Sunshine Canyon Fire

Sunshine Fire Reinforces Importance of Fire Mitigation for RedZone’s CEO and Founder

Sunshine Canyon Fire

An early-season wildfire burned over 70 acres and evacuated 426 people in Sunshine Canyon near Boulder, Colo. on Sunday, March 19. The blaze reminded Sunshine Canyon resident Clark Woodward, who was evacuated, of the importance of year-round fire mitigation.

As the CEO and founder of RedZone and a volunteer with the Boulder County Incident Management Team (IMT), Woodward is no stranger to wildfire awareness.

“This wildfire affected me in three ways,” Woodward said. “First, because of my obligation as a homeowner; second, because I am a volunteer with the Boulder County Incident Management Team; and third, because this is why RedZone exists.”

In the fall of 2015, after living in Boulder for more than a decade, Woodward, along with his wife and two kids, moved back to the mountains — into Sunshine Canyon. Woodward lived in canyons before and was aware of both the risk of wildfires and the importance of fire mitigation. The first thing he did following the move was join Wildfire Partners, a mitigation program for homeowners in Boulder County, Colo. (which is managed by RedZone).

A blaze started early Sunday morning — which we now know to be human-caused — in Sunshine Canyon. Woodward and his wife had little information about the fire’s proximity.

“We stood on our porch watching the fire glow red behind a hill,” Woodward said. “We tried to see how quickly the fire was growing and how it was affected by the wind.”

Last-Minute Fire Mitigation

Around 2:30 a.m., the Sheriff’s Department came to evacuate Sunshine Canyon residents. While his wife and kids went to a hotel for safety, Woodward stayed back — he had fire mitigation to do.

“I was caught off guard and a bit embarrassed,” Woodward said. “We had all these half-complete fire mitigation projects.”

Woodward had completed many of the recommendations outlined by Wildfire Partners, but several winter projects weren’t finished. He and his wife planned to complete the projects before wildfire season started, normally around mid-May. However, the Sunshine Canyon blaze caught Woodward by surprise.

Fire mitigation — enclosing a porch

Fire mitigation project — enclosing a porch.

“With funding from Wildfire Partners, a contractor took out about 17 trees that were close to our home, but some of the wood was stacked up near the house,” Woodward said. “So, around 3 a.m., I quickly tossed all of the wood down into a gully.”

Woodward quickly completed his emergency fire mitigation checklist. He brought porch furniture inside, swept away needles, removed flammables from windows and closed them, and packed his family’s evacuation packing list, including important documents and photos. Woodward then joined his family at the hotel.

Sunshine Canyon Fire

View of the Sunshine Canyon Fire from the east side of Boulder, Colo.

Prioritizing Fire-Mitigation 

The fire grew through the morning, but never harmed any structures or caused injuries. The winds, with gusts up to 30 mph, blew the fire back on itself and it died by Monday, March 20, when the evacuation lifted. When the Woodwards returned home, they resolved to make fire mitigation tasks an utmost priority.

“Leaving the house with incomplete mitigation made me feel exposed and vulnerable,” Woodward said. “Especially because I hadn’t finished what I had been preaching to other people. From the perspective of Wildfire Partners, I should be a shining beacon of what wildfire mitigation looks like.”

Woodward’s story emphasizes the importance of fire mitigation, especially following the unseasonably warm and dry weather occurring on the Front Range of Colorado.

Wildfire Partners

Boulder County residents should contact Wildfire Partners. The organization sends a specialist to your home and creates a task list of fire mitigation requirements for your specific location. Wildfire Partners will give you a certification you can share with your insurance company once the tasks are complete. This certification indicates you have done everything possible to protect against the inevitable fire that may threaten your home.

Do you know if your home is at risk for wildfires? Download our free emergency fire mitigation checklist and evacuation packing list.

 

Insurance companies: Don’t leave your customers in the danger zone. Arm yourself with wildfire intelligence from RZ Alert.

RedZone Takes Part in Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Conference

Wildland Urban Interface Conference

RedZone was pleased to take part in the annual Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Conference held at the Peppermill Resort in Reno, Nevada, during the week of March 20, 2017. Each year this event, hosted by The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), offers invaluable hands-on training and interactive sessions designed to address the various challenges presented by wildland fire.

During this year’s WUI conference, RedZone had the honor of meeting fire representatives from Local, State, Federal and International agencies such as the Texas Forest Service, Australian Fire Ministry, USFS, Cal Fire and Cedar City Fire Department. An exhibit hall allowed vendors the opportunity to showcase new products and spend valuable time with prospective clients. Some vendors in attendance included Spiedr Spinkler, Simtable, Mtech, Boise Mobile Equipment, Supply Cache and National Firefighter.  

Wildfire Scores

RedZone’s revamped booth highlighted our new product wildfirescores.com. The product allows homeowners, insurance underwriters, fire officials and real estate professionals to see how frequently fires occur near a property and how severe a fire would be if one were to occur. We happily shared how Wildfirescores.com uses state-of-the-art software modeling to analyze local vegetation, weather and topography data in order to generate predictions of fire behavior.

RedZone Wildfire Scores Wildland Urban Interface Conference      

WUI Conference Keynote Speaches

Attendees were able to listen to keynote speeches on subjects including: communities regularly being built within the urban interface, firefighter health, leadership and general sessions focused on past events. 2016’s largest and one of its most destructive events was the Fort McMurray Fire from May in Alberta, Canada. The evacuation of 88,000 people with one escape route was quite the tale. RedZone also attended SDG&E’s presentation that highlighted their weather supercomputer. The computer is being used to predict wildfire using a sophisticated weather model that has proven effective for Southern California, especially for Santa Ana Wind Event Fires.

Every year it is exciting to see the WUI conference bring together fire experts from around the world.  We are happy to be a part of that collaborative effort to better protect communities from wildfire and we look forward to next year’s WUI conference.

Sunshine Fire Prompts Early Season Evacuations

Sunshine Fire

Unseasonably warm temperatures over the last few days have prompted an early start to Colorado’s fire season. The Sunshine fire started early Sunday morning (3/19) in the canyons west of Boulder, Colorado.  Gusty winds quickly pushed the fire through dry fuels causing officials at the Boulder Office of Emergency Management to issue mandatory evacuations for over 400 homes and pre-evacuation notices for another 836 residences.

Over 250 firefighters battled through the night and managed to stop the fire’s forward progress before any structures were damaged. As of Monday morning all evacuations had been lifted, but the area is still closed to non-residents as crews continue to extinguish hotspots. Authorities have yet to determine a cause of the fire, but say it is likely human caused. The area around Sunshine Canyon is popular for hikers, but is also a known location for transient camps.

Sunshine Fire Prompts Over 400 Evacuations

Sunshine Fire perimeter west of Boulder, Colorado.

Fire Outlook

Temperatures in Colorado have been unseasonably warm this spring, topping out at over 80 degrees over the weekend. Only 2015 saw temperatures reach 80 degrees earlier in the season. The foothills of the Front Range west of Boulder are currently under a Red Flag Warning, the 10th such warning in Colorado this month.

Fire management officials are concerned that the region is currently experiencing fire weather conditions more akin to summer, rather than spring.  Firefighters reported the conditions in the canyon on Sunday as “brutal”.  Hotshot firefighter Jason Morley said, “I’ve never seen it like this before.”  He added, “There is no snow at all up there. If you picked up grass, it would just crumble in your hands.”

Fire Facts

  • As of: March 20th, 2017
  • Location: Boulder, CO
  • Size: 74 acres
  • Containment: 50%
  • Fire Behavior: Rapid fire spread through dry fuels in steep rugged terrain.
  • Evacuations: Initial response: 400 homes mandatory evacuated and pre-evacuation notices for 836 homes.
  • News Article: weather.com, Boulder Daily Camera

Update

The fire was declared fully contained (100%) around 1600 HRS Monday March 20th, 2017.

infrared view of southern plains wildfires

Southern Plains See Record Wildfire Activity

Southern Plains Wildfires

This week, unprecedented fire activity swept through the southern plains. Multiple counties of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas saw critical fire weather conditions Sunday through Wednesday that fanned dozens of fires. Huge smoke plumes stretching for miles have been visible on NASA’s earth imagery for the area. As of March 9, seven people have died, five firefighters have been injured, thousands have been forced to flee their homes, heavy agricultural damage has been incurred, and more than a million acres have collectively burned.

The chaotic fire activity began this weekend when multiple starts forced residents from their homes in Central Kansas. The Highlands and Jupiter Hills fires in Hutchinson burned more than 6,000 acres between them. In the Texas Panhandle, three large fires broke out over the past three days, burning over 400,000 acres. The Perryton fire was the largest at 318,056 acres, rapidly spreading through grass and brush. Another Texas fire, the Lefors East Fire, ultimately claimed the lives of three of the seven reported deaths.

Roughly 60 miles to the north, three major fires burned along the Kansas and Oklahoma border, totaling another 800,000 between them. The three fires were merged into one, now called the ‘Northwest Oklahoma Complex Fire’. The fire is comprised of the Starbuck, Selman and the 283 fires. Authorities said the fires in Kansas and Oklahoma were actually the largest in the histories of both states.

On Wednesday (March 8), Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for 22 counties affected. These historic fires can be seen in the top of the NASA imagery below. RedZone has used the imagery and MODIS heat detections to estimate the fires’ perimeters, as none of the fires have had official perimeters released.

March 7th view of Southern Plains Wildfires

NASA Imagery shows fires spewing smoke across the Southern Plains on Tuesday, March 7th

 

Southern Plains Fire Outlook

Wednesday marked the end of the critical fire danger period for the Southern Plains. There will, however, continue to be RH minimums in the teens (but light winds) for at least one more day in counties of western Oklahoma and the northern Texas Panhandle. The area had been dealing with low RH minimums, poor overnight recoveries, dry fine fuels, and breezy winds. A change in weather conditions will arrive Thursday bringing relief in the form of higher RH and potential for wetting rains. Nevertheless, a type-1 Incident Management Team (Dueitt) is already in route to take over command of NW Oklahoma Complex. The weather break is expected through next week and should reduce the fire concern and help aid in control and containment.

Historically, the spring wildfire season in Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma can be very active. High fine dead fuel loading is already present and has been supporting large fire growth in Texas and Oklahoma since the start of the year. For the region, a longer than normal spring fire season is anticipated due to current drought, fuel conditions, and predicted warmer and drier than average weather. In turn, the regional fire managers caution that future weather systems could return this week’s fiery conditions to the region.

Regional Fire Statistics

  • As of: March 9th, 2017
  • Location: Southern Kansas, Panhandle of Texas, & Oklahoma
  • Size: 1,000,000+ acres
  • Number of Large Fires: 12
  • Fire Weather: Rapid fire spread through tall grass, agricultural areas, and brush.
  • Structures Threatened: 10,000+
  • Structures Destroyed: 13 Residences, 23 outbuildings
  • Evacuations: Are in place
  • News Article: CBS News

Sources

CBS News, NASA, NBC News, wideopencountry.com, Southern GACC

Trail Fire in Miami-Dade Causes Smokey Start to the Week

The Trail Fire started Sunday afternoon, March 5th, in West Miami-Dade County, FL, and quickly blanketed the surrounding area with heavy smoke.  The fire prompted the closure of Southwest 8th Street between Southwest 137th Avenue and Krome Avenue due to lack of visibility in the area. As of Sunday night, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue reported that the road was back open.

Extra units remain on scene due to the potential for strong and gusty winds coupled with dropping humidity in the area. As of Monday morning, March 6th, the fire had grown to 1,065 acres with 50% containment reported. The Florida Fire Service feels confident they are gaining the upper hand on the Trail Fire. At this time, the cause of the fire remains unknown.

Trail Fire Location west of Miami-Dade, FL.

Trail Fire Location west of Miami-Dade, FL.

Trail Fire Area Weather Outlook

Much of Southern Florida is presently under a Red Flag Warning through midnight EST Monday, March 6th. Over the next few days, the area will experience strong winds out of the east with gusts over 30 mph at times. Also, local relative humidity levels will steadily increase through the end of the week, with 20-40% chances of rain showers.

For current weather at the fire’s location, please visit Weather Underground.

Read Further

This is an ongoing incident. Please visit the news links below for further details and the most up to date information regarding this fire.  RedZone will continue to update this post if relevant information becomes available.

nasa heat shields

NASA Heat Shields Set to Save Firefighters’ Lives

One of the worst firefighter tragedies in history compelled NASA researcher, Mary Beth Wusk, to help develop a better emergency fire shelter. Wusk saw a news article on the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in 2013, where a team of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighters was overrun with fire. The team deployed their emergency fire shelters, but unfortunately did not survive. Wusk thought the needs of an advanced fire shelter matched the needs of a project she was currently working on at NASA: Flexible thermal protection systems for space vehicle re-entry.

After some initial research and email correspondence, Wusk and co-researcher, Anthony Calomino, were put in touch with the Forest Service’s National Technology and Development Center. It turns out the Forest Service was already searching for new materials to construct an improved emergency fire shelter. NASA and the Forest Service formed a joint team, called CHIEFS (Convective Heating for Improvement for Emergency Fire Shelters). CHIEFS began testing materials and pattern designs with the goal of putting a new design into service by 2018.

NASA heat shields

Real-world test of the new Emergency Fire Shelter prototype during a controlled burn

 

The Future of NASA Heat Shields in Firefighting

Initial test results proved that the materials performed well, but the design itself had some flaws. Flames were still able to penetrate the shelter via tiny seams in the material or under the bottom.  Though NASA’s contribution to the project is coming to an end, the Forest Service is continuing to evaluate additional designs using the NASA developed materials. The Forest Service plans to test these designs this coming fire season. They are hoping the winning design will be ready for firefighter use by their 2018 goal.

 

 

NASA Video on the new Emergency Shelter Technology

 

 

History of the Emergency Fire Shelter

Innovation Out of Tragedy

Firefighting remains a dangerous occupation, and on occasion firefighters still pay the ultimate sacrifice. Our country has a longstanding history of learning from our tragedies, and planning how to prevent them from happening in the future.  The Loop Fire near Sylmar, California, in 1966 is an example of a deadly wildfire which led to a revolution in fire policy and safety protocols.  That fire, which took the lives of 12 firefighters, yielded greater understanding and safety awareness of the perils posed by certain types of woodland terrain.  It also prompted requirements related to lookouts, checklists, and equipment standards that are still in use today.

 

Sources:

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/langley/nasa-works-with-us-forest-service-to-improve-fire-shelters

https://www.nasa.gov/langley/nasa-technology-may-help-protect-wildland-firefighters

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarnell_Hill_Fire

http://www.latimes.com/science/la-na-nasa-fire-shelters-20151026-story.html

Series of Tornadoes Ravage Gulf States

Outbreak of Tornadoes

In the early morning hours of January 21st, a band of severe weather moved into the Gulf of Mexico region, producing a number of deadly tornadoes.  More than 20 funnel touchdowns were reported in total. The worst tornado of the day hit near Purvis, Mississippi, and was rated EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale which rates tornado intensity.  The funnel itself was nearly 900 yards wide, and the storm cut a path length of over 30 miles.  Sadly, four people died in this storm, and the number of homes and businesses that were damaged is still being assessed.

The following day (Jan 22), the Storm Prediction Center issued a High-Risk Severe Weather Event for the entire Gulf Coast region, the first such warning since 2014. In the subsequent 24-hour period, eight more tornadoes touched down.  The worst of the storm system decimated twenty homes with a tornado (estimated > EF2) impacting a trailer park near Adel, Georgia. Survivors described the early morning chaos as “horrific”, with trailers apparently being tossed like rag dolls by the twister.  To date, 15 people are confirmed to have died within Southern Georgia over the weekend.

By January 23rd, the storms weakened, though two more tornadoes were reported in Florida. Fortunately, there were no injuries reported and only minor damage to a pier and a mobile home park was confirmed.

Government Assistance to Affected Areas

A state of emergency was declared in Mississippi and Georgia in the aftermath of the weekend’s severe weather. FEMA has deployed to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi.  The Red Cross also deployed to Georgia on January 22nd to assist in relief efforts. Freshly sworn-in President Trump has promised relief assistance to the affected areas and also offered “our sincere condolences for the lives taken”.

Weekend Severe Weather Facts

  • Timeline: January 21-23
  • Locations: Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida
  • Number of Tornadoes: 34+
  • Highest Reported Winds: 145 mph
  • Casualties: 20+
  • Damages: Estimated $200 Million
  • News Article: WunderBlog

Sources:

NOAA, Wunderground, Storm Prediction Center

Atmospheric River Brings Heavy Snow and Rain to California

California started 2017 off with an extremely active weather pattern. Since January 3rd, an “atmospheric river” has brought heavy rain and snow to much of the state. Ski areas within the Sierra Nevada mountain range are reporting close to record snow totals (Mammoth Mountain 101″ of snowfall, Heavenly 114″ and Squaw Valley 94″).

The lower elevations are receiving significant rainfall as well, causing some rivers to overflow.  Area lakes are nearing capacity, prompting officials to expel extra water in preparation for runoff from higher elevations. Though Southern California has not received as much rainfall as the Northern portions of the state, they continue to see rainfall totals in the .5″ to 1.0″ range per storm. Winter storms have now accounted for 5 deaths in Northern California. The forecast calls for January 10th and 11th to be the heaviest snow and rainfall period of the recent storms.

atmospheric river

An atmospheric river is a narrow corridor or filament of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere.

Far-reaching Effects

Since January 1st, officials in Lake Tahoe are reporting a rise in water level of roughly 1 foot, which is equal to about 33.6 billion gallons of water. Down in the Sacramento Valley, the state Water Resources Division had to open the gates of a 100-year-old levee in order to alleviate rising water levels. This was no small task, as each of the dam’s 48 doors had to be opened up manually.

Officials are expecting numerous avalanches in prone areas due to new snowfall on an already heavy snowpack. Avalanche warnings currently extend from as far north as Mt. Shasta to as far south as Mt. Whitney.  Mammoth Mountain Ski area had to stop operations over the weekend due to blizzard conditions and thunderstorms over the ski resort which could have put patrons at risk.

What is and Atmospheric River?

Sounding like something out of a science fiction novel about time travel, an atmospheric river is a narrow corridor or filament of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere.  When these “rivers in the sky” make landfall, they often release this water vapor in the form of heavy rain or snow.  The most common of such meteorological phenomena is a Pineapple Express, the name given to the warm water vapor plumes that originate over Hawaii and follow the jet stream northeast toward California. Many of California’s major flooding events have historically been a product of an atmospheric river.

Sources:

 

Fire Causes Evacuations in Valparaíso, Chile

Valparaíso Fire

On the afternoon of January 2nd, around 400 people were forced to evacuate Valparaíso, a coastal port city in central Chile, due to a forest fire that entered a hillside neighborhood. Local officials believe the fire began at a fisherman’s club and then traveled into the residential area.  As of Tuesday morning, January 3rd, around 100 homes were estimated destroyed with another 500 still at risk, as smoke continues to climb into the skies above the town.

Thus far, no deaths have been reported and the 19 minor injuries are thought to be mostly due to smoke inhalation. News footage shows harrowing video of citizens carrying a variety of items out of their homes, hoping some will be salvageable, including mattresses, entertainment centers, and appliances.

Valparaíso fire burns hillside of homes

Hillside of homes burned Monday, January 2nd, 2017.

Active History of Wildfires

This area of Chile is no stranger to the threat of wildfire. It regularly has an active fire season beginning in November, peaking in January or February, and then decreasing around April. Typically, nearly all wildfires in this region are caused by humans, as lightning and other traditional natural causes are not prevalent in the area.

Chile has also received significantly less rainfall in the last year due to the transition from El Niño to La Niña. The current drought (referred to as megasequía, or ‘mega-drought’) is the longest and most extensive drought in Chilean history, now spanning the past 6 years. The arid weather further dries out the fuels, making any wildland fire a potentially fast-growing danger to surrounding towns.

The 2014 Great Fire of Valparaíso

April of 2014 saw one of the more notable fires in the area’s history.  What is now commonly known as the “Great Fire of Valparaíso” burned across an unofficial landfill area into surrounding vegetation and residential areas.  Over 3 square miles (nearly 2,000 acres) burned, destroying more than 2,500 homes and leaving an estimated 11,000 people displaced.  An additional 6,000 people were forced to evacuate.  Fifteen people were killed and ten reported serious injuries.  The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Hillside view of the Great Fire of Valparaíso, April 12th, 2014.

Hillside view of the Great Fire of Valparaíso, April 12th, 2014.

To read further details on the active wildfire history of Chile, please visit the sources below.

Sources:

California in Severe Drought!… Or is it?

It’s no secret that California has been in a major drought for the last five years.  This has resulted in larger and more aggressive wildfires during that time, keeping firefighters busy and resulting in increased levels of acreage burned.  However, the California drought conditions are actually better than some experts predicted, and metrics other than rain and snowfall levels may indicate impending recovery.

California drought 2015 vs 2016

2015 vs 2016 conditions, Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

Complex Water Resources

Most of California has a naturally dry climate, and it relies on a complex system of aqueducts, aquifers, and reservoirs to transport and store water resources. As such, the state of the drought from a human-use perspective can be gauged by how full the reservoirs are compared to historical averages.

California drought measured by Reservoir Levels

California Reservoir Levels, Source: California Department of Water Resources

As the map depicts, many California reservoirs are at or near historical average levels. Also, these levels do not yet take into account the snowpack melts during the spring season, which should increase the reservoir levels even further. While California is far from having a comfortable amount of water to survive future potential droughts, this wet season should provide at least a temporary reprieve from the drought conditions and restrictions.

La Niña Less Severe than Anticipated

The El Niño event in 2015 which was expected to be one of the strongest on record resulted in little rainfall to ease the dry conditions. An El Niño event is marked by warmer-than-usual waters in the mid-latitudes of the Pacific Ocean, and often leads to excess rainfall across the West Coast. El Niño events are often followed by La Niña events, which are very dry and lead to drought. Fortunately, 2016 is proving to be much wetter than a typical La Niña event and is even producing moisture that is helping to mitigate drought conditions rather than worsen them.

Why the California Drought Matters

The ongoing California drought has caused major ecological damage, led to severe water use restrictions, and contributed to major fire seasons. While this may seem like an issue specific only to Californians, the drought has ripple effects on the entire country.

California produces a majority of the fresh produce consumed nationwide. Seventy percent of total fruit and tree nut production and 55 percent of vegetables come from the state. Agriculture consumes 80 percent of California’s water resources on an average year, and a lack of water has led to lower crop yields and higher-priced produce nationwide.

Sources:

California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System

California Sees Largest Drought-Free Patch Since 2013

California Drought Farm and Food Impacts