California: scores of homes burn in Erskine Fire

Above: the early hours of the Erskine Fire, June 23, 2016. Kern County Fire Department photo.

(UPDATED at 1:30 p.m. PDT June 24, 2016)

Kern County Fire Department confirmed that two civilians have been killed in the fire. 

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(UPDATED at 10:26 a.m. PDT June 24, 2016)

Fire officials managing the Erskine Fire at Lake Isabella, California now say the size of the fire is currently estimated at 19,034 acres. Approximately 100 structures have been lost and 1,500 additional structures are threatened.

There are currently 600 firefighters on scene, with several hundred more in route.

On Friday there will be 6 air tankers, including a very large air tanker, and 7 helicopters on the fire. Additional air resources are in route.

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The spot weather forecast issued by the National Weather Service at 11 p.m. Thursday predicted for Friday, west winds of 5 to 8 mph in the morning increasing in the afternoon to 7 to 11 mph with gusts to 18.

A more recent forecast from the NWS for the fire area includes much stronger winds and a Red Flag Warning for the fire area. They predict sustained southwest winds of 24 mph with gusts up to 36, decreasing in the late afternoon. This will present a challenge for firefighters.

Weather Erskine Fire 6-24
Weather forecast for the Erskine Fire. Click to enlarge.
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(UPDATED at 9:52 a.m. PDT June 24, 2016)

The powerful video below shows some of the conditions the firefighters were dealing with as the Erskine Fire at Lake Isabella burned homes.

The National Weather Service spot weather forecast for the Erskine Fire issued Thursday night calls for temperatures Friday in the low 90s, relative humidity around 10 percent, and west winds of 5 to 8 mph in the morning increasing in the afternoon to 7 to 11 mph with gusts to 18. Saturday will be warmer but less breezy.

Mike Minton’s Type 1 Incident Management Team will inbrief at noon on Friday. They will most likely assume command 6 to 18 hours later.

The below photo sequence of the first 30 minutes of the Erskine Fire shows how quickly it grew.

The area is under a Red Flag Warning on Friday.

wildfire Red Flag Warning Southern California
Red Flag Warning for Southern California, June 24, 2016.
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(UPDATED at 5:57 a.m. PDT June 23, 2016)

Map Erskine Fire
Map showing heat detected on the Erskine Fire by a satellite at 2:26 a.m. PDT June 24, 2016. Click to enlarge.
In its first 10 hours the Erskine Fire at Lake Isabella scorched the earth over a path about 12 miles long by two miles wide. According to the latest figures released by the Kern County Fire Department at 5:45 a.m. approximately 8,000 acres and 100 structures have burned and another 1,500 structures are threatened.

Our very unofficial estimate using satellite data concludes that the fire had grown to well over 12,000 acres by Friday at 2:26 a.m. (see the map above).

This same data shows that the fire spread from just east of the town of Lake Isabella, north to Highway 178 in some places, and ran 12 miles east to within a mile of Kelso Valley Road.

Tyler Townsend, a PIO for Kern County Fire Department, said three firefighters suffered smoke inhalation injuries and were transported to a hospital.

Highway 178 is closed. Thursday night there were 350 personnel working on the fire. That number is expected to grow to 600 to 700 on Friday.

Areas under evacuation orders include 1,500 residences in Bella Vista, South Fork, Weldon, Onyx, Lakeland Estates, Mountain Mesa, South Lake, Squirrel Valley, and Yankee Canyon. The primary evacuation shelter is Kernville Elementary School.

A Type 1 Incident Management Team was ordered just a few hours after the fire started at about 4 p.m. on Thursday.

In 2014 two fires burned northwest of Lake Isabella near Highway 155 (Evans Road), the 2,600-acre Shirley Fire and the 4,000-acre Way Fire.

Continue reading “California: scores of homes burn in Erskine Fire”

California: San Gabriel Complex of Fires near Los Angeles

(UPDATED at 6:10 a.m. PDT June 22, 2016)

San Gabriel Complex Mt Wilson
The area of the San Gabriel Complex as seen from Mt. Wilson at 6:05 a.m. PDT June 22, 2016. The fires are on the right side of the picture on the far side of the ridge. Very little smoke is rising above the inversion. UCLA photo. Click to enlarge.

The activity on the Fish and Reservoir Fires that comprise the San Gabriel Complex near Los Angeles has lessened over the last 24 hours. The Fish Fire is still generating heat near the top of the fire and on the southwest side.

The combined acreage for the two fires is now 4,900 acres according to the U.S. Forest Service — 1,200 acres for the Reservoir Fire and 3,700 acres for the Fish Fire. Approximately 1,040 personnel are currently committed to these fires.

The mandatory evacuations for parts of the city of Duarte and in the national monument still remain in effect.

In spite of predictions otherwise, the two fires have still not merged and are over a mile apart.

Tuesday night firefighters continued structure protection along the south perimeter above Duarte. On Wednesday hand crews will hold and improve the fire perimeter, patrol along Highway 39, and seek opportunities to build indirect dozer lines along the Red Box Road.

weather forecast San Gabriel Complex fires
Weather forecast for the area of the San Gabriel Complex of Fires, generated at 6:30 a.m. PDT June 22, 2016. NWS.

With the exception of the wind, which could be an issue, the weather forecast for Wednesday favors firefighters, with moderate temperatures and relative humidity. However the wind will be out of the southwest at 8 to 11 mph with gusts up to 17 mph.

Map San Gabriel Complex
Map of the San Gabriel Complex at 3 a.m. PDT June 22, 2016. Click to enlarge.

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(UPDATE at 9:232a.m. PDT, June 21, 2016)

At a 9 a.m. press conference fire officials at the Fish and Reservoir Fires said the expected nighttime downslope winds that intensified after 4 a.m. caused an increase in fire activity, pushing the Fish Fire down the steep slopes above Duarte, California. With the assistance of at least one water-dropping night-flying helicopter firefighters were able to prevent the loss of any structures.

After a Chief with Los Angeles County Fire Department said they put out the fire at the base of the slopes behind the residences early Tuesday morning, he said there is no containment in that area or any other area on the fire. He also said he does not foresee any relaxation of the evacuation order in the near future.

Fire officials expect the two fires to merge. The incident is now known as the San Gabriel Complex.

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(UPDATE at 7:54 a.m. PDT June 21, 2016)

Map Fish Reservoir Fires
Map showing heat detected on the Fish and Reservoir Fires at 3:23 a.m. PDT June 21, 2016. Click to enlarge.

The Fish and Reservoir Fires near Glendora, Azuza, and Duarte in southern California have not grown together. According to satellite heat-sensing data they were still about 1.3 miles apart at 3:23 Monday morning.

The U.S. Forest Service reports that the size estimates of the fires are 3,000 acres for the Fish Fire and 2,400 acres for the Reservoir Fire.

A Type 2 incident management team with Mike Wakoski as Incident Commander is assigned to both fires. They had an inbriefing scheduled for 8 p.m. on Monday.

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(UPDATE at 9:40 p.m. PDT June 20, 2016)

The U.S. Forest Service reports the Fish Fire has burned 3,000 acres and the Reservoir fire, 1,500 acres. LA County reports that as of 8:30 p.m. the two fires had not merged… yet. They were still 1.5 miles apart. But at that time the Fish Fire was 2,000 acres.

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(Originally published at 4:45 p.m. PDT June 20, 2016. Updated at 5:33 p.m. PDT June 20, 2016)

Map Fish and Reservoir Fires
Map showing heat detected on the Fish and Reservoir Fires at 1:21 p.m. PDT June 20, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Two wildfires started today near Los Angeles and both got off to a roaring start. The map above shows the location of the fires at 1:21 PDT on Monday,  about two to three hours after they started. They have grown substantially since then.

Reservoir Fire
Reservoir and/or Fish Fire. Screen capture from KABC at 5:11 p.m. PDT 6-20-2016.

The Reservoir Fire ignited at about 11 a.m. after a vehicle accident on Highway 39 near Morris Reservoir on the steep slopes above Glendora, California. Within about three hours it had burned 1,200 acres and required the evacuation of San Gabriel Canyon recreation area. At 5:30 p.m. it was estimated at 1,500 acres.

Continue reading “California: San Gabriel Complex of Fires near Los Angeles”

Photos of the Reservoir and Fish Fires near Los Angeles

These are photos from the Reservoir and Fish Fires near Los Angeles on June 30, 2016.

BAe-146 drop
A BAe-146 drops on one of the fires near Los Angeles, June 20, ,2016. Screen grab from ABC7 video.
DC-10 drop fire
A DC-10 drops on one of the fires near Los Angeles, June 20, ,2016. Screen grab from ABC7 video.

And these photos:

And then this:

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Our main article about the Fish and Reservoir Fires has more details about these blazes.

California: Border Fire forces evacuation of additional areas, including Lake Morena Village

(UPDATED at 8:15 a.m. PDT June 24, 2016)

map Border Fire
Perimeter of the Border Fire (in red) at approximately 9 p.m. June 23, 2016.The white line was the perimeter two days before. Click to enlarge.

The growth of the Border Fire east of Potrero, California has slowed in recent days. CAL FIRE reports that it has burned 7,483 acres.

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(UPDATED at 7:20 a.m. PDT June 22, 2016)

map border fire
Map of the Border Fire at approximately 3 a.m. PDT, June 22, 2016. Click to enlarge.

The Border Fire at Potrero, California, 18 miles east of the greater San Diego area, continued to spread to the east on Tuesday, adding another 480 acres. CAL FIRE is reporting that it has burned a total of 6,500 acres, two residences, and 11 outbuildings.

A spot fire 1.2 miles northeast of the main fire had burned 40 acres as of early Wednesday morning.

Resources assigned to the fire include 1,604 personnel, 200 engines, 40 hand crews, 6 helicopters, 12 water tenders, and 7 dozers.

Highway 94 and the Pacific Crest Trail are closed.

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CAL FIRE reported at 7 p.m. on June 21 the revised size of the Border Fire was 6,020 acres.

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(UPDATED at 5:25 p.m. PDT June 21, 2016)

New evacuations were ordered for the Border Fire in San Diego County at 2 p.m on Tuesday June 21. It includes Lake Morena Village northwest of Campo, California.

Border Fire new evac

CAL FIRE reported that there are 1,484 personnel assigned, plus 158 engines, 32 hand crews, 6 helicopters, 12 water tenders, and 3 dozers.

The mandatory evacuations have been placed in parts of the city of Duarte and in the national monument still remain in effect.

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(UPDATED at 6:10 a.m. PDT June 21, 2016)

Border Fire perimeter map
Border Fire perimeter at 9 p.m. PDT June 20, 2016. Click to enlarge.

CAL FIRE’s latest estimate on the size of the Border Fire at Potrero, California was 7,500 acres late Monday afternoon. Our very rough analysis of Monday night’s mapping data puts it much closer to 6,000 acres … but it may eventually grow into the larger figure.

The fire has gone through or past several small communities with names like Dog Patch, and has come within two miles of Campo, which was the first evacuation shelter. When the fire grew closer to Campo, the shelter was moved to the rest area on Buckman Springs Road at Interstate 8, and was later relocated to El Cajon at the Los Coches Creek Middle School, 9669 Dunbar Lane.

According to CAL FIRE mandatory evacuations are still in effect for the communities of Potrero, Forest Gate, Star Ranch, Cowboy Ranch, Dog Patch, & Canyon City. Highway 94 remains closed. 

The number of structures destroyed remains at four outbuildings. There have been three minor injuries to firefighters.

Continue reading “California: Border Fire forces evacuation of additional areas, including Lake Morena Village”

California: Coleman fire, southwest of King City

(UPDATED at 5:15 p.m. PDT June 8, 2016)

The incident management team running the Coleman Fire southwest of King City, California has not revised the reported size in the last two days. They say it’s holding at 2,340 while being attended by about 1,000 personnel, however some of those are being released.

The team’s report Tuesday morning:

Fire crews made good progress again yesterday. Most of the fireline on the south and east side of the fire is contained. Crews were able to access and line several of the “fire fingers” on the west side of the fire in the Ventana Wilderness. The contingency dozer line on the west side of the fire was completed. Crews mopped-up and patrolled the fireline throughout the night on the east side of the fire.

The priority for [Tuesday] and the next several days will be constructing direct fireline on the west side of the fire in the Ventana Wilderness. There is a significant amount of open line that needs to be completed. This area is very steep and remote and line production is slow and difficult. Mop-up and patrol will continue on the other portions of the fire. Air support from both air tankers and helicopters is available to assist ground crews.

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(UPDATED at 8:58 p.m. PDT, June 6, 2016)

Coleman Fire June 6, 2016
Coleman Fire June 6, 2016 InciWeb photo.

The Coleman fire is not spreading. It fact it is shrinking. Sunday morning the incident management team said it had burned 3,500 acres. Then Monday morning it was 3,200 acres. The latest report from the team has it at 2,340 acres.

Within a few hours of it starting on Saturday the Southern California Geographic Area Coordination Center (OSCC) reported that the fire had “the potential to burn 10,000 to 35,000 acres”. So either the weather cooperated and slowed the spread, or the firefighters did a masterful job of knocking it down. Probably some of both is the answer. There are many residences northeast of the fire between the current perimeter and King City, only 8 miles away. The National Interagency Coordination Center’s Incident Management Situation Report Monday morning reported that one structure has burned in the fire. Considering the very rapid spread during the first few hours, that should be considered a good outcome.

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(UPDATED at 9:21 a.m. PDT, June 6, 2016)

Coleman Fire
Approximate perimeter of the Coleman fire at 3 a.m. PDT June 6, 2016. There may be additional acres that were not detected by the airborne heat sensors. Click to see larger version.

The Coleman Fire 8 miles southwest of King City, California has not grown much over the last 24 hours. Some of the smoke seen by residents on Sunday was caused by backfires or burnouts conducted by firefighters to secure control lines.

The incident management team is calling it 3,200 acres, down from the 3,500 figure they released on Sunday.

Resources assigned include 658 personnel, 11 hand crews, 80 engines, and 4 helicopters. One structure has burned. The estimated suppression cost as of Sunday was $1.2 million.

The weather forecast for the fire area on Monday predicts 97 degrees, relative humidity of 13 percent, and north to northeast winds at 6 to 10 mph. The conditions on Tuesday will be similar.

Weather forecast Coleman Fire
Weather forecast for Coleman Fire, generated at 9:15 a.m. PDT June 6, 2016. NWS. Click to see larger version.

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(UPDATED at 12:45 p.m. PDT, June 5, 2016)

At noon today the Southern California Geographic Area Coordination Center (OSCC) stated that the Coleman Fire southwest of King City, California will exhibit “extreme fire behavior as the day goes on” and that multiple residences are out in front of the fire. They are calling it 3,500 acres.

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(UPDATED at 11 a.m. PDT June 5, 2016)

McGowan’s Type 1 incident management team has been mobilized to the Coleman Fire which has spread to within eight miles of King City, California overnight. The team and will inbrief at 10 a.m.

The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office reported at 10:20 a.m. that deputies assisted with mandatory evacuations and remain in the area in case other evacuations are needed. Deputies started evacuations on Reliz Canyon and worked their way down to Elm Ave. They did the same on Monroe Cyn.

The map of the fire below shows that it spread significantly to the north and northeast in the 12 hours before 3:23 a.m. PDT, June 5. Using the heat data collected by a satellite at that time, we estimate the size to be 1,200 to 1,700 acres. However, some areas within the fire have light fuel such as grass which could burn and then cool before the next satellite overpass and would not be detected, thereby giving us an underestimated acreage count.

The green line is the border of the Los Padres National Forest. The Forest is on the left side of the line. Click on the maps to see larger versions.

Coleman fire map
Map showing heat detected by a satellite at 3:23 a.m. PDT on the Coleman Fire. The red dots are the most recent. The map also shows the Stoney Fire on Fort Hunter-Liggett, which did not spread as much overnight as the Coleman Fire.

The map of the Coleman Fire below is in 3-D, looking northeast toward King City.

Coleman fire map 3-D
Map in 3-D showing heat detected by a satellite at 3:23 a.m. PDT on the Coleman Fire. The red dots are the most current. We are looking northeast toward King City, California.

Continue reading “California: Coleman fire, southwest of King City”

Do California’s beetle-killed trees constitute an emergency?

Western Pine BeetleSome of the forests in California are experiencing a natural phenomenon that other areas in the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, and British Columbia have been dealing with for years. Pine beetles, in this case Western Pine Beetles (WPB), are attacking and killing millions of trees. These things run in cycles and in this case the extended severe drought in the state has stressed the trees making it more difficult for them to fend off insects.

Politicians, residents, and even some individuals in fire organizations look at the hillsides with numerous dead or dying trees and intuitively think — dead vegetation — increased wildfire hazard.

Here are examples from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE):

From a 2015 news release:

These dead and dying trees create an environment more readily susceptible to dangerous and destructive wildfires.

In a video on YouTube the narrator says when referring to a beetle-attacked stand of trees:

…an increase in extremely flammable vegetation which could lead to larger, more intense and damaging wildfires.

SFGate quoted spokesperson Daniel Berlant:

“No level of rain is going to bring the dead trees back,” Berlant said. “We’re talking trees that are decades old that are now dead. Those larger trees are going to burn a lot hotter and a lot faster. We’re talking huge trees in mass quantity surrounding homes.”

A phone call to Mr. Berlant was not returned.

Those warnings are not 100 percent accurate. In increasing numbers, scientists are determining that generally, insect damage reduces burn severity. In one of the more recent studies, researchers from the University of Vermont and Oregon State University investigated 81 Pacific Northwest fires that burned in areas affected by infestations of two prevalent bark beetle and defoliator species, mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) and western spruce budworm (Choristoneura freemani). The fires spanned the years 1987 to 2011.

Pine trees killed by bark beetles
Pine trees killed by bark beetles. Photo by Ethan Miller.

Few of the 81 fires occurred in forests while the needles were still on the trees in the red highly flammable stage of the outbreak shortly after the trees were killed by mountain pine beetles, so more research is needed about this phase. Aside from the one to two year red stage, the burn severity decreased for more than 20 years following a MPB attack. It makes sense that fewer fine fuels in the canopy would reduce the fire intensity and make it less prone to transition from a ground fire to a crown fire. This data was derived from fire behavior and data on actual fires, not laboratory experiments.

We contacted one of the researchers that conducted the study in the Pacific Northwest, Garrett Meigs, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Vermont, and asked him if their conclusions about reduced fire severity following a Mountain Pine Beetle attack in the Northwest could be compared to California’s situation — a drought combined with a Western Pine Beetle attack:

I am aware of the impressive amount of tree mortality in California but have not seen it with my own eyes. As such, I am hesitant to comment on the current conditions in California forests, which are beyond the scope of our recent studies in Oregon and Washington. My understanding is that most of the dying/dead trees are ponderosa pines, which have been affected by intensive drought and the western bark beetle (whereas in the PNW, we studied lodgepole pines affected by mountain pine beetle and mixed-conifers affected by western spruce budworm).

Another thing that is a bit different in California is that many of these forests are generally closer to large human populations, so there are more human values/resources at risk…and these forests at the wildland-urban interface have elevated fuel/fire hazard with or without dead trees (whether caused by insects or drought).

Regarding your specific questions, I would expect that fire behavior and effects would be similar in forests with similar amounts of dead trees, whether the tree mortality was caused by bark beetles or drought (or some combination).

This does not mean that residents near insect-damaged forests can ignore the dead trees. There is legitimate cause to be concerned about fires during the one or two year red needle stage after a pine beetle attack when fire intensity may be temporarily increased, although more research studying actual fires is needed in this area. And there is danger from falling snags (dead trees) 5 to 20 years after an attack. Snags are dangerous for firefighters and any structures, hikers, traffic on roads, and any improvements that could be damaged by the falling trees.

In a fire prone environment, residents should remove any dead vegetation within 100 feet of structures. If there are numerous trees near homes, thinning them so that the crowns are at least 10 feet apart will not only reduce the intensity of an approaching wildfire, but will make more water and nutrients available to the remaining trees, giving the them a better chance of fighting off an insect attack.