North Complex Fire
Partners: LA Times, Pacific Forest Trust, ProPublica, Sacramento Bee, Sierra Forest Legacy, UCLA
Airport Origin : Oroville
EcoFlight flew with fire scientists and Sierra Forest Legacy over the North Complex fire so that reporters could get a sense of the scale of a modern megafire and to see areas where forest treatments like prescribed fire and ecological thinning worked to improve fire effects and protect communities. This particular fire burned largely at high severity, meaning that 75-100% of the aboveground biomass was destroyed, but there were still some areas that burned less intensely. We also flew over the small WUI community of Berry Creek, which was destroyed by the fire. Wildfire is natural in California and our conservation partners are educating people about the need to restore beneficial fire to our landscape if we ever hope to see positive outcomes in modern wildfires. The flights also helped provide perspective on how climate change is making wildfires worse through increased likelihood of extreme fire weather.
The North Complex—now the 6th largest and 5th most destructive wildfire in California history—burned a total of 318,930 acres on the Plumas National Forest between August and October 2020. The fire was ignited during the unusual dry lightning siege that sparked hundreds of wildfires on August 17th. The Claremont and Bear Fires, both of which started in the Middle Fork Feather River canyon, merged to form the North Complex on September 5th. A dry northeast wind event caused the fire to expand rapidly to the southwest on September 8th and 9th, burning over 180,000 acres in less than 24 hours and tragically destroying the small town of Berry Creek. The wind-driven event on September 9th burned primarily at high severity as it moved through a mix of Forest Service lands and industrial timber lands, several rural communities and west to the edge of Lake Oroville.