Northern California wildfires visible from space

Satellite photo showing smoke from six large fires

5:55 p.m. PDT August 4, 2021

Satellite photo, fires in Northern California
Satellite photo, fires in Northern California, 4:21 p.m. PDT Aug 4, 2021.

Wednesday afternoon the GOES 17 satellite could easily photograph smoke from six large wildfires in Northern California:

  • Monument Fire, on the Shasta-Trinity NF was 15,000 acres Wednesday morning, ½ mile west of Big Bar along Highway 299 and east of Cedar Flat. It is threatening Big Bar, Del Loma, Big Flat, and Burnt Ranch.
  • McFarland Fire on the Shasta-Trinity NF Wednesday morning was 20,005 acres.  Evacuation orders are in place for the community of Wildwood.
  • River Complex on the Klamath NF consists of approximately 22 fires. Of these, 6 have been contained and are in patrol status. Of those that are active, most are ½ to 20 acres. The largest are Haypress at 5,500 acres, Cronan at 450 acres, and Summer at 2,500 acres, for a total of 8,487 acres.
  • Antelope Fire, approximately 2,400 acres, Klamath NF, was very active Wednesday afternoon with fire in the upper tree canopy. Spot fires have been observed 1/2 mile ahead of the main fire. Wednesday afternoon air resources could not assist firefighters on the ground due to poor visibility. It is moving north and impacting Tennant and Fish Camp.
  • Dixie Fire, on the Lassen NF, Plumas NF, and CAL FIRE. It was very active Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon and has burned approximately 274,139 acres, threatening several communities, including Chester and Greenville. It has crossed Highway 89 in multiple locations and Wednesday morning was close to crossing Highway 36.
  • River Fire near Colfax, California about 40 miles northeast of Sacramento.

River Fire prompts evacuations near Colfax, CA

About 40 miles northeast of Sacramento

7:29 p.m. PDT August 4, 2021

River Fire map
River Fire map, showing heat detected by a satellite at 2:30 p.m. PDT Aug 4, 2021.

The map shows heat on the River Fire detected by a satellite at 2:30 p.m. PDT August 4, 2021.

CAL FIRE said that as of 7:25 p.m. Wednesday it had burned 1,400 acres.

6:16 p.m. PDT August 4, 2021

The River Fire in Placer and Nevada Counties 40 miles northeast of Sacramento was estimated at 1,000 acres at 5:45 Wednesday afternoon.

This is a dangerous fire and is spreading very rapidly to the north and northeast. Residents that feel uncomfortable should not wait for an evacuation order  — officials may not have time to make all of the necessary notifications during this very dynamic event.

From the Placer County Sheriff’s Office (time uncertain, but it was found on the Sheriff’s Facebook page at 6:12 p.m. local time)

     **Colfax area EVACUATION Order**
Fire crews are battling a fire near Colfax. There is an EVACUATION ORDER in place for the town of Colfax and the area starting at the Bear River Campground and extending on both sides of Milk Ranch Road to Tokyana Road; West of the railroad tracks to the river; From Mt Howell Rd north to Rollins lake. Gather your essentials and leave the area safely.
Residences that have been evacuated can go to the Auburn Veterans Memorial Hall at 100 East Street in Auburn.
** A secondary evacuation site is yet to be determined**

4:22 p.m. PDT August 4, 2021

River Fire
River Fire, looking east-southeast from Wolf Mtn at 4:16 p.m. PDT Aug 4, 2021.

Updated at 4:07 p.m. PDT August 4, 2021

River Fire
River Fire as seen from the Howell Mtn camera, looking north at 3:25 p.m. PDT Aug 4, 2021.

A fire that broke out Wednesday afternoon near Colfax, California is already prompting evacuations. The River Fire reported near the Bear River Campground is burning west of Interstate 80 on both sides of the Bear River in both Placer and Nevada Counties.

Colfax is on Interstate 80 about 40 air miles northeast of Sacramento.

At 3:40 p.m. CAL FIRE reported it had burned approximately 100 acres and is north of Applegate.

At least two helicopters, six air tankers, and one very large air tanker have been working the fire, reloading at Grass Valley and Sacramento McClellan.

The Placer County Sheriff’s Office ordered an evacuation for the area starting at the Bear River Campground and extending on both sides of Milk Ranch Road to Tokyana Road, Moorhaven Way, Placer Hills Road, Ben Taylor Road and Hillcrest Boulevard.

The fire is very close to but not within locations covered by a Red Flag Warning Wednesday and Thursday. At 3:50 p.m Wednesday the nearby PG377 weather station on Dog Ranch Road recorded 93 degrees, 17 percent RH, and 7 mph winds out of the southwest gusting to 16 mph. The forecast for Wednesday night is for the wind direction to shift to the southeast and the RH to increase to 35 percent. On Thursday it will be cooler, 85 degrees, with 15 percent RH and 6 to 10 mph winds out of the south and southwest.

Smoke forecast and Red Flag Warnings

Smoke forecast for 4 a.m. MDT August 5, 2021.
Near-surface smoke forecast for 4 a.m. MDT August 5, 2021.

Most of the United States has some degree of smoke due to the fires in the western states and Canada, but the lighter concentrations may not be noticeable to most residents. If you have red sunrises and sunsets, it could be because of the smoke. Above is the near-surface smoke forecast for 4 a.m. MDT August 5, 2021.

Below are the Red Flag Warnings and Fire Weather Watches, issued August 4, 2021.

Red Flag Warnings, Aug 4, 2021
Red Flag Warnings, Aug 4, 2021.

Dixie Fire spreads north, Sheriff orders evacuation of Chester, CA

Very significant destruction of structures in Greenville, California Wednesday afternoon

7:13 p.m. PDT August 4, 2021

Reporters in Greenville, California have documented what one of them calls “widespread destruction” after the Dixie Fire ran through the town Wednesday. Much of the damage occurred around 5 p.m.

One scanner report said some law enforcement and fire personnel had to evacuate the area for their own safety.

Dixie Fire damages structures in Greenville, CA

2:57 p.m. PDT August 4, 2021

Dixie Fire at 2:54 p.m. PDT Aug 4, 2021
Dixie Fire at 2:54 p.m. PDT Aug 4, 2021.

Above: the Dixie Fire seen from four cameras at 2:54 p.m. PDT August 4, 2021.

7:53 a.m. PDT August 4, 2021

Map of the Dixie Fire at 7 a.m. PDT Aug 4, 2021
Map of the Dixie Fire at 7 a.m. PDT Aug 4, 2021. The red areas indicate intense heat from the fire.

The Dixie Fire was very active throughout Tuesday night, with most of the movement during the night occurring on the northwest side. During a mapping flight at 7 a.m. Wednesday two large fingers of fire spread north to within less than a mile of Highway 89. At that time there was a small spot fire three-quarters of a mile north of the highway, more than a mile out in front of the main fire.

In that same general area it was also spreading northeast and at 7 a.m. Wednesday was very close to crossing Highway 89 a third time, in this case about 2.5 miles south of the junction of Highways 89 and 36 approximately 2 miles southwest of the south edge of the Chester Airport. Earlier it crossed Highway 89 and ran to Lake Almanor just south of the golf course at Lake Almanor West. It also crossed north of Greenville.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Dixie Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.

Tuesday night there was not much additional spread of the fire on the west side of Greenville. Firefighters apparently were effective, at least in the short term, of slowing the fire at the edge of the town. The west flank of that large finger of fire was still active about 4 miles east of Canyondam.

A Red Flag Warning will be in effect for the fire area Wednesday afternoon through Thursday evening. Winds are expected to be out of the southwest at 10 to 20 mph with gusts up to 35 mph with single-digit relative humidities. These conditions could promote additional spread to the north and northeast, making it very difficult for firefighters to keep the fire south of Highways 36 and 89.

10:33 p.m. PDT August 3, 2021

Dixie Fire map
Dixie Fire map, approximate perimeter during a mapping flight at 7:30 p.m. PDT August 3, 2021.

Strong winds gusting to 20 mph and low relative humidity Tuesday caused the Dixie Fire to grow substantially with extreme fire behavior in two areas, prompting the Plumas County Sheriff’s office to issue a mandatory evacuation of Chester. The town had a population of 2,145 in 2019. Many other areas are also under evacuation orders.

A structure status map and evacuation maps for Tehama County and Butte and Plumas Counties are available.

Tuesday evening the incident management team reported the fire had burned 254,466 acres.

On the northeast side of the fire it made a big run to the north in the Round Valley Reservoir area, crossing Long Valley Road and continued moving north on the west side of Greenville. A 7:30 p.m. mapping flight on Tuesday showed that it crossed Highway 89 about two miles north of the community. Engines, hand crews, dozers, and aircraft worked to keep the fire out of the town.

Fire trains are working to protect railway structures with water and retardant.

The Dixie Fire crossed Highway 89 in a second location nearly reaching the shore of Lake Almanor between the golf course at Lake Almanor West and Prattville.

On the northwest side Monday the fire twice spotted across the burning operation firefighters conducted several days ago along Humboldt Road. On the maps it appeared that the completed burn strip was about 150 to 300 feet wide, but in some areas was not yet tied in with the main fire. The larger of the two spots grew to over 1,000 acres Monday, and on Tuesday increased in size and had spread to within a quarter mile of Highway 36 during the 7:30 p.m. mapping flight.

A Red Flag Warning is in effect for the fire area beginning Wednesday afternoon due to gusty winds and low humidity.

The Incident Management Teams reports that 45 structures and 22 minor structures have been destroyed. There have been no reported injuries or fatalities.

Resources assigned to the fire Tuesday evening included 373 engines, 103 water tenders, 20 helicopters, 81 hand crews, and 70 dozers for a total of 4,927 personnel, a reduction of 241 personnel in 24 hours.

Brush fire burns 40,000 acres on Hawaii’s Big Island

Hawaii brush fire
Still image from Big Island Video News video, August 2, 2021.

A vegetation fire burned for about four days on Hawaii’s Big Island, blackening 40,000 acres according to estimates from fire officials. It is the largest brush fire on record for Hawaii County.

Evacuations were ordered for residents of three communities but have since been lifted.

Hawaii Fire
Hawaii Fire. Photo by 25th Infantry Division.

The fire was reported Friday morning near Mana Road in Waimea and quickly prompted the evacuation of Pu’u Kapu Hawaiian Homestead and Waiki’i Ranch. Two homes in the Department of Hawaiian Homelands Puukapu Subdivision were destroyed.

When the fire was spreading rapidly it was pushed by 18 to 20 mph winds gusting to 40 mph.

“There are no longer threats to life and property and all roadways are open in both directions,” wrote Hawaii County Mayor Roth on Facebook Tuesday. The incident has been downgraded from an emergency situation to a normal fire operation he said.

The Drought Monitor reports that more than half of the island is in moderate to severe drought.

Hawaii Fire map
Hawaii Fire, designated in red. Map by County of Hawaii.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed Hilina Pali and Mauna Loa roads to vehicle traffic due to the heightened fire danger.

“Staying safe while protecting the natural and cultural resources of the park is our top priority,” said park fire management officer Greg Funderburk. “Fire danger indexes in both areas are above the 90th percentile and any ignitions that occur would be difficult to suppress and likely to result in a large fire.”

The video below recorded heat detected by a satellite on the Big Island over a four day period. Hawaii is 10 hours behind UTC seen at upper left.

Forest Service Chief says wildfires will be suppressed, rather than “managed”, for now

Temporary shift in policy due to extreme wildfire conditions in the West and competition for firefighting resources due in part to COVID-19 infections rising again

1:55 p.m. MDT August 3, 2021

Cub Creek 2 Fire
Cub Creek 2 Fire in Northern Washington, July 25, 2021. InciWeb.

In an August 2 letter to the field, new US Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said that because there is in a “national crisis”, they will not “manage fires for resource benefit”. In other words, instead of allowing fires to burn in order to replicate natural conditions and improve the ecosystem, they will put them out — at least to the best of their ability.

This year there are several factors that brought us to the crisis: competition for firefighting resources, a large number of incidents, firefighter numbers reduced by COVID-19 infections, and fire behavior enhanced by drought. It has all led to larger, longer-duration fires. Not mentioned by the Chief is the hundreds of vacant Forestry Technician positions. In early July there were 800 on National Forests in California alone.

During a virtual meeting July 27 with Western Governors to discuss wildfire preparedness, President Joe Biden was told that their states need more aviation resources, they need help with obtaining aviation fuel, they need more boots on the ground, and they encourage aggressive initial attack. The last item was referring to managing rather than suppressing fires. Governor Gavin Newsom referenced last month’s Tamarack Fire south of Lake Tahoe that was monitored but not suppressed. It stayed very small for 12 days until it grew rapidly, spreading east for 20 miles into Nevada, burning more than 68,000 acres and destroying 25 structures. On the August 3 National Situation Report it is still listed as a less than full suppression fire.

In declaring what is a temporary shift in policy until the Western fire season abates, Chief Moore cited numerous reasons for the change:

The 2021 fire year is different from any before. On July 14, 2021, the National Multi-Agency Coordination Group raised the national preparedness level (PL) to 5, the earliest point in a decade and the third earliest ever. There are currently over 70 large fires burning across the nation and 22,000 personnel responding, which are both nearly three times more than the 10-year average for the month of July. Severe drought is affecting over 70 percent of the West, and the potential for significant fire activity is predicted to be above normal into October. Our firefighters are fatigued, especially after more than a year of almost constant deployments, beginning with helping Australia in January 2020, and continuing through a difficult 2020 fire year and then supporting the vaccination effort in early 2021. In addition, COVID-19 infections are rising again. They are degrading our firefighting response capacity at an alarming rate, which will persist until more Americans are vaccinated.

In short, we are in a national crisis. At times like these, we must anchor to our core values, particularly safety. In PL 5, the reality is we are resource limited. The core tenet of the Forest Service’s fire response strategy is public and firefighter safety above all else. The current situation demands that we commit our fire resources only in instances where they have a high probability of success and they can operate safely and effectively. We will rely on the tested principles of risk management in determining our strategies and tactics.

Chief Moore said this was not a return to the “10 a.m. Policy” from 1935 which set as a goal stopping the spread of every fire by 10 a.m. the second day.

In addition, ignited prescribed fire operations will be considered only in geographic areas at or below Preparedness Level 2 and only with the approval of the Regional Forester after consulting with the Chief’s Office.

This directive only applies to the US Forest Service, and not to the four land management agencies in the Department of the Interior — National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Bureau of Land Management. Of those four DOI agencies, only the NPS is into “managed fire” in a big way. We asked a spokesperson for the NPS if they were making a similar temporary change in policy, but they were unable to meet our publication deadline, “given how busy it is and the need to work with the Washington Office of Communications”. [Update at 5:06 p.m. August 3. NPS Branch Chief for Communication and Education Tina Boehle got back to us with information which indicated the agency is not making any changes in their fire strategies — without actually stating it specifically.]

Currently there is a less than full suppression fire burning in North Cascades National Park in Washington which has blackened 150 acres, and another that has burned 470 acres in Yosemite NP in California. There are 18 listed on the Situation Report on National Forests, with most of them being in the Northern Rockies Geographic Area.

A video produced by the Northern Rockies Fire Science Network posted on YouTube last year was intended to spark discussion about managing fire for resource benefit on public lands. It featured interviews with 22 fire practitioners, including Dick Bahr, National Park Service Program Lead for Fire Science and Ecology, who said:

We have really good modeling now. … If you’re not comfortable with where it’s going to get or you’re concerned about what it’s going to burn up — do you take on the fire, or do you take on protection of what you’re going to do? And now the big shift is, we have now the opportunity, go put the money and the effort into protecting that point you’re worried about losing and let the fire do what it’s supposed to do…

You’re going to win a few, you’re going to lose a few. And it’s OK to lose, but you’ve got to learn from them.

Edited at 5:06 p.m. MDT August 3 to include late arriving information from the NPS which indicated that the agency is not making any changes in their fire strategies.