Chimney Fire grows to over 40,000 acres

Map Chimney Fire
Map of the Chimney Fire at 10 p.m. MDT August 23, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Over the last two days the Chimney Fire north of Cambria near the central California coast has grown by over 10,000 acres, and has now blackened a total of 40,800 acres. Most of that expansion has been on the north side where it has moved another mile and a half into Monterey County. Late Tuesday evening and into the night it was also very active on the southwest side spreading about a mile to the southwest. It is now 2.7 miles from the Hearst Castle. Some of the additional acres on the west side are a result of firing operations by firefighters.

CAL FIRE has updated the information about the impact the fire has had on structures, reporting that 45 residences and 20 other structures have been destroyed, while 7 have been damaged.

On Tuesday the fire behavior was described as extreme after the inversion broke as usual at about 2 p.m. Firefighters have taken advantage of favorable weather conditions at night to conduct firing operations to secure firelines. One of their priorities is burning out an area on the west side that would protect the Hearst Castle.

Evacuation orders are still in place for some areas in San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties.

(Our previous article about the Chimney Fire.)

Chimney Fire spreads into Monterey County

CAL FIRE estimates 48 structures have been destroyed

(UPDATED at 11:45 a.m. PDT August 22, 2016)

(An updated article about the Chimney Fire was published August 24, 2016)

The Chimney Fire 7 miles north of Cambria near the central California coast was very active Sunday on the north and northwest sides where it spread 2.5 miles further north in about 24 hours. The fire is well established north of the western arm of Lake Nacimiento. It expanded by over 7,000 acres, growing to 31,664 acres.

Map of the Chimney Fire
Map of the Chimney Fire. The red line was the perimeter at 9 p.m. PDT August 21, 2016. The white line was the perimeter about 24 hours before.

There has been no update from CAL FIRE about the number of structures destroyed since they reported that 48 have burned and another 7 have been damaged.

Late in the day and Sunday night the fire behavior was extreme and continued to challenge the control lines. It is currently burning through the Rock Butte area and has crossed into Monterey County. After the Monday morning inversion dissipates, south and southwest winds will increase to 10 mph with gusts around 20. Snags continue to be a safety hazard for firefighters.

Evacuation orders are in place for Christmas Cove, Oak Shores, Lake San Antonio, and Bryson Hesperia affecting 2,448 people.

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Since the Chimney Fire started on August 13 it has burned 24,096 acres 5 miles from the central coast of central California, an increase of about 8,000 acres over the previous 24 hours. It is 7 miles north of Cambria and 3 miles east of Hearst Castle, a historical landmark built in the first half of the last century by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

CAL FIRE estimates that 48 structures have burned and another 7 have been damaged. Evacuations have been ordered for some locations in San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties.

The fire has jumped across the western arm of Lake Nacimiento.

Map Chimney Fire
Map of the Chimney Fire at 2:40 a.m. PDT Aug 21, 2016. Click to enlarge.

The spread of the fire was described as extreme on Saturday and Saturday evening. Drought-stressed timber, chaparral, and grass continue to challenge firefighters in the steep inaccessible terrain as the fire continues to move north and west.

Map Chimney Fire
3-D Map of the Chimney Fire at 2:40 a.m. PDT Aug 21, 2016.

The fire is being fought by 2,699 firefighters, 218 engines, 71 hand crews, 7 air tankers, 14 helicopters, 50 dozers, and 35 water tenders.

It is unusual to have CHAIRS and a pre-built stage for an operational period briefing.

Rey Fire continues to spread to the east

Above: The Rey Fire. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

(We published an updated article about the Rey Fire August 24, 2016)

(UPDATED at 8:22 a.m. August 22, 2016)

The Rey Fire continued to spread to the east on Sunday, growing by more than 4,000 acres to a total of 23,546. Almost all of the growth was on the east side where it spread for more than 2 miles but it was also active on the northeast perimeter.

3-D Map of the Rey Fire
3-D Map of the Rey Fire. The red line was the perimeter at 10 p.m. PDT Aug 21, 2016. The white line was from about 24 hours before.

The weather conditions at the fire area should be rather mild Monday, for southern California anyway. The temperature will be in the mid-80s under a mostly clear sky and the relative humidity will bottom out in the mid-20s, but the wind could be a concern. It will increase in the afternoon to 10 to 13 mph out of the northwest gusting at 16-20.

The fire is being fought by 1,260 personnel, 28 crews, 48 engines, and 2 helicopters. There are no reports of any structures that burned.

Rey Fire.
Rey Fire. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

The time lapse video below of the Rey Fire is mesmerizing. It’s a case study in wildland fire behavior and fire meteorology, featuring wind shear and pyrocumulus clouds. It was shot on August 20 by Jesse Rockwell.

Continue reading “Rey Fire continues to spread to the east”

Cedar Fire causes evacuations west of Kernville, California

In five days the fire has burned over 14,000 acres.

Above: Cedar Fire at 7:40 p.m. PDT August 17, 2016. InciWeb photo.

Mandatory evacuations are in effect in Tulare and Kern Counties northwest of Lake Isabella, California for the Cedar Fire, 32 air miles northeast of Bakersfield and 4 miles west of Kernville.

Since it started August 16 it has burned 14,543 acres according to California Interagency Incident Management Team 5.

Map of the Cedar Fire
Map of the Cedar Fire at 9 p.m. PDT August 19, 2016. Click to enlarge.

As you can see in the map above, two other large fires occurred in the area in 2014, the Shirley and Way Fires, that burned approximately 2,600 and 4,000 acres respectively. And of course there was also the Erskine Fire in June that blackened about 45,000 acres south of Isabella Lake.

The incident management team provided this information Saturday morning:

No structures have been damaged or destroyed. Firefighters finished wrapping the Tobias Peak and Baker Point Lookouts yesterday, and they remain intact. The significant smoke column that was visible yesterday from nearby communities was generated as the fire burned in the bowl south of Sunday peak on the southwest side. Crews have successfully kept the fire from advancing further south of Highway 155. They continue to brush along the road and mop up along the fireline.

Last night, the fire was active, but less so than the night before. For example, it was primarily backing downslope toward Highway 155 and the community of Panorama Heights. Crews monitored the fire though the night, and on the southeast side they were able to install hose along existing fireline.

One of today’s priorities is to work on perimeter control and hold the fire behind established firelines. Dozer operators will construct more line, and crews with hand tools will fine tune and connect those lines. They will be assisted by aircraft, which are available to water and retardant drops and reconnaissance and mapping flights. Another priority remains the protection of immediately threatened communities.

3-D Map of the Cedar Fire
3-D Map of the Cedar Fire at 9 p.m. PDT August 19, 2016. Looking northwest. Click to enlarge.

Man arrested for starting the Clayton Fire and numerous others

(Originally published at 8:55 p.m. PDT August 15, 2016. Updated at 7:46 a.m. PDT August 16 with a list of charges against him and an updated mug shot.)

Damin Anthony Pashilk
Damin Anthony Pashilk

A man has been arrested for starting the Clayton Fire and numerous others.

Below is an excerpt from an article in The San Francisco Chronicle:

County officials arrested a 40-year-old Clear Lake man Monday on 17 counts of arson related to numerous fires set over the last year, including the 4,000-acre Clayton Fire that has so far claimed 175 buildings and displaced hundreds of people.

Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin and Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott announced the arrest of Damin Pashilk at a community meeting packed with evacuees at a casino doubling as a Red Cross shelter south of the blaze. Residents gasped at the announcement.

Chief Pimlott said Mr. Pashilk had been under investigation for about a year. The charges were enhanced because homes and businesses were destroyed. He has been arrested at least a dozen times before mostly for parole violations, but also on drug and weapons charges.

He was arrested at 4:30 p.m. on August 15 and booked into jail at 12:58 am. August 16. For now he has been charged with:

  1. Arson: structure/forest land
  2. Arson sentence enhancement
  3. Aggravated arson with prior

The sentence enhancement is applicable if homes or businesses were destroyed.

Brian Hickey of KCRA News reports that “aggravated arson with prior” means he has been convicted of arson in the last 10 years.

Bail has been set at $5 million.

The Clayton Fire started Saturday evening and around mid-day on Sunday changed direction after the wind shifted and spread quickly into Lower Lake, California.

180-degree wind shift pushed Clayton Fire into Lower Lake

weather Clayton Fire
Weather observations at the Konocti weather station just west of Lower Lake, California, from about 8 a.m. on Sunday until 8 a.m. Monday.

The Clayton Fire that burned hundreds of structures in and near Lower Lake, California 31 air miles northeast of Santa Rosa, was rather benign Sunday morning, and some thought firefighters had a handle on it. But later in the day the wind increased and pushed it into the community, spreading much more quickly than firefighters expected or could keep up with.

We checked the weather conditions recorded at the Konocti weather station west of Lower Lake and found that the wind direction shifted by about 180 degrees at mid-day. Before noon there was a north to northeast wind at 0 to 6 mph blowing the fire away from Lower Lake. That changed very suddenly at around noon when the wind became out of the southwest and west at 12 to 14 mph with gusts of 19 to 24 mph. This pushed the fire into the community. The firefighters and other resources that were on hand were not able to keep up with the fire or protect every structure in the town.

At about the same time, the temperature went up to over 90 degrees and the relative humidity dropped from about 30 percent to around 18 percent, and may have briefly hit 8 percent.

Of all of the weather features that affect the behavior of a wildfire, a strong wind can override them all to a degree and control the direction of spread. Topography and fuels (vegetation) also help determine how a fire will spread, but if conditions are dry, wind is the ingredient that firefighters most respect.

Land managers and homeowners can control one of the three factors that determine fire behavior — fuel. It can be removed within 100 feet of structures. Large scale fuel reduction projects in the areas near communities can affect the intensity of a fire when it approaches structures, giving firefighters a chance to save them. But the other two factors, topography and weather, are out of their hands.

Weather forecast for the Clayton Fire area
Weather forecast for the Clayton Fire area, Aug 15, 2016. NWS. Click to enlarge.

The weather forecast for the area of the Clayton Fire predicts clear skies for Monday, a high of 97 degrees, 14 percent relative humidity, and southeast to east winds of 5 to 10 mph. Tuesday will be about the same but with very variable winds blowing from virtually all directions during the day.

Our main article about the Clayton Fire.