Powerline Fire in Big Bend National Park nearing full containment

A wildland fire started in Big Bend National Park, Texas, around 5:00 PM on Monday, February 1st, when heavy winds caused a power line to fall. The fire burned grassland and brush habitat, and is estimated to have been around 1,800 acres in size.  It is now 100% contained.

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Powerline Fire as seen in our Incident Dashboard

Heavy winds originally pushed the fire to the east and northeast of Panther Junction during the evening of February 1st, and the fire covered 500 acres by Monday evening. By Tuesday afternoon the fire had spread to over 1,000 acres as winds continued to blow. A combination of National Park Rangers and fire crews battled the fire, working 10-12 hour shifts at a time. Higher humidity, colder temperatures, and somewhat diminished winds on Wednesday helped slow the fire during the evening hours, along with firefighter efforts to work hot spots along the fire perimeter.

Electrical power was initially lost to the Panther Junction, Chisos Basin, and Rio Grande Village areas, but was restored as of February 3rd. Additionally, two park roads, the road to Rio Grande Village and Old Ore Road, were closed as a precaution but both roads were re-opened on February 2nd.

No park structures were damaged, and no injuries were reported during the initial fire or suppression efforts.

Source : http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4659/

2015 Wildfire Acreage Tops 10 Million for the First Time

2015 was a significant year for wildfires with the total acreage cresting 10 million for the first time on record. To put it in perspective, 10 million acres is roughly 7.5 million football fields, 12,000 Central Parks, or 15 Rhode Islands.

 

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Reported Wildfires from GeoMac and Fire Statistics from NIFC

2015 actually saw fewer fires than the 10-year average, but the total acres burned was more than 3.5 million greater than average. Alaska’s dozens of huge wildfires accounted for more than half of the total acres burned nationwide. Acreage-wise, an area the size of the entire state of Massachusetts burned inside of Alaska.

The Rocky Mountain and Southwest regions were quieter than normal. Major wildfire complexes raged for weeks in Idaho, NE Washington, Northern California, and Oregon. In terms of destruction, Northern California’s Butte and Valley wildfires combined to destroy 818 and 1958 structures respectively, the 7th and 3rd most in the state’s history.

Black Friday Brushfires

On Friday January 13, 1939, Victoria, Australia suffered one of the worst wildfires in history. These fires came to be known as the Black Friday brushfires. They burned nearly 5 million acres and 71 people lost their lives after several towns were destroyed.

Prior to Black Friday, Victoria had experienced a long, dry, and hot summer coupled with a drought that had lasted several years. Many creeks and rivers had dried up and high temperatures and hot winds had left the forest floors extremely dry. Several small fires were already burning since December. Some of these fires could not be extinguished while others were left unattended to burn under “controlled” conditions. However, high temperatures combined with strong northerly winds on Friday the 13th strengthened these fires causing them to combine into a massive fire front which swept over the mountains into Victoria. Over 1,000 homes were burned, and the towns of Narbethong, Noojee, Woods Point, Nayook West, and Hill End were completely destroyed. The fires had burned for three days when the area was hit with heavy rains Sunday evening which eventually extinguished the blaze.  

After the fires, the Australian Royal Commission attributed blame for the fires to careless burning, such as those used for campfires and land clearing. The Commission made a number of recommendations to improve forest management and safety, such as the construction of fire towers and access trails. It also encouraged the creation of a fire administration which would be responsible for supervising controlled burns. The Black Friday brushfires contributed directly to the passing of the Forests Act, which gave the Forests Commission responsibility for wildfire protection on public land.

 

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The town of Woods Point after the Black Friday brushfires.

Image courtesy of the Victoria State Government

Quite the Air Show for Small Gibraltar Fire

Yesterday’s Gibraltar Fire near Montecito Peak in Santa Barbara County must have had fire officials worried. Ten air tankers and a DC-10 dropped a reported 85,000 gallons of fire retardant around the small ridge top burn. 

Some majestic photos were floating around twitter and news sources yesterday with several air drops and helicopters putting on an air show near Montecito Peak. Past major fires in that area coupled with strong winds and incoming Santa Ana conditions forced the fire’s unified command to unleash an aerial assault to keep the fire from getting established in the mountains above Montecito. 

 

retardant_gibraltar.jpgImage from USFS

Aerial photos showed almost as much retardant on the ground as burned area. The Fire is currently being reported at 40 acres and 50% contained. Crews are expected to stay on scene through this evening to strengthen containment lines and to continue with the mop-up process. All evacuation advisories were lifted at 8am this morning as forward progress was stopped mid-afternoon on the 29th.

 

Recent Surge in Texas Fire Activity Despite Historic Rainfall in May

Though Texas saw record rainfall in the month of May, fire season is still in full swing. South Central Texas in particular has seen a significant surge in wildland fires. In the last seven days, there have been 268 fires reported with 12,911 acres burned. The largest of these fires was the Hidden Pines Fire in Bastrop County which consumed 4,582 acres and destroyed 68 homes.

Why has Texas seen an increase in fire activity in recent weeks? A wet spring brought significant grass growth to much of the region. Since June, temperatures have been normal to slightly above normal, while relative humidity levels have been below normal. This has allowed new grass growth to become very dry and prone to ignition. Dry grass can be ignited by the smallest of heat sources such as vehicle exhaust pipes, emergency flares, and cigarettes. Once grass has started to burn, it can rapidly spread to surrounding vegetation and structures. These fast moving grass fires become difficult for firefighters to contain due to their rate of spread and unpredictability. Fortunately, weather forecasts are predicting cool and rainy conditions for the next several days, allowing firefighters a much needed break.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2015/06/01/record-breaking-may-rainfall-in-texas-and-oklahoma-by-the-numbers/

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.

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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.

 

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.

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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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