interested in checking the monitored air quality from the National Weather Service, go to https://airquality.weather.gov/ for that information.”

An email from the City of Morgan Hill described the firing operations as “fighting fire with fire.”

CalFire has been busy in recent days cutting a wide firebreak on the western border of the SCU Complex fire, in order to protect populated areas of east Morgan Hill, Gilroy and San Jose. The controlled burns starting Aug. 27 are set on the eastern side of the firebreak, in order to starve the main fire of fuel if it continues to spread to the west.

The SCU Complex fire started burning Aug. 16 as a cluster of fires in five counties ignited by lightning strikes. It has since merged into one large fire burning in two main branches.

As of Aug. 27, the fire has burned 368,671 acres and is about 35 percent contained, according to CalFire. The Deer Zone of the SCU Complex is 100 percent contained.

Twenty structures have been destroyed by the SCU Complex, and 20,000 more buildings remain threatened. Three first responders have been injured since the fire started.

Some neighborhoods in east Morgan Hill are still under an evacuation warning. City of Morgan Hill staff wrote in an Aug. 27 email, “In an abundance of caution the areas east of Hill Road between Main Avenue and Maple Avenue, including Jackson Meadows, Jackson Oaks, Thomas Grade, and Holiday Lake Estates will continue to remain under evacuation warning. The area of the fire that is a threat to Morgan Hill does not yet have a full control line. CAL FIRE continues to monitor and make progress in this regard, but the priority is the safety of our community. CAL FIRE will lift the evacuation warning as soon as there is 100% confidence that there is no threat to our community.”

A temporary evacuation resources center is open at Ann Sobrato High School, 401 Burnett Ave.

As has been typical throughout the SCU Complex firefighting process, slight changes in the weather continue to be a factor in controlling the massive wildfire.

CalFire’s Aug. 27 morning update on the fire says, “Prevailing wind flow will be westerly which should be favorable on the north end of the fire zones. Southwest winds should be favorable for any burn operations. Smoke should be less than previous days as the coastal fires are less active allowing for better ventilation and afternoon mixing. Gusty west winds will still be of concern afternoon and evening hours. The biggest weather-related threat will continue to be nighttime drying or lowering of humidity.”

CalFire officials added Aug. 27 that authorities have been working with ranch owners near the fire zone to evacuate and care for livestock left behind. CalFire as well as the Alameda County and Santa Clara County sheriff’s offices have issued 51 agriculture passes for ranch landowners to make access for their respective property. 

Morgan Hill residents seeking local information about the fire can call, text or leave a voicemail on the city’s fire resource line at (408) 762-1635.

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