Hurricane Matthew Plots a Course for Florida

As of 8am EDT on October 5th, models for Hurricane Matthew predict a path following the east coast of Florida and up into the Carolinas. The storm initially made made landfall in Haiti on Tuesday as a category 4 hurricane, with top sustained winds near 145 mph. It is is now estimated to be a category 3 storm, according to the Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds topping out at 125 mph, though some slight strengthening is forecast during the next couple of days. Given the storm’s trajectory, the possibility exists for extensive damage along much of the southeastern coast of the US.

Current Storm Behavior

According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Matthew is currently moving north-northwest at roughly 10 mph (17 km/h). This trajectory is expected to continue throughout most of the day Wednesday, however a slight turn to the northwest is expected tonight. If this prediction holds, Matthew will reach the Bahamas on Thursday, with the center of the storm passing directly between Nassau and Andros Island, and then just west of Freeport, Bahamas. Matthew is expected to be very near the east coast of Florida by Thursday evening, sweeping up the coast most of Friday, and potentially reaching Georgia and South Carolina early Saturday morning.

Matthew’s hurricane-force winds over 74 mph extend outward up to 40 miles (65 km) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds over 39 mph extend outward up to 160 miles (260 km). It is the strongest hurricane in the Caribbean since 2007, when Hurricane Felix (category 5) hit Nicaragua with sustained winds of 160 mph and killed more than 130 people. For reference, 2012’s Hurricane Sandy was a category 3 storm, with winds reaching up to 115 mph, while 2005’s Hurricane Katrina reached category 5 status in the Gulf of Mexico, with winds gusting to 175 mph.

Current path of Hurricane Matthew

RedZone’s RZAlert Dashboard shows the storm’s predicted path.

Hurricane Matthew Watches and Warnings

According to the NHC, hurricane warnings remained in effect for all of Haiti and portions of Cuba and the Bahamas as of Wednesday morning. At least nine deaths have been reported in those areas. In Florida, a hurricane watch is in effect from Deerfield Beach, 45 miles north of Miami, to the Volusia/Brevard county line near Orlando, encompassing a roughly 200 mile stretch of coastline. Much of the Florida Keys and southern Florida remain under a tropical storm watch.

A Look Back at 100 Years of the National Parks Service

Over 100 years ago, the National Parks Service did not exist in the U.S. No lands were federally protected, and logging companies were increasing their efforts in response to huge demands for lumber. At last, a few key voices catching the attention of the right people changed it all.

Who will speak for the land that cannot speak for itself?

Individuals such as naturalist John Muir, with the backdrop of such unique surroundings as Yosemite Valley, stepped forward to save the land from the growing number of settlers moving westward. Responding to pleas of Muir and others, Congress and President Abraham Lincoln put Yosemite under the protection of California during the Civil War. Later, in 1872, under President Ulysses S Grant, Yellowstone became the world’s first true National Park, along with several other areas later in the 19th century.

In 1903, Teddy Roosevelt was campaigning on a whistle-stop tour around the U.S.  He had arranged to explore the Yosemite wilderness with naturalist John Muir–without his Secret Service personnel–while he was in California. Roosevelt wanted to experience the land as authentically as possible. The result of this 4-day visit and Roosevelt’s subsequent presidency, led to the foundation of five national parks as well as several national monuments, national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and national forests. Despite this “national protection” designation, no management or organization was in place to oversee the funding and care of these Parks.

President Teddy Roosevelt & Naturalist John Muir in 1903, Yosemite, CA.

President Teddy Roosevelt & Naturalist John Muir in 1903, Yosemite, CA.


Establishment of the National Parks Service in 1916

In 1915, backed by millionaire industrialist Stephen Mather and National Geographic Society, momentum grew toward establishing a distinct federal organization dedicated to preserving and controlling protected areas.  The National Parks Service was officially created in 1916, and Stephen Mather became its first director. This moved 14 national parks and 21 national monuments under the management of the NPS.

Stephen Mather and his National Parks Service staff in 1927/1928.

Stephen Mather (Front-center) and his National Parks Service staff in 1927/1928.

The Century that Followed

Mather was the first of 18 NPS Directors the institution has had in its history. Throughout the years, many subsequent Acts have been signed to further protect and provide for the federally protected land areas and expand the scope of the National Parks Service. John Jarvis was sworn in as the current National Parks Service Director on October 2, 2009.  He currently oversees more than 400 national parks, monuments, and refuges. The National Parks Service is supported by approximately 22,000 permanent, temporary, and seasonal employees and 400,000 volunteers. Last year a record number of visitors experienced the national parks, totaling over 305 million guests to the more than 84 million available acres!

Given the continued increase in the number of total annual visitations, interest in these National Parks among the public is at an all-time high. Recently, MacGillivray Freeman Films released a new film called the National Parks Adventure which is now showing in IMAX theaters across the country. Sponsored by Expedia, Subaru,, and REI, the viewer gets a rarely-seen insight into several incredible parks.

Due to the bold and ongoing efforts of so many people focused on preservation and conservation, these parks and natural experiences will continue to be shared for many years to come.


Loma Fire Burns in Santa Cruz Mountains

The Loma fire started Monday afternoon (9/26) along Loma Chiquita Road in Los Gatos, CA and quickly spread along the ridgeline to the north and east. As the fire began growing, it threatened numerous structures and radio towers along Loma Chiquita Ridge. Subsequently, homeowners began to evacuate the area before any official evacuations were put in place simply due to the extreme fire behavior that was being observed. Concern over the fire’s extreme behavior prompted the diversion of fire crews that were originally en route to the Sawmill fire.  Those crews were reassigned to become initial-attack resources on the Loma incident instead. Currently, fire officials are reporting that 7 structures were lost and 300 others are threatened by the blaze. As of midday Tuesday (9/27) the Loma Fire is 2,000 acres and 5% contained.

Loma Fire Perimeter from this morning's Flight

Loma Fire Perimeter from this morning’s IR flight

Loma Fire Outlook

The fire burned overnight and continues to spew smoke in the Santa Cruz Mountains today. The nearby Morgan Hill Webcam is showing the fire growing on the east side of the 3,700 ft. Loma Prieta Peak. As the fire moves into its second burn period, more resources are set to arrive to help contain the blaze. Fortunately, the hot and dry weather of the past few days Santa Ana influence will subside tomorrow. Coastal areas will see onshore flow return today and a cooling trend will arrive Wednesday and Thursday with a Pacific trough approaching the area. As a result, temperatures will substantially drop, RH levels will rise, and the extreme fire conditions should diminish (though strong NW winds are set to arrive). Furthermore, the forecast calls for a return to autumn-like conditions with highs in the 60s and 70s by the end of the week.

Loma Fire Facts

  • As of: 1400 PDT, September 27, 2016
  • Location: Los Gatos, CA
  • Size: 2,000 acres
  • Containment: 5%
  • Fire Behavior: Rapid fire spread through tall grass and brush in steep, rugged terrain.
  • Structures Threatened: 300 (reported)
  • Structures Destroyed: 7 (estimated)
  • Evacuations: Are in place
  • Incident Page: Cal Fire Incident Page
  • News Article: SF Chronicle
  • Live Webcam:


Weather Underground


NIFC.GOV and the Value of Open Data

The idea of sharing information for the common public good, or what we now call open data, goes back centuries. Possibly the earliest example of open data is the public library. Libraries have been the standard of information sharing for centuries, but in today’s digital age we have much better ways to use and improve data. The United States government has made substantial efforts to standardize and organize datasets and release them online for public use. President Obama signed an executive order on May 9, 2013 to make government data more useful and easily accessible. We at RedZone use open data to assist our disaster intelligence operations, and would like to share some exciting new ways other businesses are making good use of open data.

Past Problems with Sharing Open Data

Historically, agencies are independently responsible for the collection, management, and organization of the data they collect. Naturally, many different conventions were developed which made the sharing and combining of data from different agencies extremely difficult and time consuming. Also, agencies were doing redundant work by individually storing and managing their databases. The latest attempt to resolve these issues led to the development of Project Open Data. The Obama Administration launched Project Open Data to determine and implement best practices for data collection, management, organization, and sharing. It encourages collaboration between different agencies and public experts, and will continue to evolve as data management technologies improve. is the public website for accessing this data within the new system of guidelines. as the Attempted Solution is the new data center for the various online data warehouses supported by the government. Specifically, it allocates open datasets from local, state, and federal governments in a standardized, searchable database. Users can download a myriad of datasets ranging from weather and climate data, to business analytics and census data. Many agencies are in the process of migrating their legacy datasets over to this new system. There is even a process for universities and research foundations to add their own datasets, as long as they meet certain guidelines. The goal of this system is to improve the access and standardization of the data, which will then allow new and existing businesses to create better products by leveraging the utility of existing data.

data_gov website promoting open data Homepage

The internet has made cataloging and sharing information much easier and cheaper. Universities, research organizations, and private businesses are now finding new ways to use this public data and add value to it. Let’s look into some common uses of these open data assets.

Current Common Uses

  1. Disaster Intelligence – Open data helps to better predict, prevent, respond to, and recover from natural and man-made disasters.
  2. Financial Data – Population and business census data provides valuable information for financial institutions to make decisions related to risk analysis, business loans, and marketing opportunities.
  3. Geospatial and GPS data – Mapping, surveying, navigation, drone usage, image mosaicking and many other new and exciting uses are bringing unheralded opportunities to businesses.
  4. Transit – From transit delay notifications to autonomous vehicles, open data is helping companies develop the future of transit.
  5. Information Services – Cloud computing, network security, and data management can all be improved by adopting guidelines and conventions used in Project Open Data.
  6. Tourism – Shared datasets help travelers plan better and stay safe while visiting destinations domestically and abroad.

Many other uses will be implemented that have not even been imagined yet. Technology is fast-moving, and with better access and sharing, talented entrepreneurs will create even more useful and exciting products for all of us to enjoy.

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.


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


  • Big Sur Kate
  • Inciweb
  • NIFC

Human-Induced Earthquakes in the Central US

Residents of California are all too familiar with the uneasy feeling of unstable ground under foot.  California, however, is not alone.  The Central United States has seen a dramatic increase in human-induced earthquakes activity in recent years.

In 2015, the central United States experienced over a thousand earthquakes measuring 3.0 or larger on the Richter Scale.  This record setting amount of earthquakes was 42 times more then the average number of yearly quakes experienced between 1973 to 2008.  Oklahoma actually had more earthquakes in 2015 than the historically shaky California.

What is the Cause of all this Increased Earthquake Activity?

Human-induced earthquakes are to blame for the increased seismic activity threatening more than 7 million people in the central and eastern portions of the United States. Human-induced earthquakes are commonly linked with the controversial practice of fracking.  Fracking is a process in which water pressure is used to force oil out of previously untapped deposits.  The majority of the induced earthquakes, however, are actually the result of the relatively recent industrial process of disposing of contaminated water by injecting the fluids into the ground. The contaminated water is a by-product of all oil and gas extraction and not unique to fracking. The injected wastewater elevates the in-ground fluid pressure increasing the likelihood of fault slippage. 

 Earthquakes since 1980 and Human-Induced Earthquakes

Faults can occur in areas where they haven’t historically been recorded.  Normally tectonic stress will hold the faults together, but the injected waste water can essentially push the plates apart.

The increased risk of damaging earthquakes prompted the USGS to include human-induced earthquakes in their hazard forecasts for the first time.

Human-Induced Earthquakes and a Potential for Disaster

Most of the earthquakes are minor but a recent 5.6 magnitude earthquake recently rocked the region near Pawnee, Oklahoma. The earthquake was felt across 6 additional states and is the largest magnitude quake recorded in Oklahoma since 2011. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that a similar sized event hitting a metropolitan area, like the Dallas metroplex, could devastate the city leading to substantial damage, economic loss and potential loss of life.

The 2016 USGS study suggests that the central United States will face a 5-12% chance of damage from additional earthquakes in 2016.


Spiral Staircases, Fire Poles, & Fire Stations

While spiral staircases and fire poles are historically related to fire stations, there was a time before they were commonplace.  Their implementation and popularity makes sense given the time frame when these older stations were built and the equipment utilized to respond to a fire.

Horse-Drawn Fire Engines

In the 1850s, American fire departments transitioned from the hand-pump trucks to the much heavier steam-powered fire engines. These new, more efficient, higher water capacity trucks were pulled by horses. While the horses were stabled downstairs with the engines, the firemen slept and cooked upstairs. Horses would follow the food smells and climb the stairs. To prevent the horses from doing this, the firemen installed spiral staircases.

The Emergence of Fire Poles

When the alarm would sound, the fire fighters raced downstairs to hitch up the horses before heading to the fire. The tight confines and steepness of spiral staircases hampered this speed. What came about is possibly one of the most recognizable elements of a traditional fire house:  the fire pole. First notably put into use in 1878 by David Kenyon in Chicago, the fire pole allowed his department’s firefighters to arrive on scene sooner than others. Around 1880, Boston adopted the pole as well, and it became commonplace across the country soon after.

Spiral Staircase and Fire Poles

Spiral Staircase and Fire Pole (Source: “Priceonomics: The Rise and Fall of the Fireman’s Pole”)

Modern Era – Safety First

With the invention of the combustion engine, horse-drawn engines ceased to be utilized, and therefore spiral staircases to keep horses out of the bunk area became unnecessary. As more fire stations were constructed or renovated, many spiral staircases were removed or not installed at all. Additionally, the previously standard structure of horses and equipment on the base level and bunk and kitchen above was altered to better accommodate the sleeping area, kitchen, and storage. Some stations still have their spiral staircases and fire pole; however, due to numerous injuries involved with descending the fire pole, many have been removed. Broken bones, sprained ankles, back injuries, and even death can occur from losing one’s grip on the fire pole or descending too quickly and being unable to slow down. Washington State currently does not allow installation of a fire pole in any newly-constructed fire stations.

Slide on down!

Due to the oftentimes unsafe speeds involved with descending fire poles, many stations that still utilize a multi-story structure are replacing the poles with fire slides. This allows the firefighters to drop from a higher floor to the ground floor quickly, but much more safely. Although many stations are moving toward slides or single-story construction, the now-decorative fire pole will continue to be a common symbol in fire houses across the country.

Fire truck and fire house slide replace traditional fire poles

Fire truck and fire house slide (Source: Fire Station 124, Covington, LA)


Tree Death Fuels California Wildfires

Tree Death Adds Fuel to the Fire

A record 66 million trees have died in California since 2010, adding a huge fuel threat to an already dangerous fire landscape.  Not only are decomposing trees more flammable, they can also present a safety hazard to firefighters. Specifically, dead trees can fall during fires (which have resulted in deaths), and fallen trees can be an obstacle preventing vehicles and firefighters from reaching the fire.

Dead Wood Danger

When a tree dies, its wood dries out and becomes very flammable.  When building a campfire, there’s a reason we use downed wood instead of chopping down live trees. Healthy, living trees have a relatively high moisture content.  This helps trees survive a wildfire and slows the progress of that wildfire. When tree death occurs from old age or other reasons, standing dead or fallen trees provide a large amount of dry fuel for wildfires, encouraging fire growth and hindering efforts to put it out.

Bark Beetle impact from 2012 US Forest Service report

Bark Beetle impact from 2012 US Forest Service report

What’s Happening to the Trees?

Established trees are fairly resilient to seasonal changes in their environment, so it is difficult to understand exactly what is causing so much tree death in California. Perhaps not surprisingly, several stressors have been acting on the trees at the same time.



California has been in an historic drought for the past five years. Most native California trees are fairly resilient to drought, but a prolonged drought weakens the trees and exposes them to pests and disease that a healthier tree could normally fight off.

Tree death (brown trees) near Julian in San Diego County

Tree death (brown trees) near Julian in San Diego County


Tree bark is the main defense for trees against pests, disease, and fires. Bark beetles burrow into the bark and expose the trees to other pests or diseases, and can reduce their fire resiliency. Different types of bark beetles act as pests to different types of trees. The Pines and Conifers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains have been decimated by these beetles. Beetle-kill trees have been blamed for prolonging the firefight on the Beaver Creek Fire in Northern Colorado and also the Cedar Fire in California’s Southern Sierra Nevada Range. Tree deaths due to these beetles have been attributed to several major campaign fires across the west over the past few summers. The map above shows hard-hit beetle kill timber forests across the west (in red), which includes both the Cedar and Beaver Creek fire areas.


The coast live oak trees have been exposed to Sudden Oak Death, which is caused by a non-native tree fungus. This fungus and other non-native diseases are responsible for an estimated 5 – 10 million oak tree deaths. Many dead trees were identified in the areas where the Soberanes fire near Big Sur is currently burning and have likely contributed (along with major drought) to its acreage eclipsing 100,000 this week.

Plans for Tree Death Prevention

Drought, pests, and disease all put stress on otherwise healthy trees.  When these stresses are combined, we can expect to see continued tree death at unprecedented scales. California has programs to both reduce the amount of tree death and to remove dead trees as a means of reducing fire danger.  Lately, resources have been too scarce to keep up with the levels of tree deaths plaguing the state. Learn more about the epidemic and what is being done to prevent further problems here.