Escaped prescribed fire in Yosemite NP

It was planned to be a one-day, 90-acre prescribed fire in Yosemite National Park in the Big Meadow area near the community of Foresta on Wednesday, but the Big Meadow prescribed fire “jumped a holding line” and as of 6 p.m. on Wednesday it had burned 300 acres.

Big Meadow fire at 0915 Aug. 27, view from Turtleback Dome. The small smoke in the distance is the West fire on the Sierra National Forest. NPS photo

A Type 2 Incident Management Team will be assuming command. Numerous air tankers and helicopters are assigned.

Some excellent photos of the fire are on the Yosemite Blog. A web camera showing the fire that updates about every 15 minutes is HERE.

We will update this information as it becomes available.

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UPDATE at 10:00 a.m. PT, August 27

The Park just posted on their web site an update written at 1 a.m.:

This fire is now an escaped prescribed fire and is being suppressed. Fire Managers estimate that 400 acres have burned.

Fire managers began the burn on the morning of August 26 and in a very short time realized the holding lines were not going to contain the fire within the boundaries of this burn. The fire began spotting across the line into pockets of brush, down and dead logs and standing dead trees (snags) to the east of the community of Foresta.

This fire is within the 1990 A-Rock fire scar. Yosemite Helicopter 551 began bucket drops, which was followed by additional aircraft resources including other water dropping helicopters, (one 3000 gal per drop, heavy helicopter), and Cal Fire fixed winged air tankers. However, aircraft resources terminate operations at night; they will resume flying in the morning. Other ground resources were ordered including additional hand crews, engines and water tenders from Mariposa County and the Stanislaus National Forest.

Crews will be working through the night. A Type 2 Incident Management Team will take over the fire on August 27.

Road Closures: The Big Oak Flat Road is closed from Highway 140 to Crane Flat and the Foresta road into the community of Foresta. There is no estimated time for the road to re-open. Highway 120 from Big Oak Flat entrance station is open to Crane Flat, on to Tuolumne Meadows, and Highway 395.

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UPDATE at 10:30 a.m. PT August 27

We just talked with a fire information officer at Yosemite National Park. The fire has now burned 1,170 acres. There was some confusion about the fire name from some sources, but it is confirmed that it is named “Big Meadow”.

Crane Flat Campground and Foresta have been evacuated.

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UPDATE at 6:45 p.m. PT August 27

As of 4 p.m. PT the fire has burned 2,200 acres and it is 10% contained. A Type 2 Incident Management Team will assume command of the fire today. Resources currently on the fire include approximately 500 firefighters, three helicopters, four air tankers, and 24 engines.

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UPDATE at 10:27 p.m. PT August 27

McGowan’s Type 1 Incident Management Team has been mobilized for this fire.

Investigators report on the Florida I-4 fog/smoke incident

fog-smokeInvestigators have released a report on the Florida January 8 incident that we reported on in which smoke from an escaped prescribed fire may have mixed with fog causing poor visibility on Interstate 4 resulting in five fatalities in vehicle crashes. The report issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says:

“…an unpredictable change in weather caused the prescribed burn to burn erratically which resulted in spot fires.”

Tampa Bay Online has more details:

“TALLAHASSEE – A state investigation has cleared wildlife officials who last month lost control of a prescribed burn that may have contributed to a 70-vehicle pileup on Interstate 4 in Polk County.

The investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services concluded changing weather conditions Jan. 8 caused the 10-acre planned burn to jump firelines and spread to 400 acres. The National Weather Service said smoke from the fire could have combined with fog the next morning to cut visibility on the highway to nearly zero.

Five people died in the predawn pileup and resulting fires, prompting questions about how the fire got out of control and whether the state should have held a controlled burn in the dry season less than a mile from the interstate.

The Florida Highway Patrol is conducting a homicide investigation that also will look at whether smoke from the wildfire played a part in the wrecks.

The report by the Agriculture Department’s law enforcement division states those in charge of the fire followed correct procedures but that an “unpredictable change in weather caused the prescribed burn to burn erratically which resulted in spot fires.”

“There does not appear to be any evidence of criminal violations or gross negligence” by those involved in the burn, investigators concluded in their report.

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission employees conducting the burn reported that the humidity had dropped sharply about an hour after the fire was set at 10 a.m. and winds picked up, spreading the fire outside the protective earthen barriers.

The National Weather Service confirms there was a drop in humidity at the fire site, but meteorologists said that could have been caused by the fire. As warm air from a fire rises, it forces drier air downward. Drier air aids the spread of fire, especially when rainfall has been sparse for a long period.

Daniel Noah, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the agency has no way of knowing whether wind speeds around the fire picked up or wind directions changed. However, Noah did not rule out that possibility.”

A preliminary report issued by the Florida Highway Patrol does not even mention the prescribed fire.