Fire agencies respond to earthquake near Napa

(UPDATED at 5:32 p.m. PDT, August 24, 2014)

As we noted below, the U.S. Forest Service Regional Office in Vallejo, approximately 5 miles south of the epicenter, was affected by this morning’s 6.0 earthquake. Further assessments revealed a water line break on the fourth floor that caused extensive damage. Additional problems were also found, however the USFS is saying the building is structurally sound. An Incident Management Team is working on the cleanup and the office will be closed through Tuesday while a contract crew deals with the water and further assessments are completed. All employees are authorized administrative leave for August 25th and 26.


(UPDATED at 12:55 p.m. PDT, August 24, 2014)

At a news conference that just finished, Napa Fire Chief Mike Randolph said resources in the city include four strike teams of Type 1 (structure) engines, one strike team of water tenders, and two urban search and rescue task forces.

The fire department has received 100 calls reported natural gas odors. They have also been assessing damaged structures to determine if anyone needs to be rescued, but have found none.

Approximately 50 water main breaks have been reported.

California Office of Emergency Services is live-streaming video from the state Operations Center.


(Originally published at 9:39 a.m. PDT August 24, 2014; updated at 9:27 a.m. PDT, August 24, 2014)

Earthquake map

The 6.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the Napa area north of San Francisco at 3:20 a.m. PDT today not only caused damage to structures, roads, and water mains, but several mobile homes caught fire when they were shaken off their foundations, rupturing natural gas lines. The broken water main made it difficult for firefighters to suppress the fires, using only the booster tanks in the engines until water tenders arrived.

Battalion Chief Scott McLean, a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), said the agency has not had any reports of vegetation fires related to the earthquake, but 10 CAL FIRE engines, plus 2 Napa County engines and 2 Napa County water tenders are assisting the city of Napa. There are a total of 4 strike teams on order — 3 Type 1 strike teams (structure engines) and 1 Type 3 (brush engine) strike team. Each strike team has 5 engines plus a strike team leader. Two Type 1 urban search and rescue teams have been ordered, Chief McLean said.

There are no CAL FIRE aviation assets are working the incident, but Chief McLean said Helicopter 104 is available if needed.

U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Stanton Florea said their Region 5 headquarters in Vallejo, approximately 5 miles south of the epicenter, sustained damage that is being evaluated.


Fire weather outlook, August 23 through 28

A large, slow-progressing upper level trough has brought copious moisture to much of the northern Rockies and Eastern Great Basin. Even some winter weather advisories with very a cool air mass over MT. Widespread fire weather threats have been minimal across much of the western US and will likely remain quiet through the weekend. Despite the lack of optimal large fire conditions, several areas will need to be monitored for developing potential into mid-week.

As the trough begins to lift northeast into the northern Plains and Canada early week, another final shortwave will rotate around the apex on Monday. This will bring a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms across portions of NV/UT. With lack of low level moisture and drying taking place over the weekend, a few isolated dry thunderstorms are possible. No strong winds are anticipated outside of thunderstorm outflows. The threat will diminish Tuesday evening.

A big story will be developing, with upper level ridging along the West Coast and subsequent drying conditions and warming temperatures early week. These conditions will aggravate already drought stricken regions and provide ripe conditions for fire growth for CA and northward into OR/WA. No widespread thunderstorms or wind events are anticipated. However, temperatures above 90F and widespread RHs <20% with some <10% for central OR and northern CA by Wednesday will promote extreme fire behavior.

Weather Highlights:

NV/UT/southern ID: Isolated dry thunderstorms Mon/Tues. Becoming hot and mid-week.

OR/WA: A few scattered showers on Sun, lingering into Mon. Becoming very hot and dry Tues and continuing into late week.

CA: Warm and dry Sat/Sun. Becoming very hot and critically dry by mid-week.



Report: Fuel treatments made two Arizona fires more controlable

Burnout on the Slide Fire

Burnout operation on the Slide Fire. InciWeb photo.

Forest treatments to reduce hazardous fuels made it easier to contain two wildfires in Arizona this year, according to Wally Covington, the director of the Ecological Restoration Institute, and a Regents’ professor of forest ecology at Northern Arizona University. In an op-ed at LiveScience, Mr. Covington said the fires had the conditions, and the chance, to burn hundreds of houses and destroy some of the state’s most coveted recreational tourist attractions, but they didn’t.

He is referring to the 21,000-acre Slide Fire and the 7,000-acre San Juan Fire which started in May and June, respectively. While they still grew into large fires, Mr. Covington said they could have become very damaging megafires, if not for the fuel treatments previously conducted on the Apache-Sitgreaves and Coconino National Forests.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

…The San Juan fire also provided lessons about how treated areas did what they were designed to do: slow a fire’s advance and restore a forest’s natural ability to self-regulate. How a wildfire behaves when it reaches a treatment area is a good test of how those treatments work. Fire crews and incident management teams reported that when the fire burned into areas that had been thinned, it burned with low severity and on the ground, not in treetops. The dry, frequent-fire forests of the West evolved with this type of fire, a slow-moving, low severity surface fire that would remove young trees and revitalize understory grasses and forbs. Anecdotal evidence from the San Juan Fire also suggests that the previously treated areas allowed fire crews to safely conduct burnout operations, thus enabling them to manage and control the fire.


Woman who bragged on Facebook about starting a fire faces prison sentence

Sunnyside Turnoff Fire

A burnout on the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire in 2013. InciWeb photo.

It turns out that bragging on social media about starting a wildfire can lead to a prison sentence.

On July 22, 2013, two days after throwing a firecracker into vegetation to start a fire so her firefighter friends would not be “bored”, Sadie Renee Johnson, 23, wrote on her Facebook page: “Like my fire?”
Sadie Johnson
It grew to become the 51,480-acre Sunnyside Turnoff Fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, the 15th largest fire in the United States in 2013.

Ms. Johnson pleaded guilty on May 19 to the crime of setting brush and timber on fire.

The Department of Justice said she admitted that she was riding as passenger in a car on Route 3 near Sunnyside Drive when she used a lighter to light a small firework, then tossed it out the passenger window into the brush along the side of the road.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported that the estimated costs of suppressing the fire was $4 million. Prosecutors said the approximate cost for the Bureau of Indian Affairs was $7,901,973. According to the law, Ms. Johnson is required to pay full restitution.

Ms. Johnson is being held at the Columbia County Jail, awaiting sentencing scheduled for September 3. Prosecutors said Johnson faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release.


Using “margin” for safety analysis

Fighting wildfires is dangerous, in spite of reports that some firefighters don’t see it that way. In  Matthew Desmond’s book, On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters, he quotes one:

If you know, as a firefighter, how to act on a fire, how to approach it, this and that, I mean you’re, yeah, fire can hurt you. But if you can soak up the stuff that has been taught to you, it’s not a dangerous job.

An industry has grown up around on-the-job safety. People with advanced degrees frequently come up with new ways of analyzing conditions in the workplace and how to prevent accidents and fatalities. Some of their products are useful.

A system that is new to us is called “margin”. In an article posted this month on the Wildland Fire Leadership webpage, it is described as: “The influence that conditions have on decisions and actions.”

Below is an excerpt from the article, which included the video above.

Comparing the Swiss Cheese Model (SCM) and Margin is not a direct “apples to apples” comparison. The SCM was introduced to the wildland fire community through the L-380 curriculum and is intended primarily, as an “ innovative framework for thinking about human error…[that] scrutinizes all levels in an organization when looking for the causes of human error” (Mission-Centered Solutions Inc., 2007, p. 55). It was designed to pinpoint the causes of an accident or error by describing the holes in defenses that, when aligned through multiple levels, create an error chain. Margin, is focused on the influence that conditions have on decisions and actions; it does not attempt to describe a linear causal relationship among conditions at various levels, rather it describes the collective influence of these conditions. The focus can then shift from cause to understanding the capacity to cope with uncertainty, error and surprise. SCM is intended to make sense of an accident after it happens, whereas margin, while it can be used in accident analysis, is designed to help users describe the potential for the system to do harm before an accident occurs…