Timeline of Chetco Bar Megafire shows decisions made during initial attack

The fire has burned 191,000 acres.

Above: The Chetco Bar Fire on July 13, 2017, day two, as seen from a helicopter during the Type 3 Incident Commander’s first recon flight.

Originally published at 10:47 a.m. MDT October 2, 2017.

In mid-August when the Chetco Bar Fire in southwest Oregon quadrupled in size during a four-day period from 22,042 to 97,758 acres, some began wondering, in comments on this site and other venues, why the U.S. Forest Service did not suppress it soon after it was reported by a commercial airline pilot at 2:42 p.m. July 12.

Since it started the fire has burned 191,090 acres and cost taxpayers almost $61 million.

Chetco Bar Fire map
Map showing the location of the Chetco Bar Fire (on the left) October 2, 2017. USFS.

The USFS has released a high tech timeline presentation that highlights some of the decisions and events that occurred during the course of the fire. It is embedded at the bottom of this article. Some of the interactive map features may not work — if that is the case, you can view it the USFS website.

The fire started from a lightning strike during a storm on June 24 and 25 and was spotted by the airline pilot 17 days later. The timeline does not mention if infrared flights or any other detection methods were used that possibly could have resulted in an initial attack on the fire soon after it started rather than more than two weeks later.

(All articles on Wildfire Today about the Chetco Bar Fire can be found here.)

A fixed wing Air Attack ship was dispatched after the airliner pilot’s report. Air Attack recommended dispatching a Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT), a helicopter for water bucket support, and inserting rappellers. At that time the fire had burned about half an acre.

The first four firefighters rappelled into the area an hour and 32 minutes after the first report. Three helicopters dropped 17,280 gallons of water on the fire that afternoon and evening until after 9 p.m., but no air tankers worked the fire until a SEAT made two drops on the second day, July 13. While the helicopters dropped water, the four firefighters built a helispot. At the end of the first day Air Attack reported the fire was holding at three-quarters of an acre.

On day two a second load of four rappellers was sent to the fire. Below is an excerpt from the USFS timeline, and following that, the high-tech timeline:


“[On day two, July 13, the second load of four rappellers] were given a briefing, then loaded in the helicopter at 9 a.m. to fly the 20 minutes to the fire location. From the air, the fire appeared to have grown to about 10 acres overnight, with a few areas of isolated smoke columns. The crew noted the steep ground, the old burn scar and the fact the fire was burning mid-slope. They could see a lot of rollout (burning debris rolling below the main fire). Due to the remoteness of the area and the steep topography, the crew requested a few more orbits around the fire to gather more intelligence from the high vantage point.

“Upon landing, their perspective changed. “The ground was really, really steep. We know views from the air can be deceiving, but we couldn’t see the fire or the smoke from the helispot. I originally thought the trees below the helispot were reproduction from an old fire, but then I realized the slope was so steep I was only seeing the tree tops. They were actually 200 foot tall, 4-foot DBH (diameter at breast height) trees,” said a senior firefighter on the second load of rappellers.

“One rappeller began scouting for an escape route along the ridge to the north of the helispot, and found extremely dense vegetation with manzanita, tan oak and madrone, along with dead and downed logs. The ground was covered with madrone leaves that were slick – combined with the steep terrain, it made staying upright a challenge.

Continue reading “Timeline of Chetco Bar Megafire shows decisions made during initial attack”

Extreme mopup

The U.S. Forest Service distributed this photo on Twitter September 17 that shows at least 90 Oregon Army National Guard Soldiers during a firefighting training exercise at the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training in Salem, Oregon, August 28, 2017.

Nearly 125 Citizen-Soldiers from the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team volunteered to join the second iteration of personnel, also known as NG-2, activated by Governor Kate Brown to assist with wildfires across the state of Oregon. The Oregon National Guard is currently assigned to three  fires in central and southern Oregon; the Whitewater, High Cascades Complex, and Chetco Bar fires. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class April Davis, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)

In addition to the National Guard, 200 members of the active duty military were activated from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington earlier this month. Initially they were assigned to the Umpqua North Complex of fires 50 miles east of Roseburg, Oregon.

Update on Chetco Bar Fire and other wildfires in the Northwest

Above: Satellite photo from August 27, 2017 showing smoke created by fires in the Northwestern United States, including Chetco Bar, Liberty, Rice Ridge, and Jolly Mountain Fires. The red dots on the map represent heat detected by the satellite on August 28.

(Originally published at 9:55 a.m. MDT August 28, 2017)

The Chetco Bar Fire in Southwest Oregon has not been growing as quickly in recent days as it did earlier when it quadrupled in size over four days and crossed the 100,000-acre threshold. The most recent mapping puts it at almost 108,000 acres. The area is under a Red Flag Warning on through Tuesday for gusty southwest winds and low humidities which could result in increased burning intensity and rapid fire growth.

The 4,400-acre Jolly Mountain Fire in Central Washington is near a Red Flag Warning area. Fire officials’ expectations for Monday:

Southern and western flanks of the fire will become active with uphill crown runs both on the east and west sides of West Fork drainage. SE flank will continue to back downslope. Fire will become increasingly active as it spreads to the south, where it loses its downslope effect and in more exposed to general winds. Fire likely to cross Sasse Ridge to the west.

liberty fire dozer
A dozer passes through an area where firefighters are working on the Liberty Fire. Undated & uncredited Inciweb photo.

The 12,800-acre Liberty Fire has been burning northeast of Missoula, Montana since July 15 while the Rice Ridge Fire, not far away, has spread over 27,800 acres since it started two weeks later. Hot, dry weather on Monday could cause both blazes to become more active.

Wildfire activity continues in northwest California and southwest Oregon

Oregon’s Chetco Bar Fire has exceeded 100,000 acres

Above: Firefighters on structure protection duty set up a sprinkler system on the Chetco Bar Fire in Southwest Oregon. Undated photo on Inciweb.

(Originally published at 9:03 a.m. PDT August 24, 2017)

The wildfires in Southwest Oregon and Northwest California continue to grow at a fairly steady pace, with occasional large expansions during wind events.

The Chetco Bar Fire five miles northeast of Brookings, Oregon was mapped very early Thursday morning at 102,333 acres, moving past the 100,000-acre threshold into “megafire” territory. But it is still one-fifth the size of the Biscuit Fire that covered almost half a million acres in the same general area in 2002.

The red line was the perimeter of the Chetco Bar Fire at 12:16 a.m. PDT August 24, 2017. The white line was the perimeter two days before.

The map of the Chetco Bar Fire shows that while it continues to spread along much of the perimeter that growth has slowed since it quadrupled in size over a four-day period, August 18 to 22. It added 2,389 acres on Wednesday through minimal flanking, backing, and creeping fire behavior due to cooler temperatures and higher humidities.

More fighters have poured in to the Brookings, Oregon area which is five miles southwest of the fire. Over 1,100 personnel are now working on the blaze, including 21 hand crews, 118 engines, and 8 helicopters. The incident management teams report that 25 structures have burned.

Three teams are assigned to the Chetco Bar Fire: Livingston’s Type 1 team, Greer’s Type 2 team, and Houseman’s National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team. (The NIMO folks need to come up with a better name for their teams.)

wildfires in southwest Oregon and Northwest California
The red, brown, and yellow dots represent heat detected only within the last week on wildfires in southwest Oregon and Northwest California.

The fires in Northwest California do not receive much press coverage since they are in remote, sparsely populated areas. The largest is the Eclipse Complex of five fires 10 miles north of Happy Camp which has burned 40,500 acres. It is also known as “CA-KNF-006098 Complex”. On Wednesday the inversion that had been moderating fire behavior lifted over one of the five fires, the Prescott Fire, which became active and burned towards the Oak Fire. This produced a large smoke column that caused ash fall along the Hwy 96 corridor and throughout the Happy Camp area.

Toll and Squirrel Fires
The Toll and Squirrel Fires are not in Northwest California, but are near Quincy, California. August 20, 2017. Inciweb.

In other wildfire news, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture are visiting Missoula and the Lolo Peak Fire today (August 24), accompanied by the USFS National Fire Director, Shawna Legarza.

Continue reading “Wildfire activity continues in northwest California and southwest Oregon”

Chetco Bar Fire in Oregon quadruples in four days, approaches 100,000 acres

Above: Chetco Bar Fire August 17, 2017. Inciweb.

(Originally published at 9:35 a.m. PDT August 22, 2017)

On July 13, 2002 the Biscuit Fire started in southwest Oregon. Under a limited suppression strategy 7,000 workers fought the fire as it spread into California. By November it had burned up nearly 500,000 acres and $150 million, becoming one of the largest wildfires in the recent history of the 48 contiguous states.

Chetco Bar Fire satellite photo
Satellite photo of smoke from the Chetco Bar Fire, August 20, 2017. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite. Note that the smoke from the fire is a different color from the other fires in the area to the southeast and northeast.

This summer another very large wildfire, the Chetco Bar Fire, is burning partially in the footprints of the Biscuit and another nearby blaze, the 1987 Silver Fire. Also under a limited suppression strategy, the 788 personnel assigned today are faced with the steep slopes in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness as well as brush and dangerous snags left in the previously burned areas.

Evacuations are in effect and Curry County Sheriff’s Office says at least five homes have been destroyed by the fire.

map Chetco Bar Fire
The red line was the perimeter of the Chetco Bar Fire at 2:30 a.m. PDT August 22, 2017. The white line was the perimeter on August 18, 2017.

The Phoenix National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) Team with Incident Commander Bob Houseman, on the fire since July 29, explains their task:

Because of the risk to firefighter safety, low probability of success of a direct attack strategy and minimal values at risk, fire personnel are currently focused on constructing contingency lines, conducting reconnaissance for access, scouting safe entry points, locating natural features for containment opportunities, protecting wilderness values and developing a long term plan for safely engaging the fire.

On August 18 at 4 p.m. the Chetco Bar Fire covered 22,042 acres. Early Tuesday morning August 22 it was mapped at 97,758 acres, approaching the 100,000-acre threshold of becoming a “megafire”.

Map of the 2002 Biscuit Fire
Map of the 2002 Biscuit Fire, by Oregon Business.

For the last several days it has been spreading rapidly to the southwest growing to within five miles of Brookings, a community on the Pacific coast. It is 14 miles southeast of Gold Beach.

The Team is using a mixture of direct, indirect and point protection tactics when and where they expect there is a high probability of success. The fire is burning in areas of fire scar and islands that were previously unburned, as well as areas west of the previous fires. The combination of down and dead fuels in the old burns and newly cured grass adds complexity for firefighters.

satellite photo Biscuit Fire
Satellite photo of the Biscuit Fire on September 1, 2002. Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC.