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As the North Complex wildfire in Northern California continues to burn, it has now become the fifth-largest and sixth-most destructive wildfire in modern California history, according to Cal Fire records dating back to 1932.
Though fire weather conditions have improved over the last few days, it is estimated that 273,335 acres have burned, mainly in Butte and Plumas counties, and was reportedly 36% contained in mid-September. Because of its size, which is equal to about 427 square miles, the North Complex is the sixth-largest wildfire ever in the state.
Moreover, 15 civilians have tragically died in the wildfire. According to Cal Fire, all died within the complex’s West Zone, which was 30% contained as of mid-September. As of Oct. 4, the North Complex fire is at 317,479 acres and is 83% contained.
The wildfires in the counties of Plumas and Butte were started by lightning on Aug. 17. Then, strong winds caused the Bear Fire to explode in size on September 8, which spread fast to the southwest.
The West Zone quickly destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses due to it spreading at incredible speed due to gusts above 50 mph. It also eveled the town of Berry Creek, which had a population of about 1,200. Moreover, it has destroyed at least 865 structures, many of them homes in Butte and Plumas counties, and continues to threaten more than 23,000 others in those two counties, as well as north Yuba.
Butte County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials have now named 12 of the 15 victims killed by the wildfire. Ten were residents of Berry Creek, and two lived in Feather Falls a few miles to the southeast. Two of the identified Berry Creek victims packed up, but reportedly chose not to evacuate after receiving “erroneous” information about the fire’s containment level.
Moreover, Cal Fire reported that there have been “some injuries” to firefighters working in “dangerous and rugged terrain” with difficult access in the West Zone. However, Cal Fire only lists one such injury, which the state fire agency said previously was not severe. The firefighter reportedly sustained burn injuries to the soles of both feet. Close to 3,500 firefighters are fighting the complex, more than 2,100 of them assigned to the West Zone.
Firefighters are now focused on constructing and reinforcing containment lines both to the north and south of the fire within the Feather River Canyon Highway 70 corridor. They will be supported by multiple heavy helicopters and single engine air tankers as soon as flying conditions allow.
To date, the cost of the firefight is reportedly pegged at $76 million — and that’s just for the portion that was formerly the Claremont and the Bear and doesn’t include the west zone near Oroville.