Firefighters on the Valley Fire aided by the weather

(UPDATE at 9:05 a.m. PT, September 17, 2015)

The Lake County Sheriff’s office announced today that the remains of two more people were discovered in the Hidden Valley and Anderson Springs areas. More information.

On Wednesday the weather station in Calistoga south of the fire recorded 0.77 inch of rain. Some areas on the fire received more than 0.50″, according to CAL FIRE. However, they warn that a warming trend is in the forecast with temperatures expected to exceed 90 degrees over the weekend.

Some areas in Lake and Napa counties are still under evacuation orders. For more evacuation information, call (707) 967-4207).

The fire has burned 73,700 acres and CAL FIRE is calling it 35 percent contained.


(UPDATE at 10:47 a.m. PT, September 15, 2015)

Firefighters on the Valley Fire burning out Sept. 14, 2015 near Highway 29 south of Lower Lake. Photo by SLOSTRNGER used with permission.
Firefighters on the Valley Fire burning out Sept. 13, 2015 near Highway 29 south of Lower Lake. Photo by SLOSTRNGER used with permission.

On Monday the spread of the 67,000-acre Valley fire 62 miles north of San Francisco was slowed by temperatures in the low 60s, relative humidity above 80 percent, and 0.01″ of rain that fell in the late afternoon, according to data from a weather station south of the fire in Calistoga.

CAL FIRE reported Tuesday morning that their latest damage assessment shows that 585 homes and hundreds of other structures have been destroyed. The surveys are continuing and the numbers will likely change in the coming days. Approximately 9,000 structures are threatened. Evacuations are still in place, affecting 23,000 people.

In addition to the homes that burned in Middletown and Cobb, a geothermal plant that produces electricity, The Geysers, was damaged. Five of the 14 plants were affected, including power lines and wooden cooling towers.

Air tankers have not worked the fire since Saturday, grounded by poor visibility caused by smoke and clouds. Tuesday’s weather is expected to make it possible to use them again. The forecast calls for a 35 percent cloud cover, a high temperature of 73 degrees, relative humidity in the 40s, and winds out of the west at 8 to 13 mph.

The video below was aired by a San Francisco television station and uploaded to YouTube September 14, 2015..

Valley Fire Jefferson CT
Jefferson Court in Middletown after the Valley Fire. Photo Sept. 13, 2015 by SLOSTRINGER, used with permission.


(UPDATE at 1:47 p.m. PT, September 14, 2015)

The Lake County Sheriff’s office have confirmed they have found the body of a civilian that died in the Valley Fire, which has burned 61,000 acres 62 miles north of San Francisco. They don’t yet have an official identification from the Coroner, but it is believed to be an elderly, disabled woman who was not able to self-evacuate.

According to the Lake County Press Democrat the Sheriff’s office received a phone call at 7:12 p.m. on Saturday, about six hours after the fire started. At 7:20 deputies and officers responded to the area but were unable to reach the subdivision because it had already been engulfed in flames, according to Lt. Steve Brooks.

Dispatch lines were flooded with requests from people asking for help evacuating and family members asking authorities to check on their relatives.


(UPDATE at 10:30 a.m. PT, September 14, 2015)

Valley fire

There is a possibility that the Valley Fire, 62 miles north of San Francisco, could burn into two large fires to the northeast that occurred in early August — the Rocky and Jerusalem Fires. Today the Valley Fire is 1.5 miles away from the Jerusalem Fire at the closest point.

However, the weather forecast shows moderate temperatures and humidity through Friday but with mostly southwest winds during the day that could push it closer to those August fires. The moderate weather could provide an opportunity for firefighters to make some significant progress on getting a fireline around the blaze. But (and it’s a large but) these fires have been driven more by the drought-affected vegetation than weather.


(UPDATED at 8:03 a.m. PT, September 14, 2015)

map valley fire
Map of the Valley Fire. The red line was the perimeter at 10 p.m. PT September 13, 2015. The white line was the estimated perimeter at 12:04 a.m. September 13, at which time parts of the fire were obscured by clouds. Those sections are represented by STRAIGHT sections of the white line, since the edge of the fire could not be seen through the clouds. Examples are around Cobb and north of Middletown. (click to enlarge)

The Valley Fire 62 miles north of San Francisco has grown to 61,000 acres, according to Daniel Berlant of CAL FIRE. Over the last 24 hours the fire has continued to spread around most of the perimeter.

Monday morning Mr. Berlant said via Twitter that 400 homes and hundreds of other structures have burned. But within an hour that tweet was deleted and the number of homes burned on the CAL FIRE incident information page was changed from 400 to “hundreds”.

The sheriff’s office is still investigating the report of a civilian being killed in the fire.

While there were some showers detected on radar in the general area on Sunday, a weather station at Calistoga south of the fire did not record any precipitation. It was cloudy most of the day and the relative humidity ranged between 30 and 62 percent between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. with a wind of 0 to 4 mph. The high temperature was 93 degrees

The forecast for Monday is for cooler temperatures (78 degrees), a minimum RH of 45 percent, partly cloudy skies, and winds generally out of the south at 9 mph. These conditions will not be conducive to rapid fire spread.


(UPDATED at 9:51 p.m. PT, September 13, 2015)

At about 9 p.m. on Sunday, CAL FIRE spokesperson Daniel Berlant said the sheriff’s office is checking out an unconfirmed report of a fatality on the Valley Fire. The number of structures burned, he said, “remains at an estimated several hundred homes and hundreds of other structures destroyed”.

The reported number of acres burned remains at 50,000.


(UPDATED at 6:10 p.m. PT, September 13, 2015)

On their 6 p.m. news, a Bay Area TV station, ABC7, interviewed a CAL FIRE employee who estimated that 1,000 structures have burned in the Valley Fire 66 miles north of San Francisco.

ABC7 also showed aerial video of a geothermal power plant that was damaged by the fire.

Their news reported that the four firefighters that suffered burns during the first few hours of the fire are all expected to make full recoveries.

Up to .25 to .50 inches of rain accompanied by strong winds are in the forecast for the fire area on Monday.


(UPDATED at 4:40 p.m. PT, September 13, 2015)

The Valley Fire has continued to spread today but visibility kept aviation resources grounded until mid-afternoon, after which several air tankers were dispatched to the fire.

CAL FIRE spokesperson Daniel Berlant said while they have not had a chance to conduct a detailed damage assessment he is aware that “hundreds of structures have been destroyed”.

At 4:10 p.m. CAL FIRE estimated that it has burned 50,000 acres.

Additional areas have been added to the evacuation list. Call the fire information line, (707) 967-4207, to hear a recorded message with the details.


(UPDATED at 9:19 a.m. PT, September 13, 2015)

Light to moderate rain has developed in areas near the Valley Fire. Scroll down to see the weather forecast, which called for a slight chance of a few sprinkles in the morning, but no significant rainfall was expected.

rain valley fire
Radar showing rain near the Valley Fire at 9:03 a.m. PT, September 13, 2015. The fire is in red.

The video below is from @JeffFrost, and tagged #Middletown.

He wrote on Instagram:

Last night was the most insane night of my life. I watched an entire town burn to the ground. My sympathy goes to the residents of #Middletown #california.


(Originally published at 7:40 a.m. PT, September 13, 2015. Updated at 8:54 a.m. September 13, 2015)

Still another fire in California is causing havoc. The Valley Fire reported at 1:24 p.m. PT on Saturday grew to 10,000 acres within six hours. By 10 p.m. it had exploded to 25,000 acres and at 6 a.m. Sunday CAL FIRE PIO Daniel Berlant said it had burned 40,000 acres.

There are unconfirmed reports that dozens of homes have burned but the actual number has not been released by authorities. The towns of Cobb, Middletown and Hidden Valley were some of the areas hardest hit. There is a report that a school burned in Middletown.

Many areas along Highways 175 and 29 are under mandatory evacuation orders, encompassing at least 17 miles along those two highways.

The map of the Valley Fire below shows the fire perimeter as surveyed by an aircraft at 12:04 a.m. PT on Sunday.

map valley fire
Map of the Valley Fire, showing the estimated perimeter mapped by an aircraft at 12:04 a.m. PT September 13, 2015. A portion of the fire was obscured by clouds and an intense smoke column, so the perimeter shown is approximate. The sections of the red line that are straight for an extended length, for example around Cobb, are approximate. (click to enlarge)

The fire is 66 miles north of San Francisco, 7 miles south of Clearlake, and 50 miles west of Sacramento.

Four firefighters working on the Valley Fire suffered second degree burns Saturday and were transported to the Firefighters Burn Institute at the University of California at Davis. At 8 p.m. Saturday Mr. Berlant said they were in stable condition.

This summer two other large fires burned in the same general area east of Highway 29 and southeast of Clearlake. The Rocky Fire burned about 70,000 acres and the Jerusalem Fire blackened at least 23,000. Like the Valley Fire, those fires spread very, very quickly the first day.

Some firefighters surmise that the explosiveness of these fires can be primarily attributed to drought-stricken desiccated vegetation. The other two factors that affect wildland fire behavior, topography and weather, have not been extreme influences as the fires spread.

A weather station in Calistoga 8 miles south of the fire on Saturday recorded afternoon winds of 0 to 8 mph gusting at 6 to 11, a high temperature of 87, and a variable relative humidity from 16 to 39 percent. Sunday’s forecast for the fire area predicts a temperature of 88 degrees, minimum relative humidity of 22 percent, and afternoon winds out of the southwest at 2 to 10 mph. There will be a cloud cover of 50 to 60 percent with a slight chance of a few sprinkles in the morning, but no significant rainfall is expected.

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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.

9 thoughts on “Firefighters on the Valley Fire aided by the weather”

  1. When are CalFire and Lake County Sheriff going to apprehend the arsonist responsible for the three major wildland fires in Lake county? I spent to many years as a firefighter and investigated to many fires to believe in coincidences.
    This many wildland fires, this close together, and in the same area is no coincidence. It’s time that CalFire and the Lake County Sheriff’s Dept. made people aware that you may have an arsonist loose in Lake County and the surrounding area.

    1. Chirf Dale – have the “Rocky” and “Jersulem” fires been firmly determined to be arson-caused? How about others that were caught at IA?
      My investigator training said to go in considering all options, and then start eliminating illogical ones.

  2. Also contributing to the fire spread is years of fast, aggressive initial attack which has allowed for decades old and dead continuous fuel. There lies the dilemma, you can’t stop providing initial attack, which eventually leads to devastating fires. Thoughts and good wishes to the burn patients, get well soon.

  3. New northern evacuations to west shore of clearlake (soda bay to pt lakeview). No air support, aside from minimal scouting, due to poor visibility, at least this morning.

  4. there was a story on sacramento channel 31,”goodday sacramento” just now,8:38am,where a reporter interviewed a youngman ,highschooler,who said that yesterday afternoon,or evening,he was at a soccer game,when they all saw smoke and then flame coming down off Cobb mountain,the game was called and they had minutes to “flee”..all but a few of the kids,families,lost thier homes in Middletown.they just said that so far (early times) they know 174 homes and outbuildings have been lost.


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