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: http://www.morganhillwebcam.com/

Sources:

Weather Underground

CALFIRE

NIFC.GOV

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

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)

Sources
http://articles.latimes.com/2002/jul/01/local/me-poles1
http://www.chicagofd.org/16historyofchicagocd.html
http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/What-s-a-fire-station-without-a-fire-pole-1271491.php
https://priceonomics.com/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-firemans-pole/

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.

 

Drought:

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

Pests:

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.

Disease:

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.


Sources:

www.fs.fed.us

www.fire.ca.gov

Western States Wildfires Continue to March On

Many western states wildfires continue to burn at average to above-average levels for the month of August. Fire resources are currently working on 36 large fires that are actively burning 587,843 acres. California continues to be the focus of firefighting efforts as thousands of residents near many large fires remain evacuated from their homes. The Great Basin and Pacific Northwest Areas also have a lot of fire activity, but firefighters are beginning to gain the upper hand on these large burns.

Western States Wildfires Stress Resources

With resources assigned to fires across the states, initial attack resources are near or at draw down levels. This worries fire managers as they may not have enough manpower locally to contain new starts that they would normally be able to stop at full strength. Numerous fires in California are burning in inaccessible terrain with drought and beetle stricken fuels.

Unprecedented Behavior

Numerous western states wildfires are exhibiting behavior that 30- and 40-year veterans have never seen. The Bluecut Fire in particular burned over 30,000 acres in 24 hours, exhibiting similar conditions as the Sand fire in Santa Clarita. California firefighters’ concern may increase due to Santa Ana season being just around the corner.

Current Numbers at a Glance

  • Seven Type 1 Incident Management Teams are assigned.
  • Nine Type 2 Incident Management Teams are assigned.
  • 19,695 incident personnel are assigned.
  • Current active fires in the western states have destroyed 260 structures.

Western States Wildfires

Fires Devastate Tiny Portuguese Island of Madeira

Madeira Fire Summary

Last week, multiple destructive wildfires scorched the steep mountainsides of Portugal’s famous Madeira Island. Madeira is the largest of an archipelago of four islands (an autonomous region of Portugal), located off the northwest coast of Africa. The fires ignited after weeks of hot and dry weather and quickly spread with strong winds up the steep terrain of the island, forcing hundreds to evacuate in two heavily populated areas. The firefight was complicated by the fact that Madeira has no firefighting aircraft.  Neighboring countries hundreds of miles across the Atlantic lent spare helicopters and a water-scooping aircraft, but those assets took precious time to arrive, and allowed the fires to rage uncontrolled under only a ground attack.

Hasty Evacuations

As the flames bore down late Tuesday (8/9) residents and visitors in areas in the outskirts of Madeira’s capital city, Funchal, fled their homes and hotels in order to escape. Portuguese media had footage of a elderly facility being evacuated in the middle of the night (Tuesday), some with no shoes or in their wheelchairs. Others looked on helplessly as the flames engulfed their homes. Tragically, three elderly residents at that facility were not able to evacuate in time and one other was seriously injured.

Madeira Fire Locations

Estimated Fire Perimeters near Calheta to the west and Funchal to the east


Madeira Fire Aftermath

Many evacuated residents have returned in the past week to find their homes damaged or even destroyed. A reported assessment of the impact found 300 residences affected by the incident with 177 of them completely wiped out. More than just residences were lost, as a well-known hotel–the Choupana Hills–was also one of the casualties. NASA’s infrared images of the fire helped RedZone estimate the acreage at over 18,000 acres (around 7400 hectares).

Long-term Effects

The Madeira fires have impacted the island’s infrastructure and may damage the appeal to the roughly one million tourists who visit the island each year. Cruise ships have had to cancel activities this week in Funchal due to the fire’s impact. Madeira officials have estimated that the fires will cost the island around €61 million ($69 million USD) in repairs in Funchal alone. Cristiano Ronaldo, a native of Funchal and national hero, was devastated by the news and has pledged financial support to his home island in the wake of the devastation.

Madeira Fire Facts

  • Started: Monday, August 8th, 2016
  • Location: Madeira, Portugal
  • Size: 18,822 acres (Estimated using NASA Imagery)
  • Structures Affected: 300
  • Structures Destroyed: 177
  • Evacuations: Hundreds were evacuated
  • News Article: Portugal News


Sources: Portugal News, Wildfire Today, NASA

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