Fire spreading at ‘dangerous rate’ near San Diego Saturday

A wildfire east of San Diego quickly charred 500 acres and forced evacuations Saturday as hot temperatures and low humidity settled into the region, ending a string of cool and soggy weather.

First reported shortly before noon, the Gate Fire had a “dangerous rate of spread” in a remote area near the community of Jamul, Cal Fire reported via Twitter.

It was 5 percent contained by mid-afternoon.

Five airtankers and three helicopters were making drops on fire at one point, said Cal Fire Capt. Isaac Sanchez, according to the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper. Fire crews from several agencies were helping on the ground.

LA Times re-publishes historic photos from 1961 Bel-Air Fire

Above: This photo by George Fry appeared on the front page of the Nov. 7, 1961, Los Angeles Times. This image and several others were recently scanned from the original negatives. LA Times Photo. 

The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday re-published a look-back piece about the 1961 Bel-Air fire that charred nearly 500 homes in a high-end, celebrity-packed part of the city.

In addition to the (fascinating) half-dozen photos dug up from the archives and republished, The LA Times coverage included this line:

“Among the most notorious California wildfires, the Bel-Air/Brentwood fire began in a trash heap…..a blaze that left hundreds of the rich and famous homeless in what LIFE magazine called ‘A Tragedy Trimmed in Mink’ and prompted brush clearance laws and an eventual city ban on wood shingle roofs.”

The brush fire started Nov. 5, 1961, and blackened more than 16,000 acres. Santa Ana winds fanned the flames.

Want more? Here’s some local news coverage from that pre-Twitter world (there’s plenty of other videos on the fire worth watching if you can’t quite get enough of a trip down memory lane on this Throwback Thursday).

 

CAL FIRE and contractor cited by OSHA after 2016 dozer rollover fatality

dozer rollover fatality
The dozer that rolled over on the Soberanes Fire in 2016, killing Robert Reagan. CAL FIRE photo.

Both a private contractor and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) were issued citations by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) related to a fatality when a dozer rolled over. Robert Reagan, 35, of Friant, California, was killed while fighting the Soberanes Fire south of Monterey, California July 26, 2016.

Minutes after Mr. Reagan began operating the piece of equipment for Czirban Concrete Construction on contract to CAL FIRE, it rolled over. Not wearing a seat belt, he was thrown from the cab and was killed when the dozer rolled onto him.

According to KQED news, Cal/OSHA issued five citations to Czirban totaling $20,000. The largest was $13,500 for not wearing a seat belt.

Czirban had not secured workers’ compensation insurance for Mr. Reagan as required, and had been cited eight times in four years by the Contractors State License Board, several times because of worker’s compensation issues.

Below is an excerpt from an article at KQED in which they point out a number of problems related to contractors working on wildfires:

Cal/OSHA also issued two citations to Cal Fire, one for failing to report a serious injury within eight hours and another for failing to maintain an effective injury and illness prevention program.

“The employer failed to ensure a supervisor was in the immediate area during all bulldozer activities,” Cal/OSHA compliance officer Kelly Tatum wrote in the agency’s citation.

Cal Fire, which also faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Reagan’s wife and two young daughters, has appealed the findings.

wildfire dozer
File photo of a dozer in South Dakota.

Interior Secretary Zinke talks about managing federal land

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was interviewed as he participated in what the Fresno Bee called a firefighting exercise during his first visit to Kings Canyon National Park in California, Friday, April 14, 2017.

Information released about entrapment on 2016 Canyon Fire

Dozens of firefighters were entrapped and endured a harrowing escape through very thick smoke and flying embers.

Above: an image from the official report, showing the conditions as firefighters were making their way to the safety zone.

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has released a review of the entrapment of dozens of firefighters that occurred six months ago on the Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

On September 19, 2016, two days after the fire started, approximately 50+ firefighters were assigned to Division Zulu on the north side of Honda Canyon, about a mile east of the site where four Air Force firefighters were entrapped and killed on the Honda Fire in 1977.

Assigned to the division that day were 8 engines, 4 dozers, 1 water tender, and a 20-person hand crew comprised of 3 helitack crews. All were ordered by the Division Supervisor to take refuge in a safety zone.

Canyon Fire entrapment
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 at approximately 11 p.m. September 19.

After observing conditions that morning last September the tactic decided on was to fire out the ridge on the north side of Honda Canyon, which runs east and west. The main fire was to the south on the other side of the canyon. The operation was going well until the intensity in the burnout increased dramatically; fire whirls developed and the fire began spreading to the west more quickly than the igniters and holders could keep up with it.

The Division Supervisor ordered, “All Division Zulu resources pull back to the safety zone”. Even though some of the personnel were about 600 to 700 yards from the safety zone, the smoke-obscured visibility occasionally made movement difficult or impossible. At times the engines had to stop when they could not see the ground in front of them. Burning embers, some of them fist-sized, pelted the vehicles and the 20 people in the hand crew that were walking to the safety zone.

In the video below, it appears to have taken about 10 minutes to travel the 600 to 700 yards. The recording shows how harrowing it must have been as day turned to night. At least two firefighters were later transported to a hospital suffering from smoke inhalation injuries.

The video is incredible and at times has on the screen views from three different cameras, apparently time-synced. Pretty impressive editing (by Mark Pieper and Tony Petrilli) for a government-produced video. The maps and annotated still images are also very useful.

Canyon Fire entrapment
A screenshot from the video, at minute 7:39.

Some firefighters, approximately two, removed their fire shelters from their gear. One was fully deployed and another was partially unfolded.

From the report:

When asked: “How scared were you on a scale of 1 to 10?” multiple crew members replied “9” and “10.”

We covered the Canyon Fire as it was burning and thought we were aware of the major developments at the incident, but we did not hear about this entrapment until today, March 27, 2017. Maybe we missed it, but it is possible that the fact that it occurred on a military base influenced an apparent desire to keep it low key, even though a California Type 2 Incident Management Team had assumed command of the fire the morning of the incident and, according to the report, “did start Regional notification regarding the shelter deployment”.

The Incident Commander and the Deputy IC were first notified more than three hours after the entrapment.

In spite of the late release of the information, firefighters can benefit from this lessons learned opportunity and the fact that the preparers of the report conducted it in such a way that there were apparently few if any efforts among those involved to “lawyer up” and shut up fearing litigation or prosecution. Many still and video images were made available and at least enough of the firefighters were willing to talk about what happened to allow a useful report to be completed.

Maybe the way this review was conducted can be a template to reverse the recent trend of investigations that are not as useful as they could be.

Honda Fire Fatalities 1977

On September 21, 2016 a Ventura County Fire Department firefighter was killed in a vehicle accident while responding to the Canyon Fire. Fire Engineer Ryan Osler, a passenger in a water tender, lost his life. The driver of the truck self-extracted and was transported to a local hospital with minor injuries.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Canyon Fire”.

Tallac Hotshots

Above: Photo by Tallac Hotshots

We were not familiar with the Tallac Hotshots until yesterday when we ran across this recently taken photo. The crew, based near Lake Tahoe in California, was officially certified in 2014.

Below is an excerpt from their website:

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Crew Profile

On June 19, 2014, the Tallac Hotshots completed the extensive certification process to become the first Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC) from Lake Tahoe. Formerly, the Tallac Hand Crew, the Tallac Hotshot Crew joins an exclusive group of roughly 2,000 firefighters in the country. The Tallac Hand Crew was established in 2001 as part of a nationwide buildup of resources for a maximum efficiency level of preparedness as direct by the National fire Plan. The original intent of the crew was to perform fuels management projects along with resource management objectives and to be availalbe for wildland fire response. The crew evolved through extensive training, recruitment, and retention of leadership to become a highly skilled 20 person crew. The crew completed the 2-day certification process, which covered all the standards for IHC operations.

Forest Organization Overview

The Tallac Hotshots are based on the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and are one of three federally funded, Forest Service 20 person, fire suppression and fuels management crews in the Tahoe Basin. There are two on call organized crews O.C 36 and O.C 37. The Lake Tahoe Basin also has four type 3 engines, four fire prevention staff, a VUFF Staff Officer, Forest Fire Management Officer (Chief 1), one Assistant Forest Fire Management Officer (Chief 2), one Fuels Battalion (Battalion Chief 42)and Fuels Division (Division 4). Everything is overseen by Forest Supervisor and Deputy Forest Supervisor. ECC Dispatch is located at Camino on the Eldorado NF.”