Vandenberg Hotshots on the chopping block

Vandenberg Hotshots
Vandenberg Hotshots construct fireline on the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, June 28, 2012. (U.S. Air Force Photo by: Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock)

(Originally published at 2:31 p.m. MT, June 10, 2013; revised June 11 to clarify the fate of the remaining seven firefighters.)

The only military Hotshot crew in the United States will be history by the end of September. The Vandenberg Hotshots were created after the disastrous Honda Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force in southern California in 1977.

Due to the cuts required by the “sequestration” legislation passed by Congress, the budget has been reduced for the crew. Combined with attrition and some crew members leaving for other jobs when they saw this coming, only nine are left on the crew.

Mike Provencio of the Vandenberg Professional Firefighters told Wildfire Today that the firefighters have received notice that their positions will cease to exist at the end of the fiscal year which ends September 30, 2013. It is likely that two of the nine left will receive promotions into the regular civilian fire department on the base. The other seven will most likely retain their jobs but be configured as a fire suppression module, Mr. Provencio said.

Three people were entrapped and killed on the Honda Canyon fire, including the Base Commander Colonel Joseph Turner, Fire Chief Billy Bell and Assistant Fire Chief Eugene Cooper. Additionally, severe burns were experienced by Heavy Equipment Operator Clarence McCauley. He later died due to complications from the burns. A book about this fire, “Beyond Tranquillon Ridge”, was written by Joseph N. Valencia.


Thanks go out to Keith

California: Hathaway Fire burns into San Gorgonio Wilderness

(UPDATE at 11:09 a.m. PT, June 11, 2013)

Map of Hathaway Fire, June 11
Map of Hathaway Fire, looking east, 2:35 a.m. PT, June 11, 2013 (click to enlarge)

The Hathaway Fire has grown to 1,954 acres and is 25 percent contained, according to information released by Incident Commander Don Garwood’s Incident Management Team.

As you can see in the above map of the Hathaway fire, which shows heat detected by a satellite, the fire has gone over the hill, as firefighters say, so we had to turn the 3-D image around, looking to the east now. Cabezon and Banning, along Interstate 10, are on the right, south of the fire.

It is burning in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, an area with steep, rocky cliffs. The fire has reached Raywood Flats which is a narrows-type area between Mill Creek and Water Canyons on the west and the huge, Whitewater River watershed on the east.

The fire has exhibited extreme fire behavior. According to the U.S. Forest Service, there is continued potential for large fire growth into the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Emphasis today is on continuing direct fire line construction, continue air operations until dusk, and night air attack flying. The Hathaway Incident Command Post has been established at Noble Creek Park in Beaumont, CA.

The firefighting resources working on the fire include:

  • 1,018 personnel
  • 40 hand crews
  • 35 engines
  • 13 water tenders
  • 11 dozers
  • 6 air tankers
  • 10 helicopters

Predicted weather, according to information released by the IMTeam: wind speeds today will be 25 mph from the West. Temperature 87. Humidity 15%. High pressure will begin to rebuild in the area today, bringing warmer temperatures to the area.

Monday night the IMTeam put in a late request that the USFS fixed wing aircraft, which images fires at night with infrared equipment, map the fire, however the infrared ship was booked solid with the Powerhouse fire that has been quiet for several days as well as four fires in New Mexico. The USFS has two infrared aircraft, but only one at a time has been mapping fires so far this year.

We posted some photos that Chief John Hawkins took of the fire two hours after the fire fire started.


(UPDATE at 6:35 p.m. PT, June 10, 2013)

The U.S. Forest Service says the Hathaway Fire has burned 1,650 acres and is 25 percent contained.

The map below, which has been sent to many U.S. Forest Service employees, is a computer model projection of the spread of the Hathaway Fire 80 miles east of Los Angeles over the next seven days. While it may be startling, keep in mind there are many caveats, including but not limited to:

  • It uses a 1,354 acre estimated perimeter as the ignition file.
  • Size and location may not be accurate.
  • No barrier files were used.
  • Anticipate fire spread burning into the low probability surfaces early in the 7 day analysis period due to drought, critically low live and dead fuel moistures and forecasted gusty W-SW winds.
  • Model assumes no suppression action.
  • Model outputs represent the probability of each 120 meter pixel burning but NOT the probability of fire extent.

Again, it is very important to consider that the model assumes that no firefighters on the ground or the air will take any suppression action on the fire. And it assumes there are no barriers, such as surface streets or interstate highways.

The concentric circles of color represent the probability that the fire will reach those areas, with no suppression action and the other caveats. For example there is a 40 to 59 percent chance the fire will reach out into the yellow area, and only a 0.2 to 4.9 percent that it will reach the blue area.

Click the image below to see a larger version.

Hathaway_Fire_FSPRO_6-9-2013, partial

Continue reading “California: Hathaway Fire burns into San Gorgonio Wilderness”

Video of firefighting on the Powerhouse Fire

This video by Fireground Action has some excellent footage of firefighters in action on the Powerhouse Fire in southern California, June 2, 2013. There are also several retardant drops from S2Ts and the DC-10.

Here is the description of the video from YouTube:

Published on 5 Jun 2013

Coverage from day three of the “Powerhouse” wildfire burning in northern Los Angeles County. At the time of this post the fire had burned more than 30,000 acres, destroyed 5+ structures and was 60% contained. The DC-10 tanker made three consecutive drops right in front of us. So close, in fact, that we could feel the jet wash as it passed over our heads. Turn up the volume to get the full effect! As always, I left the original audio intact with no music or sounds effects added. For still images from this incident visit DON”T FORGET TO “LIKE” THE VIDEO! Thanks!

Updated information on the Powerhouse Fire north of Los Angeles

The Powerhouse Fire is burning thousands of acres north of Los Angeles. On Saturday it burned up to and around the communities of Lake Elizabeth and Lake Hughes and Sunday it began transitioning from the mountains out into the Antelope Valley. The current estimate, as of 4 p.m. Sunday, is that the fire has burned about 25,000 acres and is 20 percent contained.

We are putting the most current and detailed information about the fire in our original article, which we update at least once or twice a day. There are also updated maps of the Powerhouse fire at that location.

California: some firefighters released from the Powerhouse Fire

(UPDATE at 6:40 a.m. PT, June 5, 2013)

Since the firefighters are wrapping up the Powerhouse fire north of Los Angeles, this will be the last update unless significant activity occurs.

Residents have been allowed back into all of the communities affected by the fire. Proof of residency is required to gain access behind the road closures. Future fire growth is expected to be minimal. Crews continue to complete line construction, patrol and mop-up. Excess fire resources are being demobilized so they can be ready to respond to other incidents.

  • Structures Destroyed: 16
  • Acres: 32,032
  • Containment: 65%
  • Estimated Cost: $11,400,000


(UPDATE at 3:25 p.m. PT, June 4, 2013)

Map of Powerhouse Fire, June 3, 2013
Map of Powerhouse Fire, 10:22 p.m. PT, June 3, 2013

Firefighters are beginning to get a better handle on the Powerhouse Fire north of Los Angeles. Fire spread was minimal overnight with only 24 acres being added. The majority of active fire is along Elizabeth Canyon and Hughes Lake Road northwest to Sawtooth Mountain.

Today crews continued to strengthen fire lines in the southern portion of the fire. Hand crews supported by air resources took advantage of opportunities to construct direct fireline on the west side of the fire. In the Sawtooth Mountain and Sawmill Mountain areas the fire has potential to spread. Fuels in the area have not burned since 1928.

The size is listed at 32,032 acres with 60 percent containment. Some of the resources assigned to the fire include: 2,034 personnel, 155 fire engines, 54 hand crews, 11 helicopters, 27 dozers, 8 air tankers, 33 water tenders. The total estimated cost to date is $8.7 million.

Residents have been allowed to return to the communities of Green Valley, Leona Valley, Elizabeth Lake and Lake Hughes. The evacuation order for the Fairmont area of Antelope Acres was lifted today at noon. Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake Canyon Roads remain closed.

Carlton Joseph’s Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire Monday at 6 p.m. The fire is being run under a unified command with the U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, and Los Angeles County. In addition to Mr. Joseph, the other Incident Commanders are Dave Richardson, John Tripp, and Phil Veneris.

Helitanker 718, Powerhouse Fire
Helitanker 718 getting water from Elizabeth Lake. Photo by Greg Cleveland.


(UPDATE at 5:48 a.m. PT, June 4, 2013)

There has been very little change in the fire perimeter of the Powerhouse Fire over the last 24 hours. Firefighters are cleaning up the fireline and burning out to remove fuels. We will post more details around the middle of the day today.


(UPDATE at 9:22 p.m. PT, June 3, 2013)

The Powerhouse fire is now listed at 32,008 acres and 60 percent containment. Today there were 2,185 personnel assigned to the fire. Higher humidities today slowed the spread of the fire, in spite of the strong winds.


(UPDATE at 11:43 a.m. PT, June 3, 2013)

The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory which includes the portion of the Powerhouse fire that has burned out into the Antelope Valley. This is not good news for firefighters. The winds are predicted to be out of the southwest at 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 45. The area near the fire can expect gusts as high as 55 mph. The strongest winds will occur Monday afternoon and evening. Similar conditions will likely redevelop Tuesday afternoon and evening.


(UPDATE at 8:38 a.m. PT, June 3, 2013; updated map added)

Map of the north end of the Powerhouse Fire
Map of the north end of the Powerhouse Fire, 12:55 a.m. June 3, 2013 (click to enlarge)

The Powerhouse Fire continued to spread across thousands of acres Sunday after burning around the communities of Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake. Firefighters protected hundreds of homes but six burned in the rapidly spreading fire.

Continue reading “California: some firefighters released from the Powerhouse Fire”