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Thomas Fire Set to Become Largest in CA History

UPDATE 01/03/18 @ 4:49 p.m. – The fire is now 92% contained at 281,893 acres.

Thomas Fire Summary

The Thomas Fire began in Ventura County just north of Santa Paula around 630pm on Monday December 4th. Under Red Flag and Santa Ana Conditions the fire quickly made a push along Hwy 150 to the south and parallel to Hwy126 to the west threatening Santa Paula and Ventura the first night. The fire continued its push west, crossing Hwy 33 and reaching the ocean at Hwy 101 shortly after. Over the course of the next week the fire slowly boxed in Ojai, eventually surrounding it, and pushed its way further west towards the Santa Barbara County line. By this time, the majority of the 1,330 structures impacted already had been. A few days later, the fire used a new round of overnight wind gusts to make a big run on the morning of Sunday Dec 9th, establishing itself above Carpinteria and Montecito. The following Saturday another round of morning winds forced the fire down into the fringe of Montecito, forcing a wall of engines into a several hour battle to push stall its progress. Luckily, by this time over 8,000 firefighters were assigned to the fire, and up to the task of suppression the big morning run. Thanks to their efforts, of the reported 1,300 homes threatened on Dec 16th, only 15 or so were impacted.

thomas progression

Thomas Fire’s progression from Dec 4th (green) through Dec 22nd (red)

Since that push, the fire’s progress has stalled and containment has increased to 65%. Still over the last 17 days, the fire is only 500 acres shy of topping the Cedar Fire for largest in California history. A burn operation is expected to add the acres needed with a few thousand more before all is said and done. Luckily, the firefighters necessary to see the fire out have been halved since the peak last week, but the suppression costs could eclipse last summer’s costly Soberanes fire in well short of the time. The full containment of the historic fire is not expected until after 2018 has begun.

Thomas Fire Major Developments:

  • Yesterday’s wind event produced 50 mph gusts, but fire activity remained minimal.
  • The firing operation was stalled yesterday due to high humidity and some snowfall. It was able to continue in the afternoon, and further firing is planned today for the Rose Valley area.
  • The fire area effectively endured two straight weeks of high to extreme fire weather conditions. Over that period, RH dropped as low as 3-5% and wind speeds were recorded over 60mph.
  • The fire is 500+ acres shy of passing 2003’s Cedar Fire for largest (in terms of acreage burned) in recorded California history.
  • Total fire suppression costs have ballooned to $170 million in just 17 days. It took last year’s Soberanes Fire twelve weeks to cost its total of $236 million.
top ten acres burned

Thomas Fire is 2nd all time in California’s history for acreage burned, but not for long.

Thomas Fire Facts:

  • Location: Fillmore all the way to Santa Barbara, both Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties
  • Size: 272,800 acres (as of 1/3/18 – 281,893)
  • Containment: 65% (as of 1/3/18 – 92%)
  • Fire Behavior: Light fire behavior with interior burning on the northern portions of the fire
  • 1,063 structures have been destroyed and 267 more have been damaged.
  • 18,000 Structures remain threatened.
  • All Mandatory Evacuations have been lifted.
top four ca fires

California’s four largest fires in history (update 01/03/18 : Thomas is now number 1)

Sources:

NIFC.GOV

CalFire Incident Page

Inciweb

Wikipedia – List of California Wildfires

Moreno Valley Fire

Opera Fire Scorches 1300 Acres in Southern California

Opera Fire

Southern California’s first large wildfire of the season kicked off on Sunday afternoon (4/30) near the town of Highgrove in Riverside County. The Opera Fire quickly grew to 30 acres before the first responding fire units arrived on scene. The dry, grassy fuels burned rapidly, driven by gusty afternoon winds. Soon after helicopters arrived to assist, drones were spotted in the area, forcing the helicopters to land. Unfortunately, the lack of support from aircraft allowed the fire to quickly grow to 300 acres.

By 7:00 PM PST, the fire was at 1200 acres and threatening 40 homes. 230 firefighters from 8 crews battled throughout the night, mitigated the structure threat, and gained 60% containment by early Monday morning. 75 firefighters from four crews finished the mop-up operations, and fortunately no flare-ups were reported. By 7:30 AM on Tuesday (5/2), the fire was mapped at 1,350 acres and listed as fully contained.

The cause of the fire is currently unknown and under investigation.

More to Come

Small fires broke out all across Southern California over the past weekend. This might be a precursor of what to expect for this coming fire season. The wet winter helped much of California recover from the years-long drought, but also led to a huge spring growth of fine fuels. As these fuels dry out in the summer heat, explosive fire behavior is possible.

 

Opera Fire

Opera Fire Quick Stats

Fire Facts and Resources

  • As of: May 2nd, 2017
  • Location: Highgrove, Riverside County, CA
  • Size: 1,350 acres
  • Containment: 100%
  • Firefighters: 230
  • Helicopters: 3
  • Bulldozers: 2
  • Fire Behavior: Rapid fire spread through light fuels.
  • Structures Threatened: 40 (reported)
  • Structures Destroyed: 0 (reported)
  • Incident Page: www.rvcfire.org
  • News Article: The Press-Enterprise

Ten Year Anniversary of Esperanza Fire Tragedy

Esperanza Fire Recap

This week marks ten years since the tragic Esperanza Fire in California’s Riverside County. The fire started at the base of Cabazon Hill west of Palm Springs around 1:11 a.m. on October 26th, 2006. Moderate Santa Ana conditions quickly pushed the fire uphill and to the west prompting a large mutual aid response. Five United States Forest Service (USFS) Engines (including Engine 57) were some of the first to respond from the San Jacinto Ranger District and were quickly assigned to structure protection in the rural mountain community of Twin Pines.  At approximately 7:15 a.m., five wildland firefighters from USFS Engine 57 were overrun by the fire protecting an isolated, vacant residential structure.

EsperanzaPhoto

Tragedy in Twin Pines

At the time of the accident, the fire was several hundred acres in size and burning rapidly in critically dry fuel, under the influence of Santa Ana winds. A Red Flag Warning was in place for the area, issued twenty hours prior to the accident. A March 2006 Wildfire Protection Plan rated the Twin Pines community’s Fire Threat as Extreme to Very High. Additionally, the “Octagon” house they were protecting was located at the head of a steep drainage and, according to a 2002 study, was given a defensibility rating as “non-defensible”.

Officials later determined that the combination of wind alignment, fuel susceptibility, topography of the steep drainage below the firefighters’ location, and a thermal uplifting at daybreak caused a sudden and intense fire run. Many contributing factors led to their demise, but ultimately the five firefighters were surrounded by fire incredibly quickly, without time for escape, and were fatally burned by it. The Esperanza Fire totaled 40,200 acres and 34 residences burned, continuing for another few days after that fateful morning.

Accident Aftermath

In the wake of the accident, a few investigations ensued, aiming to determine the causal and contributing factors as well as the criminal intent of the fire’s origin itself. A full investigation of the burnover found two main causal factors:

  1. There was a loss of situational awareness concerning the dangers associated with potential fire behavior and fire environment while in a complex wildland urban interface situation.
  2. The decision by command officers and engine supervisors to attempt structure protection at the head of a rapidly developing fire either underestimated, accepted, and/or misjudged the risk to firefighter safety.

Arson investigators found the fire’s ignition was an act of arson by a Raymond Lee Oyler, a nearby Beaumont resident and serial arsonist. The individual “was convicted March 6 (2009) of five counts of first-degree murder, 20 counts of arson and 17 counts of using an incendiary device. A jury called for the death penalty.” This was the first and only time an arsonist has been convicted of first degree murder.

Ten days after the event, a public memorial service was held in Devore, CA for the five firefighters lost. Subsequently, California Highway 243 through the Cabazon Hills was named a memorial highway in honor of the fallen firefighters. The site of the accident will remain unoccupied and serve as a permanent remembrance memorial. A book was written by John McClean outlining the events of the Esperanza fire tragedy (as well as other fires). The critically-acclaimed book has been picked up by Legendary Pictures for adaptation for a future film.

Memorial Plaque at the site of the Esperanza Fire accident

Memorial Plaque at the site of the accident


Source(s):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanza_Fire

http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jun/06/local/me-oyler6

http://www.coloradofirecamp.com/esperanza/narrative.htm

http://www.fire.ca.gov/fire_protection/downloads/esperanza_00_complete_final_draft_05_01_2007.pdf

Twelve Weeks Later: Soberanes Fire 100% Contained

Soberanes Fire Recap

The Soberanes Fire in northern California has finally wound down, with officials marking the blaze at 100% contained as of Wednesday evening (10/12).  The fire ignited from an illegal campfire on July 22nd–a full twelve weeks ago–and in the first week, destroyed 57 residences and 11 outbuildings.  Luckily, no other losses have been reported since then.


How Soberanes Compares to Other Fires

The progress of the fire has been mostly stalled for weeks, with fire crews focusing on building containment lines in the troublesome and rugged terrain of the Ventana Wilderness (LPF).  Subsequently, the fire perimeter and acreage has not budged much since late September.  Collectively, the fire has topped a record $250m in suppression costs, dwarfing the previous high from 2002 of $165m (Biscuit Fire). The Soberanes Fire finished its run at 132,127 acres which is good for 17th place in California’s documented history and 6th largest ever in the Los Padres National Forest. The sheer size of the wildfire is apparent in comparison to both the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City.

Soberanes Fire size comparison with SF and NYC

Soberanes Fire size comparison with NYC and SF


Soberanes Fire Facts (10/14)

  • Started: July 22nd, 2016
  • Contained: Oct 12th, 2016 (83 days)
  • Location:  Big Sur, CA
  • Size: 132,127 acres
    • 94,933 acres CA-LPF – 72%
    • 37,194 acres CALFIRE BEU – 28%
  • Containment: 100%
  • Fire Behavior: Interior smoldering with sporadic smoke possible.
  • Structures Threatened: 0
  • Structures Destroyed: 68 (57 primary, 11 outbuildings)
  • Cost to Date: $249.9+ million
  • Incident Page: Inciweb
  • News Article: KSBW News


IMT Assignments

Since the blaze began, seven different incident management teams have been assigned to the storied fire (see list below). California’s IMT2 (Mills) team is expected to see out the remaining 21% of suppression repair and continue to BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response) operations.  The full list of IMTs assigned to Soberanes:

  • CAL FIRE Team 4 IC (Derum) taking command on 07/23/2016 at 1200
  • CAL FIRE IMT (Derum) in unified command with CA IMT1 (von Tillow) on 08/05/2016
  • CA IMT1 (von Tillow) in unified command with CAL FIRE IMT (King BEU) 08/19/2016 at 0600
  • CA IMT1 (von Tillow) transferred command to AK IMT1 (Kurth) @ 0700 8/24/2016, No more unified command
  • CA IMT1 (Opliger) will transition on 09/13/2016 at 0600
  • CA IMT2 (Arroyo) assumed command of incident 09/29/2016 at 0800
  • CA IMT2 (Mills) will assume command 10/13/2016 at 0600

Sources:

Inciweb

NIFC

KSBW News

Soberanes Fire over 100,000 acres, costs crest $200 million

Soberanes Fire Summary

The Soberanes Fire is eight weeks old today, starting way back on July 22nd. We have been closely monitoring the blaze as it has burned most of the summer. This month, the fire has well surpassed 100,000 acres and is still only 57% contained. Early on, the fire destroyed 57 residences and 11 outbuildings in Palo Colorado Canyon. Currently, there are more than 1,437 firefighters on scene fighting the blaze which is primarily in the rugged Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest (LPF). 410 structures remain threatened with evacuation warnings in effect. Full containment is not expected until September 30th. A few highlights on the fire are seen in the eight-week timeline below.

Picture2

Soberanes Fire has been burning for eight weeks and counting


Soberanes Fire Outlook

The fire has been predominantly growing south and east in the Ventana Wilderness of the LPF for the last couple weeks. Due to good work by crews and holding containment lines the fire has stayed east of Big Sur and west of Carmel Valley Road. Yet firing operations on the east side of the fire remain the main objective of late, as fire crews try to further increase containment by connecting indirect line near Chew’s Ridge in Divisions J, K, and L to the completed line north of the Los Padres Dam.  Consequently, a successful effort in the coming days will add both acreage and containment in those divisions. Furthermore, air attack activity will pick up as their resources will assist in keeping fuels adjacent to the indirect fire line from igniting.   Meanwhile, on the southern, coastal side of the fire, crews continue to work hard securing and improving the established containment lines. They have been successful holding the fire east of an established dozer line on the ridge above Big Sur.

Next week, the Soberanes fire will reach its ninth week (and on the 23rd, enter its third month). The fire has burned 65% on federal lands and 35% on state lands. Suppression costs for the entirety have soared to over $200 million with an average of $3.58 million spent each day. If the fire were fully contained today, the feds would be on the hook for over $130 million and CALFIRE for the other $70+ million. At that rate, if firefighters were to reach full containment on September 30th, the suppression cost would eclipse $250 million (not including costs from damages incurred). If they can’t connect containment lines in the near future, likely the fire will continue to burn until fall weather, rains, or cooler temperatures stall its activity.

Soberanes Fire near Big Sur, CA is now over 100,000 acres and still growing

Soberanes Fire Progression: Continues burning near Big Sur, CA and is now over 100,000 acres and growing


Soberanes Fire Facts (9/16)

  • Started: July 22nd, 2016
  • Location: Ventana Wilderness, Big Sur, CA
  • Size: 108,031 acres (70,285 acres CA-LPF; 37,194 acres CALFIRE)
  • Containment: 57%
  • Fire Behavior: Slow fire spread through timber, chaparral, and tall grass in steep, rugged terrain.
  • Structures Threatened: 410 (reported)
  • Structures Destroyed: 68 (57 primary, 11 outbuildings)
  • Evacuations: Warnings remain in place
  • Cost to Date: $200.4 million
  • Incident Page: Inciweb
  • News Article: Big Sur News

Sources:

  • Big Sur Kate
  • Inciweb
  • NIFC

Soberanes Fire Update: now over 50% contained

Soberanes Fire Summary

The Soberanes Fire started as the result of an illegal campfire that was left unattended on July 22nd within the Garrapata State Park to the south of Monterey. The fire is now over 70,000 acres and is 55% contained. Currently, there are more than 5,300 firefighters on scene fighting the blaze. Damage assessments remain unchanged with 57 residences and 11 outbuildings destroyed, along with 3 structures and 2 outbuildings damaged, mostly in Palo Colorado, 15 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Full containment is not expected until August 31st.

Soberanes Fire Perimeter (8/12)

Soberanes Fire Location (8/12), between Big Sur and Carmel Highlands south of Monterey


Soberanes Fire Outlook

The fire had minimal growth in lower elevations again Thursday night as the marine layer kept the fire in check. Yesterday’s firing operation on the north part of Coast Ridge continued to be hot overnight with new MODIS heat detections picking up where an island of unburned fuel burned off near Dani Ridge. Morning reports had the high elevation areas near Ventana Double Cone as having actively burned yesterday and overnight as well. The majority of fire activity has been limited to the area of Uncle Sam Mountain and Coast Ridge, exhibiting mostly backing, creeping, and smoldering along with a few sustained uphill runs.

As mentioned, firing operations took place yesterday (8/11) along Coast Ridge and are being planned–dependent on weather–for the coming days to strengthen containment lines in the Big Sur area. This could close Highway 1 periodically over the next few days. Specifically, fire managers are trying to prevent the fire from crossing the Big Sur River Gorge where it could make a hard uphill run, and aiming to keep the fire out of the inhabited coastal canyons above Nepenthe, Pfeiffer Falls, and Big Sur Lodge.

Air quality in the Big Sur area will be poor again today at the lower elevations. The warming and drying trend that began yesterday will continue today as high pressure builds. Areas removed from the marine layer will see their hottest conditions since last week. Overnight humidity recoveries will be poor over the upper slopes and ridges. The warming trend will bring slightly more intense fire conditions above the marine layer, with areas below it continuing the low intensity and minimal spread.

Soberanes Fire Facts (8/12)

  • Started: July 22nd, 2016
  • Location: Big Sur, CA
  • Size: 70,615 acres
  • Containment: 55%
  • Fire Behavior: Slow fire spread through timber, chaparral, and tall grass in steep, rugged terrain.
  • Structures Threatened: 410 (reported)
  • Structures Destroyed: 68 (57 primary, 11 outbuildings)
  • Evacuations: Are in place
  • Incident Page: CALFIRE Information
  • News Article: KSBW News