Canyon 2 Fire burns 7,500 acres in Southern California

(Originally published at 7:36 a.m. PDT October 10, 2017)

Canyon Fire map
The red dots represent heat detected on the Canyon 2 Fire by a satellite at 2:54 a.m. October 10. The yellow dots were detected at 12:54 p.m. October 9. The Canyon Fire started September 25, and the spread was stopped a few days later. Click to enlarge.

With attention — and resources — focused on the explosive growth and sheer scale of wildfires burning through Northern California’s wine country this week, crews to the south on Monday were busy battling an erratic, destructive and wind-whipped fire of their own.

The Canyon 2 Fire started Monday morning in the Anaheim Hills area.

By Tuesday morning, Anaheim Fire & Rescue reported the blaze to be at 7,500 acres. About 1,100 firefighters were assigned to the incident, with 14 helicopters and six planes assisting from the air.

It was just 5 percent contained.

The evacuation zone was primarily for residences in the wildland-urban interface south of the 91 Freeway and east of the 241.

Mandatory evacuations remained in place Tuesday. Some 24 structures are believed to have been destroyed, but exact details remain somewhat unclear.

Shifting winds were top of mind for crews on Tuesday.

Of note, the coastal marine layer that typically brings with it low-lying clouds and higher humidities was apparent Tuesday morning. However, the boundary line was pronounced, and the area of the Canyon 2 Fire was still experiencing single-digit relative humidity levels, courtesy of the Santa Ana Winds.

The Canyon 2 Fire was among several wildfires that blew up Monday in California, fed by high winds, low humidity and an abundance of fuels. Resources across the state were taxed as some fires went from ignition to tens of thousands of acres in just a few hours.

By Tuesday, “we’re gonna be as stretched as we can be,” said Steven Beech, an incident commander with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, according to the LA Times. 

The area is only a few miles from Disneyland. Suffice to say photos from the so-called “Happiest Place on Earth” were a little more striking on Monday.

80,000 acres in 18 hours: Damage from historic California wine country wildfires comes into focus

(Originally published at 8:33 p.m. PDT October 9, 2017)

(Above: Map showing the location of the wildfires in Northern California. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 12:54 p.m. PDT October 9, 2017. The yellow dots were detected in the previous 24 hours. Map compiled by Wildfire Today)

Monday marked the latest chapter in a book of unforgettable Octobers for California residents and firefighters alike, right next to the especially devastating fall months in 2003 and 2007.

The region was different this time — wine country of Northern California as opposed to the chaparral-dotted hillsides straddling the U.S-Mexico border near San Diego that bore witness to the Cedar and Witch fires, among the state’s most costly and destructive wildfires.

Throughout Monday, the similarities were coming into focus nonetheless.

Fanned by winds gusting in excess of 50 mph, upward of a dozen wildfires erupted Sunday night in the hills north of San Francisco and west of Sacramento. Already under a red flag warning, thousands of residents who went to bed Sunday gearing up for another week instead woke in the middle of the night and raced through ember-filled streets in a desperate effort to escape.

By morning, the scale of the fires was yet to be seen.

Hour by hour, the scope of the disaster came into focus.

By evening, the numbers were striking. In less than 24 hours, 15 wind-whipped fires in nine counties ignited and blackened more than 73,000 acres in less than 24 hours, according to CAL FIRE.

Among the three largest fires, based on CAL FIRE’s afternoon update: 

  • Atlas Fire in Napa County: 25,000 acres
  • Tubbs Fire in Napa County: 25,000 acres
  • Redwood Complex (Redwood and Potter fires) in Mendocino County: 19,000 acres

Several other fires ranging in size from a few acres to thousands also burned out of control into Monday evening.

More than 2,000 homes were destroyed, according to the governor’s office, and at least 10 people were killed with many more reportedly having suffered injuries. Many more were reported missing, and the death toll will almost certainly rise as operations transition to search and recovery.

Many of the fires remained 0 percent contained, despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters from crews across the state.

A 747 Supertanker was among those resources assisting teams on the ground. By 6 p.m. PDT on Monday the aircraft had conducted six sorties, dropping over 110,000 gallons of retardant mostly in the Napa area. Many other air tankers and helicopters were also very busy slowing down the fires, where possible, with water and retardant.

A clearer picture of the damage is expected in coming days. But those visuals thus far, of lush vinyards and go-to wineries leveled, mobile home parks and up-scale neighborhoods both decimated, and even more damage expected as a red flag warning lingers into Tuesday.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday declared a state of emergency for several affected counties and also requested a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to support state and local responses on the heels of an emergency proclamation issued for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties.

Mr. Brown’s major disaster declaration request in part:

“These fires have forced thousands of Northern California residents to immediately evacuate their homes and seek temporary shelter in order to save their lives. Many residents had little time to flee due to the fires’ rapid and erratic rate of spread through the rural terrain. Tragically, these fires have already taken lives and emergency responders anticipate the number of fatalities could grow.

The devastation and disruption caused by these fires is extraordinary. Thousands have been made homeless. Many school remain closed. Major roads were damaged or destroyed. The fire destroyed utility poles causing the loss of power to over 38,000 residents. These fires have destroyed and continue to threaten critical infrastructure, including 80 communication towers, impacting essential services for thousands of people…”

 

Fires in Southern California from years past were known for their fast, yet steady, rate of growth over the span of several days — perhaps the biggest distinction between this week’s fires to the north that exploded overnight.

Still, there’s the potential for even greater growth and destruction through the week. Winds are forecast to ease on Tuesday morning, but dry conditions will continue with highs in the mid-to-upper 70s and 80s by the weekend, according to the National Weather Service. 

Wildfires erupt overnight in California’s wine country

(Originally published at 7:57 a.m. PDT October 9, 2017)

(The Tubbs Fire burns in Northern California Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, as seen from this video posted on YouTube by Craig Philpott)

A series of fires fanned by high winds erupted Sunday night and Monday morning in California’s wine country, charring at least 20,000 acres and sending thousands of people fleeing homes, hotels and hospitals in the middle of the night.

The fires, many of which started late Sunday, burned out of control across hillsides in Sonoma and Napa counties, north of San Francisco and west of Sacramento. Multiple other counties were affected as smoke pushed into neighborhoods as day broke.

The largest, the Tubbs Fire, scorched in excess of 20,000 acres within just a few hours, Santa Rosa Fire reported. The fast-moving fire forced the evacuation of area hospitals, closed schools and led officials to recall all city employees to help staff the emergency operations center.

The Santa Rosa city manager and acting director of emergency services declared the situation a local emergency, according to the incident’s information page. 

“This is a life-threatening event,” the Santa Rosa Police Department said in a 2 a.m. alert regarding the evacuations. “Leave immediately.”

There was no immediate word on injuries to civilians or first responders.

The National Weather Services has issued a Red flag warning for the region until 5 a.m. Tuesday. North winds were forecast to gust to 30 mph through the day Monday before shifting to the south and diminishing by afternoon.

“Warm temperatures, low humidity and locally strong winds will coincide with critically dry fuels,” forecasters warned.

Red flag warnings were in effect across Northern California on Monday.
Red flag warnings were in effect across Northern California on Monday.

The nearby Marin County Sheriff’s Office reported no fires Monday morning but said its 911 dispatchers were overwhelmed with people calling to report smoke from other area fires being pushed into their neighborhoods.

Video from residents in the area shows the frantic evacuation efforts that unfolded Monday morning.

The exact magnitude of this event remains unclear as day breaks in the area. Photos circulating online, including several hosted here by The San Francisco Chronicle, show several structures, including homes, totally destroyed in the densely populated area.

2016 Southwestern U.S. wildfire report now available

Above: Engine 337 of the Tonto National Forest monitors the Juniper Fire, which started by a lighting strike on May 20, 2016 approximately 10 miles south of Young, Arizona. Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service, Tonto National Forest.

Wildfires burned nearly 600,000 acres last year in a three-state region of the Southwest U.S., more than double the number of acres burned in each of the previous two years, according to a new report published this week detailing the 2016 fire season.

The report is the fourth in a series of annual overviews made available from the Southwest Fire Science Consortium and the Ecological Restoration Institute intended to serve as a summary for past years and allow for a comparison with previous fires.

Specifically, the report describes effects from the 12 largest fires — each larger than 8,000 acres — in Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas.

Twelve fires are examined in detail. Four occurred in New Mexico: the North, Dog Head, McKenna and Clavel fires; seven in Arizona: Cedar, Jack, Juniper, Brown, Fuller, Rim and Mule Ridge; and one in Texas: the Coyote Fire.

These 12 largest fires represent nearly half of the acres burned by wildfire in 2016.

Colorado county approves first-of-its-kind deal with Global SuperTanker Services

Above: 747 Supertanker making a test drop with water at Colorado Springs May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A Colorado county on Tuesday approved a deal that sets the stage for a response from the largest firefighting aircraft in the world if and when major wildfires flare up near Denver, marking the culmination of a first-of-its-kind contract.

Commissioners in Douglas County on Tuesday approved the one-year, $200,000 deal with Global SuperTanker Services LLC that gives the county access to the mammoth Boeing 747-400 aircraft that can drop roughly 20,000 gallons of water or retardant — nearly double the capacity of its closest rival, the DC-10.

The deal is unique in that it gives the 800-square-mile county situated between Denver and Colorado Springs exclusive access to the SuperTanker.

“Douglas County is establishing a model for wildland fire-prone municipalities to follow,” Bob Soleberg, senior vice president and program manager for Global SuperTanker, said in a statement Tuesday night to Wildfire Today and Fire Aviation. “Their planning is comprehensive and designed to protect lives, property and the natural resources.”

Additional details about the new deal and information about Douglas County’s partnerships with other aircraft entities in the region is available on FireAviation.com.

USGS to study fuel break effects on wildfires, sage-grouse

Above: Roads through areas prone to wildfire act as fuel breaks, disrupting the fuel continuity, potentially reducing the rate of fire spread. The areas on either side of the road have also been mowed to reduce vegetation height. Photo courtesy of BLM.

The U.S. Geological Survey is gearing up for a project across the Great Basin studying how effective fuel breaks are, simultaneously evaluating their ecological costs and benefits.

Fuel breaks like sandy roads or other barriers are intended to reduce fire size and frequency by slowing or altogether halting fire’s spread to the other side of the break. Still, questions remain about whether fuel breaks protect sagebrush and sage-grouse, the USGS said in a comments discussing the new research. 

“We want to determine the extent to which fuel breaks can help protect existing habitat from wildland fires, paying particular attention to how such breaks affect sagebrush habitat, sage-grouse, and other sagebrush-dependent species,” the USGS said in a statement. 

Additional information about the research can be found on the USGS site.