Orbital View: California's Valley Fire

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

From the National Weather Service's Sacramento bureau and NASA:

The Valley Fire is currently the largest wildfire in California, with roughly 95 square miles burned. Nearby San Francisco, by comparison, is about 48 square miles.

Over 400 homes and business went up in flames from the fast-moving blaze, and almost 23,000 people have been evacuated. One resident described the fire to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat as “fluorescent evil,” adding that he saw “sections like football fields go up in four seconds.”

Update from a reader on the ground:

The Valley Fire is not the largest in California right now. It’s about 20 miles from me, so I’ve been paying attention.

I love that you’ve linked to that satellite photo, which illustrates how hotly it was burning that first explosive night, when it went from 400 acres to 10,000 in a couple of hours, then 25,000, 40,000, and 50,000 by yesterday morning. It’s now at 61,000, which is smaller in terms of area than the Butte fire, at 71,063 acres, or small than several of the large fires being managed by the Forest Service (largest, the Rough Fire, is something like 138,000; the River Complex is 76,000, and there are some others in that range but maybe some of those are just slowly smoldering at this point). When people refer to the three major fires burning in California at the moment, though, they mean the Butte, Valley, and Rough fires.

Here’s the CalFire list (it doesn’t include acreage for the federally managed fires; for those, consult this list.)

The NBC article linked to as the source for this being the largest fire doesn’t say that, but it does have the 95 square mile figure. I’ve mostly been seeing people citing a figure of about 62 square miles, but in any event—it’s big and it’s deadly but it doesn't seem to be spreading rapidly anymore, thank goodness.

Still, great satellite photo!

Another reader:

To give you an idea of the scope of the Valley Fire in Northern California: I live in San Jose, roughly 140 miles south of the fire. On Sunday morning, we woke up to find our cars dusted with ash and soot, carried here from the Valley Fire on the overnight winds.