Soberanes Fire Update: now over 50% contained

Soberanes Fire Summary

The Soberanes Fire started as the result of an illegal campfire that was left unattended on July 22nd within the Garrapata State Park to the south of Monterey. The fire is now over 70,000 acres and is 55% contained. Currently, there are more than 5,300 firefighters on scene fighting the blaze. Damage assessments remain unchanged with 57 residences and 11 outbuildings destroyed, along with 3 structures and 2 outbuildings damaged, mostly in Palo Colorado, 15 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Full containment is not expected until August 31st.

Soberanes Fire Perimeter (8/12)

Soberanes Fire Location (8/12), between Big Sur and Carmel Highlands south of Monterey


Soberanes Fire Outlook

The fire had minimal growth in lower elevations again Thursday night as the marine layer kept the fire in check. Yesterday’s firing operation on the north part of Coast Ridge continued to be hot overnight with new MODIS heat detections picking up where an island of unburned fuel burned off near Dani Ridge. Morning reports had the high elevation areas near Ventana Double Cone as having actively burned yesterday and overnight as well. The majority of fire activity has been limited to the area of Uncle Sam Mountain and Coast Ridge, exhibiting mostly backing, creeping, and smoldering along with a few sustained uphill runs.

As mentioned, firing operations took place yesterday (8/11) along Coast Ridge and are being planned–dependent on weather–for the coming days to strengthen containment lines in the Big Sur area. This could close Highway 1 periodically over the next few days. Specifically, fire managers are trying to prevent the fire from crossing the Big Sur River Gorge where it could make a hard uphill run, and aiming to keep the fire out of the inhabited coastal canyons above Nepenthe, Pfeiffer Falls, and Big Sur Lodge.

Air quality in the Big Sur area will be poor again today at the lower elevations. The warming and drying trend that began yesterday will continue today as high pressure builds. Areas removed from the marine layer will see their hottest conditions since last week. Overnight humidity recoveries will be poor over the upper slopes and ridges. The warming trend will bring slightly more intense fire conditions above the marine layer, with areas below it continuing the low intensity and minimal spread.

Soberanes Fire Facts (8/12)

  • Started: July 22nd, 2016
  • Location: Big Sur, CA
  • Size: 70,615 acres
  • Containment: 55%
  • Fire Behavior: Slow fire spread through timber, chaparral, and tall grass in steep, rugged terrain.
  • Structures Threatened: 410 (reported)
  • Structures Destroyed: 68 (57 primary, 11 outbuildings)
  • Evacuations: Are in place
  • Incident Page: CALFIRE Information
  • News Article: KSBW News

 

Erskine Fire Scorches Neighborhoods in Kern County

Erskine Fire Summary

The Erskine fire started the afternoon of June 23rd along Erskine Creek Road in Lake Isabella and quickly spread up-slope and to the east toward several residential areas near South Lake, CA. Public safety officials quickly scrambled to evacuate the closest neighborhoods of Yankee Canyon, Mountain Mesa, and Squirrel Valley. As the fire rapidly spread east, skirting the mountains and neighborhoods above the lake, it destroyed homes and forced further evacuations of South Lake, Bella Vista, Onyx, Weldon, and Lakeland Estates.

Fueled by relative humidity (RH) in the single digits and gusty evening winds, the fire quickly spread ten and half miles over a matter of hours in the time from Thursday evening to early Friday morning. As of midday Friday (6/24) the Erskine Fire was 19,034 acres and 0% contained. Fire officials are reporting 100 structures are estimated as lost and 1,500 others are threatened. A damage assessment team will survey the extent of the fire’s destruction in the coming days.

Erskine Fire Outlook

A type-1 incident management team is already en route to the area to take over command of the fire. The Erskine Fire exhibited extreme fire behavior across steep, rugged terrain fanned by gusty afternoon winds. Fire officials are worried about this afternoon’s (6/24) weather forecast, which may mimic yesterday’s destructive conditions. There are six air tankers, seven helicopters, and 800 firefighters on scene, with hundreds more on the way.


Erskine Fire Facts:

  • Location: Lake Isabella, CA
  • Size: 19,034 acres
  • Containment: 0%
  • Fire Behavior: Rapid fire spread through tall grass and brush in steep, rugged terrain.
  • Structures Threatened: 1500 (reported)
  • Structures Destroyed: 100 (estimated)
  • Incident Page: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4806/
  • News Article: LA Times

Map: Erskine Fire perimeter (as of 6/24, 1300 hrs).


NOTE: 

Fire perimeter was provided by NIFC and was created by hand and helo flight GPS.

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.

Fort McMurray Area Ready for Residents to Re-enter

Exactly one month after the historic wildfire began and forced thousands to flee, residents of the Fort McMurray area are finally set to re-enter the city.  Starting June 1st the city’s four-day, five-zone, phased re-entry plan will commence. If that sounds complicated, its because it was. The city’s officials and emergency managers had to mutually agree to move forward with the plan, which was contingent upon five infrastructure and safety criteria being met:

  • Wildfire is no longer an imminent threat to the community;
  • Critical infrastructure is repaired to provide basic service;
  • Essential services, such as fire, EMS, police and health care, are restored to a basic level;
  • Hazardous areas are secure;
  • Local government is re-established.

Even though the minimum criteria have been met, the area will be assessed daily. The plan’s phases allow residents of the least-damaged areas to return home first, though not all residents will be allowed to return to the city. The presence of harmful chemicals (including arsenic) in the ash, soil and air may delay residents’ permanent return in the communities of Abasand, Beacon Hill, and Waterways. Officials are understandably cautious for those areas and will base the permanent re-entry in those three neighborhoods (seen as ‘x’ on in Figure 1) on future non-toxic test results. Homeowners will merely be able to visit on June 4th but will need other permanent accommodations for the foreseeable future. “Despite the significant work that has been done, the city today is not the city that residents left behind a month ago. A boil-water advisory remains in effect, some health-care services are not available, and many businesses will not be open,” the Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said.

Re-entry Dates and Communities:

  • June 1st: Lower Townsite, Anzac, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, Gregoire Lake   Estates (Zone One)
  • June 2nd: Parsons Creek, Stone Creek, Timberlea, Eagle Ridge, Dickinsfield (Zone Two)
  • June 3rd: Thickwood, Wood Buffalo (Zone Three) AND Gregoire, Prairie Creek, Saprae Creek Estates (Zone Four A) 
  • June 4th: Waterways, Abasand, Beacon Hill, Grayling Terrace, Draper (Zone Four B)

Fort McMurray

Figure 1: Re-entry plans for Fort McMurray. X’s represent non-permanent re-entry.

Fort McMurray Wildfire update

As for the Fort McMurray fire itself, it has been mapped at 1000 km or 580,000+ hectares (1,434,780 acres), and is now 40% contained.  The fire officially impacted 567 homes and 12 apartment complexes in Fort McMurray, with 85-90 percent of residences seeing no damage. 2,400 buildings and 665 work camp units have been reported as lost overall. Initial insurance payout estimates are around 9 billion Canadian dollars, making this disaster the most expensive in Canadian History by a hefty margin of 7 billion. Oil sands operations in the area have halted, costing ‘Big Oil’ an estimated 1 billion ca dollars as well.

The fire continues to scorch remote forests of Alberta and even a small portion of Saskatchewan. Extreme burning conditions are still being seen in some areas of the fire. Higher humidities and the potential for rain should aid the fire fight in the near future, but firefighters from seven Canadian provinces and two countries (USA & South Africa) remain assigned to continue the containment battle across Alberta.


 

Sources: Alberta.ca Wildfire Update, Huffingtonpost Canada, Wikipedia

 

Texas’ Significant Wildfire Potential

According to Texas Forest Service’s Dispatch Tracker, the weekend produced multiple red flag warnings and 20 new fires totalling over 1,700 burned acres in the State of Texas. Despite the weekend’s elevated fire weather conditions and activity, Texas’ wildfire potential remains normal to below normal into early summer.

 

Feb.png

February’s Significant Wildfire Potential

WILDFIRE POTENTIAL OUTLOOK FOR TEXAS 

Normal significant wildland fire potential and some areas of Below Normal significant wildland fire potential are expected for the state through May.

Weather & Fuels:

In January, the Plains states, from Texas to North Dakota, were very dry with generally less than 50 percent of normal precipitation for the month. But El Nino conditions and the expected jet stream path are forecast to bring above average precipitation and below average temperatures to most of the state into early summer. As a result, fuel moistures are projecting to remain above critical levels except for a few seasonably typical periods of low humidity, winds, and warm temperatures creating brief elevation of initial attack potential. All indications from Predictive Services (NIFC) point to these brief periods of elevated potential as the dominant concern for significant fire activity for the area in the coming months.

Source: NIFC Predictive Services (Outlook PDF)

 

Top Ten Things You May Not Know About Wildland Fires

 

1) 90% of wildfires are human-caused

Sources of anthropogenic wildfires are most often accidental ignition by campers, hikers, or garbage/debris burns…but some are purposely started by arsonists..

2) But the majority of acres burned comes from lightning ignitions

Because they often occur in isolated locations with limited access, lightning fires burn more total acres than human-caused starts. The average 10-year total of U.S. wildfire acres burned by human cause is 1.9 million acres; 2.1 million acres burned are lightning caused. If a lightning fire is not endangering life or property, the US Forest Service will allow the fire to burn under the Fire Use Guidelines.

3) Prolonged drought plus a freeze event can prompt wildfires in non-typical seasons. 

When a freezing weather event hits a wildfire-prone area during drought conditions, it can dry fuels to the point of extreme ignitability. Despite low temperatures, wildfires can frequently still burn when these conditions exist. 

4) Aircraft don’t put out the fire, they slow the rate of spread

Though news outlets heavily cover firefighting aircraft during a wildfire, the retardant these planes drop will rarely extinguish the flames. The retardant is designed to slow the fire’s rate of spread so as to allow ground forces enough time for a direct attack. Retardant is a fertilizer-based product that is able to adhere to vegetation, requiring more heat for ignition. The fertilizer is colored red for higher visibility to tanker pilots to see where the last drop was placed.

5) Smoke color depicts fire fuel types

Smoke is the biproduct of the fuels it is burning, and the color of the smoke is often used as an indicator to firefighters of the type and density of the fuels that are involved. White smoke generally indicates light flashy fuels such as grass or twigs. Thick black smoke indicates heavy fuels that are not being fully consumed. At times thick black some can be an indicator that a manmade substance is burning such as tires, vehicles or a structure. Grey smoke can indicate that the fire is slowing down and running out of materials to burn.

6) The Story of Edward Pulaski

Edward Pulaski was a Forest Ranger in Wallace, Idaho, and is most known for saving the lives of 40 men during the Great fire of 1910. When the fire broke out of control and overwhelmed his crew, he directed his men into a cave and held them at gunpoint so they wouldn’t leave. After the fire had passed, the men came to the entrance to find the ranger covered in debris and thought he was dead. Pulaski arose and stated “Like hell I am.” A firefighting tool pulaski tool he designed was later named after him and is still used today.

7) Post-wildfire mudslides are common

A fast-moving, highly destructive debris flow can occur within a few years after wildfires scorch the soil and roots of vegetation in a particular area, especially in steep terrain. Most occur in response to high intensity rainfall events and are particularly dangerous as they sometimes happen with very little warning.

8) Peshtigo Fire in 1871 killed over 1,200 people

On October 7th, 1871, the most devastating US wildfire started in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. 1,200 people were confirmed killed and the entire town of Peshtigo was destroyed. The fire started when several small burns grew out of control due to high winds. The fire eventually burned over 1.2 million acres. This is the highest recorded death total for a wildland fire.

9) Wildfires are important for the forest ecosystem

Forest ecosystems depend on wildfires to thin the forest canopy allowing saplings near the forest floor access to sunlight. Some plants and trees require fire and heat in order for their seeds to germinate. Fire can eliminate certain plants while allowing fire-resistant species to survive and thrive.

10) Large wildfires are capable of creating their own localized weather

Wildfires generate their own winds as they grow in size. These winds will pull air into the fire as they burn more fuel. Intense heating of air from the surface induces convection, which causes an air mass to rise above the fire and, in the presence of moisture, can form pyro cumulus clouds.

 

Sources include: The History Channel, Wikipedia, Accuweather, Smokey Bear, USGS, about.com, & Spokane Chronicle

 

Ready, Set, Go!

Although there is currently no national standard for wildfire preparedness and potential evacuations, most agencies have adopted CalFire’s Ready, Set, Go! program. This program educates homeowners on ways to be prepared prior to an event and how to handle themselves during potential and imminent evacuation situations. 

READY

Before an event, prepare by designating and creating your home’s Defensible Space Zones, which are the buffer between a house and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surround it. This space helps to slow the spread of wildfire and decreases the liklihood your home catches fire.  It also helps protect the firefighters protecting your home.

More info on defensible space

SET

As fire season approaches, take the time to complete the 3 steps of being set for a wildfire: 

  1. Create a Wildfire Action Plan that includes evacuation planning for your home, family and pets.
  2. Assemble an Emergency Supply Kit for each person in your household.
  3. Fill-out a Family Communication Plan that includes important evacuation and contact information.

GO

Being ready to go means knowing when to evacuate the area and what to do if you get trapped. Waiting longer to leave can not only increase the chances of being trapped, it can also cause problems for emergency personnel who are attempting to access the area in order to protect homes within the community.

The Waldo Canyon fire from 2012 is a good example of Ready, Set, Go! at work. Many homes had good defensible space that either left them standing or helped fire crews save them.
20120624_1600_CO_Waldo.jpg

 Evacuations Map produced by RedZone Disaster Intelligence during the early stages of 2012’s Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, CO.

With Red Flag conditions and changing wind directions that fateful Tuesday, it was crucial that residents were prepared, and that they evacuated ahead of the extreme fire behavior that destroyed 346 structures. Over 32,000 residents in the greater Colorado Springs area were evacuated during this incident.

For more detailed information on Ready, Set, Go!, see CALFIRE’s page: http://www.readyforwildfire.org/.

 

November Wildfire Potential At or Returning to Normal

As the ‘typical’ fire season comes to a close, the National Interagency Fire Center is forecasting below-normal, normal, and returning-to-normal autumn conditions across the U.S.

The only area not already at or below normal fire potential is Southern California’s coast which remains in a drought but is predicted to return to normal by the end of the month.

 Image by NIFC – Predictive ServicesNovember 2015 Fire Potential

So far the fall season has brought a few significant rain events coupled with high tropical activity in the Eastern Pacific. Heavy rain fell in Texas and in the Southeast U.S. leading to below-normal fire potential in those now-soggy areas. The approaching El Niño has a high probablity of continuing into the Spring of 2016 and keeping conditions wet in the Southern U.S. and most notably in drought-stricken California where normal fire potential is predicted to resume for the next three months. 

The full NIFC Fire Potential Outlook can be found here.

 

What Happens To Plants After A Wildfire?

News regarding large wildfires typically covers the location of the fire, the size of the fire, and the fire’s impact on people and property. With the possibility of hundreds of homes destroyed, thousands of people displaced, and millions in damaged property, it’s no wonder much of the media’s attention of large wildfire events is focused on what happens DURING a fire.  But what happens after a wildfire is out?  Or specifically, what happens to plants and vegetation after a wildfire burn? Does the ground remained scorched, forever void of life like some scene out of Mad Max?

The truth is wildfire has helped to shape California’s vegetative landscape for thousands of years. It affects the kinds of plants growing in a particular area, their abundance, size, health, and lifespan. The fire kills some plants, rejuvenates others, and some plants may even need fire in order to thrive.

Some areas in Southern California have plants with leaves naturally coated in flammable oils that encourage a fire to spread. The heat from the fire causes their fire-activated seeds to germinate and the young plants can then take advantage of the fact that the other surrounding plant life was destroyed in the fire. The cones of the Lodgepole Pine are sealed with a resin that is melted away by fire, which then causes the seeds to be released. Other plants have smoke-activated seeds which function in a similar manner. Some trees, like the giant sequoia tree, rely on wildfires to make gaps in the vegetation canopy so that sunlight can reach the forest floor allowing their seedlings to grow.  

This map (courtesy of the Department of Agriculture, Forest Service) shows the effects of wildfires on plant life in various regions of the US. The color coding shows the different ecosystem types and the frequency of fire (and types of fire) that allow those plants to thrive.

Some key definitions (courtesy of the Department of Agriculture):

Understory Fire

A fire in forests or woodlands that is not lethal to the dominant, overstory vegetation and thus does not change stand structure substantially. Most (75%) of the dominant vegetation survives.

Mixed Severity Fire

A fire that causes partial (26-75%) replacement of the upper canopy layer.

Stand Replacement Fire

A fire that kills all or most of the living upper canopy layer and initiates succession or regrowth.