California: American Fire, west of Lake Tahoe

American Fire
American Fire. Photo by Todd White.

The American Fire was very active during the day on Thursday and well into the night, adding over 2,000 acres as it spread to the northeast up Secret Canyon toward Ford Point and Whisky Hill. The map below shows the location of the 7,367-acre fire.

The fire is 22 miles west of Lake Tahoe, 9 miles south of Emigrant Gap, and 22 miles southwest of Truckee.

map American Fire
The red line is the perimeter of the American Fire at 9 p.m. PDT, Thursday, August 15, 2013. The pink line was the perimeter early Thursday morning. (click to enlarge)

A 10,000 gallon water tank and a 10,000 gallon mobile retardant plant for helicopter operations has been established at the Blue Canyon Airport just south of Interstate 80.

One mining structure has been destroyed and there have been two minor injuries.

The local weather can be monitored at the Seed Orchard weather station west of the fire where the relative humidity was 19 percent at 7:33 Friday morning. The forecast for the fire area calls for 75 degrees, relative humidity of 17 percent, and 13 mph winds gusting up to 20 mph around noon.

Wildfire briefing, August 9, 2013

Fire photos

We found two very impressive photos of smoke columns, on Instagram, here and here, plus a third one on Facebook.

A “row” over death benefits for families of Granite Mountain 19

As the UK-based Reuters news service reported, there is a “row” over the variable benefits that the Prescott Fire Department intends to give to the families of the 19 members of their department that were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire. The families of the six firefighters classified as full-time will receive additional financial benefits and lifetime health insurance from the city — much more than the 13 firefighters the department puts in the seasonal category.

Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin is considering calling for a special session of the state legislature to debate a bill that would ensure that firefighters’ families, at least in this case, are fairly compensated when there are fatalities on state-protected land.

A video at Arizona Central describes the tense relationship between the families of the Granite Mountain 19 and the City of Prescott.

If you have not seen them yet, you need to view the video interviews with survivor Brendan McDonough that we posted earlier today.

Preparedness Level raised to 4

Today the National Interagency Fire Center raised the national Preparedness Level to 4, the criteria for which is:

Three or more Geographic Areas are experiencing incidents requiring Type 1 and 2 IMTs. Competition exists between Geographic Areas. Nationally, 60 percent of Type 1 and 2 IMTs and crews are committed.

Today, August 9, is later than last year for moving into PL 4. In 2012 we transitioned into PL 4 on June 27 and again on August 8.

Incident Management Team assigned to Elk Fire

Rich Harvey’s Type 1 Incident Management Team is mobilizing today to the Elk Fire on the Boise National Forest near Pine, Idaho. This morning there were four other Type 1 IMTeams and one NIMO team assigned to the following fires (Incident Commander’s name/Fire name):

  • Schulte/Big Windy Complex in Oregon
  • Kaslin/Silver Fire in California
  • Houseman (NIMO)/Lodgepole in Idaho
  • Poncin/Gold Pan Complex in Montana
  • McGowan/Salmon River Complex in California

There are also 14 Type 2 IMTeams committed.

Silver Fire grows to 16,000 acres in southern California

The Silver fire 60 miles east of Los Angeles has grown to 16,000 acres since it started August 7. The map below shows the fire’s location near Banning and Cabazon. More details about the fire.

Map of Silver Fire,
Map of Silver Fire, at 10:05 p.m. PDT, August 8, 2013. The squares represent heat detected on the fire. The red line is last month’s Mountain Fire which is contained. (click to enlarge)

Unfortunately another recent major fire in Arizona was also named “Silver”.

Smokey’s birthday

Smokey Bear is 69 years old today.

A quick glance at the image on the video below, before it starts, and you understand why some small children are scared when they see someone in a Smokey Bear costume.

Firefighters on Falls fire observe anniversary of Decker Fire

Firefighters on the Falls Fire at Lake Elsinore, California today are wrapping up the incident. It is in the same location as the Decker Fire exactly 54 years ago today that killed six firefighters. This morning a moment of silence was observed on the fire in memory of those six. Three of them were members of the El Cariso Hotshots.

On August 8, 1959 the Hotshots and engine crews were on the Ortega Highway above the fire firing out along the highway. The bowl where the fire occurred has an unusual but predictable diurnal wind pattern, with downslope breezes during the afternoon that stop at about 8 p.m. With the fire below them, the wind stopped at 8 p.m. and several large fire whirls developed on the fire that traveled up the slope, entrapping the firefighters.

The diagram below is from a report about the fire and shows the tactics being used just before the blowup. Click it to see a larger version.

Decker Fire diagramThe maps below are from our article about the Falls Fire. The red squares represent heat detected by a satellite before the fire spread east across the South Main Divide and down through the bowl where the Decker Fire fatalities occurred. Click on them to see larger versions.

Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013
Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013, showing heat detected by a satellite. The red squares indicating heat can be as much as a mile in error. (click to enlarge)
3-D Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013
3-D Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013, looking northwest. The red squared represent heat detected by a satellite; they can be as much as a mile in error. (click to enlarge)

A current map of the Falls Fire is on InciWeb.

This article was corrected  on 8/8/2013 to show that a total of six firefighters were killed. Five died during or shortly after the incident, and a sixth passed away five weeks later from his burn injuries. The fire report referenced above indicates that only five were killed but must have been prepared before the sixth person died.

California: Falls Fire

(UPDATE at 2:42 p.m. PDT, August 6, 2013)

Falls Fire
The Falls Fire burned close to many homes. August 6, 2013 photo by Marc Peebles

Information Officer Marc Peeples told us that the evacuations have been lifted for LakeLand Village and Rancho Capistrano. Decker Canyon remains under a mandatory evacuation order.

One of the factors that slowed the fire activity late in the day on Monday was the rising relative humidity. At 6:41 p.m. on Monday at the Temescal weather station 10 miles north of the fire it was 38 percent which is fairly high to sustain rapid fire spread in southern California brush. At 6:41 a.m. Tuesday it was 87 percent and fell to 49 percent by 9:41 a.m.

In spite of the high humidity, Mr. Peeples said there was beginning to be a little fire activity in some of the canyons on the fire Tuesday morning.


(UPDATE at 8:44 a.m. PDT, August 6, 2013)

DC-10  drop on Falls Fire, August 5, 2013
DC-10 drop on Falls Fire, August 5, 2013,, from KCAL video

The Southern California Geographic Area Coordination Center reported at 8:30 a.m. PDT that the fire has burned 1,416 acres and is zero percent contained. The fire continues to move south and east and has established itself in the San Mateo Wilderness, but is holding at the ridge lines. They said the it has potential to move further north, resulting in additional structure threat and could also move into Morrell and Decker Canyons. LakeLand Village, Rancho Capistrano and Decker Canyon remain under mandatory evacuation orders, according to the Coordination Center’s 8:30 a.m. report.

Marc Peeples, an Information Officer on the Incident Management Team assigned to the fire, said at 8:45 this morning that the fire is 5 % contained and is being fought by 265 personnel. Other resources on the fire include 6 helicopters, 6 fixed wing aircraft, 16 crews, and 45 engines.

The Cleveland National Forest has not updated InciWeb since about 7 p.m. Sunday and it also says the evacuations are in effect for Lakeland Village, Decker Canyon and Rancho Capistrano residents, in spite of a report from KCAL saying some of the evacuations had been lifted.

The report from KCAL said the Ortega Highway may remain closed for days or weeks, due to firefighters working along the highway, guard rails that have to be replaced, and power lines that were damaged.

The video also has some footage of Tanker 910, a DC-10, making some impressive retardant drops adjacent to houses.


Wakoski’s Incident Management Team was scheduled to assume command of the fire Tuesday morning.

The fire was reported at 10:06 a.m. Monday west of El Cariso Engine Station in the Cleveland National Forest.


(UPDATE at 9:25 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013)

At 9:15 p.m. the Cleveland National Forest reported the fire had burned 1,500 acres. Mandatory evacuations for Lakeland Village, Decker Canyon and Rancho Capistrano residents. Ortega Highway is closed to non-residents. Closures are at Grand Ave in Lake Elsinore and Antionio Parkway in Orange County. The evacuation perimeter is for residences between Grand/Ortega Highway and Grand/Corydon on the west side of the lake.

Official information about evacuations can be found at InciWeb.

Excellent photos of the Falls Fire.

The videos below are from the Press-Enterprise.


Falls Fire photo
Falls Fire as seen from LA’s NBC 4 at 5:13 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013, looking southeast. (click to enlarge)

(Originally published at 5:54 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013; we will update this article as needed.)

A wildfire that started Monday morning in southern California between Lake Elsinore and San Juan Capistrano spread east almost four miles and is threatening homes in the Lakeland Village community on the west side of Lake Elsinore. In the photo above captured from television at 5:13 p.m. PDT, the fire had moved across the South Main Divide road and was burning downhill at a moderate rate of spread. It appeared to be approximately 500 to 1,000 feet west of the homes in the photo in Lakeland Village south of the Ortega Highway.

Falls Fire, near Ortega Hwy and Grand, August 5, 2013
Falls Fire, near Ortega Hwy and Grand, August 5, 2013. Photo by Ken.

As this was written at 5:54 p.m. PDT, the fire was even closer to the homes and can be seen occasionally on NBC 4’s live video feed. It was burning vigorously less than 200 feet from homes.

Several helicopters and air tankers, including a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, are assisting firefighters.

Referencing the map of the Falls Fire below, the fire has spread across the South Main Divide and is much closer to Lake Elsinore than shown in the heat data that was collected at 1:47 p.m. PDT today.

Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013
Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013, showing heat detected by a satellite. The red squares indicating heat can be as much as a mile in error. (click to enlarge)

The media is reporting the fire has burned 1,200 acres.

It is burning near the location of the 1959 Decker Fire (see the map above) which entrapped seven firefighters. Five of them lost their lives; three were members of the El Cariso Hotshot Crew. The east-facing slope above the lake is infamous for unusual wind patterns, which was a factor in the fatalities.

3-D Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013
3-D Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013, looking northwest. The red squared represent heat detected by a satellite; they can be as much as a mile in error. (click to enlarge)
DC-10 finishing drop on Falls Fire
DC-10 finishing a drop on the Falls Fire, August 5, 2013. Note from Bill: I examined the drop based on the known length of a DC-10, which is 180 feet, and calculated that this drop is approximately 1,620 feet long. The length of a drop from a P2V for coverage levels 4 to 10, ranges from 180 to 430 feet.

Wildfire arsonist convicted of murder, hijacks car then commits suicide

In a bizarre series of incidents, on August 3 a man committed suicide who had pleaded guilty to a second-degree murder charge for starting the 1997 Hemlock Fire in southern California which killed an aerial firefighter.

Cary Thomas Meeks admitting throwing an illegal firecracker into a grassy area of the San Bernardino National Forest in 1997 resulting in the 3,700-acre fire. In 1998 he received a sentence of three year’s probation for the crime. Since then he has been in and out of jail for other offenses.

Helicopter pilot Floyd Hiser was dropping water on the Hemlock Fire on July 6, 1997 when his helicopter lost power and crashed near Highland. He reportedly said “flame out” twice on the radio before his Bell 206 L-1 crashed. The National Transportation Safety Board said malfunctioning fuel-line valves caused the crash.

Mr. Meeks had a busy day on Saturday beginning with slashing the throat of a 67-year old man, who survived. U.S. Forest Service firefighters from the San Bernardino National Forest responded to that medical aid incident.

Mr. Meeks then carjacked a vehicle from a 73-year old man and led police officers on a chase at speeds up to 100 mph, with the vehicle’s owner in the car, who called 911 and described what was going on. Eventually the owner was let out of the vehicle, after which Mr. Meeks steered the car at high speed into a concrete bridge pillar without breaking. He died in the crash. He had previously told the vehicle’s owner he was going to kill himself.

Mr. Meeks had several other run-ins with law enforcement since starting the fire. The Riverside Press-Enterprise which always does an excellent job covering wildfires, has all of the details.


Thanks go out to Ken