Ten Most Destructive Wildfires of 2016

Wildfire Season in 2016 was below average in terms of acreage with almost 62,000 fire ignitions totaling 5.3million acres (down from a record 10 million acres burned last year). But this year was especially destructive in terms of structure loss. The ten worst fires destroyed over 6,000 structures alone.

Unfortunately, every year a significant amount of such damage is due to human-caused fires which often spread quickly to structures along the wildland urban interface.  This year as many as 1 in 5 fires were intentionally set.  The deadliest fire of 2016, Chimney Tops 2, was started in Tennessee by two teenage boys and was ultimately responsible for 14 fatalities and at least 160 injuries.

Canada also saw its worst disaster on record with May’s Fort McMurray Fire, which cost 3.58 billion (Canadian dollars) and burned 1.46 million acres in Alberta.  The cause of the fire is still unknown, but lightning has been ruled out as the source of ignition, and human activity is strongly suspected.

destructive wildfires

Ten Most Destructive Wildfires of 2016

For further details on the 10 most destructive wildfires of 2016, see the ESRI Story Map embedded below (best viewed in Chrome or Internet Explorer):

Gatlinburg Disaster: 700 Structures Lost, 13 Fatalities

Chimney Tops 2 Fire Update

Tough questions were abundant at this morning’s press conference as word fell that a thirteenth victim has been identified in the aftermath of this week’s Chimney Tops 2 fire. Fire and Emergency managers tried to dodge the press’s questions regarding whether they waited too long to evacuate residents in the Gatlinburg and surrounding areas, and whether lives were lost because of it. The truth of the situation is this fire was an anomaly. It was a first of its kind for its fire regime.

The fire creeped around in rocky areas of the steep mountains, south of Gatlinburg, for a few days and warranted fire crews to manage it with an aerial attack. An extreme wind event fanned the fire, knocked down power lines, and created ember starts and abundant spot fires equaling utter chaos. Unfortunately, it appears that with power outages and cell service down, emergency notifications were not received by all residents with disastrous implications. Door to door evacuations by the local authorities couldn’t cover the vast areas in impending danger. The rapidly spread ignited leaf litter and ground fuels from wind gusts reported as high as 87 mph, fueled by prolonged drought, (not surprisingly) from house to house.

The Southern Area Red Team in charge of the damage assessment has updated the Incident Page stating, “There have been a number of confirmed fatalities (13 reported as of this morning) and over 700 confirmed structures lost. This fire hit the communities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and surrounding areas adjacent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park hard as they were preparing for both Christmas and the final few weeks of a bustling tourist season.” It was truly a disaster never before seen by this part of the country and only rarely seen nationwide.

Map of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire and surrounding spot fires in Sevier County, TN


Chimney Tops 2 Fire Outlook

Southern Area Red Team type-1 incident management team has command of the fire and has been focused on public safety, infrastructure, and assessing damages. The fire has not spread since early in the week after the incident area received precipitation with frontal passage Wednesday. Minimal fire behavior and smoldering is expected for the three day fire forecast.  Weather-wise, a ridge of high pressure will produce dry conditions in the fire area through Saturday before wetting rains are forecast to return late in the weekend.

14,000 people remain displaced by the fires, with almost 4000 residents still without power. Some business owners and evacuees have been escorted back into some areas but most remain under mandatory evacuation for now. Three Red Cross Shelters remain active in the area with 219 people still utilizing them. Red Cross has delivered over 10,000 meals this week in Sevier County according to their website. We’re happy to report that the organization has also received hundreds of thousands in relief donations.


Chimney Tops 2 Fire Facts
  • As of: December 2nd, 2016
  • Location: Sevier County, TN
  • Size: 17,859
  • Containment: 0%
  • Fire Behavior: Minimal fire spread and smoldering.
  • Structures Impacted: 1000 (Estimated)
  • Structures Destroyed: 700 (confirmed but expected to rise)
  • Evacuations: Are in place, 14,000 residents and visitors impacted
  • Fatalities: 13
  • Incident Page: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5112/

 

Gatlinburg Devastated by Latest Southern Appalachian Wildfire

Sevier County Fires Summary

High winds, prolonged drought, and multiple fire starts have Sevier County, Tennessee as the latest victim in this fall’s wildfire barrage on the Southern Appalachians. Two alleged arsonists have been taken into custody as a string of new fire ignitions cropped up this weekend during extreme fire conditions. The Sevier County fires exhibited extreme fire behavior across steep, rugged terrain fanned by gusty evening winds. Fire officials are scrambling to corral what’s left of the 14 reported fires that impacted a ten-mile strip near Gatlinburg.

Due to the situation, 14,000 residents and visitors have been evacuated and 2,000 are currently utilizing the three Red Cross Shelters in the county. Along with hundreds of acres of forest, hundreds of structures have been reported as lost in the hills above Gatlinburg. Initial video footage from the area shows widespread devastation.  Fire officials are worried about this evening’s weather forecast mimicking yesterday’s destructive conditions. The latest weather forecasts have potential severe weather and rain moving in with the reported winds which could help or hinder operations.

Sign burned in half near Gatlinburg, TN. Photo Credit: Mark Nagi, Tennessee Department of Transportation

Sign burned in half near Gatlinburg, TN. Photo Credit: Mark Nagi, Tennessee Department of Transportation


Gatlinburg Fires Impact Thus Far

As of 11:00 PST the latest assessment of the area is as follows:

Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts: All buildings except Hughes Hall and Wild Wing survived with little damage. (More info)
Black Bear Falls: TEMA reports it was destroyed, but numerous people have contacted us to tell us that is not the case. We are working to confirm that information.
Chalet Village: Suffered damage, but not destroyed
CLIMB Works: Intact
Cobbly Knob area: About 70 homes destroyed
Cupid’s Chapel of Love: Destroyed
Dollywood: Several cabins damaged or destroyed. DreamMore resort not damaged. Dollywood park has some wind damage but no damage from fire. Park will be closed Wednesday. (More info)
Downtown Gatlinburg: Intact
Elkmont: Intact
Hillbilly Golf: Destroyed
LeConte Lodge: Intact
Little Log Wedding Chapel: Intact
Mysterious Mansion: Destroyed
Ober Gatlinburg: Intact
Park Vista hotel: Intact (More info)
Parrot Mountain: Intact
Pi Beta Phi Elementary School: Intact
Ripley’s Aquarium: Intact. Biologists at the aquarium confirm the animals are OK. (More info)
Wear’s Valley area: About 70 homes destroyed
Westgate Resort: Damaged, but not destroyed


Sources

https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1j7dJNKio1QPbslWy4PDNMsQkUes&ll=35.71073212501365%2C-83.54237556637577&z=15

wbir.com

http://www.wbir.com/news/local/gatlinburg-fires-whats-damaged-destroyed-and-intact/357891924

 

Fifty Year Anniversary of Loop Fire Tragedy

Loop Fire Recap

This week marks the anniversary of another infamous fire disaster. Two winters of below average rainfall, fuel moistures at critical levels, and multiple months of Santa Ana events lead to a historically unique Southern California autumn in 1966.  A faulty power line sparked a fire before dawn on November 1, 1966 near Slymar, CA in Los Angeles County (near 2016’s Sand Fire).  Abundant Santa Ana winds quickly drove the blaze to 2,000 acres around the steep terrain of Loop Canyon in the Angeles National Forest.  This past Tuesday saw the fifty year anniversary of the Loop Fire tragedy.

While the fire was seemingly under control, two crews entered steep terrain to help further contain the blaze and were surprised by an unexpected rapid flare up and chimney effect with little time for escape. A dozen hotshots of the 31-member crew perished that day. In remembrance, the Angeles National Forest (ANF) and the Cleveland National Forest (CNF) held a commemorative ceremony this week at the El Cariso Regional Park. Hundreds of firefighters were in attendance to remember the fallen. Several survivors spoke to an emotional and somber crowd, according to accounts from the event.

Tragedy in 60 Seconds

According to official reports conducted after the Loop Fire, at the time of the accident the fire was essentially out. It had burned for two thousand acres under the influence of Santa Ana winds, which had become significantly lighter by 2 pm when the El Cariso crew began working the fire. Rich Leak, a surviving crew member described their assignment as “to cold trail the fire’s edge down the ridge line and tie into the County Crews at the bottom.” According to Leak, little fire activity was observed in the area as it appeared there were no active flames on the ridge line they would be working.  He even stated that their main concern while working on the steep mountainside was danger from rocks and rockslides rather than the fire itself.

In attempting to construct a fire line, the crew reached a point on the ridge where following the fire’s edge became unsafe and almost impossible in the steep terrain. Their crew boss “made the decision to cut an indirect line and tie into the dozer line at a different location.” As they moved into this secondary location, “a spot fire started in the ravine below us and all hell broke loose.” Leak eerily likened the moments that followed to being on a charcoal grill, with lighter fluid igniting at once with a “whoosh”, and fast moving shockwave-like flames ensuing.

The official investigation concluded that the crew experienced 30-60 seconds of 2500 degree heat without fire shelters or proper PPE (fire resistant clothing). Ten members of the crew lost their lives in those 60 seconds and two more died later in the hospital due to the burnover. Fifteen of the 19 surviving crew members were also injured by the flash of flames.

The Loop Fire memorial marker in El Cariso Park in Sylmar, CA. (Photo Credit: Stuart Palley)

The Loop Fire memorial marker in El Cariso Park in Sylmar, CA. (Photo Credit: Stuart Palley)

Lessons Learned

In firefighting, sometimes lessons are learned in harsh ways. The explosive Loop Fire accident has led to a clearer understanding of the perils posed by narrow and steep canyons, and how with the slightest change in weather, such canyons can have dangerous chimney-like effects on fire behavior. The official disaster report from the Loop Fire suggested changes in safety protocols still used today when fighting fires in such terrain:

  • Require the use of lookouts and open communication lines (radios).
  • Provide a checklist for downhill line operations.
  • Make “crystal clear” the dangers of working in box canyons and potential chimney fire situations.
  • Standardize equipping all crew members on the fire line with lightweight safety gear and fire protective shelters.

In the wake of the fire, great attention was paid by the wildfire community to the study of fire behavior and methods to predict when and where fire behavior will change rapidly.


Source(s):

Pasadena Star News

WLF Always Remember

Colorado Fire Camp

Personal account from Captain Rich Leak

Wildfire Today

Ten Year Anniversary of Esperanza Fire Tragedy

Esperanza Fire Recap

This week marks ten years since the tragic Esperanza Fire in California’s Riverside County. The fire started at the base of Cabazon Hill west of Palm Springs around 1:11 a.m. on October 26th, 2006. Moderate Santa Ana conditions quickly pushed the fire uphill and to the west prompting a large mutual aid response. Five United States Forest Service (USFS) Engines (including Engine 57) were some of the first to respond from the San Jacinto Ranger District and were quickly assigned to structure protection in the rural mountain community of Twin Pines.  At approximately 7:15 a.m., five wildland firefighters from USFS Engine 57 were overrun by the fire protecting an isolated, vacant residential structure.

EsperanzaPhoto

Tragedy in Twin Pines

At the time of the accident, the fire was several hundred acres in size and burning rapidly in critically dry fuel, under the influence of Santa Ana winds. A Red Flag Warning was in place for the area, issued twenty hours prior to the accident. A March 2006 Wildfire Protection Plan rated the Twin Pines community’s Fire Threat as Extreme to Very High. Additionally, the “Octagon” house they were protecting was located at the head of a steep drainage and, according to a 2002 study, was given a defensibility rating as “non-defensible”.

Officials later determined that the combination of wind alignment, fuel susceptibility, topography of the steep drainage below the firefighters’ location, and a thermal uplifting at daybreak caused a sudden and intense fire run. Many contributing factors led to their demise, but ultimately the five firefighters were surrounded by fire incredibly quickly, without time for escape, and were fatally burned by it. The Esperanza Fire totaled 40,200 acres and 34 residences burned, continuing for another few days after that fateful morning.

Accident Aftermath

In the wake of the accident, a few investigations ensued, aiming to determine the causal and contributing factors as well as the criminal intent of the fire’s origin itself. A full investigation of the burnover found two main causal factors:

  1. There was a loss of situational awareness concerning the dangers associated with potential fire behavior and fire environment while in a complex wildland urban interface situation.
  2. The decision by command officers and engine supervisors to attempt structure protection at the head of a rapidly developing fire either underestimated, accepted, and/or misjudged the risk to firefighter safety.

Arson investigators found the fire’s ignition was an act of arson by a Raymond Lee Oyler, a nearby Beaumont resident and serial arsonist. The individual “was convicted March 6 (2009) of five counts of first-degree murder, 20 counts of arson and 17 counts of using an incendiary device. A jury called for the death penalty.” This was the first and only time an arsonist has been convicted of first degree murder.

Ten days after the event, a public memorial service was held in Devore, CA for the five firefighters lost. Subsequently, California Highway 243 through the Cabazon Hills was named a memorial highway in honor of the fallen firefighters. The site of the accident will remain unoccupied and serve as a permanent remembrance memorial. A book was written by John McClean outlining the events of the Esperanza fire tragedy (as well as other fires). The critically-acclaimed book has been picked up by Legendary Pictures for adaptation for a future film.

Memorial Plaque at the site of the Esperanza Fire accident

Memorial Plaque at the site of the accident


Source(s):

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

http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jun/06/local/me-oyler6

http://www.coloradofirecamp.com/esperanza/narrative.htm

http://www.fire.ca.gov/fire_protection/downloads/esperanza_00_complete_final_draft_05_01_2007.pdf

Twelve Weeks Later: Soberanes Fire 100% Contained

Soberanes Fire Recap

The Soberanes Fire in northern California has finally wound down, with officials marking the blaze at 100% contained as of Wednesday evening (10/12).  The fire ignited from an illegal campfire on July 22nd–a full twelve weeks ago–and in the first week, destroyed 57 residences and 11 outbuildings.  Luckily, no other losses have been reported since then.


How Soberanes Compares to Other Fires

The progress of the fire has been mostly stalled for weeks, with fire crews focusing on building containment lines in the troublesome and rugged terrain of the Ventana Wilderness (LPF).  Subsequently, the fire perimeter and acreage has not budged much since late September.  Collectively, the fire has topped a record $250m in suppression costs, dwarfing the previous high from 2002 of $165m (Biscuit Fire). The Soberanes Fire finished its run at 132,127 acres which is good for 17th place in California’s documented history and 6th largest ever in the Los Padres National Forest. The sheer size of the wildfire is apparent in comparison to both the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City.

Soberanes Fire size comparison with SF and NYC

Soberanes Fire size comparison with NYC and SF


Soberanes Fire Facts (10/14)

  • Started: July 22nd, 2016
  • Contained: Oct 12th, 2016 (83 days)
  • Location:  Big Sur, CA
  • Size: 132,127 acres
    • 94,933 acres CA-LPF – 72%
    • 37,194 acres CALFIRE BEU – 28%
  • Containment: 100%
  • Fire Behavior: Interior smoldering with sporadic smoke possible.
  • Structures Threatened: 0
  • Structures Destroyed: 68 (57 primary, 11 outbuildings)
  • Cost to Date: $249.9+ million
  • Incident Page: Inciweb
  • News Article: KSBW News


IMT Assignments

Since the blaze began, seven different incident management teams have been assigned to the storied fire (see list below). California’s IMT2 (Mills) team is expected to see out the remaining 21% of suppression repair and continue to BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response) operations.  The full list of IMTs assigned to Soberanes:

  • CAL FIRE Team 4 IC (Derum) taking command on 07/23/2016 at 1200
  • CAL FIRE IMT (Derum) in unified command with CA IMT1 (von Tillow) on 08/05/2016
  • CA IMT1 (von Tillow) in unified command with CAL FIRE IMT (King BEU) 08/19/2016 at 0600
  • CA IMT1 (von Tillow) transferred command to AK IMT1 (Kurth) @ 0700 8/24/2016, No more unified command
  • CA IMT1 (Opliger) will transition on 09/13/2016 at 0600
  • CA IMT2 (Arroyo) assumed command of incident 09/29/2016 at 0800
  • CA IMT2 (Mills) will assume command 10/13/2016 at 0600

Sources:

Inciweb

NIFC

KSBW News

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

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

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