Santa Ana winds increasing in southern California

The weather station at Chilao recorded a gust of 58 mph at 10:53 a.m. PDT on Sunday.

red flag conditions

At 11:11 a.m. PDT 17 weather stations in southern California met the criteria for Red Flag Conditions. Five of them at that time had recorded gusts  of 40 and above, with Chilao having sustained winds out of the northeast at 30 mph with a gust of 58. The extreme fire weather conditions are predicted to continue on Monday, but with less severe winds.

The map below is a screen grab from an animated wind map (which is mesmerizing to watch).

wind map

Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base slows; new fire burns 200+ acres on the base

(UPDATED at 9:50 a.m. PDT September 23, 2016)

Canyon Washington fire
Map of the Canyon Fire and a new fire (Washington Fire) at 1 a.m. PDT September 23, 2016.

The 12,518-acre Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base has not spread over the last 24 hours.

However a new fire, named Washington, broke out on Thursday east of the 15,000-foot runway on the base and burned vigorously until it was knocked down by firefighters. As of 1 a.m. Friday it had blackened about 204 acres and is being described by the Air Force as controlled. The preliminary cause is a powerline downed by strong winds. It generated a 0.6-acre spot fire over a mile south of the main blaze.


(Originally published at 1:56 p.m. PDT September 21, 2016)

3-D map Canyon Fire
3-D map of the Canyon Fire looking east. The red line was the perimeter of the Canyon Fire at 11 p.m. PDT September 20, 2016. The white line was the perimeter approximately 24 hours before. Click to enlarge.

According to overnight mapping the Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base on the southern California coast has burned 12,353 acres, an increase of over 2,000 acres from the previous day’s report. Approximately 1,056 firefighters from Vandenberg AFB, U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, and Santa Barbara County Fire are combating the blaze.

Crews saw very little growth in the fire overnight, due in part to the heavy marine layer and calm winds. This allowed ground teams to further construct and improve containment lines along base boundaries and key rocket launch support facilities. Firefighting aircraft are being used today to assist firefighters ahead of anticipated increases in wind speed, which could gust as high as 30 mph later in the week.

Ventura County Fire Department reported that Fire Engineer Ryan Osler lost his life this morning in a line of duty vehicle accident while assigned to the fire.

Water tender rollover kills Ventura County fighter

The vehicle was en route to the Canyon Fire.

Above: Fatal water render rollover, September 21, 2016. Screenshot from KEYT video.

This morning the rollover of a water tender enroute to the Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base resulted in the death of a firefighter. Ventura County Fire Department reported that Fire Engineer Ryan Osler, a passenger in the truck, lost his life in a line of duty vehicle accident while assigned to the fire. The driver of the truck self-extracted and was transported to a local hospital with minor injuries.

The water tender had designations indicating that it was a California Office of Emergency Services apparatus. OES vehicles are often farmed out to local fire departments, such as Ventura County FD.

KYET reported the accident occurred at about 6:20 a.m. on state Route 246 at Purisima Road in Lompoc which is near the fire burning on the military base on the southern California coast.

Unfortunately rollovers of fire vehicles, especially water tenders, happen far too often.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, coworkers, and friends of Engineer Osler.

ryan osler

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “rollover”.

The increasing costs of wildfires

costs wildland fires
Source: National Interagency Fire Center

Beginning in 2000 the costs of suppressing wildland fires suddenly got more expensive, as you can see from the chart.

One fire this year that is still going strong has added over $208 million to the total for this year, according to the September 20 national situation report.

The Soberanes Fire on the central coast of California south of Monterey has been burning since July 22. New evacuations were ordered Monday for this fire that has blackened more than 121,000 acres of brush, grass, timber, and large quantities of poison oak. The current uncontained fire perimeter is 95 miles. Fire managers expect they will have  191 miles of fireline by the time it is over.
dollar sign
It is very difficult to determine the exact costs of suppressing large wildfires. Many months can pass before most of the bills come in, get approved, and are paid. Costs are often shared among multiple agencies, making it even more complex to come up with one figure. And if you want to compare the historical costs of individual large fires, you have to decide which formula to use while adjusting for inflation.

Not deterred by these difficulties, the Associated Press published an article yesterday reporting that the costs of suppressing the Soberanes Fire is the largest ever spent on one fire.

BIG SUR, Calif. (AP) — A wildfire burning for nearly two months on California’s scenic Big Sur coast has surpassed $200 million in firefighting costs, becoming the costliest to fight in U.S. history, according to data released Monday.

The fire has cost $206.7 million to fight so far, the National Interagency Fire Center said in a report. And with the blaze at only 67 percent containment, there could be weeks left before the firefight is done.

That puts it well past the previous high of $165 million established by a blaze that burned in California and Oregon in 2002. [From Bill: probably the Biscuit Fire.]

The figure does not include the actual damages done by the fire like destroyed homes, only the costs of extinguishing and containing it.

It also is not adjusted for inflation, which would put the 2002 fire and others ahead of it.

The cost is mostly attributable to the long duration of the fire, and the need to pay thousands of firefighters for their daily work, the U.S. Forest Service said. The daily costs got as high as $8 million at the fire’s peak, though they’ve settled at closer to $2 million as it has calmed…

The AP was a little vague about where they got their data.

But as they said, these figures only include the actual costs of suppressing the fires. Often the indirect costs can exceed the cost of putting it out. These can include temporary housing while evacuated, lost wages, rebuilding structures, declining retail sales at nearby communities, reduced tourism, lower sales tax receipts, medical treatments for breathing smoky air, and repairing the damaged land.

Owens River Fire burns 6,000 acres north of Mammoth Lakes

Owens River Fire
A BAe-146 drops retardant on the Owens River Fire. Photo by Justin Benttinen.

(UPDATED at 2:43 p.m. PDT September 20, 2016)

The spread of the Owen River Fire in eastern California 36 miles northwest of Bishop moderated on Monday. A heat-sensing satellite only detected a couple of large heat sources on the fire during a Monday afternoon overflight. This does not mean the fire is almost out;  there are no doubt many small heat sources that the satellite could not detect from 200 miles above the earth.


(Originally published at 3:29 p.m. PDT September 19, 2016)

The Owens River Fire has burned at least 6,000 acres in eastern California 36 miles northwest of Bishop. It is approximately 6 to 8 miles from two popular ski areas, Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain. According to a report from a Californian who contacted us, at one point three Very Large Air Tankers, DC-10’s, were dispatched to the fire.

It started during the afternoon of September 17th and is burning sagebrush and Jeffrey pine along Owens River Road near Clark Canyon, east of Highway 395.

Four uninhabited outbuildings and several pieces of heavy equipment were destroyed during the initial response Saturday.

The Big Springs Campground, Clark Canyon (a popular climbing area), and nearby ranches and developments have been evacuated. The Owens River Road and the Whitmore Springs Roads are closed.

There are 483 personnel, 9 hand crews, 48 engines, 3 air tankers, 7 helicopters, 3 dozers, and 6 water tenders assigned to the fire.

Owens River Fire
The dots represent heat detected on the Owen River Fire by a satellite. The red dots, the most recent, were observed at 3:30 a.m. PDT September 19, 2016.

The cause of the fire is under investigation but appears to be human-caused.

Owens River Fire
A C-130 at the Owens River Fire.
Owens River Fire
Owens River Fire as seen by Anton Brey from Mammoth Mountain.

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

Canyon Fire grows to 10K acres, delays launch of satellite

Above: Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the southern California coast, September 18, 2016. Photo by Michael Peterson.

(UPDATED at 12:11 p.m. PDT September 20, 2016)

The Canyon wildfire on Vandenberg Air Force Base on the southern California coast grew by over 5,000 acres on Monday and has now burned 10,542 acres according to officials on the base Monday morning.

map Canyon Fire
Map of the perimeter of the Canyon Fire at 11 p.m. PDT September 19, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Launch complexes for rockets and liquid oxygen facilities are currently threatened. Evacuations have occurred for some areas on the south side of the base.

The fire has spread to within less than a mile of Space Launch Complex 3 north of the perimeter where the launch of a Saturn V rocket scheduled for September 18 had to be postponed. The fire has also burned very close to Space Launch Complex 8 on the southwest side of the blaze.

map Canyon Fire
The red line was the perimeter of the Canyon Fire at 11 p.m. PDT September 19, 2016. The white line was the perimeter approximately 24 hours before. Click to enlarge.

The weather on the fire varies greatly due to the proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Where the fire is burning adjacent to Space Launch Complex 8 it is only a few thousand feet from the coast at 400 feet above sea level. The ridge in the interior of the fire is at 1,500 feet. The relative humidity, wind direction, wind speed, and temperature have been very different along the coast, the interior of the fire, and at Lompoc. The minimum humidity ranged from 12 to 30 percent in these areas on Monday. On the west side of the fire, which was the most active area, the wind was variable but mostly from the south during the day, but switched to come out of the north after 9 p.m.

The photo below illustrates the variable weather in the area. While there is fog and high humidity in a low-lying area, the fire hauls ass just beyond.

The weather is difficult to forecast because of the above issues, but on Tuesday firefighters should expect more favorable conditions, with temperatures around 70, RH of 30 to 60 percent, and west winds at 9 mph.


(Originally published at 2:20 p.m. PDT September 19, 2016)

A wildfire burning on Vandenberg Air Force Base on the southern California coast delayed the launch of a satellite. As of very early Monday morning the Canyon Fire was approximately a mile from Launch Complex 3, where an Atlas V rocket was scheduled on Sunday to send a WorldView-4 payload into orbit. The satellite will capture high-resolution images of Earth from space.

“Our procedures require stand-by firefighting crews for every launch to ensure safety of our personnel and facility protection,” said Col. Paul Nosek, Emergency Operations Center commander. “We’ve delayed the launch in order to concentrate our resources on the situation at hand.”

No facilities have been damaged by the fire in the remote canyon between Arguello and Santa Ynez Roads.

According to Col. Paul Nosek, no space launch complexes or critical range assets are in immediate danger.

Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base
The Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base burns about a mile from Launch Complex 3. Inside is the Atlas V rocket. Santa Barbara County Fire photo.

The fire has been burning since September 17. The cause has not been released. Monday morning it was mapped at 4,528 acres.  It has caused power outages in several facilities on the south part of the base. Those buildings are currently operating on generator power. The base’s Civil Engineers will sustain the generators until downed electrical lines can be repaired and commercial power is restored to the facilities.

Firefighters are fighting the fire with air tankers, helicopters, dozers from Santa Barbara County Fire, and personnel from federal, state, and local fire agencies. The aircraft are flying out of Santa Maria and Paso Robles airports.

The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite over the Canyon Fire at 1:50 a.m. PDT September 19, 2016. The yellow dots were from 5:50 a.m. on Sept. 18.
The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite flying over the Canyon Fire at 1:50 a.m. PDT September 19, 2016. The yellow dots were from 5:50 a.m. on Sept. 18. Wildfire Today, MODIS, Google.

The photos below are courtesy of Santa Barbara County Fire.

canyon fire
A firefighter on the Canyon Fire shields his face from the heat.
Tanker 06 P2V
Tanker 06, a P2V, drops on the Canyon Fire.
S2T canyon fire
An S2T drops on the Canyon Fire.

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