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

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.

 

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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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.

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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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Firefighter Fatalities on the Twisp River Fire

RedZone extends condolences to the families and friends of the three firefighters that lost their lives battling the Twisp River Fire in Washington yesterday. Our thoughts and prayers remain with all firefighters and those displaced by wildfires nationwide.

The Wildland Firefighter Foundation accepts donations to provide assistance to the families of firefighters killed or injured in the line of duty.

 

One Wildfire to Bed as Another Awakens

RedZone has been keeping a close eye on Northern California wildfire activity over the past few weeks.  A recent flurry of dry lightning thunderstorms in conjunction with drought and fire prone conditions, have led to numerous large fires across the region.  The Rocky Fire, being the largest of the fires at 69,636 acres, is nearing full containment at 88% as of 0700 hours PDT this morning.  All evacuations in relation to the fire have been lifted, and CAL FIRE’s Incident Information webpage is projecting full containment around August 13th.  In short, it looks like the Rocky Fire is well on its way to bed.

Unfortunately, just as one monster is off to sleep, it seems another has awoken.  The Jerusalem Fire, which started August 9th just south of the Rocky Fire area, quickly grew to approximately 12,000 acres in size with no reported containment as of this morning.  In fact the Rocky and Jerusalem Fire are so close in proximity, only a single valley separates the two fire perimeters from one another.  Mandatory evacuations remain in effect as a result of the Jerusalem Fire, with structures in the area reportedly remaining threatened.  Hopefully the close proximity of resources being diverted from Rocky to Jerusalem will aid in containment efforts.

Although lightning has been the main culprit for numerous fires in the region, the cause of both the Rocky and Jerusalem Fires remain under investigation.

 

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