Erskine Fire Scorches Neighborhoods in Kern County

Erskine Fire Summary

The Erskine fire started the afternoon of June 23rd along Erskine Creek Road in Lake Isabella and quickly spread up-slope and to the east toward several residential areas near South Lake, CA. Public safety officials quickly scrambled to evacuate the closest neighborhoods of Yankee Canyon, Mountain Mesa, and Squirrel Valley. As the fire rapidly spread east, skirting the mountains and neighborhoods above the lake, it destroyed homes and forced further evacuations of South Lake, Bella Vista, Onyx, Weldon, and Lakeland Estates.

Fueled by relative humidity (RH) in the single digits and gusty evening winds, the fire quickly spread ten and half miles over a matter of hours in the time from Thursday evening to early Friday morning. As of midday Friday (6/24) the Erskine Fire was 19,034 acres and 0% contained. Fire officials are reporting 100 structures are estimated as lost and 1,500 others are threatened. A damage assessment team will survey the extent of the fire’s destruction in the coming days.

Erskine Fire Outlook

A type-1 incident management team is already en route to the area to take over command of the fire. The Erskine Fire exhibited extreme fire behavior across steep, rugged terrain fanned by gusty afternoon winds. Fire officials are worried about this afternoon’s (6/24) weather forecast, which may mimic yesterday’s destructive conditions. There are six air tankers, seven helicopters, and 800 firefighters on scene, with hundreds more on the way.

Erskine Fire Facts:

  • Location: Lake Isabella, CA
  • Size: 19,034 acres
  • Containment: 0%
  • Fire Behavior: Rapid fire spread through tall grass and brush in steep, rugged terrain.
  • Structures Threatened: 1500 (reported)
  • Structures Destroyed: 100 (estimated)
  • Incident Page:
  • News Article: LA Times

Map: Erskine Fire perimeter (as of 6/24, 1300 hrs).


Fire perimeter was provided by NIFC and was created by hand and helo flight GPS.

Sherpa Fire: Santa Barbara County

Sherpa Fire Summary

The Sherpa fire started Wednesday afternoon in a remote area of the Los Padres National Forest (LPF), directly west of Santa Barbara, California. It quickly grew in size with the classic sundowner winds which that area sees frequently. Evacuation warnings were sent out immediately along with reverse 911 calls to nearby residents due to that area’s potential for rapid fire growth. In the days since ignition, the fire has grown from 50 acres to over 5800 acres, according to this morning’s infrared flight data (seen map below).Much of the area remains under mandatory evacuations.

Sherpa Fire Outlook

A type-2 team took over command of the fire as of this morning’s (6/17) briefing where future plans and expected fire behavior were discussed. The Sherpa Fire has exhibited extreme fire behavior, including long-range spotting and downhill runs each of the last two evening and overnight burn periods. These gusty, sundowner periods (5:00pm and after) are expected every afternoon/evening through the weekend, worrying fire officials. Last night’s activity actually pushed the active fire across Hwy 101 and forced closures of the thoroughfare for the second straight night. Heavy fuels east of the current burn area and rising temperatures associated with an incoming high pressure system this weekend likely mean the firefight is far from over.

Sherpa Fire Facts:

Map: Sherpa fire perimeter and estimated evacuation zones (as of 6/17, 1700 hrs).


Fire perimeter was provided by NIFC from an overnight IR flight.

Evacuation areas are estimated from written descriptions provided by Santa Barbara County Emergency Services.

Lightning Fires Across Wyoming

While many of the Midwest and Atlantic states continue to get inches of rain and worry about ongoing flooding, Wyoming’s focus is on containing several lightning fires that started over the weekend. Some light rain assisted Bureau of Land Management (BLM) firefighters’ efforts, but one of the fires continues to burn near Ten Sleep in the northern part of the state.

The Salt Center Fire continues to burn in northern Wyoming. (BLM Wyoming, Mon, 13/June/16)

The Salt Center Fire continues to burn in northern Wyoming. (BLM Wyoming, Mon, 13/June/16)

Lightning Fires

The Salt Center Fire began Friday evening along with three other confirmed lightning strike fires in the area of Ten Sleep, WY. These three other fires were relatively small and south of the town of Ten Sleep: Spring Creek Fire — 25 acres, West Rim Fire — 1 acre, and Alkali Creek Fire — 0.25 acres. The Salt Center Fire is burning approximately 9 miles north of town near the Renner Reservoir and has grown to 225 acres. As of Monday evening, it was up to 50% contained. Due to the surrounding steep, rugged terrain, access for crews is difficult. According to Sarah Beckwith of BLM Public Affairs, 3 helicopters, 3 single engine air tankers, and 1 heavy air tanker have been assisting over 100 firefighters by targeting hot spots in the interior and difficult to reach parts of the fire. Further updates on this fire can be found on the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center’s incident page.

Lightning fires around Ten Sleep, WY

Lightning fires around Ten Sleep, WY

Lightning without rain!

In some places around the United States, such as Southern California, lightning fires frequently start with no rain nearby. These are called Dry Lightning Fires and can be even more dangerous without any moisture assistance from increased chances of precipitation. With hurricane season underway along the Atlantic, storming conditions continuing across the Midwest spawning tornadoes, and heightened fire weather and dry lightning storms across drought-ridden Pacific states, this is likely to be a dynamic and volatile weather season.

Tenderfoot Fire: Yarnell, AZ

Firefighters continue to battle the Tenderfoot Fire near Yarnell, Arizona. As of June 10th, the fire is being reported at 3,300 acres with only 10% containment. The Tenderfoot fire was first reported on June 8th near Yarnell and threatened several homes along Crest Way which came to within 200 feet of the fire’s perimeter. Fortunately SW winds pushed the blaze to the NE, away from Yarnell, and fire crews were able to establish control lines around evacuated structures.

On June 9th, high winds expanded the fire’s range, leading to more evacuations. By mid-day June 10th, the number of firefighters deployed had increased from 250 to 400.

About 280 residents have been evacuated — about 250 from Yarnell since the fire started, and 30 from Peeples Valley (to the north), the afternoon of June 9th when strong winds fanned the flames. Officials were still analyzing whether residents could be allowed to return home later in the evening on June 10th.

Rugged terrain is hampering firefighting efforts on the ground but officials are optimistic as winds continue to push the fire to the NE, away from nearby communities. Three large air tankers and two single engine air tankers have worked the fire since its start on June 8th.

The cause of the Tenderfoot Fire is still under investigation, however, officials have ruled out lightning as a cause.

On June 28, 2013, the Yarnell Hill Fire started just across Hwy 89 from the Tenderfoot Fire. Two days later on June 30th, 19 firefighters died battling the Yarnell Hill Fire when their position was overrun by erratic fire behavior after the winds shifted and turned the fire back into town. 127 homes were destroyed in the Yarnell Hill Fire, the deadliest fire in Arizona’s history.


Side-by-side comparison of the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire and the 2016 Tenderfoot Fire.

Tortoise Fire: Orange County California

After three hours, firefighters and air units contained the 4-acre Tortoise Fire that burned in the gated community of Coto de Caza in Orange County. No evacuation orders were issued.

The Tortoise Fire was first reported at 11:22 am on June 3rd. Seventy Orange County firefighters were called to the blaze as well as three helicopters. The fire briefly threatened several homes before fire crews gained the upper hand around 1:30 pm in the afternoon. By 2:15 pm fire officials declared the Tortoise Fire fully contained. Hand crews remained on scene conducting mop-up operations until approximately 5 pm.

No homes were damaged and no civilians were injured but officials did report that three firefighters suffered minor, non-life threatening injuries as a result of the fire. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.


A helicopter drops water as wildland firefighters battle a vegetation fire in Coto de Caza.

Fort McMurray Area Ready for Residents to Re-enter

Exactly one month after the historic wildfire began and forced thousands to flee, residents of the Fort McMurray area are finally set to re-enter the city.  Starting June 1st the city’s four-day, five-zone, phased re-entry plan will commence. If that sounds complicated, its because it was. The city’s officials and emergency managers had to mutually agree to move forward with the plan, which was contingent upon five infrastructure and safety criteria being met:

  • Wildfire is no longer an imminent threat to the community;
  • Critical infrastructure is repaired to provide basic service;
  • Essential services, such as fire, EMS, police and health care, are restored to a basic level;
  • Hazardous areas are secure;
  • Local government is re-established.

Even though the minimum criteria have been met, the area will be assessed daily. The plan’s phases allow residents of the least-damaged areas to return home first, though not all residents will be allowed to return to the city. The presence of harmful chemicals (including arsenic) in the ash, soil and air may delay residents’ permanent return in the communities of Abasand, Beacon Hill, and Waterways. Officials are understandably cautious for those areas and will base the permanent re-entry in those three neighborhoods (seen as ‘x’ on in Figure 1) on future non-toxic test results. Homeowners will merely be able to visit on June 4th but will need other permanent accommodations for the foreseeable future. “Despite the significant work that has been done, the city today is not the city that residents left behind a month ago. A boil-water advisory remains in effect, some health-care services are not available, and many businesses will not be open,” the Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said.

Re-entry Dates and Communities:

  • June 1st: Lower Townsite, Anzac, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, Gregoire Lake   Estates (Zone One)
  • June 2nd: Parsons Creek, Stone Creek, Timberlea, Eagle Ridge, Dickinsfield (Zone Two)
  • June 3rd: Thickwood, Wood Buffalo (Zone Three) AND Gregoire, Prairie Creek, Saprae Creek Estates (Zone Four A) 
  • June 4th: Waterways, Abasand, Beacon Hill, Grayling Terrace, Draper (Zone Four B)

Fort McMurray

Figure 1: Re-entry plans for Fort McMurray. X’s represent non-permanent re-entry.

Fort McMurray Wildfire update

As for the Fort McMurray fire itself, it has been mapped at 1000 km or 580,000+ hectares (1,434,780 acres), and is now 40% contained.  The fire officially impacted 567 homes and 12 apartment complexes in Fort McMurray, with 85-90 percent of residences seeing no damage. 2,400 buildings and 665 work camp units have been reported as lost overall. Initial insurance payout estimates are around 9 billion Canadian dollars, making this disaster the most expensive in Canadian History by a hefty margin of 7 billion. Oil sands operations in the area have halted, costing ‘Big Oil’ an estimated 1 billion ca dollars as well.

The fire continues to scorch remote forests of Alberta and even a small portion of Saskatchewan. Extreme burning conditions are still being seen in some areas of the fire. Higher humidities and the potential for rain should aid the fire fight in the near future, but firefighters from seven Canadian provinces and two countries (USA & South Africa) remain assigned to continue the containment battle across Alberta.


Sources: Wildfire Update, Huffingtonpost Canada, Wikipedia


Another Epic Flood Hits Texas in May

A year to the day since the devastating flood of 2015 pummeled the Austin & San Antonio areas of Texas, other parts of Texas received in excess of 9″ of rain in 3 hours around Houston, accumulating over 12″ over 12 hours as the storm passed through the region. As of Friday, May 27th, 2016, two fatalities have been reported – 1 from drowning, 1 from heart attack after driving through high water. Local highways remain closed as riverbanks are not high enough to contain the resulting floodwaters. These images were taken just 24 hours apart in Brazos County.

During & After of neighborhood drainage flooding


More flooding anticipated

While many streams and rivers are seeing floodwater levels diminish, those areas downstream of the harder hit areas are now dealing with the added water flowing throughout the watersheds racing toward the Gulf of Mexico. The Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (AHPS) from NOAA observes and predicts river stage levels across the country. Each gauge has a chart that indicates what water levels would cause the river to overrun its banks and flood the surrounding areas. As shown below, the Brazos River is forecast to continue dropping while the West fork of the San Jacinto River (farther east, toward the Gulf of Mexico) is expecting to reach ‘major flood stage’ levels prior to returning to normal. The recently observed readings are shown on the left, leading up to the forecasted levels along the right side of each chart.

AHPS of a couple Texas river levels

Observed and forecasted river level charts from AHPS-NOAA.


Additional damage and dangers

In addition to the widespread flooding, many reports of hail and tornado touchdowns spanned the area. Some local residents in Bryan, TX took cell phone videos as the tornado passed through the Wheeler Ridge neighborhood. As the weather clears and river levels return to normal, the damage and impact can begin to be addressed. More flooding and tornadoes are forecast across the Southeastern US in the next few days as the storm system continues moving east.