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California’s biggest fire burning south- west of Manteca
cal fifre helicopter

The biggest wildfire in California is burning out of control in the Diablo Range 30 miles southwest of Manteca.

The series of four fires started by lightning strikes early Sunday morning has increased 250 percent in a 24-hour period ending at 10:42 p.m. Tuesday. It has now scorched 35,000 acres as winds have shifted it to burn east toward the Northern San Joaquin Valley in the extremely sparsely populated mountain range west of Interstate 5 and Patterson.

The Santa Clara Unit Complex Fire — originally named the Canyon Fire given the biggest of the four fires started in Del Puerto Canyon — had burned 35,000 acres as of 10:42 p.m. Tuesday.

To give you an idea of its size, it has now burned an area larger than the entire land mass of the City of San Francisco that covers 29,996.9 acres.

With 4 percent containment the odds of the fire still growing significantly are high.

The smoke is responsible for the grayish-reddish overcast in skies over Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop that is also making the heat wave muggier.

Given the number of wildfires underway in California there hasn’t been the manpower available for the initial attacks. More resources were committed initially to fires in more urbanized areas.

The fire burning across San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Contra Costa, and Alameda counties is bigger than the Apple Fire in Southern California that as of mid-day Tuesday had burned 33,424 acres and was at 95 percent containment.

The third largest fire burning out of control with 32,025 acres burned and with no containment is the LNU Lightning Complex fire in Napa and Sonoma counties.

The Diablo Range fire is likely to make the next wave starting Saturday even more uncomfortable in the South County.

The National Weather Service is anticipating a high of 105 today with a slight break Thursday and Friday with respective highs of 97 and 98 degrees.

Then starting Saturday there will be 100-degree plus highs for eight days with the peak being 106 degrees on Tuesday. Delta breezes will help drop the overnight lows in the next heat wave down to the mid-60s — some 5 to 15 degrees cooler than the past week. But that will also mean higher winds will fan the fires in the Diablo Range.

PG&E warning for future

Manteca rolling blackouts

As the need for blackouts arise in the coming days from the extreme heat that is triggering high demand for electricity, PG&E has advised Manteca officials of how that could impact the city.

If electricity has to be cut off in Manteca due to a statewide power emergency, it will only involve areas north of Highway 120 and the 120 Bypass. The rolling outages are designed to be limited to an hour when they occur.

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) that oversees the power grid serving 40 million Californians warned that the threat of rolling power outages due to the heat wave kicking up demand could continue through at least today.

Unlike planned shutoffs due to wildfire threats, there is no way of PG&E — or any other power provider — being able to give customers any concrete warning before electricity is cut. That’s because CAISO has to more quick when a surge in use occurs as the limit of the power grid and energy resources are neared to avoid massive widespread blackouts that can last for eight hours or more.

What CAISO does when usage starts nearing the limits it alerts power providers of the number of customers they have to be prepared to shutoff on a moment’s notice to avoid a massive failure in the statewide power grid.

PG&E, and other utilities, then decide what area they will cut power to virtually the same minute CAISO determines the system can’t safely be pushed anymore.  

PG&E’s policy is to rotate outages caused by demand exceeding electricity supplies so that the same communities are not impacted back to back to essentially share the pain. That differs from planned power service interruptions were power is cut to specific areas served by vulnerable limes — including transmission — when wildfire conditions warrant it.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email