The Thirtymile Fire– 7 years ago, Thursday

For a lot of reasons, this fire is going to be a part of the heritage of wildland firefighters for a long time.

The Thirty Mile Fire was first discovered during the evening of July 9, 2001. During the afternoon of July 10 high winds developed causing the Thirty Mile Fire in the Chewuch River Valley, north of Winthrop, WA to blow up and grow from approximately 5 acres to over 2500 acres within 2 ½ hours.

21 firefighters and 2 civilians were entrapped in a narrow canyon of the Chewuch River Valley. Fires shelters were deployed in an area surrounded by fire on all sides. Four firefighters were killed and another four firefighters and 2 civilians were injured.

Those killed were:

Tom L. Craven, 30, Ellensburg, WA;
Karen L. Fitzpatrick, 18, Yakima, WA;
Devin A. Weaver, 21, Yakima, WA;
Jessica L. Johnson, 19, Yakima, WA.

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Spend a few minutes on Thursday honoring these four firefighters.

Weather– hot and dry

It is going to be very hot and dry in California, the Great Basin, and western Colorado over the next couple of days. In California the temperatures have been approaching record highs. In the northern Sacramento valley today the highs will be 111-116 with the relative humidity at 7-12%. Red flag warnings are in effect for northern California, and sections of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho for high temperatures and very low humdities.

More fires than average?

At times it might seem like there have been an unusually high number of fires so far this year. The news is full of the fires in California, and smoke from the state has drifted east all the way to the Mississippi river. But other than Texas, Florida, and to an extent, North Carolina, Arizona and New Mexico, the rest of the country has been relatively quiet, fire wise. Much of the northwest, the Rockies, and northern Rockies had a wet winter and spring and are still green.

Nationally, to date there have been 46,367 fires which have burned 2,902,639 acres. The acres burned is actually below the 5-year average to date, which is 3,075,833. The 10-year average is 2,353,507. The number of fires to date is close to the 5- and 10-year averages.

Fire Summary (Five Day Trend) (courtesy of National Park Service)

Date

Wed

Thu

Mon

Tue

Wed

Day

7/2

7/3

7/7

7/8

7/9

Initial Attack Fires

282

335

223

274

161

New Large Fires

6

6

1

2

3

Large Fires Contained

5

5

3

3

1

Uncontained Large Fires

85

90

70

67

68


National Resource Commitments (Five Day Trend)

Date

Wed

Thu

Mon

Tue

Wed

Day

7/2

7/3

7/7

7/8

7/9

Area Command Teams

2

2

3

3

3

NIMO Teams

2

2

2

4

4

Type 1 Teams

15

15

14

14

15

Type 2 Teams

18

16

13

12

11

FUM Teams

0

1

1

1

1

Weather map, courtesy of Accuweather

CA: Basin Complex, July 9 update

Contrary to reports elsewhere, as of last night Big Sur’s Basin fire still had not reached the Indians fire, although undoubtedly it will in the very near future. The latest information shows a 1/2 mile gap between the two fires on the southeast side of the Basin fire north of the Rodeo Flats trail. The fire is burning intensely in this area and the two fires will probably merge within the next 24 hours.

Crews are firing the line downhill along the Rodeo Flats trail toward the Indians fire. This has been going very slowly for the last several days, but I expect they will have to complete this firing in the next day or two. Of course the Indians fire has been relatively cold for a while now, so the act of merging will have no effect on fire behavior, other than the Indians burned area serving as a barrier to the Basin fire.

South side
The burning operation down Dolan Ridge to the coast highway is complete

North side
The firing along the Old Coast Road is complete, and the firing on Mescal Ridge has progressed east beyond Bottchers Gap. The fire is burning intensely east of Bottchers Gap, and in the Pat Springs, Little Pines, and Uncle Sam Mountain areas. It is within a mile of the dozer line north of Little Pines, east of Devils Peak. The dozer line is downhill from the existing fire edge, so it will be burning more slowly as it approaches the line, but I imagine the firefighters have plans to fire this out in the near future. There are plans for an additional secondary dozer line north of the existing one east of Devis Peak, but hopefully it won’t have to be used.

East side
The fire is burning intensely:

  • west of the Carmel River drainage south of Uncle Sam Mountain,
  • in two areas 1.5 to 2 miles northwest and southwest of Tassajara,
  • and a large area west of the Indians fire north of the Rodeo Flats Trail.

The map was current as of 1900 Tuesday night. Click on it to see a larger version.

CA: BTU Complex, July 9 update

Update: 0900 PT-

Wildfire Today received a call from a local resident who used our “Call Me” button. He said the fire crossed the West Branch of the Feather River (which runs north and south in this area) but the spots across the river were picked up by aircraft and firefighters. He said the fire is being pushed to the south now by a steady 15 mph wind, which would mean it will be moving parallel with the river.

The weather forecast for today:

Paradise (at the fire, elevation 1,715′)
Temp: 104
Winds: NE shifting to NW 5-7
RH: 12%

Oroville (12 miles south of the fire, elevation 190′)
Temp: 107
Winds: N shifting to W and then NW 7-9
RH: 10%

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The Camp fire, part of the BTU (or Butte) Lightning Complex, slowed last night after burning approximately 50 homes in Concow, California yesterday. Evacuations are in effect for portions of Concow and Paradise displacing an estimated 9,500 14,000 people.

Monday night between 8 and 10 p.m., firefighters began a firing operation out ahead of the fire, between the fire and Concow. CalFire-Butte County Capt. Scott McLean said the firing was going well, until an unexpected change in the weather occurred after midnight. Strong down canyon winds and a drop in the relative humidity from 43% to 21% caused spot fires far ahead of the firing operation.

McLean said:

We had to try something; the fire was going to get there anyway.

On Tuesday the fire reached Concow and burned at least 50 homes. We don’t fault the firefighters…. we will take the spokesperson at his word, that the fire would have reached Concow anyway. The strong winds Monday night and Tuesday contributed to the extreme fire behavior that caused the fire to burn all the way to the outskirts of Paradise.

The map below shows heat, in red, orange, and black, detected by satellites last night, with the red areas being the most recently burned. The yellow lines are the latest perimeters uploaded by the incident management teams. Click on the map to see a larger version.

Wall Street Journal writes about Big Sur fire blog

The Wall Street Journal deviated from their usual fare of business articles to write about a blog that was created on July 3 to provide information to Big Sur residents about the Basin Complex fire which surrounded the community. Here is an excerpt:

In Big Sur, Web Site Run by Resident Is Key Data Source
By STU WOO
July 9, 2008; Page A3

BIG SUR, Calif. — As a wildfire that has ravaged 80,000 acres threatens their community, residents waiting for news about their homes and businesses here aren’t waiting for word from fire officials at nightly meetings or from newspapers in the morning.

Instead, they are heading online to SurFire2008.org.

The Web site and blog are run by Lisa Goettel, a temporarily homeless Web designer whose move to a new Big Sur house about 150 miles south of San Francisco was derailed by the wildfire, which was 18% contained Tuesday. Ms. Goettel runs the site out of a coffee shop with free wireless Internet in Carmel-By-The-Sea, about 25 miles north of Big Sur. She depends on five residents and businesspeople who remain in Big Sur — defying mandatory evacuation orders — for on-scene reports.

The site has become a must-read for Big Sur residents, the media and even fire officials. It routinely scoops fire officials and newspapers. The site also provides displaced residents a space to find temporary employment or shelter. The blog has already received 73,000 hits since it went up on July 3.

After the evacuation order, Mayra Reyes and her father spent a couple of nights at a hotel, which charged them $40 a night. But then they visited the SurFire2008 site and found good Samaritans who had posted an offer to house Big Sur residents. “It was very helpful,” said Ms. Reyes.

Retired lawyer Sam Goldeen said he checks the site three or four times a day. “It’s all there is,” Mr. Goldeen said. “These nightly meetings don’t talk about [specific] homes and areas.” Generally, he said, the fire chief doesn’t know “because he’s concerned about the big picture, and he should be.”

The blog is updated several times a day by Ms. Goettel and correspondents like Stan Russell, the executive director of Big Sur’s chamber of commerce who has been bunkered in the Post Ranch Inn here for the past week. The 52-year-old Mr. Russell, armed with a digital camera, a pair of binoculars and a laptop, walks around the ash-covered 100-acre property to take pictures and report on what he can see from the hilltop site. He sends a report to Ms. Goettel, who puts it online.

“The way we are doing it is certainly unique,” Mr. Russell said. “I think people are going to look at us as a model…at how fast and efficiently we self-organized.”

BTU Complex: 50 homes burn in Concow

At least 50 homes burned Tuesday in the city of Concow, California as the BTU (or Butte) Lightning Complex swept through communities 20 miles east of Chico. The entire east half of the city of Paradise, a city of 26,000, is under evacuation orders, and some areas of Magalia have also been evacuated.

If the weather forecast is accurate, Paradise and Magalia are under a severe threat from the fire. Firefighters hope to stop the fire at the West Branch of the Feather River just east of the city.

This is the third time in the last few weeks that Paradise has had a bulls eye painted on it by fires heading in their direction.

HERE is a link to a very interesting map of the fire in the area made by the newspaper in Chico, the Chico Enterprise Record. This is an amazing use of Google Maps. You might call it groundbreaking. There is a ton of information there—I hope the data is accurate. Click on the icons on the map to get details.

It also shows the areas that are being evacuated. Scroll through the legend on the left side. HERE and HERE is more information about evacuations.

Record high temperatures as high as 115 in the valley on Tuesday contributed to the extreme fire behavior. Foothill temperatures were expected to be in the 90s on Tuesday.

The Weather forecast for Paradisc, CA: (note that the maximum relative humidities at night only go up to 30% and 26%)

Tuesday night: Areas of smoke. Clear, with a low around 79. Northeast wind between 10 and 15 mph, with gusts as high as 18 mph. RH 30%.

Wednesday: Areas of smoke. Sunny and hot, with a high near 110. North northwest wind between 5 and 10 mph. RH 10%.

Wednesday Night: Areas of smoke. Clear, with a low around 77. North wind between 7 and 13 mph. RH 26%

Thursday: Areas of smoke. Sunny and hot, with a high near 108. Northeast wind 6 to 8 mph becoming west. RH 11%.