CAL FIRE Chief calls President Trump’s wildfire claims ‘uninformed’

L FIRE Chief Ken Pimlott
CAL FIRE Chief Ken Pimlott. File photo.

In an interview Friday with KPIX, Ken Pimlott Chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection addressed the criticism lobbed Wednesday at California by President Trump during a cabinet meeting. The President said in part:

California’s a mess. We’re giving billions and billions of dollars for forest fires in California. There’s no reason for those fires to be like they are…

So I think California oughta get their act together and clean up their forests and manage their forests because it’s disgraceful.

What’s happening should never happen. I go all over the country. When I meet with governors the first thing they say is there’s no reason for forest fires like that in California.

Weather Channel explains how wildfires burn, using extraordinary graphics

The Weather Channel video how wildfires burn
Stephanie Abrams explains how wildfires burn. Screenshot from The Weather Channel video.

Stephanie Abrams, a Weather Channel Meteorologist, narrates a video that begins with a quiet, forest scene with a couple of deer in the background. But drama unfolds as a wildfire ignites nearby and envelops her in flames. She goes on, oblivious to the 1,600-degree heat, explaining how fires burn.

This is part of The Weather Channel’s new slate of immersive, mixed reality (IMR) content that’s meant to let “viewers truly see the weather like never before”.

The computer-generated imagery (CGI) is captivating — it’s difficult to look away.

Red Flag Warnings in Southern California

Red Flag Warnings
Red Flag Warnings in effect until 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19. Click to enlarge.

Red Flag Warnings are in effect until 10 p.m. Friday for areas in Southern California. The locations affected include areas in Orange, Ventura, Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange Counties.

The National Weather Service expects northeast to east winds of 15 to 30 mph with gusts of 45. Some isolated gusts up to 55 mph could occur near isolated ridge tops. The relative humidity will be in the 10 to 20 percent range.

The map was current at 7:15 a.m. PDT on Friday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts.

President threatens to cut funding for California wildfires

President Trump on Wednesday seemed to threaten to cut the federal government’s funding for fighting wildfires in California. During a Cabinet meeting exchange with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, Mr. Trump said about the fires in California,  “…we’re just not going to continue to pay the kind of money that we’re paying…”, which he said was “hundreds of billions of dollars”.

It is not clear exactly what funding would be cut. About 20 percent of the land in California is managed by the Forest Service, where many of the largest fires occur. It is hard to see how cutting the Forest Service budget would improve the situation. The state has responsibility for suppressing vegetation fires in many rural areas of California.

Any state can apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) which  may provide federal funding for up to 75 percent of eligible firefighting costs.  The grant is intended to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause major disasters.  Eligible costs covered by FMAGs can include expenses for fire camps, equipment use, materials, supplies, mobilization, and demobilization activities attributed to fighting the fire.

Some of the California fires in 2018 for which FMAGs were approved included the Carr Fire near Redding, Pawnee Fire in Lake County, Cranston Fire in Riverside County, and the Mendocino Complex of Fires in Lake County near Clear Lake.

Also in 2018 FEMA declared the Carr Fire to be a “major disaster” which enabled grants to individuals for temporary housing, home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the fire. Major disasters are often declared for recovery from hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters.

Fact check

cost fires california
On average from 2003-2012, California wildfires had 44 percent of all reported suppression costs in the western 11 states (based on fiscal fire years, October 1 – September 30). Only 24 percent of acres burned were in California, on average, over the same time. Click image to enlarge. Credit: Climate Central.

Twice during the two-minute discussion about the cost of fires in California, Mr. Trump said fires in the state are costing the country “hundreds of billions of dollars”. Using data compiled by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, Climate Central created the graphs above. We extracted from the graphic the approximate yearly costs and found that the average annual costs of suppressing fires in California from 2003 through 2012 was approximately $300 million. Only one time during that 10-year span did suppression costs exceed $1 billion — in 2008 when about $1.1 billion was spent in the state. If that annual average suppression cost remained the same it would take 180 years to total $200 billion. Mr. Trump’s statement about the costs of suppressing fires in California is off by a factor of approximately 180.

These costs do not include other expenses that may be authorized by a major disaster declaration, like on the Carr Fire.

It is true that the cost per acre of wildfires in California is high. Some of the reasons include the high costs of firefighting resources in the state, and the proximity of values at risk such as homes and infrastructure.

Video and a transcript of the October 17 Cabinet meeting discussion about the cost of wildfires in California.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue:

“You talked about the forest fires. Now we are permitting and cleaning up these forests so we will reduce the threat of forest fires as well as creating jobs in these communities.”

President Trump:

“They ought to do that in California by the way.”

Secretary Perdue:

“Yes sir.”

President Trump:

“California’s a mess. We’re giving billions and billions of dollars for forest fires in California. There’s no reason for those fires to be like they are. They are leaving them dirty, it’s a disgraceful thing. Old trees are sitting there rotting and dry and instead of cleaning it up they don’t touch ’em. They leave ’em. And we end up with these massive fires that we’re paying hundreds of billions of dollars for — to — fix, and the destruction is incredible.

“So I think California oughta get their act together and clean up their forests and manage their forests because it’s disgraceful.

“What’s happening should never happen. I go all over the country. When I meet with governors the first thing they say is there’s no reason for forest fires like that in California.

“So I say to the Governor, or whoever is going to be the Governor of California, better get your act together cause California we’re just not going to continue to pay the kind of money that we’re paying because of fires that should never be to the extent.

“They were telling me in a couple of states I won’t even mention their names, it’s like a flash, some grass will burn. It will be over in minutes. They’ll lose two acres, three acres at the most. They won’t even lose that. And here we are with thousands of acres and billions and billions of dollars every year. It’s the same thing every year.

“And they don’t want to clean up their forests because they have environmental problems in cleaning it up. It should be the opposite. Cause you’re going to lose your forest. You’re losing. But it’s costing our country hundreds of billions of dollars because of incompetence in California.

“The people, I’m speaking now for the people of California. They don’t want to see this happen. They’re getting destroyed. And it’s hurting our budgets, it’s hurting our country and they just better get their act together.”

Report of “extreme spotting” 6 miles ahead of Klondike Fire

(Originally published at 5:34 a.m. PDT October 17, 2018)

Typically by mid-October firefighting agencies in Oregon have downsized their ranks of seasonal firefighters and are preparing to enter winter mode. But the Klondike Fire west of Grants Pass, after being dormant for weeks, exploded back to life on October 14 and in a big way. Within a matter of hours it burned an additional 4,968 acres to bring the total up to 172,287 acres.

According to an article in the Mail Tribune it was transporting burning embers into the atmosphere that started fires six miles out ahead of the flaming front:

“Extreme spotting” propelled fine embers up to six miles ahead of the main fire, dropping the live ash right between firefighters’ tents and close to people’s homes.

“We even had to move our own fire camp,”  [information officer Kale] Casey said.

The map below shows spot fires detected by an infrared mapping flight.

map Klondike Fire
The red line on the map was the perimeter of the Klondike Fire at 9 p.m. October 15, 2018. The white line shows where the perimeter was before the October 14-15 additional growth. Click to enlarge.

The Incident Management Team posted an update on Tuesday October 16:

Fire personnel focused all efforts to ensure that Sunday’s wind driven spot fires did not damage any of the homes in the Oak Flats, Spud Road and Agness area. Fire managers estimate that the weekend wind event resulted in approximately 5,000 acres of new growth to the west of the primary containment lines. Level 3 evacuations remain in effect for these areas while fire crews and engines work to construct and link together new and existing containment lines.

The Oregon State Fire Marshal’s five structural task forces that arrived yesterday have split into day and night shifts to ensure that all homes under evacuation are protected. These resources include twenty engines and five water tenders with firefighters from thirty-three different fire agencies from across the state.

Fire behavior moderated significantly yesterday as the 30 mph winds over the weekend diminished significantly, allowing fire firefighters to attack spot fires directly. Containing the remaining spot fires east and west of the Illinois River and west of the 3577 Road is the primary objective for all fire personnel.