Sunshine Canyon Fire

Sunshine Fire Reinforces Importance of Fire Mitigation for RedZone’s CEO and Founder

Sunshine Canyon Fire

An early-season wildfire burned over 70 acres and evacuated 426 people in Sunshine Canyon near Boulder, Colo. on Sunday, March 19. The blaze reminded Sunshine Canyon resident Clark Woodward, who was evacuated, of the importance of year-round fire mitigation.

As the CEO and founder of RedZone and a volunteer with the Boulder County Incident Management Team (IMT), Woodward is no stranger to wildfire awareness.

“This wildfire affected me in three ways,” Woodward said. “First, because of my obligation as a homeowner; second, because I am a volunteer with the Boulder County Incident Management Team; and third, because this is why RedZone exists.”

In the fall of 2015, after living in Boulder for more than a decade, Woodward, along with his wife and two kids, moved back to the mountains — into Sunshine Canyon. Woodward lived in canyons before and was aware of both the risk of wildfires and the importance of fire mitigation. The first thing he did following the move was join Wildfire Partners, a mitigation program for homeowners in Boulder County, Colo. (which is managed by RedZone).

A blaze started early Sunday morning — which we now know to be human-caused — in Sunshine Canyon. Woodward and his wife had little information about the fire’s proximity.

“We stood on our porch watching the fire glow red behind a hill,” Woodward said. “We tried to see how quickly the fire was growing and how it was affected by the wind.”

Last-Minute Fire Mitigation

Around 2:30 a.m., the Sheriff’s Department came to evacuate Sunshine Canyon residents. While his wife and kids went to a hotel for safety, Woodward stayed back — he had fire mitigation to do.

“I was caught off guard and a bit embarrassed,” Woodward said. “We had all these half-complete fire mitigation projects.”

Woodward had completed many of the recommendations outlined by Wildfire Partners, but several winter projects weren’t finished. He and his wife planned to complete the projects before wildfire season started, normally around mid-May. However, the Sunshine Canyon blaze caught Woodward by surprise.

Fire mitigation — enclosing a porch

Fire mitigation project — enclosing a porch.

“With funding from Wildfire Partners, a contractor took out about 17 trees that were close to our home, but some of the wood was stacked up near the house,” Woodward said. “So, around 3 a.m., I quickly tossed all of the wood down into a gully.”

Woodward quickly completed his emergency fire mitigation checklist. He brought porch furniture inside, swept away needles, removed flammables from windows and closed them, and packed his family’s evacuation packing list, including important documents and photos. Woodward then joined his family at the hotel.

Sunshine Canyon Fire

View of the Sunshine Canyon Fire from the east side of Boulder, Colo.

Prioritizing Fire-Mitigation 

The fire grew through the morning, but never harmed any structures or caused injuries. The winds, with gusts up to 30 mph, blew the fire back on itself and it died by Monday, March 20, when the evacuation lifted. When the Woodwards returned home, they resolved to make fire mitigation tasks an utmost priority.

“Leaving the house with incomplete mitigation made me feel exposed and vulnerable,” Woodward said. “Especially because I hadn’t finished what I had been preaching to other people. From the perspective of Wildfire Partners, I should be a shining beacon of what wildfire mitigation looks like.”

Woodward’s story emphasizes the importance of fire mitigation, especially following the unseasonably warm and dry weather occurring on the Front Range of Colorado.

Wildfire Partners

Boulder County residents should contact Wildfire Partners. The organization sends a specialist to your home and creates a task list of fire mitigation requirements for your specific location. Wildfire Partners will give you a certification you can share with your insurance company once the tasks are complete. This certification indicates you have done everything possible to protect against the inevitable fire that may threaten your home.

Do you know if your home is at risk for wildfires? Download our free emergency fire mitigation checklist and evacuation packing list.

 

Insurance companies: Don’t leave your customers in the danger zone. Arm yourself with wildfire intelligence from RZ Alert.

Sunshine Fire Prompts Early Season Evacuations

Sunshine Fire

Unseasonably warm temperatures over the last few days have prompted an early start to Colorado’s fire season. The Sunshine fire started early Sunday morning (3/19) in the canyons west of Boulder, Colorado.  Gusty winds quickly pushed the fire through dry fuels causing officials at the Boulder Office of Emergency Management to issue mandatory evacuations for over 400 homes and pre-evacuation notices for another 836 residences.

Over 250 firefighters battled through the night and managed to stop the fire’s forward progress before any structures were damaged. As of Monday morning all evacuations had been lifted, but the area is still closed to non-residents as crews continue to extinguish hotspots. Authorities have yet to determine a cause of the fire, but say it is likely human caused. The area around Sunshine Canyon is popular for hikers, but is also a known location for transient camps.

Sunshine Fire Prompts Over 400 Evacuations

Sunshine Fire perimeter west of Boulder, Colorado.

Fire Outlook

Temperatures in Colorado have been unseasonably warm this spring, topping out at over 80 degrees over the weekend. Only 2015 saw temperatures reach 80 degrees earlier in the season. The foothills of the Front Range west of Boulder are currently under a Red Flag Warning, the 10th such warning in Colorado this month.

Fire management officials are concerned that the region is currently experiencing fire weather conditions more akin to summer, rather than spring.  Firefighters reported the conditions in the canyon on Sunday as “brutal”.  Hotshot firefighter Jason Morley said, “I’ve never seen it like this before.”  He added, “There is no snow at all up there. If you picked up grass, it would just crumble in your hands.”

Fire Facts

  • As of: March 20th, 2017
  • Location: Boulder, CO
  • Size: 74 acres
  • Containment: 50%
  • Fire Behavior: Rapid fire spread through dry fuels in steep rugged terrain.
  • Evacuations: Initial response: 400 homes mandatory evacuated and pre-evacuation notices for 836 homes.
  • News Article: weather.com, Boulder Daily Camera

Update

The fire was declared fully contained (100%) around 1600 HRS Monday March 20th, 2017.

infrared view of southern plains wildfires

Southern Plains See Record Wildfire Activity

Southern Plains Wildfires

This week, unprecedented fire activity swept through the southern plains. Multiple counties of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas saw critical fire weather conditions Sunday through Wednesday that fanned dozens of fires. Huge smoke plumes stretching for miles have been visible on NASA’s earth imagery for the area. As of March 9, seven people have died, five firefighters have been injured, thousands have been forced to flee their homes, heavy agricultural damage has been incurred, and more than a million acres have collectively burned.

The chaotic fire activity began this weekend when multiple starts forced residents from their homes in Central Kansas. The Highlands and Jupiter Hills fires in Hutchinson burned more than 6,000 acres between them. In the Texas Panhandle, three large fires broke out over the past three days, burning over 400,000 acres. The Perryton fire was the largest at 318,056 acres, rapidly spreading through grass and brush. Another Texas fire, the Lefors East Fire, ultimately claimed the lives of three of the seven reported deaths.

Roughly 60 miles to the north, three major fires burned along the Kansas and Oklahoma border, totaling another 800,000 between them. The three fires were merged into one, now called the ‘Northwest Oklahoma Complex Fire’. The fire is comprised of the Starbuck, Selman and the 283 fires. Authorities said the fires in Kansas and Oklahoma were actually the largest in the histories of both states.

On Wednesday (March 8), Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for 22 counties affected. These historic fires can be seen in the top of the NASA imagery below. RedZone has used the imagery and MODIS heat detections to estimate the fires’ perimeters, as none of the fires have had official perimeters released.

March 7th view of Southern Plains Wildfires

NASA Imagery shows fires spewing smoke across the Southern Plains on Tuesday, March 7th

 

Southern Plains Fire Outlook

Wednesday marked the end of the critical fire danger period for the Southern Plains. There will, however, continue to be RH minimums in the teens (but light winds) for at least one more day in counties of western Oklahoma and the northern Texas Panhandle. The area had been dealing with low RH minimums, poor overnight recoveries, dry fine fuels, and breezy winds. A change in weather conditions will arrive Thursday bringing relief in the form of higher RH and potential for wetting rains. Nevertheless, a type-1 Incident Management Team (Dueitt) is already in route to take over command of NW Oklahoma Complex. The weather break is expected through next week and should reduce the fire concern and help aid in control and containment.

Historically, the spring wildfire season in Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma can be very active. High fine dead fuel loading is already present and has been supporting large fire growth in Texas and Oklahoma since the start of the year. For the region, a longer than normal spring fire season is anticipated due to current drought, fuel conditions, and predicted warmer and drier than average weather. In turn, the regional fire managers caution that future weather systems could return this week’s fiery conditions to the region.

Regional Fire Statistics

  • As of: March 9th, 2017
  • Location: Southern Kansas, Panhandle of Texas, & Oklahoma
  • Size: 1,000,000+ acres
  • Number of Large Fires: 12
  • Fire Weather: Rapid fire spread through tall grass, agricultural areas, and brush.
  • Structures Threatened: 10,000+
  • Structures Destroyed: 13 Residences, 23 outbuildings
  • Evacuations: Are in place
  • News Article: CBS News

Sources

CBS News, NASA, NBC News, wideopencountry.com, Southern GACC

Trail Fire in Miami-Dade Causes Smokey Start to the Week

The Trail Fire started Sunday afternoon, March 5th, in West Miami-Dade County, FL, and quickly blanketed the surrounding area with heavy smoke.  The fire prompted the closure of Southwest 8th Street between Southwest 137th Avenue and Krome Avenue due to lack of visibility in the area. As of Sunday night, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue reported that the road was back open.

Extra units remain on scene due to the potential for strong and gusty winds coupled with dropping humidity in the area. As of Monday morning, March 6th, the fire had grown to 1,065 acres with 50% containment reported. The Florida Fire Service feels confident they are gaining the upper hand on the Trail Fire. At this time, the cause of the fire remains unknown.

Trail Fire Location west of Miami-Dade, FL.

Trail Fire Location west of Miami-Dade, FL.

Trail Fire Area Weather Outlook

Much of Southern Florida is presently under a Red Flag Warning through midnight EST Monday, March 6th. Over the next few days, the area will experience strong winds out of the east with gusts over 30 mph at times. Also, local relative humidity levels will steadily increase through the end of the week, with 20-40% chances of rain showers.

For current weather at the fire’s location, please visit Weather Underground.

Read Further

This is an ongoing incident. Please visit the news links below for further details and the most up to date information regarding this fire.  RedZone will continue to update this post if relevant information becomes available.

Milne fire

Milne Fire Prompts Evacuations Near Colorado Springs

Milne Fire Summary

The Milne Fire began Monday (2/27) afternoon in the Hanover area southeast of Colorado Springs, and burned over 7,000 acres in roughly 2 hours.  The initial report listed the originating location near Milne & Squirrel Creek Roads (southern tip of estimated fire perimeter below).  Sustained winds over 20 mph were observed along with relative humidity levels under 20%. The gusty winds have blown out of the southwest, fanning the fire to the north and east.  Given the rapid spread of the fire, it is not surprising that the fire area had been under Red Flag Warning conditions most of the day.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s office promptly evacuated over 600 residences in the fire area, and sent local school kids home early. The latest update from Hanover Fire Chief, Carl Tatum, stated that the fire had peaked at 7,000 acres by 5pm MST with an unknown number of structures involved. RedZone’s estimated perimeter in the map below reflects the nearly 7,000 reported acres.

Milne Fire in Hanover, CO

Milne Fire shown Southeast of Colorado Springs on RedZone’s Incident Dashboard

Milne Fire Outlook

Several local fire departments had taken over unified command of the fire as of Monday evening. Since the Milne Fire area is flat and mostly grassy, mop up and containment efforts shouldn’t be too difficult, and it’s likely firefighters caught the active fire front within hours. Flare-ups and spotting are possible with resources working to knock these down and gain containment on the bulk of the fire area. Crews continued to fight the blaze until around 9pm MST Monday while monitoring overnight.

Monday’s gusty winds and low RH are set to both improve by Tuesday, with the majority of the extreme fire threat moving further south and east into New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The National Weather Service is forecasting extreme fire conditions for a 32,000 square mile area in the Southwest, well south and east of the Milne Fire Location. The area includes Lubbock and Levelland, TX, as well as Hobbs, Artesia, Carlsbad and Hobbs, NM.

Milne Fire Facts

  • As of: February 27th, 2017
  • Location: Hanover, CO
  • Size: 7,000 acres
  • Containment: unknown
  • Obs. Fire Behavior: Rapid fire spread through tall grass.
  • Structures Threatened: 602 (reported)
  • Structures Destroyed: unknown/none reported
  • Evacuations: Have been lifted as of 6:45pm MST
  • News Article: The Gazette

Sources: The Gazette, KKTV11News, El Paso County Sheriff’s, Hanover Fire

UPDATE (2/28 8:30PST)

Late last night (2/27), it was reported that the Milne Fire actually burned 5,000 acres, or 3,275 acres if unburned fuel within the fire perimeter isn’t included. This number was reduced from its original estimate of 7,000 acres after aerial mapping was conducted of the fire yesterday evening.

southern plains fire potential

Fire Weather Concern Hits Southern Plains

Early this week the National Weather Service (NWS) indicated that conditions in the Southern Plains may evolve into a significant fire weather event.  Specifically, The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning on Monday (2/6) for an area encompassing the Southeastern Colorado Plains through Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. A fire weather watch is also in effect for South Central Texas through Tuesday (2/7).

A Pacific Jet Stream moving through the area resulted in critical to near-critical fire weather conditions for the Region. According to forecasters, particularly strong winds coupled with low relative humidity and the current dry fuel situation amplified the potential for extreme fire behavior. Tuesday (2/7) should bring more of the same as the Pacific Jet Stream moves east through the area. It’s likely that the current warning, set to expire this evening (2/6) at 1700 hours, could be reinstated for at least some of the region tomorrow should conditions persist.

southern plains fire potential

Monday’s Fire Watches and Warnings stretch from the Southeastern Colorado to South Central Texas

 

Southern Plains Fire Activity

Dry and windy fire conditions were evident this past weekend as active fires burned across Texas, Oklahoma, and even Colorado. In Elbert County, CO, a rare winter fire scorched nearly five hundred-acres. Residents were given notice to evacuate as the fire approached the aptly-named Chaparral Subdivision. Six or seven homes were briefly threatened as seven fire crews scrambled to get a handle on it. The fire was called contained at 1900 hours Saturday. In order to ensure control, crews stayed behind to patrol the blackened perimeter overnight.

Concern in Southern Plains  Predicted

Above normal significant wildfire potential is expected for the Southern Plains for not just early this week, but for at least the next two months. This month’s recently published wildfire outlook, a report from Predictive Services (NIFC), suggested that any prolonged periods of dry and windy conditions in the Southern Plains could “provide opportunities for any ignitions to become significant fires.” The report further stated that last year’s precipitation totals in the region have brought about a somewhat robust fine fuel crop. The excess fine fuel could increase fire activity and likely warrant extra attention for the area when dry and windy conditions are forecasted, as were seeing this week.

Sources

NIFC Predictive Services, ABC 7 Denver, National Weather Service

Chile Wildfire Outbreak “Worst in Country’s History”

Chile Wildfires Displace Thousands

For the past three weeks, wildfires have ravaged Central Chile in an event President Michele Bachelet called the “greatest forest disaster in our history”. Strong winds, hot temperatures and a prolonged drought have created chaos in seven separate regions with over a hundred wildfires burning this month.  The fires have scorched hundreds of thousands of hectares from Santiago to Concepcíon, burning homes and displacing thousands of residents (see photos at this link).

As a result, at least eleven are dead including seven emergency responders (five firefighters and two policemen).  Authorities have called a state of catastrophe in the central regions of O’Higgins and El Maule. Help in the form of funds and even manpower have been pouring in from nine different countries, including the United States.

Chile wildfire smoke

View from NASA Satellites of the Central Chilean Wildfires on January 25th

Cause Still Under Investigation

As the fires have cooled down in most areas, determination of the cause of the wildfire outbreak has been found to be part negligence and part criminal. As of January 30th, local authorities had detained 43 Chileans for suspected arson.

Chile Wildfire Outlook

Fires are common in the summer in Central Chile, but the area is drier than normal, contributing to the dangerous conditions. Hot and windy weather is forecasted to remain prevalent, meaning the fires could continue to spread. The over 4,000 emergency responders deployed to the area will aim to prevent that in the coming weeks.

Chile Fire Outbreak Facts

  • As of: January 31st, 2017
  • Location: Central Chile
  • Size: 180,000 hectares
  • Containment: Around 35 of 100+ fires remain out of control
  • Fire Behavior: Rapid fire spread, fanned by strong winds, hot temperatures and a prolonged drought.
  • Structures Destroyed: 1000+ (estimated)
  • Evacuations: 4,000 reported by the  National Emergency Office
  • News Article: The Guardian

Sources

NASA’s Earth Observatory, The Guardian, NBC News, Wildfire Today, Yahoo

Fire Causes Evacuations in Valparaíso, Chile

Valparaíso Fire

On the afternoon of January 2nd, around 400 people were forced to evacuate Valparaíso, a coastal port city in central Chile, due to a forest fire that entered a hillside neighborhood. Local officials believe the fire began at a fisherman’s club and then traveled into the residential area.  As of Tuesday morning, January 3rd, around 100 homes were estimated destroyed with another 500 still at risk, as smoke continues to climb into the skies above the town.

Thus far, no deaths have been reported and the 19 minor injuries are thought to be mostly due to smoke inhalation. News footage shows harrowing video of citizens carrying a variety of items out of their homes, hoping some will be salvageable, including mattresses, entertainment centers, and appliances.

Valparaíso fire burns hillside of homes

Hillside of homes burned Monday, January 2nd, 2017.

Active History of Wildfires

This area of Chile is no stranger to the threat of wildfire. It regularly has an active fire season beginning in November, peaking in January or February, and then decreasing around April. Typically, nearly all wildfires in this region are caused by humans, as lightning and other traditional natural causes are not prevalent in the area.

Chile has also received significantly less rainfall in the last year due to the transition from El Niño to La Niña. The current drought (referred to as megasequía, or ‘mega-drought’) is the longest and most extensive drought in Chilean history, now spanning the past 6 years. The arid weather further dries out the fuels, making any wildland fire a potentially fast-growing danger to surrounding towns.

The 2014 Great Fire of Valparaíso

April of 2014 saw one of the more notable fires in the area’s history.  What is now commonly known as the “Great Fire of Valparaíso” burned across an unofficial landfill area into surrounding vegetation and residential areas.  Over 3 square miles (nearly 2,000 acres) burned, destroying more than 2,500 homes and leaving an estimated 11,000 people displaced.  An additional 6,000 people were forced to evacuate.  Fifteen people were killed and ten reported serious injuries.  The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Hillside view of the Great Fire of Valparaíso, April 12th, 2014.

Hillside view of the Great Fire of Valparaíso, April 12th, 2014.

To read further details on the active wildfire history of Chile, please visit the sources below.

Sources:

Sage Fire in Ventura County Determined to Be Human Caused

Sage Fire near Simi Valley

Around 2:30 pm on Tuesday, December 20th, a brush fire broke out on a neighborhood hillside in Simi Valley, California, near Los Angeles. The Sage Fire threatened homes just south of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, off Wood Ranch Parkway and Long Canyon Road. Several roads were closed, and the children in the nearby Wood Ranch Elementary’s after school program were bussed to another school.

Sage Fire burn scar from December 20, 2016.

Sage Fire burn scar from December 20, 2016.

Helicopters made several water drops to assist ground crews with structure protection and ground efforts toward containment. Within a couple of hours, the crews had stopped the fire’s forward progress at 61 acres, and by Wednesday the 21st, the fire was 100% contained. No structure damage or injuries were reported and the road closures had been lifted.

Investigation complete

Depending on the complexity and location of the fire, investigations into the cause can often take significant time.  The cause of the Sage Fire however was quickly determined, mainly due to an eye witness account.  Soon after the fire broke out, a nearby homeowner saw two workmen attempting to put it out, smothering it with dirt and trying to create a fire break. This witness’ statement coupled with observed fire behavior and a known starting location assisted investigators in reaching a conclusion quickly–that the fire was accidentally started by sparks from these workmen repairing a metal fence.

Rain in the forecast

The upcoming weather forecast for the days following the fire indicate high chances of rain for multiple days.  As such, several crews continued monitoring the burn area and surrounding neighborhood for the potential for mudslides and debris flows.  These crews also worked with city officials to ensure that nearby storm drains remained clear. Ventura County fire stations handed out free sandbags to homeowners to protect against potential slides, and the County made sandbags available for pickup by homeowners at a location near the burn area.

 

Landslide Concerns in Fire-Ravaged Gatlinburg TN

While the community of Gatlinburg, Tennessee grieves their losses and starts planning how to recover and rebuild, a new threat confronts the area. An inch and a half of winter rain helped put out the horrific fire over the weekend, but as we’ve covered in the past, wildfire-scorched areas often have an increased risk of landslides and mudslides. Local fire crews have thus far reported several small landslides that are slowing their ability to access damaged areas.

wildfire landslides

Before and After Image of a Burn Scar from the Chimney Tops 2 Fire

How a Fire Can Increase Landslide Risk?

Depending on soil type and topography, vegetation and land cover have a significant impact on the stability of the soil. Under normal conditions, leaf litter and other surface vegetation slow the rainfall water moving down a given slope.  This allows much of that moisture to permeate through the soil and drain into the water table or aquifer below, leaving the surface soil relatively stable.  Even during heavy rainfall when surface soil becomes saturated, root systems from brush and trees help to keep the soil from moving downhill.

However, when vegetation is lost due to wildfire (or other reasons such as construction), the factors that keep soil in place are minimized, and there is greater risk that the soil’s surface tension in a given area is overcome by gravity and washes down the slope.

Gatlinburg is in the Great Smoky Mountains, a very old mountain range within the Appalachian Mountain region. Due to the age of the mountains and the region’s climate, the mountains themselves are very weathered, and have much deeper soils than the mountains in the Western United States. The region is also heavily wooded, so the roots of the dense vegetation help to stabilize the nearby soil. When the wildfires recently moved through the area, the vegetation and leaf litter was burned out, and the stabilizing root systems were compromised. Storms then came and assisted in firefighting efforts, but the lack of vegetation due to the recent burns caused a few small slides. Before winter brings snow to the normally wet area, an increased likelihood for flooding, mudslides, and landslides remains a worrying possibility. As of December 7th, there is little rain forecasted in the region for several days.

Visit ready.gov to learn about how to better protect yourself, your family, and your property from landslides and other hazards.