Prescribed fire escapes on Eldorado National Forest

The fire has burned over 2,000 acres 15 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe in Northern California

Caples prescribed fire October 7, 2019
Caples “prescribed fire”. Photo by Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree, published October 7, 2019.

I was first aware of the Caples  prescribed fire on the Eldorado National Forest when three tweets were published by the forest’s Twitter account on the afternoon of Monday October 7 saying, “Ignitions continue on Caples Prescribed Fire. More smoke is expected”. Photos taken from an aircraft by Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree also were Tweeted.

At that time there had  been news and discussions for several days in the wildland fire community about very strong winds and Red Flag Warnings that were due to hit California Wednesday October 9. Smoke from the prescribed fire was easily detected by a satellite October 7. It was a large amount of smoke to be generated by what was supposed to have been some burning debris piles.

The project began October 1 and involved disposing of debris piles by burning. Additional ignitions occurred on October 5 and 7.

The information below came from the @EldoradoNF Twitter account.

Tuesday, October 8:  A tweet from the National Forest said, “The goal of today’s burn operation is continue active ignitions to reach the end of the ridge and tie into a dozer line that extends to the 10N30 road before the wind event that is predicted for this evening. No additional ignitions are planned this week.” And later that day, “Ignitions on the Caples Prescribed Fire have been completed and crews will patrol and monitor the area over the next few days during the wind. No additional ignitions are planned this week. ”

Wednesday October 9: “Today’s goal is to finish active ignitions to tie into the 10N30 road before the wind event now predicted for Wednesday night. Ignitions were intended to be done yesterday but due to unfavorable wind conditions during the day shift the operation is continuing today.”  And later that day, “Personnel on the Caples Prescribed Burn continue ignitions down the western perimeter of the fire towards forest road 10N30. A total of 1,080 acres have been treated, exceeding today’s target.” And later, “Ignitions are complete on the western end of the Caples Burn. Crews will patrol and monitor the area over the next few days during the wind event predicted to start this evening. Smoke will continue to be visible as the fire consumes unburned fuels within the fire perimeter.” And later, “The scheduled PG&E Power Outage has resulted in the closure of Eldorado National Forest offices except Camino ECC. Fire and essential personnel continue to work, however, forest offices are not open and phones are not operational until power is restored.”

Thursday, October 10: No additional information except for a Community Meeting scheduled in Pollock Pines that evening. One of the six items on the agenda was, “Brief updates on Caples Prescribed Fire and PG&E Power Outage”.

Friday October 11: “The Caples prescribed burn declared a wildland fire on today at 1:30 pm. Fire managers made the decision due to unfavorable weather conditions and the inability to meet previously established objectives. Inciweb is down. We will update when it comes back up.”


Today, October 11, personnel from the Eldorado National Forest report that the fire has burned 2,143 acres. It is 3 miles west of Kirkwood and 15 miles southwest of the south shore of Lake Tahoe. Approximately 152 personnel and a Type 3 Incident Management Team has been assigned.

Here is a report from the Northern California Geographic Coordination Center, Friday morning October 11:

Extreme fire behavior with wind driven runs, torching and spotting has been observed. A Red Flag Warning is in effect until 1000 this morning for the fire area. There is a threat to structures on remote ranches in the area. Private timberlands, major municipal watershed, historical sites and critical wildlife habitat are also threatened. Smoke impacts to the Sacramento Valley and Lake Tahoe areas are possible. Road, trail and area closures are in effect in the fire area.

Caples Fire Map
Map showing heat on the Caples Fire detected by a satellite at 3:36 a.m. PDT October 11, 2019.

Caples Fire escaped prescribed fire information

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Fred. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

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+

14 thoughts on “Prescribed fire escapes on Eldorado National Forest”

  1. Wow, those tweets are not very clear about the situation. I hope the folks on the ground had a better idea about what was going on than who ever wrote the tweet and press release did. I fully support their efforts to burn lots of acres, but it is unfortunate that they didn’t get it put out before the weather event.

  2. This is admittedly and outside perspective given that I haven’t worked for the USFS for over 30 years now but it does seem like this culture is still intact from the folks I know who do work there.

    One of the problems with large organizations like the USFS is the bureaucratic mindset that sets in where if something is on the schedule to do, you do it it regardless of whether it is the best time for it or not. That’s largely because that is what your performance reviews are based on — if you don’t get the prescription done then you get dinged for not meeting objectives. It puts pressure of folks to set fires when they should’ve just backed off a week to be sure conditions were perfect.

  3. There IS such a thing as Predictive Fire Weather.
    Even the general public knew well in advance that extreme wind was forecast.

  4. Why does this continue to happen? Learn from the hundreds of others who have done same thing. Maybe they were in prescription, but common sense should take over at some point, pressure or not

  5. This unlearned-lesson-from-the-past escaped RX Burn turned wildfire is much worse than the USFS is letting on.

    – The Predictive Services Center clearly notified the USFS ENF Caples RX Burn personnel well in advance of the approaching strong winds and cold fronts

    – The acreages of their initial “accomplished acres” and current acres are way under the true numbers

    – The media is no longer allowed to go to the ICP

    – CDF wants absolutely nothing to do with it because of all the illegal actions that took place

    – Shift Plans (IAPs) are only allowed for those on the fire; no IAPs posted on the Internet per usual

    – Type 3 Organization in place without a Safety Officer

    – Several of the normal public access cameras ( http://www.alertwildfire.org/tahoe/ ) have been immobilized with special access to certain officials

    – Several of the watershed and water district entities are lining up for lawsuits

    It sure sounds a lot like nonfeasance, misfeasance, and malfeasance wrapped into one, maybe even some criminal negligence based on these blatantly incompetent actions

    1. In view of everything you have said here the forest and the burning project staff are looking at both Civil and Criminal exposure. My advise would be to lawyer up quickly.

  6. There is liability both civil and criminal I would be very concerned if someone is injured or other then National Forest property is destroyed. The criminal would mostlikly come from a Bivins suit. In that case the United States Attorney Office would NOT cover your actions nor would you be covered by immunity. YOU WOULD ON YOUR OWN.
    I would recommend to ANY OF YOU who do this type of work you get personal liability insurance. California, Oregon and Washington Tree huggers and anti-government people on jury’s and local community groups, would just love to cause the Forest Service problems

  7. Whoever authorized this prescribed burn to be started should be charged with arson. PG&E shut down power to 100’s of thousands to prevent fires as the weather forecast predicted this high fire danger and RED FLAG warnings for many days in advance. These piles of debris have been standing for a long time. WHY IS THERE NO COMMON SENSE BEING EMPLOYED AT THE USFS? I have witnessed many USFS Prescribed burns get away from them over many years. Now our precious firefighters are needlessly being put in danger because of this gross incompetence. People should be held accountable for this action.

    This is another prime example of the lack of training from the top down at the USFS. The only way that the USFS will change is to force them with personally be liable and arrested for this gross incompetence.

    1. When I was up there last week end I made my way in to the unauthorized area via roads not posted and what I saw was a lot of forestry people and vehicles cutting dead trees and piling them up to burn. Just my observation as a hunter. They have ruined my hunting up there before burning and letting it get away or burning additional area while another fire was burning. There needs to be some burning but not at this time of the year. It is just plain stupid or a deliberate attack on our resources.

  8. A “Prescribed” burn requires a “prescription” which outlines and details what the Fire Manager (Incident Commander) can … and … can NOT do. Lots of folks involved and all must sign off on a listed “Go – No go” list as part of the acknowledgement to conduct the burn or not.
    With winds predicted, Red Flag conditions in place, predicted strong Northerly winds anticipated, PG&E telling it’s customers to prepare for likely power shut downs and all Fire Departments within the Red Flag area are on high alert … Predictive Fire Services say extremely high fire danger.
    Somebody please tell those clueless individuals working for NFS that they were out of prescription when the sun came up !!

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