Golf club may have started Poinsettia Fire in California

Poinsettia Fire, screen grab from Fox TV at 120 pm PDT, May 14, 2014

Poinsettia Fire, screen grab from Fox TV at 1:20 p.m. PDT, May 14, 2014.

A fire investigator has determined that a golf club striking a rock is one of the possible causes for the Poinsettia Fire that burned 27 residences and 600 acres on May 14 in Carlsbad, California. The fire started near a cart path on the 7th hole on the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa’s golf course.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Union-Tribune:

As for arson, a viral suspicion on that infernal spring day, [Dominic Fieri, an investigator with the Carlsbad Fire Department] found no evidence of an incendiary device.

“Based on the location of the fire’s origin, and interviews conducted by the Carlsbad police,” he wrote, “I have ruled out any fire causes that resulted in a deliberate act of circumstances in which a person ignited the fire.”

That leaves Fieri with only one explanation he could not reject out of hand — a “smoldering ignition source that had direct contact with combustible materials.”

Given the starting point on a golf course, Fieri concluded that the blaze may have been started either by a burning cigarette or cigar (though he could find no physical evidence in the windy, charred ignition area) or a spark created by a “titanium golf club head” hitting a rock.

If a golf club started the Poinsettia Fire it is not the first time it has happened. There is at least one and possibly two other cases of this happening.

As we wrote in 2010, the Orange County Fire Authority in California said that a 12-acre fire in August of that year was ignited when a golfer, whose ball was in the rough, struck a rock with his club, causing sparks which started the fire. It took hand crews, helicopters, and 150 firefighters to put out the fire at the Shady Canyon Golf Club.

Earlier this year scientists at UC Irvine even conducted research to see if it was possible. Their conclusion:

Titanium alloy golf clubs can cause dangerous wildfires, according to UC Irvine scientists. When a club coated with the lightweight metal is swung and strikes a rock, it creates sparks that can heat to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit for long enough to ignite dry foliage, according to findings published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Fire and Materials.

If you look carefully in the video below, you will be able to see sparks created by a titanium club.


Fire shelter deployment on prescribed fire in northern California

From a Redwood National & State Parks press release:


“On Monday, October 13, 2014, National Park Service (NPS) and US Forest Service (USFS) firefighters conducted a prescribed burn in the Upper Lyons Ranch burn unit in the Bald Hills area of Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP) [in northwest California]. At approximately 2:20 pm, firefighters were burning off of a handline when the winds slightly switched direction across the line causing several spot fires outside of the unit. Due to the intense smoke, a USFS firefighter was separated from his squad and disoriented. As a result, he deployed his fire shelter on the handline. He was quickly located and escorted a short distance out of the smoke and assessed by an on-site paramedic. As a precautionary measure, the firefighter was airlifted to Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding, California for follow-up evaluation and was released a short time later with minor injuries to one of his hands.

A Facilitated Learning Analysis Team comprised of NPS and USFS fire management officers will be in the park later this week to conduct a formal review of this incident.

The Upper Lyons burn unit consists of 208 acres of grassland and open oak woodland. The burn was initiated around noon on Monday and concluded successfully at 5:45 pm. RNSP regularly conducts prescribed burns in the prairies and oak woodlands of the Bald Hills. The park’s 2010 Fire Management Plan provides for the use of fire to restore natural and cultural processes, manage exotic plants and conifers encroaching into prairie and oak woodland plant communities, and to interpret and educate the public about the role of fire in the parks. The parks have successfully used prescribed fires to achieve these objectives since the early 1980’s.”


Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Barbara.


CAL FIRE’s Moonlight Fire saga continues

Since January, 2013 a battle has been going on in the court system between the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the U.S. Forest Service, and Sierra Pacific Industries Inc., a Redding, California lumber company. CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service claimed the company was responsible for starting the Moonlight Fire that burned about 65,000 acres in 2007 (map), including 46,000 acres in the Plumas and Lassen National Forests in the northern part of the state.

Below is a portion of an update from the Wall Street Journal:

A California timber company accused of starting a 102-square-mile wildfire seven years ago is seeking to undo a $47 million legal settlement because of alleged misdeeds by investigators and prosecutors.

Sierra Pacific Industries filed hundreds of pages of court documents Thursday in federal court seeking to reopen a case settled in 2012. The settlement also included Sierra Pacific transferring 22,500 acres of land to the state of California.

State and federal prosecutors and investigators concluded that the state’s largest timber company was responsible for a 2007 wildfire that consumed 40,000 acres of national forest in Northern California, as well as another 25,000 acres.

A state court judge in February found that California officials lied and hid evidence, and the judge ordered the state to pay the company $30 million. The company is citing the same evidence to reopen the federal case.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is appealing the state judge’s decision…

An article in the Modesto Bee includes some shocking charges.

…On Thursday, [Sierra Pacific] took the rare step of asking [Judge Kimberly] Mueller to “vacate the settlement” due to “fraud upon the court.”

Sierra Pacific has already paid the government $29 million under the terms of the settlement, with another $3 million payment due Jan. 1. It also has conveyed approximately 1,500 acres of its property to the government, owing roughly 21,000 more acres.

The company contends federal prosecutors sat by in pretrial depositions and knowingly allowed the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and U.S. Forest Service investigators to “repeatedly lie under oath about the very foundation of their investigation.”

It insists in its motion that the investigators’ origin-and-cause report is a fraudulent document that omits or distorts all information that might have hurt the government’s case.

CAL FIRE was also involved in questionable behavior before the case first went to trial. In their billing sent to Sierra Pacific in 2009, they demanded the company make two payments; one of $7.7 million to the state, and another for $400,000 to an account belonging to a nonprofit organization administered by CAL FIRE. The organization that held the money charged CAL FIRE 18 percent interest. The funds in that account had been used for off the books purchases of items such as 600 digital cameras and 26 evidence sheds. In Sierra Pacific’s investigation into CAL FIRE’s demand for payment, they discovered the very unusual account, named “Wildland Fire Investigation Training and Equipment Fund”, sometimes referred to as “WiFiter”.

That account, as we wrote in January of 2013, was not exactly secret, however it was not commonly known that it was an off-the-books account not subject to the standard state regulations for managing and spending money. We found a memo from former CAL FIRE Director Walters, apparently written in 2009, summarizing the year’s fire season in which he mentioned the account:

Office of Program Accountability (OPA) finalized three audits (Volcan Incident, Wildland Fire Investigation Training and Equipment Fund, and Indirect Cost PCA 99200)…

The current Director of CAL FIRE, Ken Pemlott froze the fund in August, 2012 after, according to the LA Times, “receiving a briefing from his staff, said Janet Upton, a Cal Fire spokeswoman”.


CAL FIRE air tanker crashes while fighting fire near Yosemite

(UPDATE at 2:22 p.m. PDT, October 8, 2014)

The pilot that was killed in the air tanker crash near Yosemite National Park on Tuesday has been identified as Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt, age 62, of San Jose. More information is at Fire Aviation.


(UPDATE at 12:31 a.m. PDT, October 8, 2014)

Tuesday evening emergency personnel were able to access the site of the CAL FIRE air tanker that crashed near Yosemite National Park and determined that the pilot on board had died. The air tanker (Tanker 81) based out of the Hollister Air Attack Base had been fighting the Dog Rock Fire near El Portal at Yosemite National Park when officials lost contact with it late Tuesday afternoon.

The family requested that the agency withhold release of the pilot’s name until all immediate family members can be notified.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family and coworkers.

There is a report that two air tanker pilots witnessed the accident, saying that as the aircraft pushed over a ridge in the steep canyon, descending to the intended retardant drop area, a wing struck an object on the ground.

A civilian on the ground, Don Talend, of West Dundee, Illinois, told the Associated Press that he saw a plane flying low through heavy smoke near a burning ridge when a wing appeared to waggle or flip up.

The Modesto Bee reported:

Kirstie Cari, the owner of El Portal Market, said the plane crashed within sight of her store. She was in the kitchen at the time and didn’t see it, but said witnesses told her the plane came tumbling over the ridge line, cartwheeled and crashed right in front of a big wall of rock.

Cari said the crash lit a second fire in front of the first blaze and brought debris tumbling down onto Highway 140, which was closed east of El Portal at the time of the crash. She said helicopters had worked to suppress it, but the area was still smoldering about 30 minutes later.

Immediately after the crash, CAL FIRE grounded their remaining air tankers, which is standard procedure after a serious accident.

The S-2T air tanker, registration number N449DF, was designated Tanker 81, one of 23 S-2Ts that are maintained and flown by DynCorp for CAL FIRE. The agency also has one spare that is used to fill in as needed when an aircraft is undergoing maintenance. CAL FIRE hires their own pilots for their 11 UH-1H Super Huey helicopters, but they are also maintained by DynCorp.

The last time a CAL FIRE air tanker crashed was in 2001, when two tankers collided while fighting a fire in Mendocino County, killing both pilots, Daniel Berlant, spokesperson for CAL FIRE said.

The agency had another plane crash in 2006, when a battalion chief and a pilot were killed in the crash of an air attack plane in Tulare County.

The S-2 first flew in 1952 and the U.S. Navy discontinued the use of them in 1976. They were used for detecting enemy ships and submarines and for dropping torpedoes. The ones currently being used by CAL FIRE were converted from piston to turbine engines between 1999 and 2005. Some media outlets are incorrectly reporting that the Tanker that crashed on Tuesday was built in 2001. That may be the date that it was converted to turbine engines and was given the new model name S-2F3 Turbo Tracker. They are now commonly referred to as S-2T, with the “T” standing for turbine engine.

Wednesday morning the Dog Rock Fire is reported to be 150 acres with no containment. A Type 3 Incident Management Team (IMT) is at the scene, with Mills as Incident Commander during the day and Wills at night. A “short” version of Jeanne Pincha-Tulley’s IMT has been activated. She normally is the Incident Commander of a Type 1 IMT.

The fire, reported at 2:45 Monday afternoon, is north of Highway 140 and is burning uphill toward the north in the direction of the community of Foresta, which has been evacuated. Electrical power has been shut off in the area.

map Dog Rock Fire

Map, showing heat detected on the Dog Rock Fire (the red square) by a satellite at 11:33 p.m. October 7, 2014. The location can be accurate to within a mile. The map also shows the perimeters of two other fires in 2013, the El Portal and Meadow Fires. The 2013 Rim Fire is also shown. (click to enlarge)


(UPDATE at 9:12 p.m. PDT, October 7, 2014)

There is still no news about the condition of the pilot in the crash of the S-2T CAL FIRE air tanker near Yosemite National Park late Tuesday afternoon.

Ken Yager heard a loud boom and took the photo below. The extreme terrain helps to explain why it is taking rescuers hours to reach the site.

S-2T air tanker crash

S-2T air tanker crash. Photo by Ken Yager.

Below is an excerpt from an article at ABC30:

…A California Highway Patrol spokesman, Officer Steven Lewis, said CHP Sgt. Chris Michael witnessed the crash as he was helping to close state Route 140 where it enters the park.

“All the tourists and residents were being turned away,” Lewis said, when Michael reported that he had just witnessed “a bomber collide into the river canyon, the canyon wall, and watched it explode in flames and reported there was plane debris landing in the highway.”

The canyon wall is above the highway and the Merced River, Lewis said.

“It’s almost vertical canyon walls,” Lewis said, “and the road was cut in 100 years ago right along the river. Anything that falls from the top is going to fall right on the roadway.”

There were no reports of any injuries on the ground as a result of debris.

Don Talend, of West Dundee, Illinois, said he may have seen the plane go down. Talend and friends were vacationing at the park when they stopped to snap some photographs of the fire, which was several miles away.

He told The Associated Press by phone that he saw a plane flying low through heavy smoke near a burning ridge when a wing appeared to waggle or flip up.

The plane “disappeared into the smoke and you heard a boom,” he said.

Dog Rock Fire

Dog Rock Fire, 5:31 p.m. PDT, October 7, 2014. Photo by Madison Sites.


(UPDATE at 7:35 p.m. PDT, October 7, 2014)

The Fresno Bee reported that Kari Cobb, spokesperson for Yosemite National Park, said, “We saw it crash. It was witnessed by park staff as well as some community members”.

Ms. Cobb was referring to the air tanker that crashed while fighting the Dog Rock Fire near the park. CAL FIRE announced earlier that they lost contact with an air tanker. At 6:21 p.m. PDT spokesperson Daniel Berlant said the aircraft was an S-2T air tanker.

The condition of the pilot, the only person on board, is not known. Emergency personnel are hiking to the crash site.

The 23 CAL FIRE air tankers, all S-2Ts which carry 1,200 gallons, are maintained and flown by a contractor, DynCorp. However, CAL FIRE hires their own pilots for their 11 UH-1H Super Huey helicopters.

Yosemite National Park has a web cam pointed in the general direction of the fire.

T-94 and T-95 at RDD 8-7-2014

File photo of two S-2T air tankers, T-94 and T-95, at Redding, California, August 7, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.


(Originally published at 5:54 p.m. PDT, October 7, 2014)

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said they lost contact with an air tanker that was flying over a wildfire near Yosemite National Park.  The aircraft was assigned to the Dog Rock Fire burning near Yosemite’s Arch Rock. The status of the aircraft and the pilot have not been determined.

CAL FIRE’s announcement was at 5:43 p.m. PDT, October 7. When more information is available, we will update this article.

The Dog Rock Fire began Tuesday afternoon at Dog Rock on the El Portal Road between the park boundary and Arch Rock Entrance Station. The fire was reported around 2:45 p.m. PDT at the last report was approximately 130 acres.

The community of Foresta has been evacuated. El Portal Road is temporarily closed to all through traffic from the park boundary near Yosemite View Lodge from the west and at the junction of the El Portal and Big Oak Flat Roads from the east.

Dog Rock Fire

The Dog Rock Fire, as seen from Turtleback Dome at 6 p.m. PDT, October 7, 2014.


Monitor near-real time Red Flag weather conditions in LA area

Observations from weather stations in the Los Angeles area

Observations from weather stations in the Los Angeles area that “flirt with” or meet Red Flag criteria. (Click to enlarge.)

The National Weather service has developed an excellent site for monitoring the near-real time weather conditions in the Los Angeles area, and how those observations from weather stations “flirt with” or meet the criteria for Red Flag conditions. It is a very useful site, refreshing automatically every five minutes. It includes the following parameters: RH, wind speed, gusts, duration for meeting the Red Flag criteria, fuel moisture, temperature, and elevation.

When you visit the site, hovering your mouse pointer over a station brings up the last 12 observations at that station.

Other areas in the country should develop similar sites. If you are aware of more, let us know in the comments below.