The Camp Fire started on November 8, 2018 in the North Fork of the Feather River Canyon in Butte County. A nearly 100 year old suspension hook on Tower 27/222 near Pulga in the Canyon finally broke at around 6:15 that windy morning. The hook was holding up high voltage power lines for PG & E; when it broke, the power lines it was holding up also broke. Those live, broken power lines crashed into the metal tower, which sent sparks and molten metal flying, which then ignited the brush below the transmission tower. It started near Camp Creek Road, which is how the fire got its name.
Fuels were exceptionally dry and the Jarbo Gap winds were gusting to 40 mph at that time, so the fire spread very quickly. It reached Paradise shortly before 8 am, then it rapidly burned through town. 85 people lost their lives that day in the fire, making it the deadliest wildfire in California's history, and the second deadliest in the United States in the past 100 years. It's the 7th deadliest wildfire ever in the U.S., and the world's 14th deadliest wildfire.
The Camp Fire was also the most destructive wildfire in California's history, destroying almost 10,000 Single Family homes, and almost 3700 Mobile Homes. It was the costliest natural disaster in the world for 2018.
This is the Butte County vs. PG & E case, which PG & E pled guilty to. I was retained by Butte Co. as a weather expert, and I testified in front of the Butte Co. Grand Jury in February 2020 about the drought, the very dry fuels, and the winds of the Feather River Canyon that initially pushed the Camp Fire... the Jarbo Gap winds.
This is a well written, detailed look at the start of the Camp Fire, and a very detailed look at PG & E's lack of maintenance on the 97 year old tower (and it's components) that failed and started the Camp Fire.
This page had before & after imagery of the destruction of the Camp Fire, 360 Imagery, Drone Shots, Structure Status, and updates on Hazardous Waste and Debris Cleanup. It now still has Structure Status and the cleanup Phase I & II maps, along with short drone video tours of Paradise made in late November of 2018. To see those drone videos, click the 'Drone Images' tab, and select a orange icon. The blue icons don't seem to work anymore.
The Bear Fire (renamed the North Complex West Zone on September 10th) started by a lightning strike on August 17, 2020 in Plumas County. It merged with the Claremont Fire burning nearby on September 5th. The Claremont Fire threatened Quincy for a while in late August, but both fires had calmed down somewhat by early September.
But on September 8th & 9th, the Jarbo Gap winds roared to life with gusts up to 66 mph. That sent the Bear Fire sprinting down the Middle Fork of the Feather River Canyon at incredible speed, burning through the towns of Berry Creek and Feather Falls. 16 people died, making it the 5th deadliest fire in California's history.
The Bear Fire burned over 318,000 acres, and was the 7th largest fire in California's history. Over 1/2 of the fire (180,000 + acres!) burned between September 8th & 9th, when it was pushed by strong Jarbo Gap winds (see thumbnail video).
It destroyed over 2300 structures, making it the 5th most destructive fire in California's history. Of those 2300+ structures, around 1500 were homes.
The thunderstorm that started the Bear Fire was sparked by the remnants of Tropical Storm Fausto moving over California. The moisture from Fausto (no longer a tropical storm by the time it made it to California) also sparked the Claremont Fire and the August Complex (see below).
This is a long time lapse of the incredible run of the Bear Fire on September 8, 2020. Pushed by 60 mph Jarbo Gap winds, the fire raced down the Middle Fork of the Feather River. This time lapse is from the Lexington Hill camera, and runs from 11 am to 8 pm.
This is a 24 hour time lapse of the heat detection product from GOES 17, showing how fast the Bear Fire moved between Noon on September 8th, 2020 and September 9th, 2020. 60+ mph Jarbo Gap winds are what caused this incredible run.
The Carr Fire started on July 23rd, 2018 about 15 miles West of Redding, near the Carr Powerhouse at Whiskeytown Lake in Shasta County, as a tire on a trailer being towed on Hwy 299 blew out. The sparks created by the tire's metal rim on the road ignited nearby brush.
The fire burned around Whiskeytown Lake for the next couple of days, burning docks at the lake but sparing the town of French Gulch. However, it was he fourth day of the fire that would be its most terrifying day.
July 26th was a scorcher, even by Redding's blazing summer standards. With a record high temperature of 113° (but only 59° in Eureka), there was a 54° difference between the Valley and the Coast that day. That temperature difference made a light (5 to 15 mph) onshore breeze develop by the late afternoon, coming from the West. The Carr Fire used that to roar through Old Shasta and into west Redding. Around 7pm that evening, it spawned an EF-3 tornado near Keswick Reservoir. Another fire that produced a large fire vortex similar to this was the Wall Fire.
The Carr Fire ended up killing 8 people, and burning almost 230,00 acres (13th largest in California's history). It burned over 1600 structures, which is the 9th most in state history. Of those 1600 + structures, over 1000 were homes.
Excellent write up of the weather during the first few days of the Carr Fire, including good detail of the evening the fire roared into Redding. Includes detail of several burn overs during the Carr Fire, and links to 3 excellent videos of the fire tornado. This link will download the article to your computer/smartphone. Good paper.
The Carr and Camp fires of 2018 are what really began the explosion of the AlertWildfire camera network. As such, there were only a few cameras around in 2018, which is why there are few time lapses of those particular fires. One of the early cameras installed was in Oroville, and it captured an amazing time lapse of a Fire Vortex on the Wall Fire (see below).
The Dixie Fire started on the morning of July 13, 2021 just above the Cresta Dam Powerhouse in the North Fork of the Feather River Canyon... only about 2 miles up the Canyon from where the Camp Fire started! Early reports suggest that faulty PG & E equipment is also responsible for this fire.
However, this time the winds were blowing from the South West, which pushed the Dixie Fire in the opposite direction of the Camp Fire. It roared through the towns of Greenville and Canyondam, and became the 2nd largest fire in California's history, burning 963,309 acres. It destroyed 1329 structures (14th most in CA history), and killed one firefighter.
Here's a time lapse of the Dixie Fire on July 22nd, 2021, from the Radio Hill camera near Quincy. About halfway through, a new fire starts and roars to life. This would be called the Fly Fire, and would soon be engulfed by the Dixie Fire.
The Rattlesnake Fire was started by an arsonist on July 9, 1953 in the Coast Range of western Glenn County. It burned only 1300 acres, but it makes this list because a wind shift caused the fire to suddenly reverse direction... trapping and killing 15 volunteer firefighters. This fire prompted big changes in wildfire training and standards. It's the 6th deadliest wildfire in our state's history.
https://www.nwcg.gov/sites/default/files/wfldp/docs/sr-rs-usfs-meteorological-conditions-rattlesnake-fire-1954.pdf" rel="noopener" target="_blank">This is a writeup of the weather conditions of the Rattlesnake Fire in 1953. The author had access to very little weather data (no satellite or internet data back then!), so he had to make many assumptions. With the benefit of data he probably didn't have, it seems clear to me that this was caused by a strong onshore (Delta Breeze) push. There's a clear Summer pattern of southeast afternoon winds at Alder Springs (near the fire), which shift to northwest shortly after sunset. Those northwest winds at night originate from the Pacific, spill over Mendocino Pass, and usually range from 5-15 mph.
Wind data from 1953 is hard to find, but there is temperature data. Travis AFB in Fairfield saw a temperature drop of 8° on the day of the fire, and Sacramento saw a 7° drop. In July, that usually happens with an increase in the Delta Breeze. That strong onshore push spilled over Mendocino Pass, would have been significantly stronger than usual that evening, and is likely what caused the winds to suddenly roar from the northwest on that deadly night.
On a hot and windy Sunday afternoon in September 2020, a pine tree damaged in the Carr Fire of 2018 fell onto PG & E power lines adjacent to Zogg Mine Road near Igo in Shasta County, about 13 miles west of Redding. Northerly winds gusting up to 41 mph in Redding that afternoon (and possibly higher at the fire's ignition point) pushed the Zogg Fire rapidly to the south, eventually burning 56,338 acres, destroying 204 structures (about half of those were homes), and taking the lives of 4 people.
The Fountain Fire started near Round Mountain (about 30 miles northeast of Redding) in Shasta County, not far from where the historic old drinking fountain was, on August 20, 1992. That was the 12th day in a row of triple digit high temperatures in Redding, and while Round Mountain would have likely been a bit cooler than Redding, it still would have also endured nearly 2 straight weeks of above normal blazing August heat. A cool front moved through that afternoon, bringing both relief from the heat, and a gusty south wind. That wind helped push the fire in it's early growth.
The Fountain Fire burned 64,000 acres and around 300 homes, and is believed to have been started by an arsonist... although that has never definitively been proven.
The August Complex was a group of fires that eventually merged together to form the largest fire in California's history, burning over 1 million acres. 1 firefighter was killed and 935 structures were destroyed, which is 19th most in our state's history. For such a large fire, that's still a relatively low number. That's because it burned in mostly remote areas of the Coast Range of western Glenn and Tehama counties, and in Trinity & Mendocino counties.
The fire started from thunderstorms caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Fausto moving over California on August 17, 2020. Thunderstorms from Fausto are also responsible for starting the Bear Fire (see above).
The first of two terrible fires in Jones Valley (about 15 miles north east of Redding) in 5 years (the other one was the Bear Fire of 2004... a different Bear Fire than the Butte County fire of 2020).
The Jones Valley Fire destroyed over 100 homes (the Bear Fire destroyed "dozens" more), and was pushed by North winds gusting up to 40 mph. It started in the early morning of October 16, 1999 near Shasta Lake. There is no official cause of the fire, but it is believed to be from a camp fire near Shasta Lake that wasn't extinguished correctly and re-ignited. 1 firefighter was killed. It burned over 950 structures, which is the 18th most in California's history.
The Wall Fire started on the afternoon of July 7, 2017 near Bangor (about 10 miles southeast of Oroville). It eventually burned 6,033 acres and 41 homes. The fire was 100% contained on July 17, 2017. It was started by a defective electrical panel at a private residence.
Thumbnail image of the Wall Fire is from Wayne Wilson, with Oroville in the foreground.
For more on fire vortexes, check out the Carr Fire section above.
WOW! Amazing video (not a time lapse!) of a large Fire Vortex in the Wall Fire. There is another video (not a time lapse) in the comment section, shot from Kelly Ridge in Oroville. Both videos were shot on July 8, 2017.