Sherpa Fire: Santa Barbara County

Sherpa Fire Summary

The Sherpa fire started Wednesday afternoon in a remote area of the Los Padres National Forest (LPF), directly west of Santa Barbara, California. It quickly grew in size with the classic sundowner winds which that area sees frequently. Evacuation warnings were sent out immediately along with reverse 911 calls to nearby residents due to that area’s potential for rapid fire growth. In the days since ignition, the fire has grown from 50 acres to over 5800 acres, according to this morning’s infrared flight data (seen map below).Much of the area remains under mandatory evacuations.

Sherpa Fire Outlook

A type-2 team took over command of the fire as of this morning’s (6/17) briefing where future plans and expected fire behavior were discussed. The Sherpa Fire has exhibited extreme fire behavior, including long-range spotting and downhill runs each of the last two evening and overnight burn periods. These gusty, sundowner periods (5:00pm and after) are expected every afternoon/evening through the weekend, worrying fire officials. Last night’s activity actually pushed the active fire across Hwy 101 and forced closures of the thoroughfare for the second straight night. Heavy fuels east of the current burn area and rising temperatures associated with an incoming high pressure system this weekend likely mean the firefight is far from over.


Sherpa Fire Facts:


Map: Sherpa fire perimeter and estimated evacuation zones (as of 6/17, 1700 hrs).


NOTE: 

Fire perimeter was provided by NIFC from an overnight IR flight.

Evacuation areas are estimated from written descriptions provided by Santa Barbara County Emergency Services.

Tenderfoot Fire: Yarnell, AZ

Firefighters continue to battle the Tenderfoot Fire near Yarnell, Arizona. As of June 10th, the fire is being reported at 3,300 acres with only 10% containment. The Tenderfoot fire was first reported on June 8th near Yarnell and threatened several homes along Crest Way which came to within 200 feet of the fire’s perimeter. Fortunately SW winds pushed the blaze to the NE, away from Yarnell, and fire crews were able to establish control lines around evacuated structures.

On June 9th, high winds expanded the fire’s range, leading to more evacuations. By mid-day June 10th, the number of firefighters deployed had increased from 250 to 400.

About 280 residents have been evacuated — about 250 from Yarnell since the fire started, and 30 from Peeples Valley (to the north), the afternoon of June 9th when strong winds fanned the flames. Officials were still analyzing whether residents could be allowed to return home later in the evening on June 10th.

Rugged terrain is hampering firefighting efforts on the ground but officials are optimistic as winds continue to push the fire to the NE, away from nearby communities. Three large air tankers and two single engine air tankers have worked the fire since its start on June 8th.

The cause of the Tenderfoot Fire is still under investigation, however, officials have ruled out lightning as a cause.

On June 28, 2013, the Yarnell Hill Fire started just across Hwy 89 from the Tenderfoot Fire. Two days later on June 30th, 19 firefighters died battling the Yarnell Hill Fire when their position was overrun by erratic fire behavior after the winds shifted and turned the fire back into town. 127 homes were destroyed in the Yarnell Hill Fire, the deadliest fire in Arizona’s history.

Yarnell_Tenderfoot_Fires

Side-by-side comparison of the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire and the 2016 Tenderfoot Fire.

Fort McMurray Area Ready for Residents to Re-enter

Exactly one month after the historic wildfire began and forced thousands to flee, residents of the Fort McMurray area are finally set to re-enter the city.  Starting June 1st the city’s four-day, five-zone, phased re-entry plan will commence. If that sounds complicated, its because it was. The city’s officials and emergency managers had to mutually agree to move forward with the plan, which was contingent upon five infrastructure and safety criteria being met:

  • Wildfire is no longer an imminent threat to the community;
  • Critical infrastructure is repaired to provide basic service;
  • Essential services, such as fire, EMS, police and health care, are restored to a basic level;
  • Hazardous areas are secure;
  • Local government is re-established.

Even though the minimum criteria have been met, the area will be assessed daily. The plan’s phases allow residents of the least-damaged areas to return home first, though not all residents will be allowed to return to the city. The presence of harmful chemicals (including arsenic) in the ash, soil and air may delay residents’ permanent return in the communities of Abasand, Beacon Hill, and Waterways. Officials are understandably cautious for those areas and will base the permanent re-entry in those three neighborhoods (seen as ‘x’ on in Figure 1) on future non-toxic test results. Homeowners will merely be able to visit on June 4th but will need other permanent accommodations for the foreseeable future. “Despite the significant work that has been done, the city today is not the city that residents left behind a month ago. A boil-water advisory remains in effect, some health-care services are not available, and many businesses will not be open,” the Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said.

Re-entry Dates and Communities:

  • June 1st: Lower Townsite, Anzac, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, Gregoire Lake   Estates (Zone One)
  • June 2nd: Parsons Creek, Stone Creek, Timberlea, Eagle Ridge, Dickinsfield (Zone Two)
  • June 3rd: Thickwood, Wood Buffalo (Zone Three) AND Gregoire, Prairie Creek, Saprae Creek Estates (Zone Four A) 
  • June 4th: Waterways, Abasand, Beacon Hill, Grayling Terrace, Draper (Zone Four B)

Fort McMurray

Figure 1: Re-entry plans for Fort McMurray. X’s represent non-permanent re-entry.

Fort McMurray Wildfire update

As for the Fort McMurray fire itself, it has been mapped at 1000 km or 580,000+ hectares (1,434,780 acres), and is now 40% contained.  The fire officially impacted 567 homes and 12 apartment complexes in Fort McMurray, with 85-90 percent of residences seeing no damage. 2,400 buildings and 665 work camp units have been reported as lost overall. Initial insurance payout estimates are around 9 billion Canadian dollars, making this disaster the most expensive in Canadian History by a hefty margin of 7 billion. Oil sands operations in the area have halted, costing ‘Big Oil’ an estimated 1 billion ca dollars as well.

The fire continues to scorch remote forests of Alberta and even a small portion of Saskatchewan. Extreme burning conditions are still being seen in some areas of the fire. Higher humidities and the potential for rain should aid the fire fight in the near future, but firefighters from seven Canadian provinces and two countries (USA & South Africa) remain assigned to continue the containment battle across Alberta.


 

Sources: Alberta.ca Wildfire Update, Huffingtonpost Canada, Wikipedia

 

Another Epic Flood Hits Texas in May

A year to the day since the devastating flood of 2015 pummeled the Austin & San Antonio areas of Texas, other parts of Texas received in excess of 9″ of rain in 3 hours around Houston, accumulating over 12″ over 12 hours as the storm passed through the region. As of Friday, May 27th, 2016, two fatalities have been reported – 1 from drowning, 1 from heart attack after driving through high water. Local highways remain closed as riverbanks are not high enough to contain the resulting floodwaters. These images were taken just 24 hours apart in Brazos County.

During & After of neighborhood drainage flooding

 

More flooding anticipated

While many streams and rivers are seeing floodwater levels diminish, those areas downstream of the harder hit areas are now dealing with the added water flowing throughout the watersheds racing toward the Gulf of Mexico. The Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (AHPS) from NOAA observes and predicts river stage levels across the country. Each gauge has a chart that indicates what water levels would cause the river to overrun its banks and flood the surrounding areas. As shown below, the Brazos River is forecast to continue dropping while the West fork of the San Jacinto River (farther east, toward the Gulf of Mexico) is expecting to reach ‘major flood stage’ levels prior to returning to normal. The recently observed readings are shown on the left, leading up to the forecasted levels along the right side of each chart.

AHPS of a couple Texas river levels

Observed and forecasted river level charts from AHPS-NOAA.

 

Additional damage and dangers

In addition to the widespread flooding, many reports of hail and tornado touchdowns spanned the area. Some local residents in Bryan, TX took cell phone videos as the tornado passed through the Wheeler Ridge neighborhood. As the weather clears and river levels return to normal, the damage and impact can begin to be addressed. More flooding and tornadoes are forecast across the Southeastern US in the next few days as the storm system continues moving east.

 

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 15-21

Sunday May 15th marks the start of Hurricane Preparedness Week.  During this nationwide observance, households across the country are advised to assess their hurricane risk and develop an evacuation plan, even if the potential is low. Depending on the strength of a hurricane when it makes landfall, it may still be powerful enough to travel hundreds–or possibly over a thousand–miles inland.

During the first days after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, power was out in many areas of New York and New Jersey. If families got separated and had no planned meeting location, in some cases they were apart for days or weeks until power and resources made it possible for them to connect again. Families, friends, and roommates are advised to have a pre-determined meet-up location in case they are unable to reach each other by normal communication post-event.

Several websites allow for check-in and searching for others; however, these obviously require internet and electricity:

In advance of a storm, households should prepare emergency supplies and go-kits since there is usually little time to gather needed supplies during evacuations. The Ready.gov site has several timeline recommendations as well as a supply kit check list.

Take the time to plan and prepare.

RedZone attends risk management RIMS Conference!

RedZone joined over 400 other exhibitors from around the globe at the RIMS Conference on risk management in San Diego on April 10th – 13th. Attendees were able to learn about RZRisk and RZAlert products and how these tools could benefit their companies. RedZone CEO Clark Woodward and VP of Business Development Michael Flannery represented RedZone’s Headquarters from Boulder, CO, accompanied by Intel Analysts from the RedZone Intelligence Center in San Diego, CA.

RedZone Team at RIMS 2016.

RedZone Team at RIMS 2016.

Exhibitors and attendees came from diverse backgrounds such as Property/Casualty Claims Services, Risk/Loss Control/Safety Services, Workers’ Compensation, Physical and Mental Health Services and Providers, and Human Resource Solutions. Additionally, several attendees were from the educational fields and product delivery services — risk assessments, analysis, and mitigation are necessary for all industries in some capacity. Several visitors to the RedZone booth discussed their need for monitoring the safety of employees during natural disasters as well as non-naturally occurring crisis situations.

If you’re attending the conference, stop by booth #3501 to speak with the RedZone Team about your needs.

Michael discusses RedZone's capabilities with an attendee.

Michael discusses RedZone’s capabilities with an attendee.

Up next: Look for RedZone’s Michael Flannery as he visits San Antonio, TX, for the PLRB Claims Conference, April 17th – 20th.

Ready, Set, Go!

Although there is currently no national standard for wildfire preparedness and potential evacuations, most agencies have adopted CalFire’s Ready, Set, Go! program. This program educates homeowners on ways to be prepared prior to an event and how to handle themselves during potential and imminent evacuation situations. 

READY

Before an event, prepare by designating and creating your home’s Defensible Space Zones, which are the buffer between a house and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surround it. This space helps to slow the spread of wildfire and decreases the liklihood your home catches fire.  It also helps protect the firefighters protecting your home.

More info on defensible space

SET

As fire season approaches, take the time to complete the 3 steps of being set for a wildfire: 

  1. Create a Wildfire Action Plan that includes evacuation planning for your home, family and pets.
  2. Assemble an Emergency Supply Kit for each person in your household.
  3. Fill-out a Family Communication Plan that includes important evacuation and contact information.

GO

Being ready to go means knowing when to evacuate the area and what to do if you get trapped. Waiting longer to leave can not only increase the chances of being trapped, it can also cause problems for emergency personnel who are attempting to access the area in order to protect homes within the community.

The Waldo Canyon fire from 2012 is a good example of Ready, Set, Go! at work. Many homes had good defensible space that either left them standing or helped fire crews save them.
20120624_1600_CO_Waldo.jpg

 Evacuations Map produced by RedZone Disaster Intelligence during the early stages of 2012’s Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, CO.

With Red Flag conditions and changing wind directions that fateful Tuesday, it was crucial that residents were prepared, and that they evacuated ahead of the extreme fire behavior that destroyed 346 structures. Over 32,000 residents in the greater Colorado Springs area were evacuated during this incident.

For more detailed information on Ready, Set, Go!, see CALFIRE’s page: http://www.readyforwildfire.org/.

 

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.

 

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.