NIFC’s Wildland Fire Outlook

At the start of each month, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) produces a 3 month significant wildland fire potential and weather outlook for the entire country. The Wildland Fire Potential map shows a national picture of the expected trend for fire activity and growth based on previous fire history and current weather predictions. This information is used by Fire Managers to determine staffing levels, anticipate large fire growth, and prepare for the need for pre-positioning out of area resources.

month1_outlook.pngBased on the current forecasts from NIFC and the drought conditions, October will likely bring above normal potential for wildland fires in California. This time of year also brings the potential for Santa Ana wind events over Southern California. Much of the nation will see normal to below normal fire potential, due in part to the significant rains that have impacted much of the country in the last week.

To see the NIFC Significant Fire Potential predictions for the months of November and December, click the link below.

http://www.predictiveservices.nifc.gov/outlooks/monthly_seasonal_outlook.pdf

Sundowner Winds and Their Impact on Fire Behavior

A sundowner wind is an offshore northerly Foehn wind that occurs near Santa Barbara, California. The winds surface when a ridge of high pressure is directly north of the area, and they blow with greatest force when the pressure gradient is perpendicular to the axis of the Santa Ynez Mountains which rise directly behind Santa Barbara. These winds often precede Santa Ana events by a day or two, as it is normal for high-pressure areas to migrate east, causing the pressure gradients to shift to the northeast.

 

Sundowner winds are dried and heated by the warm inland valleys and deserts. As narrow canyons and valleys compress the winds, they become stronger and overpower the diurnal winds. Firefighting efforts during a sundowner wind event can become extremely difficult. The Jesusita fire in May 2009 burned 8,733 acres and destroyed 80 homes while damaging 15 more. Most of the destruction occurred while sundowner winds pushed the main fire through populated areas. The Painted Cave Fire during June 1990 rapidly grew to 5,000 acres, destroying 427 buildings and killing 1 civilian.

 

September a Historic Month for Wildfire in California

Containment of three major fires nears after a tumultuous and historic month for wildfires in California.

Incident management teams on all three fires have made great progress of late on containing the Butte, Rough, and Valley Fires. This month the Valley Fire near Clear Lake has destroyed 1,958 structures while the Butte Fire near Jackson has taken out another 818. In terms of structures lost, that makes them number 2 and number 5 respectively since 2003 in California. Only the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County has destroyed more. As the Rough fire continues to gain acreage burned, it has moved up to number 13 all-time in California in terms of acreage burned at 151,493. 

Three large fires nearing containment

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, California’s fires have burned 818,946 acres so far this year. These three are over one-third of that total.

 

As Autumn Looms, So Does the Threat of Santa Ana Winds

Annually, the onset of the fall and winter seasons brings the highest chance for Southern California’s famed Santa Ana winds.

Typically Santa Ana air mass conditions are brought on by high pressure inland and lower pressure off the Pacific Coast which brings very hot and dry weather along with strong, down-slope winds.  In the past, the critical fire weather conditions that accompany Santa Ana winds turn the typically dry chaparral of Southern California into explosive fuel.  Some of the country’s costliest fires in history have taken place in these conditions.

Santa Ana Winds derive from High Pressure in the Great Basin

Interestingly, this year meteorologists are expecting an El Niño cycle to begin affecting the area with rains by November.  In the meantime, as the tropical air mass that has brought this summer’s rain gives way to autumn’s Pacific air mass, a few Santa Ana events should precede the El Nino’s wetting effect.

 

California Wildfires By the Numbers

It’s been a busy year for California wildfires. To date, The Northern and Southern California Geographic Area Coordination Centers have reported a total of 7,541 fires for 783,968 total acres burned. To put it in perspective, that’s larger than the entire state of Rhode Island… burned.

 Let’s have a look at the previous five years as reported by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC):

Year

Total Fires

Total Acreage

2014

7,865

555,044

2013

9,909

577,675

2012

7,958

869,599

2011

7,989

126,854

2010

6,554

109,529

 

The previous five year average was 8,055 fires for 447,740 acres burned. And while California is a bit under the average this year, it’s only mid-September, and US Forest Service officials are expecting to see fire activity until at least November.

 

Fewer fires but more acreage can only mean one thing, larger fires. This year California has seen six fires over 50,000 acres in size, with four of those still actively burning. Again, let’s have a look at the previous five years as reported by NIFC:

 

Year

Fires > 50k acres

2014

3

2013

1

2012

2

2011

0

2010

0

 

The previous five year average was approximately one large fire per year in California. With so many large fires this season, firefighting resources have been stretched thin. Not to mention that California has sent equipment and manpower to other states that have also been impacted by wildfires this year.

Rain Not Always Welcomed Forecast for Wildfire Scorched Areas

As the Valley Fire in Northern California continues to burn, the forecasted rain can help and hurt.

The Valley Fire north of San Francisco, CA has burned 70,000 acres and is 30% contained. Active fire and visible flames still cover a lot of the area, and the rain expected today will likely help firefighting efforts to cool and douse these parts of the fire. However, for the areas already scorched by this blaze, like Middletown, with burned, unprotected soil, the rain brings further concerns of landslides and flash flooding.

20150915_ValleyFire

 

Many variables lead to increases in risk for an area for landslides and flash floods. One such consideration is recently burned areas that have little to no vegetation to hold the soil in place and minimize erosion. Another notable fire in Northern California is the Butte Fire (71,780 acres, 45% contained) near San Andreas which is also in areas of mountainous terrain. This increased slope is another concern after a wildfire when rain approaches.

Images like the one seen above (taken by a RedZone Liaison on the ground near the Valley Fire today) are becoming common as large wildfires continue to burn across the Western US and Alaska this fire season. Many show no signs of being contained until snowfall.

 

RedZone’s Experienced Wildfire Liaisons Connect IMTs to Private Response Teams

 

When RedZone clients dispatch their private resources to respond to a wildfire, RedZone provides an on-scene Liaison to facilitate access and coordinate efforts with the local Incident Command personnel as required by federal, state, and local guidelines.

RedZone’s Liaison staff has over 70 combined years of experience responding to major wildfires as well as other types of natural disasters, and enjoy an impeccable reputation among Incident Command personnel throughout the country.  Because of this reputation, Liaisons are able to gain access to the Incident Command Post of a given fire and obtain permission for the private resources to maneuver within the emergency deployment area and perform mitigation tactics on specific homes.

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Throughout the duration of the incident, Liaisons will communicate the teams’ locations and coordinate movements within the area, attend operational briefings and planning meetings as necessary, and provide the Incident Management Team (IMT) with a direct communications link to the private resources in the field.  Liaisons will also deliver regular status updates to RedZone’s intelligence staff to be disseminated to clients via the RZAlert product.

In the offseason, RedZone Liaisons make presentations for regional Incident Management Team meetings and perform outreach to fire professionals on behalf of RedZone’s insurance carrier clientele.  They also conduct continuing education classes for insurance professionals.

The strong relationships Liaisons foster with Incident Command Teams and the increased safety Liaisons promote among private crews on the fireline make them an integral and indispensable component of RedZone’s wildfire services.

 

How do wildfires get their names?

Ever notice that wildfires seem to have generic names like the Valley Fire or seemingly random names like the Waldo Fire and wonder where wildfires get their names?

Interestingly, the answer isn’t as easy as the pre-determined alphabetical order of our Pacific and Atlantic hurricanes. Most often the name is determined by the initial attack incident commander or the fire dispatcher. The name is generally based on the geographic location of the fire or a nearby geographic feature, i.e. mountain, canyon, valley, river, etc.

Fire_Names.png

For example if a new wildfire began near Green Lake, it might become the “Lake” Fire or the “Green” Fire. But, if either or both of those names were already used by the first response unit that calendar year, then the dispatcher may decide to coin the fire as the “Green Lake” Fire to be more specific, or a sequel-type name such as the “Lake 2” Fire for areas where few geographic names exist. Often seen as well are wildfire complexes. This is where multiple separate wildfires are joined into one lone-named incident for wildfire management and also financing purposes. 

Historic large wildfire data shows generic geographic names lead the way when it comes to being assigned to an event.

Top Fire Names (1895-2010)

Name

Count

Cottonwood

28

Bear

24

Canyon

24

River

23

Lake

21

Indian

18

Pine

18

Ranch

18

Rock

17

Highway

16

 

Clear Lake area hit with another major wildfire

The Elk fire is yet another new start in Lake County in 2015. To date, the three major fires shown on the map below alone have burned over 95,000 acres. As of Friday morning the Elk Fire is still only 35% contained.

 clearlakefires_2015.png

Lake County is at it again, with its third major wildfire of the summer. Following in the footsteps of the Rocky and Jerusalem fires from earlier last month the Elk Fire started yesterday and is only 25% contained as of last night. The Clear Lake area has now seen over 95,000 acres burn along with three different evacuation orders – though the Elk fire’s have already been lifted. Wildland fire potential in many areas of the state, including Lake County, is predicted to remain well above normal as Fall approaches.

  

IGNITION FIRE ACRES CONTAINMENT
JUL 29 ROCKY 69,438 AUG 15
AUG 9 JERUSALEM 25,118 AUG 23
SEP 2 ELK 670 35%

  

 

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El Nino to Impact US this Winter

Typical weather from El Nino could help both the Northern and Southern US this winter.

Shown below are the typical weather impacts from El Nino events for the months of January through March. The looming El Nino event should bring Late 2015/Early 2016 respite to the dry Southern US and bring a temporary halt to the bitter cold winters seen in the Northern US the last couple years.

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This could bring some respite to California’s bone dry areas and help restore reservoirs throughout the state.

Picture3

Today’s released Wildfire Potential Outook also stressed the impact that this coming El Nino could have on the dry fuel situation throughout the West and the predicted fire potential in the coming months. Read more about that at http://www.nifc.gov/nicc/predictive/outlooks/outlooks.htm.

 

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