At least they’re paid in sunsets

Wildland firefighters

Burning piles sunset Black Hills National Forest
Burning piles at sunset on the Black Hills National Forest. Photo by Josh Hoffmann.

Federal employees who fight fires for a living are grossly underpaid. That fact may have led to the old saying that they are “paid in sunsets.” Wildland firefighters usually battle fires in very remote areas and have opportunities to see sunsets from a wide variety of vantage points that are rarely visited by humans. When they see the sunset, they may have dragged themselves out of a sleeping bag on the ground 14 hours earlier and are dog-tired, dirty, sweaty, thirsty, and *hangry. But if the clouds, smoke, landscape, and sun all cooperate at the right time, they may take a minute to drink some of the last (warm) water they still have while enjoying and saving a mental snapshot of a red sunset enhanced by smoke. And then someone yells “Bump Up,” and they grab their tool again — with that image lingering in their mind. Tomorrow’s shift will be better.

Snow this time of the year can create excellent opportunities for land managers to burn debris piles left over from fuel reduction, thinning, or timber harvesting operations. The snow reduces the chances of the fire creeping out into dry vegetation, and when backs are turned igniting a wildfire.

Like many other parks and forests, the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota and Wyoming has been burning piles in recent days. In their case, near Sheridan Lake, Deadwood South Dakota, and 10 miles south-southeast of Sundance, Wyoming.

Let’s be careful out there.


*Hangry: bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.

Yosemite National Park closed due to damage from strong winds

Structures and vehicles were damaged

Yosemite NP wind damage
Yosemite NP wind damage, Jan. 19, 2021. NPS photo by Lindsay Stevenson

Very strong winds Tuesday morning January 19 blew down numerous large trees in Yosemite National Park causing significant damage to structures and vehicles. Photos show crushed pickup trucks, a damaged front end loader, and an impacted structure. A tree that was adjacent to a road damaged a road and a culvert as the roots tore through the pavement as it blew over. Power lines were also affected.

The park was closed Tuesday and will likely remain closed until Friday morning, the park announced, as employees conduct damage assessments, repair facilities, and clear trees. Thankfully no injuries have been reported as a result of the strong winds.

One of the photos showing a damaged structure was taken at Wawona south of Foresta.

A weather station at Crane Flat north of Forresta recorded a 53 mph wind gust Tuesday morning, while 35 mph gusts occurred at both Wawona and El Portal.

Yosemite NP wind damage
Yosemite NP wind damage, Jan. 19, 2021. NPS photo by Lindsay Stevenson
Yosemite NP wind damage
Building in Wawona damaged by tree that fell during Mono winds on January 19, 2021.. NPS photo by Lindsay Stevenson
Yosemite NP wind damage
Yosemite NP wind damage, Jan. 19, 2021. NPS photo by Lindsay Stevenson
Yosemite NP wind damage
Yosemite NP wind damage, Jan. 19, 2021. NPS photo by Lindsay Stevenson

Ten fires in two northern California Counties have all of the counties’ CAL FIRE engines committed

Help is being sent in from other units

Freedom Fire Aptos California
Freedom Fire east of Aptos, California as seen from Lomaprieta at 11:18 a.m. PST Jan. 19, 2021.

At least 10 small vegetation fires have been reported Monday night and Tuesday morning South of San Francisco in Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties after strong winds knocked down power lines and trees. At 7:13 a.m. Tuesday CAL FIRE reported that all of their fire engines in Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties were committed to fires and they were asking for help from other units.

At least four flareups have been detected by satellites inside the perimeter of the CZULightning Complex that burned more than 86,000 acres in August and September between San Gregorio and Santa Cruz, California.

Flareups within the CZU Lightning Complex
Flareups within the CZU Lightning Complex as seen from Mt. Bielawski at 11-19 a.m. PST Jan. 19, 2021.

The information below came from the San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit of CAL FIRE at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday:

Santa Cruz County

  • Freedom Fire is east of Aptos off of Freedom Road. It was reported at 8:00 a.m., is 5 acres, and burning in timber. Crews are starting to gain containment. Nunes Road, Halton Lane, Willow Heights, and Gillette Road have been evacuated.
  • Panther Ridge Fire on Staph Road near Panther Ridge Road west of Highway 9 in Boulder Creek is seven to eight acres, 0% contained. Evacuations are underway.
  • EmpireFire in Boulder Creek on Alba Road at Empire Grade is six 6 acres in in timber, and is 0% contained. There is no structure threat and no evacuations.
  • Fanning Fire in Ben Lomond on Fanning Grade Road West of Hwy 9 is 14 acres, and is burning in timber. It is 30% contained.

San Mateo County

North Butano Fire is 10 acres in timber, and is 0% contained. There is no structure threat.

From 1 a.m. until 9 a.m. Tuesday the Los Gatos weather station south of Sunnyvale recorded wind speeds of 12 to 20 mph with gusts up to 45 mph.

Map of Fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties
Map of Fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties, Jan. 19, 2021.

The date on the photo was corrected to today’s date, January 19, 2021.

Strongest wind event in months expected in California

Prediction for gusts over 60 mph Monday night and Tuesday

Weather forecast for the Santa Clarita wind red flag warning
Weather forecast for the Santa Clarita area north of Los Angeles, January 18 through 20, 2021. NWS.

Conditions in Southern California are setting up for what is being called “the strongest wind event of the season.” Red Flag Warnings are in effect in the greater Los Angeles area from Monday evening to 4 a.m. Wednesday. Forecasters are predicting strong damaging winds, with gusts to 60 mph that could blow down large objects such as trees and power lines.

The forecast for the Santa Clarita area north of Los Angeles calls for sustained winds Monday night of 22 to 41 mph gusting at 32 to 61 mph, with the strongest gusts after midnight. On Tuesday winds will continue to gust around 60 and then taper off Tuesday night to the 40s. During daylight hours the relative humidity will be in the low 20s through Wednesday.

This could lead to large wildland fires that are very resistant to control.

Let’s be careful out there.

Red Flag Warnings, Jan. 18, 2021
Red Flag Warnings in California, Jan. 18, 2021. NWS.
Red Flag (red) and weather stations
Weather stations with Red Flag (red) and those flirting with red flag conditions (yellow), at 1:06 p.m. PST, Jan. 18, 2021. NWS.

Is is also windy in Northern California—

Pros and cons of being a wildland firefighter

Ronni Ocampo
Ronni Ocampo, screenshot from her video

A wildland firefighter has produced an eight-minute video enthusiastically laying out what she sees as the pros and cons of the job.

Ronni Ocampo describes herself on YouTube:

I’m here to showcase all aspects of my true passion, wildland firefighting. This channel is a place where I want to serve those who serve their communities by providing fitness, nutrition, fire education, inspiration and discuss mental health to the fire world.

On June 28, 2020 in the first of 19 videos she has posted, Mrs. Ocampo explained that she was five months pregnant and about to be a first-time mom.

The video below was uploaded January 17, 2021.

She has posted other wildland fire videos about what’s in my red bag, gear, advice from experienced wildland firefighters, a day in the life, how to apply, and others.

Red Flag Warnings in Southern California

The winds are going to be breezy to very strong, off and on through Thursday

Hot-Dry-Windy forecast for Southern California
Hot-Dry-Windy forecast for Southern California, January 16, 2021

After record high temperatures were set Friday in multiple Southern California locations, Red Flag Warnings continue on Saturday. Residents in Santa Clarita can expect the temperature to reach 83 degrees today, with the humidity in the low teens, and 22 mph winds out of the northeast gusting to 33. Strong winds will continue through Saturday night but will taper off a bit Sunday, 18 to 22 mph gusting out of the northeast at 28 to 34.

Monday afternoon a strong offshore pressure gradient will begin growing, bringing very strong winds out of the northeast again, with the humidity in the low 20s and teens.

Wind speeds next week:

  • Monday afternoon: 24 mph gusting at 32
  • Monday night: 25 to 47 gusting at 37 to 62
  • Tuesday: 47 gusting at 63
  • Tuesday night: 29 to 41 gusting at 38 to 54
  • Wednesday: 18 to 26 gusting at 24 to 34

Record high temperatures in Southern California

At least two large air tankers, 01 and 02, were flown in from Missoula on Friday to be available if needed by firefighters. Two Fire Integrated Real-Time Intelligence System (FIRIS) mapping aircraft are also on standby.

Fire Integrated Real-Time Intelligence System (FIRIS) aircraft
Fire Integrated Real-Time Intelligence System (FIRIS) aircraft.
Red Flag Warnings, January 16, 2021
Red Flag Warnings, January 16, 2021. National Weather Service.
Red Flag or near Red Flag conditions
Weather stations in Southern California experiencing Red Flag or near Red Flag conditions, January 16, 2021. National Weather Service.
Santa Clarita Wx forecast, January 16, 2021
Santa Clarita, California Wx forecast, January 16, 2021. National Weather Service.