Wildfires continued to burn through the hills and canyons of the coastal mountain range overlooking the West Side earlier this week.
The SCU Lightning Complex, which includes the Canyon Zone fire that started in Del Puerto Canyon Aug. 16, has grown to be one of the largest wildfires in California history.
As of Tuesday morning, the complex had burned nearly 364,000 acres in Stanislaus, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda, Merced and San Benito counties, according to Cal Fire, and was only 15 percent contained.
The Canyon Zone is the largest of the three fire zones which comprise the SCU Lightning Fire Complex.
Sheriff Jeff Dirkse reported over the weekend that more than 100,000 acres were estimated to have burned in Stanislaus County alone - making it by far the largest fire in county history.
Checks of the Del Puerto Canyon area showed at least 20 structures destroyed, Dirkse reported.
Cal Fire’s Tuesday morning report showed 18 structures and 13 minor structures destroyed, and six structures damaged.
The fire forced a number of evacuation orders and warnings across the foothills and into the upper reaches coastal range, which remained in effect earlier this week.
Last Wednesday, residents of Diablo Grande Parkway and the Diablo Grande community were issued a mandatory evacuation order. That was lifted about 24 hours later, but the area remained under an evacuation warning with residents advised to be prepared to leave on a moment’s notice if need be.
Janice Conforti was among the Diablo Grande residents returning to their homes Thursday.
“A lot of people came back Thursday. Some waited until Friday,” Conforti reported Monday. “It seems like most of the people are back. There don’t seem to be fires here, but the smoke is extremely heavy and the ash is all over.”
Conforti expressed her gratitude to the firefighters who kept the flames away from the foothills community.
“I think they dug their feet in and said that this community was going to stay put,” she reflected. “I think it was the firemen who saved us.”
The community itself is in the West Stanislaus Fire Protection District.
The district increased resources to have three Type 1 engines (those typically used for structure fire responses) on fire watch last week, said Keith Bowen, a division chief for the district.
On Thursday, he said, the district returned to normal staffing at the station.
Additional personnel were on hand Monday due to a fire weather warning, Bowen said, and a regular fire watch was still being conducted in the Diablo Grande community.
Based on his observations, Bowen said, he estimates that flames came within about a half-mile of the community.
“You can see the burn areas as you come up Diablo Grande Parkway,” Bowen noted.
Wildfires throughout the region prompted an air quality alert from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District due. Heavy smoke blanketed the valley through much of last week, and ash from the Canyon Zone fires fell from the sky.