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Doug Lannon and Cal Fire Department

Operation Santa Ana – 20 Year Anniversary

June 2019 marked the 20th year anniversary for Operation Santa Ana. Doug Lannon, a retired Cal Fire Assistant Chief from the San Bernardino Unit and current Senior Wildfire Liaison for RedZone, served as the keynote speaker to kick off the training event for this year’s inspection assignments at the Southern California Edison Inc. Training and Educational Facility.

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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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DISASTER 101 – FLOODING

When most people think of natural disasters, the first thing to come to mind is not likely flooding. However, flooding is the most common natural disaster. Flooding occurs in all 50 states, accounts for 40% of natural disasters, averages 5 billion dollars in damage each year, and claimed an average of 75 lives per year over the last 30 years.

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RedZone Disaster Intelligence

October Brings Highest Risk of Destruction to California

This past weekend, from Saturday into Monday morning, much of the Northern California Bay Area was under a Red Flag Warning due to strong winds around 40 mph with gusts to 60 mph. Despite much of the country receiving some level of precipitation recently, California remains just above the drought threshold. The gusty winds and dry fuels the state sees every fall leads to heightened fire weather conditions this time of year. Fortunately, with this strongest wind event thus far this Fall, fire agencies across the region responded rapidly and en masse to any new reports of ignition.

“Of the twenty most destructive wildfires in CA history, eleven of them have happened in October and another three in November or December.”

Transitioning out of Western Fire Season

Most of the Western fire season began the seasonal transition out of its peak in early September with fall’s cooler temperatures and precipitation. October and November mark another transition as the focus typically shifts to California  where fire activity remains a major concern with summer-dried fuels and occasional Foehn wind events develop across California until winter rains come.

October Fire potential

Significant Wildland Fire Potential for October 2018

Brief Look Back to October 2017

Monday, October 8th, marked one year since 21 major wildfires started across Northern California and devastated the Napa-Sonoma area. Collectively the fires burned more than 245,000 acres over the course of the month. The Northern California Firestorm, as it came to be called, destroyed nearly 9,000 structures and was responsible for 44 civilian fatalities and caused 14.5 billion dollars in damages.

The fire spread was remarkable as ember showers spread from house to house throughout several communities and the fires moved at record-setting speeds. Gusting and strong winds were an instrumental driving force behind the massive levels of damage caused by the conflagrations. What wasn’t record setting was this type of fire weather happening in October or later in California. As the table below shows, of the twenty most destructive wildfires in CA history, eleven of them have happened in October and another three in November or December.

14 top fires have happened in October and later

14 of the Top 20 Most Destructive California Wildfires have started in October or later

Obviously all that late season activity means, historically, the Western Fire Season is far from over in California. Fire Departments remain at full staffing, on the ready, with ears perked to every new start that could be the next big one…especially with the fire weather possibilities this time of year. RedZone does the same, and those of you in the insurance world reading this, so too should you. Those 14 wildfires have collectively caused tens of billions of dollars in damage over the years.

Read Further

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-santa-ana-winds-20180925-story.html

https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/fire2/?wfo=mtr

https://www.kron4.com/news/bay-area/red-flag-warning-this-weekend-in-parts-of-bay-area/1502972515

2018 California Wildfire Update – Is This The New Normal?

Last Year’s Disaster

During the massively destructive 2017 wildfire season in California, certain phrases kept being repeated. “Unprecedented”, “Uncharted territory”, “Historic”, “War zone”, “New normal”, and other descriptive phrases were used to try and give people an understanding of the magnitude and severity of the fires. People hoped 2018 would be different, but “New Normal” seems to be an accurate description of what we can expect from wildfires in California.

This Year’s Activity (So Far)

California governor Jerry Brown has started to get lawmakers and the public to brace for the increasing threat of wildfires. He was recently quoted in a SacBee article, saying that fighting wildfires in the state is “going to get expensive, it’s going to get dangerous, and we have to apply all our creativity to make the best of what is going to be an increasingly bad situation.”

Around a quarter of California’s annual fire suppression budget has already been spent; even though the fiscal year just started July 1st. Simultaneous large fires are also spreading resources thin. As of this writing, 16 large uncontained fires burning a total of 343,700 acres continue to to challenge California firefighters. The largest and most destructive of these fires is the Carr Fire near Redding, which claimed 6 lives and destroyed over 1,000 homes. It already ranks as California’s 6th most destructive wildfire. In fact, half of California’s 10 most destructive wildfires have happened in the last 4 years.

National resources are also spread thin, as the National Interagency Fire Center has upped the National Preparedness Level to 5 (out of a possible 5), indicating that resources are already fully committed to current fires. New fire starts will have a higher potential for large growth, as there will be limited resources to stop the fire before it gets established.

NASA image courtesy NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) project. Image taken August 1, 2018.

 

California Active Large Fire Facts

 

DISASTER 101 – FLOODING

When most people think of natural disasters, the first thing to come to mind is not likely flooding. However, flooding is the most common natural disaster. Flooding occurs in all 50 states, accounts for 40% of natural disasters, averages 5 billion dollars in damage each year, and claimed an average of 75 lives per year over the last 30 years.

Worldwide, statistics are similar.

According to the 30 year average, flooding is responsible for the most weather-related fatalities.

TYPES OF FLOODING

River and Lake Flooding

River and lake flooding is probably what most people envision when they think of floods. Heavy rainfall or snowmelt can cause water levels to rise overflowing banks and levees. River flooding is common in the Midwest as rain and snowmelt swells the tributaries that feed into larger rivers downstream. Once the water level crests the river banks, the area that is inundated can be widespread. Low lying areas, saturated soils, and urban areas can further exacerbate the effects of the overflow and take days to dissipate.

California experienced flooding in February when a weekend of storms increased runoff from Anderson Lake and flooded low-lying areas of San Jose. The early year storms also prompted the evacuation of over 88,000 people near the weakened Oroville Dam.

In May of 2017, heavy rainfall over the Midwest caused widespread flooding. Nearly 15 inches of rain fell over multiple states, saturating soils, and swelling multiple rivers above historic levels. Numerous levees were breached which flooded towns causing an estimated $1.7 billion dollars in damages to homes, businesses, and infrastructure.

40% of all natural disasters are flooding.

Coast Guard overflight of South Carolina flooding

Coastal Flooding and Storm Surge

A form of flooding happens regularly along coastlines due to the cycle of rising and lowering tides. Tides are a regular rise and fall of sea level caused by the gravitational interplay of the sun, moon, and earth. Occasionally, these tides can be exceptionally high. An increase of just a few feet is more than enough for tides to breech natural and man-made barriers. Many coastal cities are very near, or in some cases lower than, sea level making them especially prone to any change in sea level.

Storm surge can also cause extreme coastal flooding. The surge develops during severe weather, hurricanes, and tropical storms raising sea level as much as 25 feet. Sea level rise is the result of the low atmospheric pressure found in these storms which has a similar effect on sea level rise as the gravitational pull on tides. High winds common with these storms also cause large waves to batter the coast and push water farther inland. In worst case scenarios, the storm surge strikes the coast during a high tide cycle, increasing the flooding exponentially. Storm surge flooding is responsible for 90% of hurricane related deaths and the majority of the damage to structures.

In August of 2017, Hurricane Harvey alone caused over $125 billion dollars in damage and killed 89 people. The majority of the devastation caused by Harvey was a direct result of the widespread flooding of the Houston area.

Flash Floods

Flash floods can result from a variety of causes, but the common denominator is that they develop quickly and are normally caused by heavy rainfall. These floods can also be the result of snow melt, dislodged ice, inadequate urban drainage, or dam breaks. The actual volume of water carried in a flash flood is usually less than other flood types but the water is channeled down confined spaces which causes it to move with devastating force and speed. Because of this speed, flash floods are very dangerous, easily carrying mud, rocks, and trees in its flow. A Weather Channel article stated that, “water flowing at 7 mph has the equivalent force per unit area as air blowing at EF-5 tornado wind speed.” Whereas, “water moving at 25 mph has the pressure equivalent of wind blowing at 790 mph, faster than the speed of sound.”

 

BASIC SAFETY AND PREPAREDNESS

Ready.gov provides many helpful tips.

Be Mindful

  • Stay tuned to phone alerts, TV, or radio for weather updates, emergency instructions, or evacuation orders.
  • Avoid walking or driving through flood waters. 6 inches of moving water can knock a person over, and one foot of moving water can sweep a vehicle away. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the leading cause of flood-related injury and death is individuals attempting to drive through flood waters.
  • Do not drive over bridges that are over fast-moving floodwaters. Floodwaters can scour foundation material from around the footings and make the bridge unstable.
  • If there is a chance of flash flooding, move immediately to higher ground.

Protect your home

  • Know your flood risk, avoid building in flood plains, and consider buying flood insurance.
  • If you have to evacuate due to flooding, and if safety permits, turn off all the utilities to your home and attempt to move valuables to the highest possible level.

SOURCES

https://www.ready.gov/floods
https://www.nssl.noaa.gov/education/svrwx101/floods/types/
https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/US/2017-2018
http://www.floodsite.net/juniorfloodsite/html/en/student/thingstoknow/hydrology/floodtypes.html
https://weatherology.com/articles/106/The+Dangers+of+Flash+Floods.html
https://weather.com/storms/severe/news/power-flood-water-20130704
https://www.livescience.com/23913-flood-facts.html

bark beetle tree

California Tree Mortality At An Unprecedented Level

Tree Mortality Overview

According to U.S. Forest Service study done in the summer of 2017, about 6.3 billion dead trees are still standing in 11 Western states, an increase of half a billion from five years ago. 103 million trees have died in California alone since 2010. So what’s happening to the trees? Well, established trees are normally fairly resilient to seasonal changes in their environment, but the last five years of drought in CA coupled with climate change impacts have imposed several stressors acting on the trees at the same time. 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. A recent story by the CBS San Francisco discussed the situation in the Sierra National Forest with two Forestry experts there. They stated that there are more dead trees than live ones and will be dealing with the tree mortality there for many years to come.

Tree Mortality 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. 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 or escaping a wildfire.

bark beetle-caused tree mortality

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 saw a five-year historic drought that only just ended this last year. Most native California trees are fairly resilient to drought, but this prolonged drought weakened the trees and made them more susceptible to beetles and disease. Two deadly invaders that a healthier tree could normally fight off.

tree mortality in Julian

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

www.yale.edu

The Denver Post

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2016 and was updated in September 2017

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