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.

 

RedZone’s Experienced Wildfire Liaisons Connect IMTs to Private Response Teams

 

When RedZone clients dispatch their private resources to respond to a wildfire, RedZone provides an on-scene Liaison to facilitate access and coordinate efforts with the local Incident Command personnel as required by federal, state, and local guidelines.

RedZone’s Liaison staff has over 70 combined years of experience responding to major wildfires as well as other types of natural disasters, and enjoy an impeccable reputation among Incident Command personnel throughout the country.  Because of this reputation, Liaisons are able to gain access to the Incident Command Post of a given fire and obtain permission for the private resources to maneuver within the emergency deployment area and perform mitigation tactics on specific homes.

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Throughout the duration of the incident, Liaisons will communicate the teams’ locations and coordinate movements within the area, attend operational briefings and planning meetings as necessary, and provide the Incident Management Team (IMT) with a direct communications link to the private resources in the field.  Liaisons will also deliver regular status updates to RedZone’s intelligence staff to be disseminated to clients via the RZAlert product.

In the offseason, RedZone Liaisons make presentations for regional Incident Management Team meetings and perform outreach to fire professionals on behalf of RedZone’s insurance carrier clientele.  They also conduct continuing education classes for insurance professionals.

The strong relationships Liaisons foster with Incident Command Teams and the increased safety Liaisons promote among private crews on the fireline make them an integral and indispensable component of RedZone’s wildfire services.

 

How do wildfires get their names?

Ever notice that wildfires seem to have generic names like the Valley Fire or seemingly random names like the Waldo Fire and wonder where wildfires get their names?

Interestingly, the answer isn’t as easy as the pre-determined alphabetical order of our Pacific and Atlantic hurricanes. Most often the name is determined by the initial attack incident commander or the fire dispatcher. The name is generally based on the geographic location of the fire or a nearby geographic feature, i.e. mountain, canyon, valley, river, etc.

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For example if a new wildfire began near Green Lake, it might become the “Lake” Fire or the “Green” Fire. But, if either or both of those names were already used by the first response unit that calendar year, then the dispatcher may decide to coin the fire as the “Green Lake” Fire to be more specific, or a sequel-type name such as the “Lake 2” Fire for areas where few geographic names exist. Often seen as well are wildfire complexes. This is where multiple separate wildfires are joined into one lone-named incident for wildfire management and also financing purposes. 

Historic large wildfire data shows generic geographic names lead the way when it comes to being assigned to an event.

Top Fire Names (1895-2010)

Name

Count

Cottonwood

28

Bear

24

Canyon

24

River

23

Lake

21

Indian

18

Pine

18

Ranch

18

Rock

17

Highway

16

 

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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Dual Tropical Storms Bear Down on Caribbean and Hawaii

Two storms, 5000 miles apart, are causing concern in each ocean.  

Tropical Storm Erika is moving west in the heart of the Caribbean Islands and is set to impact Southern Florida late this weekend and early next week. The Governor has just declared a State of Emergency in preparation for its looming landfall. The storm has already dropped heavy rains on Puerto Rico and reportedly has caused destruction and death on the small Island of Dominica. 

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In the Pacific, Hurricane Ignacio is also on track for an early next week impact as it strengthens and then weakens during its approach to the Big Island of Hawaii. By Tuesday, if it stays on course, it could bring sustained winds of 85-90mph (Cat 1) to the shores of the Pacific Island Chain.

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Anyone near these cones of uncertainty should be on alert for coastal watches and warnings as well as projected heavy rains, strongs winds, and deepening tidal surge. 

 *Map data provided by the National Weather Service : Central Pacfiic Hurricane Center and National Hurricane Center.

Smoky “Lid” Slowing WA Fires & Allowing Reinforcements Time to Arrive

Since recent wildfires have wreaked havoc in the Okanogan and Chelan areas, visibility has been very smoky from what fire officials on scene are calling a fire “lid”. Although this smoky “lid” has grounded aerial firefighting operations in the area, it has also kept fire activity more at bay and allowed incoming resources more time to provide reinforcements to the numerous incident management teams tasked with controlling the now over 600,000 acres that have burned in Central and Northeastern Washington.

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 Hwy 97 South of Okanogan, WA. 1/4 Mile visibility Tuesday morning. (Photo Courtesy of Pat Durland, RedZone Liaison)

When the smoke eventually lifts and visibility reaches 2 miles or greater, air operations will commence. But firefighting officials have warned both the public and resources on scene that lifting smoke will also mean an increase in fire activity due to lowering humidity and rising heat. For the very large area of uncontrolled fire line and dry fuels, that could spell trouble for weeks to come.  

 

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.

 

Pacific Northwest Not Seeing Break From Fire Weather Events

Yesterday, firefighters had their 3rd straight day of Red Flag Warning conditions over the Cornet Fire (22,792 acres) and the Windy Ridge Fire (22,862 acres) in Oregon. The fires are burning within 4 miles of each other, and a cold front moved over the fire area yesterday. Historically, cold fronts have been responsible for low humidities and erratic winds that can cause extreme fire behavior and rapid fire growth. These conditions, along with poor situational awareness, have caused the loss of numerous firefighters’ lives.

Red Flag Warnings are usually issued to areas expecting low relative humidities and high or erratic winds. These circumstances lead to an increased potential for rapid fire growth; however, large fires can start and grow even when a region is not under a Red Flag Warning. As of today, the only area of the country under this type of Warning is Montana into North Dakota. There are over 50 fires in the country greater than 1,000 acres presently burning outside of this current Warning area.

 

 

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