Wildfire news, October 11, 2008

California: wine country fire burns two structures

A fire in Napa Valley Friday night burned two structures and caused over 100 residents to evacuate. At last report this morning the fire which is east of St. Helena had burned 300 acres and was 40% contained.

CBS5 has some good video of the fire.

Photo courtesy of LA Times

Santa Ana winds expected in California

The fire agencies in California are pre-positioning some suppression forces in California due to strong Santa Ana winds that are expected for the next several days. Some red flag warnings in southern California have been downgraded to “watches”, but increased fire danger is still in the forecast.


Above, forecast for Saturday



Above, forecast for Sunday


20,000 gallons of salt water dropped on Camp Pendleton fire

The CL-415 Super Scooper air tankers, under a 3-month contract to San Diego County, dropped 20,000 gallons of salt water from the Pacific Ocean on the November fire October 8 on Camp Pendleton north of San Diego. Some questions have been asked about the effect of the salt water on the environment in an article from the North County Times. Here is an excerpt.

Did those aerial drops of bubble-gum-colored retardant and salty ocean water on a 1,500-acre Camp Pendleton wildfire this week harm the environment? The answer is yes, public officials and a native-plant expert said Friday.

Salt is not exactly good for plants and water quality, and retardant has been known to kill fish if dumped in streams, they said. At the same time, they stressed there is little reason for concern because any adverse impact was minor. 

John Robertus, executive officer for the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for the San Diego Region, said state regulators are far more concerned about the ash that runs off into streams following wildfires and the pollution that washes into them from local streets and factories.

And as for the salt added to the environment by such drops, it is minor compared to the huge amount that is routinely brought into San Diego County through distant water deliveries, Robertus said.

“We are importing salt through Colorado River water by the tons,” he said. “What you drop out of an airplane pales in comparison.”

Similarly, the amount of retardant applied to fires tends to be small and consequently of minor concern, officials said.

Richard Halsey, director of the Chaparral Field Institute in Escondido, said there has been speculation that, because retardant is largely a fertilizer, it could give a boost to fast-growing exotic grasses and enable them to push out native plants, but that has not been clearly shown. What is clear is that, in heavy concentrations, retardant can harm aquatic life, Halsey said.

In 2002, the U.S. Forest Service accidentally dropped retardant into an Oregon river, killing more than 20,000 fish. To avoid a similar mishap, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection operates with a written policy forbidding retardants within a football field’s distance of any stream, said Ray Chaney, special operations battalion chief at the Ramona Air Attack Base.

Retardant also was used to paint hillsides red permanently, until agencies shifted away from staining iron oxide five years ago, Chaney said. An example of that is a hill close to Highway 78 just west of Ramona, Halsey said.

“Some people call it Red Mountain,” he said.

Nowadays, Chaney said, firefighters employ a substance that causes the reddish color to break down after two to three weeks and fade away.

State Capt. Nick Schuler said pilots made 14 drops of salt water totaling 20,000 gallons using a pair of airplanes during this week’s firefight. The air tankers scooped water from the Pacific Ocean off of Camp Pendleton, just north of Oceanside Harbor.

The drops were made by Canadian-built CL-415 Bombardier Superscoopers that the county is leasing from the provincial government of Quebec for three months this autumn.

Schuler said pilots of two state air tankers and a U.S. Forest Service plane combined to spray 13,979 gallons off retardant on the flames.

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