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

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

Cliff Creek Fire Burns 11,000 Acres Near Jackson, WY

The Cliff Creek Fire was first discovered on July 17th approximately 5 miles north of the town of Bondurant, Wyoming. The lightning-caused fire quickly spread in thick, contiguous timber. It burned across and subsequently closed highway 191/89 which connects Bondurant to Jackson in Teton County.

Cliff Creek Fire near Bondurant, WY

Cliff Creek Fire near Bondurant, WY

Great Basin Incident Management Team 7 has command of the fire as of July 22, 2016. Since it originated, the Cliff Creek Fire has burned across Hwy 191/89, up Game Hill, and NE towards Granite and Shoal Creek, burning from 5 acres to now well over 10,000. The fire initially prompted evacuations of campgrounds, residences in Dell and Jack Creeks, then Granite Creek homes, and closed both roads and recreation areas nearby. Structure protection groups took over many of those areas, prepping the 50 threatened structures and homes and reducing hazards near them. Direct attack from ground and air has kept the fire out of Granite Creek and other populated areas so far, but a future threat remains.

Cliff Creek Fire Outlook

Contingency lines, structure protection, and containment line construction remain the main goals of the command team. The Great Basin Coordination Center has now assigned a Type 1 Team as the full containment effort will require a significant boost in resource commitment to ensure success. The fire continues to move to the north and east and is expected to increase in activity due to critical fire weather conditions in the area and the fire falling in alignment with creeks and drainages.  In total, 619 firefighters and personnel are on scene to suppress the blaze.

Cliff Creek Fire Facts:

  • Location: 5 Miles north of Bondurant, Wyoming
  • Size: 11,534 acres
  • Containment: 10%
  • Fire Behavior: Rapid fire spread with increased fire behavior to the east. Fire activity expected to intensify with Red Flag Warnings and a Haines Index of 6 in the area.
  • Structures Threatened: 50
  • Structures Destroyed: 1
  • Inciweb Page: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4865/
  • Cliff Creek Updates also at: Teton County Emergency Management

Cold Springs Fire: Nederland, CO

The Cold Springs Fire was first reported on July 9th at 1345 MDT approximately 2 miles northeast of Nederland, Colorado. The fire quickly spread amongst the Lodgepole, Ponderosa Pine, and Douglas Fur trees in the area. Residents nearby were evacuated, and eight homes worth a total of $2.43 million dollars, along with seven outbuildings were destroyed in the fire.

Over the next several days, ground crews and air assets were able to hold the fire to 528 acres and by July 14th the fire was 100% contained. At 2000 MDT on July 14th all evacuation orders were lifted and residents were allowed to return to their homes. Firefighters will continue to mop up the area and secure fire lines for the next several days.

Fire officials say the 528-acre fire, which burned primarily on private land, was sparked by an out-of-control campfire. The Boulder Sheriff’s Office determined the fire spread from a campsite near the Peak-to-Peak Highway and Cold Springs Road. Authorities, have arrested and charged Jimmy Andrew Suggs, 28, and Zackary Ryan Kuykendall, 26, both of Alabama, in connection with the fire. They say the two failed to properly extinguish their campfire. Both men have been charged with arson in the fourth degree, a felony charge that carries a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison.

Cold Springs Fire

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).


NOTE: 

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.

Yarnell_Tenderfoot_Fires

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.

KEN STEINHARDT, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, Tortoise Fire

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

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.