The Mississippi River Levees Could Struggle this Hurricane Season

Mississippi River Flooding

The Mississippi River entered flood stage on February 17, 2019 and remained in flood stage in New Orleans for a record 292 days. In an average year, the river runs around three to five feet deep through New Orleans heading into Hurricane Season. This week, the river just dropped under eleven feet deep. A large hurricane, like Katrina, can add twelve feet to the river depth, which would push well beyond the levee height and cause widespread flooding. Read more

Doug Lannon and Cal Fire Department

Operation Santa Ana – 20 Year Anniversary

June 2019 marked the 20th year anniversary for Operation Santa Ana. Doug Lannon, a retired Cal Fire Assistant Chief from the San Bernardino Unit and current Senior Wildfire Liaison for RedZone, served as the keynote speaker to kick off the training event for this year’s inspection assignments at the Southern California Edison Inc. Training and Educational Facility.

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GIS and the Fire Service

With the duties assigned to fire agencies becoming more daunting as the population continues to grow, and climatic conditions favor worse fire behavior, the service has adopted GIS as a means to combat these ever changing factors. In this blog, I briefly touch on some of the aspect that GIS software programs have been implemented in the fire service to help mitigate some of the issues related to the disasters they face on a daily basis.

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New PBS Documentary: Inside The Megafire

A recent PBS documentary that aired in early May 2019 details accounts of California residents that fled for their lives during the 2018 fire season. It also extensively looks into extreme wildfire behavior, exploring how forestry practices, climate change, and physics play a role in fire activity.

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Wildfireintel.org: Your Source for Intelligence and Discussion

The 2019 wildfire season is about to start. So far this year major fires have already igniting across Texas, Oklahoma, and the Southwest. As we move into the summer months, increasingly warm and dry conditions will continue to fuel the threat of wildfires. The National Inter-agency Fire Center released their fire potential outlook for summer months, predicting an above average fire season for all of the twelve western states making wildfire intelligence gathering even more essential. This foreboding outlook comes on the heels of another (2018) Fire Season that set multiple records.

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View of the north end of Resurrection Bay at Seward, Alaska, about 75 km from the epicenter. An overturned ship, a demolished Texaco chemical truck, and a torn-up dock strewn with logs and scrap metal are visible. At Seward, a community of about 2,300, a section of the waterfront slid into Resurrection Bay. Waves spread in all directions, destroying the Alaska railroad docks, washing out railroad and highway bridges, and piling railroad rolling stock into giant windrows of wreckage. The waves left a shambles of houses and boats in the lagoon area, some still looking relatively undamaged and some almost completely battered. The waves spread flaming petroleum over the waterfront, igniting the rolling stock, the electrical generation plant, and some residences. Resurrection Bay received $14.6 million in damage. Eleven fatalities occurred in the Seward area. (Source: NOAA/NCEI, US DOI)

Do You Live in an Area of High Tsunami Risk?

Just as the Midwest United States is known as ‘Tornado Alley’ and earthquakes occur along fault lines more regularly than other locations, there are coastal areas at increased tsunami risk. As discussed previously, tsunamis are mostly caused by intense and sudden seafloor motion. While the first ideas to come to mind may be earthquakes and volcanoes (among others), the coastal areas most near these events are not necessarily the area(s) at highest risk.

Tsunami evacuation signs from around the world, posted in areas of high tsunami risk (L to R: Thailand, California USA, Colombia, Japan; see end for credits)

Tsunami evacuation signs from around the world, posted in areas of high tsunami risk (L to R: Thailand, California USA, Colombia, Japan; see end for credits)

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California Utilities Adopting Technology to Prevent and Combat Wildfires

New Regulations Forcing Compliance

California utility companies have been working to address their liability to the growing risk for massive wildfire events. The California Public Utilities Commission, CPUC, has stringent rules and guidelines for maintenance and mitigation, and has often held utility companies liable to the damages caused by their equipment starting fires. Senate Bill 901, named The Utility Wildfire Mitigation Plans Bill, outlines further requirements for utilities to provide the state with plans to prevent, combat, and respond to wildfires in their service territories.  It allows for CPUC to review and modify these plans before the utility is allowed to adopt the plan. Read on to learn how these companies plan to combat this ever increasing threat. Read more

RedZone booth at RAA conference, 2019

RedZone Software goes to Orlando!

In Late February RedZone Software CEO Clark Woodward and COO Michael Flannery attended the Cat Risk Management Conference in Orlando, FL. The conference is hosted every year by the Reinsurance Association of America (RAA). The event brings leading global experts together to meet and discuss catastrophe risk management. Representatives from all across the industry were present, including: reinsurers, modeling companies, researchers, regulators, and academics. As the conference subtitle for 2019 indicates, attendees are invited to look toward “The Future of Catastrophe Management – 2020 and Beyond”! This is RedZone’s 2nd year in attendance featuring the RZRisk and RZExposure solutions we offer.

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Woolsey Fire, from down the coastline (Source: Forest Service, UDSA)

Woolsey Fire in Retrospect

In Mid-December, Senior Fire Liaison Doug Lannon and I spent a few days surveying the damage from the Woolsey Fire. We toured the 16 mile long fire area with the aim of digesting the fire’s destructive path from a fire behavior and investigative perspective. We were fortunate enough to gain access to a wide range of properties with a range of extent of impact from Bell Canyon all the way to homes right above the Malibu Coast.  After a few days of surveying, a familiar story unfolded, yet another destructive and uncontrollable wind-driven Santa Ana fire in California. Read more

Thomas Fire

Take Aways from the Discussion On “The Thomas Fire Retrospective Report”

RedZone Senior Wildfire Liaison Doug Lannon attended The Thomas Fire Retrospective Report discussion was held at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 at the Montecito Fire Protection District (FPD) Headquarters located at 595 San Ysidro Road in the community of Montecito, California. These are some key points that Doug took away from the discussion.

The presentation was sponsored by the Montecito FPD Board of Directors and Montecito Fire Chief Chip Hickman. The discussion was led and facilitated by Dr. Crystal Kolden, Director of the Pyrogeography Lab and Associate Professor of Fire Science for the University of Idaho, College of Natural Resources. Dr. Kolden presented the history of the community of Montecito’s Wildland Fire Program Policy, and actions from when it was first discussed after the devastating Painted Cave Fire which occurred in 1990 near Goleta, and was then instituted after the even more destructive Tunnel Fire which occurred in 1991 in the Oakland Hills. The program has been enthusiastically supported and continued to date by the Montecito FPD Board of Directors, the Montecito FPD personnel, and the Citizens of Montecito, due to a highly effective and efficient Community Fire Protection and Fire Prevention Education and Partnership Program. Dr. Kolden also discussed the types of mitigation strategies that have been successful in recent wildfires, both for individual homeowners and for communities.

Thomas Fire Progression

The map above shows the new acreage that was burned at the end of each day.

Montecito was just one of several cities and communities that were threatened and received significant impact to residential and commercial properties during the 2017 Thomas Fire. However, compared to other communities impacted by the Thomas Fire, the community of Montecito suffered only a fraction of the damage that other communities suffered during the Thomas Fire. Montecito’s wildland fire program has spent the last 20 years developing a set of systems to combat the threat of wildfire. These systems include implementing new stringent building codes and architectural guidelines, creating a hazardous fuel treatment network across the northern portion of the community, developing a pre-attack plan to disseminate critical fire ground information to mutual aid resources, developing partnerships within the community and with adjacent agencies, and building a community education program that facilitates a positive working relationship with the community. These systems were successfully deployed to support structure defense actions by the more than 500 firefighters assigned to Montecito the morning of December 16th, 2017. The Community Education and Partnership Program include: defensible space surveys and inspections, neighborhood chipping days, preparedness planning, pre-attack zones and homes, voluntary and mandatory evacuation zones and trigger points, widening roads, hardening structures, and ornamental shrubbery around structures, etc. In part, due to the effectiveness of the systems, only minimal structure loss and damage occurred, but most importantly, no lives were lost or serious injuries occurred prior to and during the fire fight. A post-fire assessment found that the seven primary residences destroyed during the Thomas Fire lacked defensible space, lacked safe access due to narrow roads or no turnarounds for fire apparatus, were constructed of flammable construction materials, or were situated where gaps existed in the fuel treatment network. Forty other properties received varying degrees of damage to outbuildings, fencing, ornamental shrubbery, etc.

Fuel break in heavy timber

Depicted in the image above is a well defined fuel break similar to the examples mentioned in this blog topics.

In retrospect, the Thomas Fire demonstrated how proactive actions implemented by the District and the community in the past 20 years contributed to the successful defense of the community during the Thomas Fire. Post-fire, Montecito still has unburned fuel in smaller enclaves within the community and within the 2008 Tea Fire and 2009 Jesusita Fire burn scars. These open space areas still have the potential to support smaller, more localized wildfires. Given the favorable climatic conditions of the Central Coast, over the next 10-20 years, vegetation in the footprint of the Thomas Fire will be able to support wildfire again. There is much opportunity for the District to use the Thomas Fire burned area to continue to expand and improve upon the existing fuel treatment network. Treating vegetation as it regrows will be less labor intensive and less costly than in the past. Leveraging community partnerships, improving the use of technology to support fire operations, modifying defensible space fire codes, and continuing the wildland fire safety and education of the community are critical steps for the District in the upcoming years as they prepare for the inevitable next wildfire. We know it’s coming, it’s just a matter of when!

(Excerpts for this story were taken from the Thomas Fire Retrospective Report produced by GEO Elements, LLC.)