Valley Fire — from one extreme to another

Firefighters on the 1,000-acre Valley Fire on the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California are experiencing unusual weather. Extreme heat was on the agenda Friday, and Saturday brought several thunderstorms through the area, resulting in some flooding and debris flows along Valley of The Falls Drive and Highway 38.

The Arrowhead Hotshots, the National Park Service crew that posted these photos on Twitter, wrote Saturday night about conditions on the fire:

From one extreme to the next. Hot, fire, thunderstorms, lots of rain, hail, flash flood.

Arrowhead hotshots Valley Fire weather

Arrowhead hotshots Valley Fire weather

The Incident Management Team reports that the fire is far from being out:

The higher elevations of the fire have not seen significant rainfall, and continue to burn. The fire is moving north and east, higher into the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area.

Southern California firefighters being tested by record heat and windy conditions

On Saturday there is a slight chance of isolated dry lightning strikes across the eastern San Gabriel Mountains during Red Flag Warning conditions

Above: Photo taken from the back yard of the USFS District Office in Alpine, CA during the West Fire July 6, 2018. USFS photo.

(Originally published at 9:20 a.m. PDT July 7, 2018)

The predictions for record heat in Southern California were accurate Friday as high temperatures soared into the triple digits. In downtown Los Angeles the old record for the date was broken by 10:15 a.m. when it hit the previous mark set in 1992 of 94 degrees. By the end of the day it was 108. The temperature at UCLA reached 111 degrees, the hottest temperature ever recorded there.

Other record-setting daily temperatures Friday in Southern California:

  • 117 – Van Nuys Airport
  • 114 – Burbank Airport
  • 115 – Ramona
  • 118 – Riverside

Firefighters were challenged by not only the heat but dry winds as fires broke out in several areas.

As the temperature reached 109 degrees, U.S. Forest Service firefighters on the Cleveland National Forest found themselves in a structure defense mode at their District Office in Alpine, with the West Fire adjacent to the building’s back yard and the rest of the 400-acre blaze across the street. Live footage shot by a local TV station showed numerous structures were destroyed.

forest service district office fire
Photo taken from the front yard of the USFS District Office in Alpine, CA during the West Fire. USFS photo.

On the Santa Barbara coast sundowner winds pushed the Holiday Fire through the hills above Goleta, burning 10 to 20 homes according to fire authorities. Even into the night temperatures at the fire scene remained above 100 degrees.

holiday fire goleta
At the Holiday Fire, Santa Barbara County Fire Department firefighters apply water at a home off Fairview Avenue in Goleta. SBFD photo.

The Valley Fire that started Friday has burned at least 1,000 acres near Highway 38 on the San Bernardino National Forest. At last report it was headed into the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area. Mandatory evacuation are in effect for the Forest Falls Community east of the highway. Southern California Incident Management Team 2 will be assuming command.

Much of Southern California is again under a Red Flag Warning Saturday as the huge high pressure dome lingers over the area, bringing more of the same very high temperatures, 2 to 8 percent relative humidities, and gusty winds.

And just to make the situation more interesting, there is a slight chance of isolated dry lightning strikes across the eastern San Gabriel Mountains along with thunderstorm-driven winds.

map Red Flag Warnings, July 7, 2018
Red Flag Warnings, July 7, 2018.

Pawnee Fire in Lake County, California continues to spread east and south.

Above: 3-D Map of the Pawnee Fire looking north at 10:43 p.m. PDT June 25, 2018. The shaded areas indicate where the fire was very active.

(Originally published at 8:52 a.m. PDT June 26, 2018
(UPDATED at 1:27 p.m. PDT June 26, 2018)

The Pawnee Fire in Lake County, California continued to spread actively south and east Monday. It has not spotted across Indian Valley Reservoir, but burned around the south end of it in a long finger that ran uphill for 2.5 miles and kept going when it crossed Bartlett Springs Road at the top of a ridge. Additional spread to the east beyond that point should be slower on the downhill slope to the valley below.

The Governor’s office has declared a state of emergency for Lake County. According to CAL FIRE the Pawnee Fire has destroyed 22 structures and 600 others remained threatened. Mandatory evacuation orders are in effect for the entire Spring Valley community which is now virtually surrounded by blackened hills. The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has more information about evacuations.

Monday afternoon CAL FIRE reported that the fire had burned 10,500 acres, and Tuesday morning updated it to 11,500 — which is a very conservative number.

The weather forecast for the rest of this week for the fire area does not predict any extreme fire weather, with highs around 90, wind less than 10 mph, and relative humidity in the teens or low 20s. However, these conditions will not cause the fire to lie down. Firefighters will still have their hands full.

During the previous three years residents of Lake County have been seriously threatened by three other fires, the Rocky and Valley Fires of 2015 and the Clayton Fire of 2016. It is possible that the Pawnee Fire could burn into the footprint of the Rocky Fire, slowing its spread to the southeast.

rocky fire valley fire clayton fire pawnee fire
Map of the perimeter of the Pawnee Fire at 10:43 p.m. PDT June 25, 2018. Also shown are the perimeters of the Rocky (2015), Valley (2015), and Clayton (2016) Fires.

Resources assigned to the fire include:

  • 110 Engines
  • 35 Hand crews
  • 15 Helicopters
  • 58 Dozers
  • 10 Water tenders
  • 1,422 personnel, total
Map perimeterPawnee Fire
Map of the perimeter of the Pawnee Fire at 10:43 p.m. PDT June 25, 2018. The shaded areas indicate where the fire was very active.

Clayton Fire burns more than 175 structures near Lower Lake, California

The fire is burning near the scars from three very large fires from 2015

(UPDATED at 7:35 p.m. PDT August 16, 2016)

The Clayton Fire grew by 67 acres on Monday, but it was on the northeast side near the footprint of last year’s Rocky Fire.  This brings the size of the burned area up to 3,945 acres.

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(UPDATED at 8:40 p.m. PDT August 15, 2016)

CAL FIRE is now reporting that the size of the Clayton Fire at Lower Lake, California is estimated at 4,000 acres. There has been no change in the number of structures burned.

A man has been arrested for starting the Clayton Fire and numerous others. Below is an excerpt from an article in The San Francisco Chronicle:

County officials arrested a 40-year-old Clear Lake man Monday on 17 counts of arson related to numerous fires set over the last year, including the 4,000-acre Clayton Fire that has so far claimed 175 buildings and displaced hundreds of people.

Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin and Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott announced the arrest of Damin Pashilk at a community meeting packed with evacuees at a casino doubling as a Red Cross shelter south of the blaze. Residents gasped at the announcement.

“All 17 counts resulted from a very extensive investigation of numerous fire starts over the last year,” Pimlott said.

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(UPDATED at 9:03 a.m. PDT August 15, 2016)

CAL FIRE public information officer Daniel Berlant reported at 9 a.m. on Monday that the Clayton Fire has burned approximately 175 structures.

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(UPDATED at 7:33 a.m. PDT August 15, 2016)

The Clayton Fire burned into the community of Lower Lake, California Sunday afternoon preceded by spot fires started from the burning embers the wind threw out ahead of the blaze igniting many homes and businesses.

At 6:45 a.m. on Monday CAL FIRE estimated that “100+” structures and 3,000 acres have burned.

The fire started Saturday and had died down Sunday morning, but strong erratic winds developed that pushed the fire very rapidly to the north into Lower Lake.

The fire occurred in an area that experienced three large fires in 2015, the Valley, Rocky, and Jerusalem Fires which together burned approximately 159,000 acres.

The Twitter images below are from Sunday afternoon.

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Originally published at 8:32 p.m. PDT August 14, 2016 Updated at 10:06 p.m. PDT August 14.).

CAL FIRE reports that as of 8 p.m. on Sunday the Clayton Fire has burned 10 structures, including at least 4 residences, near Lower Lake, California, just southeast of Clearlake and 31 air miles northeast of Santa Rosa.

Based on reports from other sources, the actual number of structures destroyed is likely to rise.

After the fire started at 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 13, it burned aggressively north, crossing Morgan Valley Road and Cache Creek, impacting the communities of Lower Lake and Clearlake. St. Helena Hospital in Clearlake has been evacuated. Additional structures are threatened and mandatory evacuations are in place.

Continue reading “Clayton Fire burns more than 175 structures near Lower Lake, California”

Fire shelter packaging has failed on two recent firefighter entrapments

Valley fire entrapment site
Entrapment site of firefighters on the Valley Fire. Photo from the CAL FIRE report. (click to enlarge)

When two firefighters in California being overrun by flames on the Valley Fire in September of this year found that the plastic bag around their fire shelters had partially melted making it very difficult to deploy the life-saving device, it was not the first time this has happened.

A year earlier on the Beaver Fire in northern California two other firefighters experienced the same issue. The plastic became soft making it impossible for the tear strip to function. One of them used a knife to cut through the soft material that acted like “Saran Wrap”, and later said, “It wasn’t like the practice shelter at all”.

Four firefighters on the Valley Fire suffered significant burns to their heads, faces, arms, and hands before they were able to get into the shelters. The injuries on the Beaver Fire were less serious.

The Beaver Fire report addressed the failure of the fire shelter packaging:

Two of the firefighters who deployed reported that their shelter’s PVC bag became hot, which made it soft and pliable. This affected the ability of the red tear strip to pull apart.

But there was no recommendation that the design be modified.

The report on the 2015 Valley Fire entrapment describes a similar problem:

…FF4 had difficulty opening the fire shelter case from the Chainsaw Pack; the clear plastic covering of the fire shelter was soft and melted. FF4 had to remove the gloves to tear the plastic away from the aluminum shell of the fire shelter. FF3 couldn’t get the fire shelter out of the case because the clear plastic cover was melted to the white plastic protective sleeve…

One of the first times shelters were used was in 1964 when 36 members of the El Cariso Hotshots deployed them on a fire near Cajon Pass in southern California. Two years later 12 men on the crew were killed when they were entrapped on the Loop Fire on the Angeles National Forest — they were not carrying shelters at the time. In the hours before they began their fatal downhill fireline construction assignment the fire in that area had not been very active.

The U.S. Forest Service has modified the design of fire shelters several times since they were introduced in the 1960s. After 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013 in spite of using the devices, the USFS began an effort to redesign them and has been testing numerous materials and configurations, including insulation that has been supplied by NASA.

The Press Democrat has a lengthy article about the recent deployments and the design of fire shelters.

…Firefighters across Sonoma County said they had been anxious to see the official preliminary Cal Fire “green sheet,” a summary of the incident released Oct. 3 detailing how the firefighters became injured [on the Valley Fire]. Many said they were stunned to learn about the plastic melting and the equipment failure on the survival tents they will all carry in the next wildland blaze even as the effectiveness of that equipment is under review.

Firefighters, especially those who jump into the thick of it, deal with extreme situations and the equipment must be able to withstand those situations, they said.

Ernie Loveless, who ran Cal Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit for 20 years until he retired five years ago, said he was concerned about the durability of the bags after they were introduced in 2004.

“It seemed strange to have safety stuff like that made out of plastic that will melt in extreme heat,” said Loveless, who is now Schell-Vista fire board president. “I asked: ‘Why do we put stuff in plastic?’ The answer I received from our academy at the time is it was the best material they knew of at the time.”…

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris.

Dash cam video shot during the Valley Fire released

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has released dash cam video shot during the early hours of the Valley Fire. Deputies struggled while the fire was spreading very rapidly to notify and evacuate residents. Four homeowners were killed and four CAL FIRE firefighters were entrapped and seriously burned in the fire that burned 76,000 acres and 1,200 homes in three counties 62 miles north of San Francisco.

At one point in the video you see deputies Rob Rumfelt and Kalen Brockwalder race toward a burning car, but had to turn back due to the intensity of the flames.