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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Camp Fire Fallout: PG&E Aims to Cut Power during Wind Events

In May, CALFIRE released findings condemning one of California’s major utilities company, PG&E, as the cause for last year’s devastating Camp Fire. Before these findings, the company was already in hot water with responsibility for 2017’s October Fire Siege in Northern California. The 10s of billions in lawsuits associated, forced the company to file for bankruptcy this January and prompted speculation that the Northern California utilities could become state-run. So far that hasn’t happened. But what has happened is that PG&E has decided to address the cause of these major fires by proposing to actually cut power during high-wind days, which could cause blackouts for millions of residents for days at a time.

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Smoke Plume.

Smoke: Silent Devastation

Unfortunately for most, after a wildfire has passed is when the real work begins. The wildfire may not have impacted the home with direct flame impingement, but even from a distance a wildfire can have many negative effects on a structure. Indirect damage from wildfires can come in many forms, one of the most common being smoke damage. This byproduct of wildfire is a nearly super heated gas that is compromised of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water vapor, and other toxic particulates that are created during combustion. While a fire is moving in the direction of a home, smoke is constantly being created and pushed towards impacting the structure. (Read more on smoke coloration studies here.)

Smoke Damage

Evidence of what heated gasses from a fire can do to the exterior of a residential structure.

Any space that is not airtight in your home is likely to fall victim to some of the negative impacts that smoke can have. Some of the areas that are the most common entrances of smoke to a structure would be doors (or any means of ingress and egress for residents and pets), windows, and central air ducts. With enough smoke, these air ducts can be a very efficient means of transportation to areas of the house that one would think are relatively inaccessible to particulate matter.

Once the smoke has entered the structure, it is difficult to stop the damage that follows. This troublesome gas usually leaves soot strewn throughout the home as well as, leaving foul smelling odors throughout the fabric of the home. These odors can be much more hazardous than just an unpleasant smell. The framework and materials of the structure can hold the particulate matter that has been shown to be a carcinogenic in some cases.

What are the steps that should be taken when impacted by smoke damage?

The most common response is “Document”. Document from the first time entering the home since the incident when the damage occurred, and every step in the reimbursement, replacement, and refurbishing process. Documenting these steps will provide records for your interactions with your insurance providers and ultimately make the entire process much smoother for all parties involved. Once the initial damage has been reported, an inspector may be necessary to finalize the reporting process. Going forward, there are two major choices that need to be made: will the damaged materials be replaced or will they be refurbished or cleaned. If the damage to clothing or fabric is minimal to the point that cleaning the surface/clothing is an option, professional cleaners will need to be hired to remove all of the soot and particulate matter from the smoke that settled in the home.

Fire and Rain

Yet another winter storm is slated to send more rain to Southern California this week and we at RedZone think it warrants a little inside info on the risks of post-fire debris flows. The nation is experiencing its second El Nino effect in three years with it forecast to last in to the summer. What that means, is a higher potential for land-moving rainfall rates in areas where fires have scorched the landscape. After last years tragic events that occurred in the Thomas fire burn scar, officials have not taken the potential of these continued storms lightly. So far this winter, residents have been evacuated near the Holy, Thomas, Cranston, Napa/Sonoma, and Woolsey fires (all recent burn scars from the last couple years).

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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

Wildfire

The New Normal for Wildfires and New Tactics for Insurers

Specialists are calling the 2018 wildfire season part of another record-breaking year, specifically due to the property losses in California. They’re also predicting another detrimental 2019 wildfire season. Even though 2018 had less wildfires than 2017, the harm and size surpassed 2017 significantly. With megafires on the rise, companies need to reconsider their risk approach so they can confidently underwrite wildfire threats and proactively receive alerts to grow their portfolios and protect people.

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2018 Fire Season in Review

2018’s fire season was another record breaking year; in particular, California was absolutely devastated in terms of lives and property lost. According to the National Interagency Fire Center in 2018, 8,582,609 acres were burned by 55,911 different wildfire starts throughout the United States. In comparison to the 2017 fire season, there were 991,924 fewer acres burned in 2018, from 8,699 less starts than 2017. These statistics paint a picture that this past season was not as severe in terms of wildfires, this could not be further from the truth.

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Wildfire Suppression

National Wildfire Suppression Trends

Wildfire seasons in the recent years have been some of the deadliest and most destructive that our nation has seen to date because of three human influenced factors. In the past thirty years, wildfire acreage has more than doubled, and not only have wildfires become more frequent, but they cover more ground, move at record-setting speeds and are more difficult to contain. With this increase in wildfire damage comes increasing suppression costs.

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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.)

Four Interesting Links From A Wild Week in California

Here we are dealing with yet another crazy autumn week of wildfire in California. As we noted earlier this fall, annually, Santa Ana Wind events cause new fire ignitions to become dangerously uncontrollable and have statistically caused the fastest-moving and most destructive fires on record. Now, barely a year removed from last year’s devastating October Fire Siege  Northern California is dealing with the Camp Fire, now the deadliest and most destructive fire in history. Similarly, not even a year removed from the giant Thomas Fire in Ventura County, several nearby coastal communities are dealing with their own widespread evacuations and impacts from the destructive Woolsey fire. RedZone has been working tirelessly monitoring, updating, and aiding our customers in response to both of these unique and tragic events. While tracking the fires, we’ve happened upon some really sad, interesting, and heroic stories. Here are a few we found worthy to share.


Barely a year removed from last year’s devastating October Fire Siege Northern California is dealing with the Camp Fire, now by far the deadliest and most destructive fire in history.


The Search continues on Paradise Fire for the Missing

Vice News investigates the intense search for answers on hundreds of missing people in the wake of last week’s Camp Fire. Many residents are still searching for missing loved ones. Exacerbated by the fact that the 26,000 person city is known for being a large retirement community making success of evacuation even more problematic.


Ten Hours in Hell

Bill Roth was home with his fiancee and dog when the Camp Fire started. After getting them out, he stayed to try saving his house. He spent ten hours in what he called, “hell”.

A second survivor who’s friends weren’t so lucky: https://www.sfchronicle.com/california-wildfires/article/He-couldn-t-save-his-friends-Now-Camp-Fire-13382947.php#photo-16473858


The Controversial Case for Letting Malibu Burn

damage_proxy_map_malibu_fire

The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, created this Damage Proxy Map (DPM) depicting areas of Southern California that are likely damaged (shown by red and yellow pixels) as a result of the Woolsey Fire.

Professor Mike Davis has long been infamous for his stance on letting Malibu burn. This stance came around again as this month’s Woolsey fire has destroyed over 1,000 structures in exactly the fire he predicted. What’s your take on Davis’ stance that “the broader public should not have to pay a cent to protect or rebuild mansions on sites that will inevitably burn every 20 or 25 years”?

Read the following the for the recent story and backstory.

Recent Article: https://qz.com/1468286/mike-daviss-case-for-letting-malibu-burn-is-sadly-relevant-again/

Original Take: http://www.ic.unicamp.br/~stolfi/misc/misc/SoCalFires.html


Before and After the Fire: Disaster Imagery

before and after malibu fire

Geospatial Intelligence Center has provided pre and post event imagery from last weeks fires.

Pan around or search for an address on their Esri-powered site:

https://maps.geointel.org/app/gic-public/