California: Falls Fire

(UPDATE at 2:42 p.m. PDT, August 6, 2013)

Falls Fire
The Falls Fire burned close to many homes. August 6, 2013 photo by Marc Peebles

Information Officer Marc Peeples told us that the evacuations have been lifted for LakeLand Village and Rancho Capistrano. Decker Canyon remains under a mandatory evacuation order.

One of the factors that slowed the fire activity late in the day on Monday was the rising relative humidity. At 6:41 p.m. on Monday at the Temescal weather station 10 miles north of the fire it was 38 percent which is fairly high to sustain rapid fire spread in southern California brush. At 6:41 a.m. Tuesday it was 87 percent and fell to 49 percent by 9:41 a.m.

In spite of the high humidity, Mr. Peeples said there was beginning to be a little fire activity in some of the canyons on the fire Tuesday morning.


(UPDATE at 8:44 a.m. PDT, August 6, 2013)

DC-10  drop on Falls Fire, August 5, 2013
DC-10 drop on Falls Fire, August 5, 2013,, from KCAL video

The Southern California Geographic Area Coordination Center reported at 8:30 a.m. PDT that the fire has burned 1,416 acres and is zero percent contained. The fire continues to move south and east and has established itself in the San Mateo Wilderness, but is holding at the ridge lines. They said the it has potential to move further north, resulting in additional structure threat and could also move into Morrell and Decker Canyons. LakeLand Village, Rancho Capistrano and Decker Canyon remain under mandatory evacuation orders, according to the Coordination Center’s 8:30 a.m. report.

Marc Peeples, an Information Officer on the Incident Management Team assigned to the fire, said at 8:45 this morning that the fire is 5 % contained and is being fought by 265 personnel. Other resources on the fire include 6 helicopters, 6 fixed wing aircraft, 16 crews, and 45 engines.

The Cleveland National Forest has not updated InciWeb since about 7 p.m. Sunday and it also says the evacuations are in effect for Lakeland Village, Decker Canyon and Rancho Capistrano residents, in spite of a report from KCAL saying some of the evacuations had been lifted.

The report from KCAL said the Ortega Highway may remain closed for days or weeks, due to firefighters working along the highway, guard rails that have to be replaced, and power lines that were damaged.

The video also has some footage of Tanker 910, a DC-10, making some impressive retardant drops adjacent to houses.


Wakoski’s Incident Management Team was scheduled to assume command of the fire Tuesday morning.

The fire was reported at 10:06 a.m. Monday west of El Cariso Engine Station in the Cleveland National Forest.


(UPDATE at 9:25 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013)

At 9:15 p.m. the Cleveland National Forest reported the fire had burned 1,500 acres. Mandatory evacuations for Lakeland Village, Decker Canyon and Rancho Capistrano residents. Ortega Highway is closed to non-residents. Closures are at Grand Ave in Lake Elsinore and Antionio Parkway in Orange County. The evacuation perimeter is for residences between Grand/Ortega Highway and Grand/Corydon on the west side of the lake.

Official information about evacuations can be found at InciWeb.

Excellent photos of the Falls Fire.

The videos below are from the Press-Enterprise.


Falls Fire photo
Falls Fire as seen from LA’s NBC 4 at 5:13 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013, looking southeast. (click to enlarge)

(Originally published at 5:54 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013; we will update this article as needed.)

A wildfire that started Monday morning in southern California between Lake Elsinore and San Juan Capistrano spread east almost four miles and is threatening homes in the Lakeland Village community on the west side of Lake Elsinore. In the photo above captured from television at 5:13 p.m. PDT, the fire had moved across the South Main Divide road and was burning downhill at a moderate rate of spread. It appeared to be approximately 500 to 1,000 feet west of the homes in the photo in Lakeland Village south of the Ortega Highway.

Falls Fire, near Ortega Hwy and Grand, August 5, 2013
Falls Fire, near Ortega Hwy and Grand, August 5, 2013. Photo by Ken.

As this was written at 5:54 p.m. PDT, the fire was even closer to the homes and can be seen occasionally on NBC 4’s live video feed. It was burning vigorously less than 200 feet from homes.

Several helicopters and air tankers, including a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, are assisting firefighters.

Referencing the map of the Falls Fire below, the fire has spread across the South Main Divide and is much closer to Lake Elsinore than shown in the heat data that was collected at 1:47 p.m. PDT today.

Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013
Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013, showing heat detected by a satellite. The red squares indicating heat can be as much as a mile in error. (click to enlarge)

The media is reporting the fire has burned 1,200 acres.

It is burning near the location of the 1959 Decker Fire (see the map above) which entrapped seven firefighters. Five of them lost their lives; three were members of the El Cariso Hotshot Crew. The east-facing slope above the lake is infamous for unusual wind patterns, which was a factor in the fatalities.

3-D Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013
3-D Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013, looking northwest. The red squared represent heat detected by a satellite; they can be as much as a mile in error. (click to enlarge)
DC-10 finishing drop on Falls Fire
DC-10 finishing a drop on the Falls Fire, August 5, 2013. Note from Bill: I examined the drop based on the known length of a DC-10, which is 180 feet, and calculated that this drop is approximately 1,620 feet long. The length of a drop from a P2V for coverage levels 4 to 10, ranges from 180 to 430 feet.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

7 thoughts on “California: Falls Fire”

  1. The fire looks like it’s burning the Wildomar Station I worked at in the 70’s. The Trabuco Ranger District was a great place to run when we trained. I always enjoyed driving through the avocado plantations located around that area.

  2. The 10 Tanker pilots are getting an awful lot of experience dropping close to homes and in tight canyons this year.

  3. I was there at the Lookout Roadhouse on the Ortega when Tanker 910 made his drops. His first drop was from west to ease, downhill along a ridgeline, then he came back around and did the drop seen above. The fire blew through the retardant and a quick thinking helicopter pilot made several water drops on it and saved the houses. The fire burned to the brick wall behind the houses. There was also a BAE 146 (Tanker 40) working the fire and the pilot flew it like a fighter plane.

  4. And even more realistic than the infamous USFS IATB and others “cup and grid” methodology of coverage levels

    You know….like real WX and not over some level desert ……

  5. My house was one they saved.
    Cal Fire Rocks!!
    And these are great photos, thanx for this posting

  6. Very nice pictures of the Fall Fire. The guy in March 1980 who did the research paper “Jumbo Jets to Protect the Urban Interface” would be much pleased with the DC 10 at work. Will it take another thirty three years for someone at the Washington level to say “this thing works” (VLAT). Just maybe we should look into having more than one (VLAT) on an immediate need contract?

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