California: some firefighters released from the Powerhouse Fire

(UPDATE at 6:40 a.m. PT, June 5, 2013)

Since the firefighters are wrapping up the Powerhouse fire north of Los Angeles, this will be the last update unless significant activity occurs.

Residents have been allowed back into all of the communities affected by the fire. Proof of residency is required to gain access behind the road closures. Future fire growth is expected to be minimal. Crews continue to complete line construction, patrol and mop-up. Excess fire resources are being demobilized so they can be ready to respond to other incidents.

  • Structures Destroyed: 16
  • Acres: 32,032
  • Containment: 65%
  • Estimated Cost: $11,400,000

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(UPDATE at 3:25 p.m. PT, June 4, 2013)

Map of Powerhouse Fire, June 3, 2013

Map of Powerhouse Fire, 10:22 p.m. PT, June 3, 2013

Firefighters are beginning to get a better handle on the Powerhouse Fire north of Los Angeles. Fire spread was minimal overnight with only 24 acres being added. The majority of active fire is along Elizabeth Canyon and Hughes Lake Road northwest to Sawtooth Mountain.

Today crews continued to strengthen fire lines in the southern portion of the fire. Hand crews supported by air resources took advantage of opportunities to construct direct fireline on the west side of the fire. In the Sawtooth Mountain and Sawmill Mountain areas the fire has potential to spread. Fuels in the area have not burned since 1928.

The size is listed at 32,032 acres with 60 percent containment. Some of the resources assigned to the fire include: 2,034 personnel, 155 fire engines, 54 hand crews, 11 helicopters, 27 dozers, 8 air tankers, 33 water tenders. The total estimated cost to date is $8.7 million.

Residents have been allowed to return to the communities of Green Valley, Leona Valley, Elizabeth Lake and Lake Hughes. The evacuation order for the Fairmont area of Antelope Acres was lifted today at noon. Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake Canyon Roads remain closed.

Carlton Joseph’s Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire Monday at 6 p.m. The fire is being run under a unified command with the U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, and Los Angeles County. In addition to Mr. Joseph, the other Incident Commanders are Dave Richardson, John Tripp, and Phil Veneris.

Helitanker 718, Powerhouse Fire

Helitanker 718 getting water from Elizabeth Lake. Photo by Greg Cleveland.

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(UPDATE at 5:48 a.m. PT, June 4, 2013)

There has been very little change in the fire perimeter of the Powerhouse Fire over the last 24 hours. Firefighters are cleaning up the fireline and burning out to remove fuels. We will post more details around the middle of the day today.

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(UPDATE at 9:22 p.m. PT, June 3, 2013)

The Powerhouse fire is now listed at 32,008 acres and 60 percent containment. Today there were 2,185 personnel assigned to the fire. Higher humidities today slowed the spread of the fire, in spite of the strong winds.

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(UPDATE at 11:43 a.m. PT, June 3, 2013)

The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory which includes the portion of the Powerhouse fire that has burned out into the Antelope Valley. This is not good news for firefighters. The winds are predicted to be out of the southwest at 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 45. The area near the fire can expect gusts as high as 55 mph. The strongest winds will occur Monday afternoon and evening. Similar conditions will likely redevelop Tuesday afternoon and evening.

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(UPDATE at 8:38 a.m. PT, June 3, 2013; updated map added)

Map of the north end of the Powerhouse Fire

Map of the north end of the Powerhouse Fire, 12:55 a.m. June 3, 2013 (click to enlarge)

The Powerhouse Fire continued to spread across thousands of acres Sunday after burning around the communities of Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake. Firefighters protected hundreds of homes but six burned in the rapidly spreading fire.


The map of the Powerhouse Fire above shows that it burned across the California Aqueduct. There is a large unburned island around and north of the community of Lake Hughes.

A mandatory evacuation order is still in place for Lake Hughes, while there is a voluntary evacuation for Elizabeth Lake. A spokesperson for the fire Monday morning told a Fox TV reporter that it could be two or more days before the residents are allowed back in their homes. Check with the Palmdale Sheriffs Department for more detailed information regarding evacuations at (661) 272-2400.

Ron Ashdale, a spokesperson for the fire, told Wildfire Today Monday morning the fire has burned 29,584 acres and is 40% contained. According to the Situation Report there are 2,185 personnel assigned. The estimated date for total containment has been pushed back to June 10.

Sunday for the second night in a row night flying helicopters assisted firefighters by dropping water on the fire. The three helicopters, from LA County and LA City, were coordinated by a U.S. Forest Service fixed wing air attack aircraft orbiting overhead.

The map above is only of the north portion of the fire; there was little change on the south half. More maps of the fire are below.

Norm Walker’s Type 2 Incident Management Team has been running the fire, but Carlton Joseph’s Type 1 Team will assume command at 6 p.m. Monday.

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(UPDATE at 4:55 p.m. PT, June 2, 2013)

A briefing just concluded in which Powerhouse Fire officials provided updated information:

They estimate that six structures have been destroyed and 15 have been damaged. These numbers are preliminary until damage assessment teams complete their surveys. An ABC7 reporter in a helicopter said at 4:30 p.m. that structures associated with some stables were burning near the head of the fire north of the California Aqueduct.

Powerhouse fire briefingVery strong winds today sustained at 20 to 25 mph gusting at 40 to 50 mph have pushed the fire to the north and northeast. The wind has kept the smoke close to the ground making aerial firefighting and mapping difficult, but Norm Walker, one of the unified Incident Commanders, estimated during the 4 p.m briefing that Saturday morning the fire hit the 20,000 acre mark and it added an additional 5,000 acres during the day. He put the containment at 20 percent.

One of the areas burning now was last visited by fire in 1929 and the heavy brush being consumed is providing challenges for firefighters.

Powerhouse fire The fire has crossed the California Aqueduct in at least two places and is transitioning out of the mountains into the Antelope Valley high desert where the rate of spread is increasing even more. The weather Saturday night will be a little more favorable for firefighters, with slightly higher humidities and winds that are not as strong. Monday’s weather will be about the same as Sunday, except with calmer winds.

Approximately 200 people have been evacuated from Lake Hughes and another 800 from Elizabeth Lake. It will be at least 24 to 48 hours before those areas can be repopulated, according to a spokesperson from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.. Firefighters are concerned about the community of Green Valley with their 250 homes and 1,000 residents. If the trigger point of Green Mountain is reached by the fire, Green Valley will be evacuated.

There have been three minor injuries to firefighters — a rolling rock hit a firefighter’s leg, another was treated and released for heat stress, and a third was transported with a case of poison oak.

The aerial resources working the fire include 9 air tankers (including a DC-10) and 10 helicopters. The air tankers are reloading at Fox Field and San Bernardino, while the helicopters are based at Agua Dulce Airport.

Night flying helicopters

Sunday night helicopters equipped with night vision equipment dropped water on the fire, directed by a fixed wing air attack aircraft. The helicopters were from Los Angeles County and Los Angeles City.

The U.S. Forest Service has a night flying helicopter of their own for the first time in decades. Helicopter 531 is now stationed in the Angeles National Forest. After the pilots finish their training it can be used on initial attack at night in the southern part of the Los Padres NF, the Angeles and San Bernardino NFs, and the northern portion of the Cleveland NF.

The USFS was heavily criticized for employing a less than aggressive suppression strategy during the 2009 Station Fire that burned 160,000 acres and killed two firefighters near Los Angeles. Some critics held the opinion that if night flying helicopters had been used the first night, or other aerial resources employed early the next morning, the fire could have been held to a few hundred acres. The USFS report on the fire concluded no serious mistakes were made, however an independent report written by the Los Angeles County Fire Department suggested that a more aggressive aerial attack would have made a positive difference.

I believe the video below is from the Saturday night news.

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(UPDATE at 9:08 a.m. PT, June 2, 2013)

Saturday and Saturday night the Powerhouse fire north of Los Angeles raced across brush-covered hills through vegetation that in some places had not burned in decades. The fire burned very intensely with a high resistance to control, in spite of the best efforts of over 1,000 firefighters. It made extreme runs in all open divisions with long-range spotting and very active backing and flanking fires.

The number of acres burned increased from 5,561 Saturday morning to 19,500 acres late Saturday night.

The map of the Powerhouse fire below is a zoomed in version of the northeast portion of the fire where it has burned up to and in some areas past the communities of Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth. Portions of the head of the fire have crossed Elizabeth Lake Road (Co. Hwy. N2) and Munz Ranch Road.

Map of Powerhouse Fire, 11 p.m. PT, June 1, 2013. The fire has reached and burned past Lake Elizabeth and Lake Hughes. (click to enlarge)

Map of Powerhouse Fire, 11 p.m. PT, June 1, 2013. The fire has reached and burned past Lake Elizabeth and Lake Hughes. (click to enlarge)

The media, in this case ABC7, is reporting that 15 structures have been damaged or destroyed. The U.S. Forest Service said a mandatory evacuation has been ordered for Lake Hughes, and Lake Elizabeth is under a voluntary evacuation. At least 1,000 homes are threatened.

Map of Powerhouse Fire

Map of Powerhouse Fire, 11 p.m. PT, June 1, 2013. (click to enlarge)

A Type 2 Incident management team has been running suppression efforts, but a higher level Type 1 team has been ordered.

Unfortunately the information about the Powerhouse fire on InciWeb has at times been hopelessly out of date considering how quickly this fire is moving and the number of residents affected. At times the InciWeb page for the fire will not load, or it loads very slowly.

The relative humidity on Sunday will be significantly higher than the single-digits the firefighters had to deal with Saturday, and will be 20 to 24 percent. The wind in the afternoon will be southwest at 6 to 12 mph, with gusts to 18; on ridgetops firefighters should expect 15 to 25 with gusts to 35 mph.

One of our readers reported that Air Attack was over the fire until 11:45 p.m. Saturday night, which is very unusual, since all air tankers and most helicopters have to shut down 30 minutes after sunset. The fact that Air Attack, a small fixed wing airplane that supervises aerial resources, was still working could have been because night flying helicopters, possibly from Los Angeles County, were dropping water on the fire protecting structures.

ABC7 had video Sunday morning of a person they characterized as a hiker who was threatened by the fire. An aircraft dropped a fire shelter to him and he deployed it for protection. He was later evacuated by helicopter. It may have been the same incident, but I heard radio traffic late Saturday night about a person who was in similar danger. Air Attack thought there was a possibility that he was carrying a weapon, but could not tell for sure. A helicopter landed near him, but at first the person was reluctant to approach. Eventually he did, but even though he did not speak English, he communicated to the flight crew that there may have been other people in the same area. A Sheriff’s helicopter was dispatched to investigate further.

****

(UPDATE at 6:00 p.m. PT, June 1, 2013)

The map below shows the mapped perimeter of the Powerhouse Fire at 9 p.m. Friday (solid red line), and heat detected by a satellite at 2:40 p.m. on Saturday (red dots). If the locations plotted by the satellite are correct the fire has spread three to four miles to the west since 9 p.m. Friday and could be 5,000 to 7,000 acres. But the satellite data is frequently wrong by one to two miles.

The fire is spreading rapidly on the west and north sides according to Air Attack which is over the fire. The relative humidity at the nearby Grass Mountain weather station reached a minimum of 6 percent Saturday afternoon, while the wind has been in the 6 to 11 mph range with gusts to 14 mph. The temperature at Grass Valley maxed out at 92 degrees at 3 p.m., but that station is at 4,600 feet, about 1,600 feet higher than the fire. It could be 5 to 8 degrees warmer at the fire’s location.

Map of Powerhouse Fire

Map of Powerhouse Fire, 2:40 p.m. PT, June 1, 2013

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(UPDATE at 9:30 a.m. PT, June 1, 2013)

The Powerhouse Fire north of Los Angeles has grown to 3,662 acres, and the incident management team is calling it 15 percent contained.

One of the DC-10 air tankers carrying 11,600 gallons of fire retardant will join the fire fight today, on the first day of its 5-year exclusive use contract with the U.S. Forest Service. It will reload out of San Bernardino.

Vicinity map of Powerhouse Fire

Vicinity map of Powerhouse Fire, June 1, 2013. The fire is in red.

Perimeter map of Powerhouse Fire

Perimeter map of Powerhouse Fire, 9 p.m. PT, May 31, 2013. Looking north.

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(UPDATE at 6:50 p.m. PT, May 31, 2013)

The map of the Powerhouse Fire below shows the approximate location of heat detected by a satellite at 12:20 p.m. PT, Friday. It indicates that the fire has spread quite a bit to the west and the east.

Map of Powerhouse Fire, 1220 pm PT, May 31, 2013

One of the DC-10 air tankers, Tanker 911, has been activated and will begin working out of San Bernardino airport Saturday. The DC-10s hold 11,600 gallons of retardant.

****

(UPDATE at 8:15 a.m. PT, May 31, 2013)

The Powerhouse fire north of Los Angeles continued to spread overnight due to stronger winds and low relative humidity. A spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service Friday morning described a “200-acre spot fire” that firefighters had to deal with, bringing the size up to 1,500 acres, with 15 percent containment.

The evacuation orders were rescinded late on Thursday, but residents who moved large animals into shelters are advised to wait a day or so before moving them back, since the fire still has some potential to force re-evacuations.

Approximately 550 to 600 personnel will be working the fire Friday.

The map of the Powerhouse Fire below shows (in red) heat detected by a satellite at 2:50 a.m. May 31.

Map of Powerhouse Fire

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(UPDATED at 10 p.m. PT. May 30, 2013)

The U. S. Forest Service reports that the Powerhouse fire in San Fransciquito Canyon has burned about 1,000 acres of heavy brush.

Evacuations are occurring — check with Santa Clarita Sheriffs Dept. for specific information about evacuations, at (661) 255-1121. Red Cross evacuation assistance for residents is located at Marie Kerr Park, 39700 30th St. W. Palmdale, 93551.

The map shows the location of the Powerhouse fire (in red), which is about 30 miles north of Los Angeles.

Map of Powerhouse FireA Type 2 Incident Management Team will assume command at approximately 6 a.m. Friday.

Thursday evening the wind slowed, as did the fire spread, but the National Weather Service predicts that after 10 p.m. it will increase again to 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 30; ridgetop winds will be stronger, gusting to 40. Relative humidity will remain low overnight, around 15 to 20 percent.

Friday the humidity will be in the single digits, while the wind will be out of the north and northeast at 8 to 11 mph with gusts to 20 in the morning — stronger on the ridgetops. .

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(Originally published at 6:45 p.m. PT, May 30, 2013)

A new fire on the Angeles National Forest in southern California west of Landcaster and north of Los Angeles is spreading rapidly pushed by strong winds (map). The media is reporting that it has burned 400 to 600 acres.

At least one structure, possibly related to a large Department of Water and Power pipeline, has burned. Multiple Type 1 strike teams have been ordered to protect structures in front of the fire.

The live video being streamed by Los Angeles TV stations showed that the fire had a rapid rate of spread, and the effectiveness of air tanker retardant drops was diminished by the strong winds. At times high voltage power lines were arcing down to the ground through heavy, black smoke.

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About Bill Gabbert

Wildland fire has been a major part of Bill Gabbert’s life for several decades. After growing up in the south, he migrated to southern California where he lived for 20 years, working as a wildland firefighter. Later he took his affinity for firefighting to Indiana and eventually the Black Hills of South Dakota where he was the Fire Management Officer for a group of seven national parks. Today he is the creator and owner of WildfireToday.com and Sagacity Wildfire Services and serves as an expert witness in wildland fire. If you are interested in wildland fire, welcome… grab a cup of coffee and put your feet up. Google+

5 thoughts on “California: some firefighters released from the Powerhouse Fire

    • I did the 5/31 air attack mid afternoon shift and 1800-2000 finish. Fire was burning like its mid to late July. Lots of broken ground and not conducive to direct attack. Some places it burned down hill with the wind slicked it off. Night air attack came up at 2000 to start getting idea of conditions and the FS night fying helicopter was at Fox with company reps so things maybe starting up with the program. As far as LACFD aircraft on the fire that evening do not know. Lots of flight hazards in the area a complex environment for aircraft to say the least.

  1. Saw at least 3 HS crews heading south on I5 today in Northern CA and Southern OR. Zig Zag included from my back yard. Everyone stay safe!

  2. My husband and I have been here since the fire started in Green Valley…we watched in horror as the fire crested the ridge on the south side of Pine Canyon west of Lake Hughes Road and swept into the west end of Lake Hughes in less than 3 hours, taking the homes of many close friends. Somehow the firefighters decided to use our ranch as the staging area and we have had hundreds of men and machines here ever since. Helicopters have flown over just seconds apart, dozers have rumbled in every direction (finally) cutting fire breaks, while hot-shots climbed ridges to cut breaks as well. “Foschek” planes and copters have dumped their slimy goo on the leading edge of the fire and last night a crew set back fires just west of our ranch in an effort to get rid of extra fuel for the fire beast. I have taken hundreds of photos to share with our neighbors who left early and are still not allowed back in (as of 6:30 this morning even residents are not allowed in on Pine Canyon from Lake Hughes Road to Three Points Road). We were without power until 10pm last night and learned the value of friends, Sheriff, Fire Fighters, and even the Feds who could get gas to us to keep our ostrich eggs alive in the incubator…we also learned all of the things we could do without and what to keep stocked up on in the event we are stranded for weeks at a time. The fire fighting crews have been terrific, respectful, and kind…the “dog catcher” can stay off our ranch FOREVER as their only offer was to remove our big birds to the fairgrounds or give us a ticket IF the birds were turned loose…they were going to try to take our 8 foot tall, nearly 500 lb male, in full blown heat, in a pick-up truck and assured us the birds couldn’t out-run a fire…scary to think they wanted to “take care” of our babies and know so little about them!!! The Feds are sending a letter of “thanks” for the use of our property, asking what compensation we want…they saved our home and wedding site…they did the job they were trained to do, and did it well…in turn, they got the use of “flushy” toilets and our eternal gratitude. Maybe I’ll rally the thankful folks of our community to have an Ice Cream social here at the wedding site for ALL of the men & women who worked to save what they could.

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