Caples Fire spreads to the south

The escaped prescribed fire is 15 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe

Caples Fire 3-D map
3-D map showing the perimeter of the Caples Fire at 9:19 p.m. PDT Oct. 11, 2019 that was provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

The south side of the Caples Fire was active Friday and spread across the Silver Fork of the American River. According to information released by the U.S. Forest Service the fire was mapped at 2,666 acres Friday night. The north perimeter is fairly quiet, but the mapping flight found intense heat along sections of the south perimeter.

The fire is on the Eldorado National Forest 3 miles west of Kirkwood, California and 15 miles southwest of the south shore of Lake Tahoe. A Type 3 Incident Management Team has assumed command. Resources assigned include 6 Type 1 Hotshot crews, 8 Type 2IA hand crews, 3 helicopters, 20 engines, 3 dozers, and 3 water tenders for a total of 752 personnel.

The Caples Fire has not been listed on the National Interagency Coordination Center’s Incident Management Situation Report for the last two days. The estimated costs of suppressing the fire through October 11 is $250,000, according to the Incident Status Summary report.

The fire began as a project to burn debris piles and was classified as a prescribed fire. Personnel from the El Dorado National Forest, as described on the Forest’s Twitter account, conducted ignition operations on at least the following days: October 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9. (More details are in October 11 article) Strong winds that had been predicted for several days arrived on October 9 along with a Red Flag Warning. As the fire continued to spread beyond the intended objective for burning the piles, on Friday October 11 the Forest Service changed the status of the prescribed fire to a wildland fire.

Smoke from the fire can occasionally be seen on live cameras depending on the direction they are pointed. Check out the Leek Springs, Sierra at Tahoe, and Big Hill cameras.

Caples fire map
Map showing the perimeter of the Caples Fire at 9:19 p.m. PDT Oct. 11, 2019 that was provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

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+

36 thoughts on “Caples Fire spreads to the south”

  1. And, our tax $$ are going to pay people that started a control burn during a high wind warnings. And then, our $$$$$to suppress the fire. I hope that someone will get fired. Problably not, knowing that a govt. spokesman will say,” We were only doing our job.”

    1. Calling it a “control burn” is the quickest way to let us all know that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    2. I’d love to have a job…where my modus operandi was making decisions with reckless abandon and I got nothing but more funding and more raises without any risk of job termination. All things Forest Service comes to mind and their criminal record of uncontrolled burns that cause untold destruction to property and health.

      Its common knowledge burning log piles does little to abate the risk of wildfire apart of a forest’s floor. So then why not chip all the wood and save everyone the exercise in futility. Not to mention weeks on end of respiratory irritating smoke…

      Where’s the justice? Correct, there isn’t any. Stupid is as stupid does I guess.

      1. Don’t you think about it much Dan.

        The right people are watching and documenting and this will not be allowed to be covered up.


        The times of omitting and changing data… that time is over.

        They will not be able to falisfy this.

        Those days are long gone.


  2. Gotta love them escaped fires, from Rx to wildfire in a minute, ouch!! By the way, thanks Bill, for the compass rose, sure helps to see what is where.

  3. Forrest thinning and fuel reduction don’t work in the first place to prevent or lessen wildfires. The “controlled burn” was part of an expensive wasteful Forest Service program that defies common sense. Then to ignore clear weather warnings of high winds was grossly negligent at best. On top of thousands of acres of public lands being destroyed, who foots the bill – we taxpayers.

    Stupid is as stupid does.

  4. This is our govt at work. The stupity involved here is beyond belief. Everyone involved in the decision to light these fires should be fired.

  5. The science literature is full of studies demonstrating that prescribed fire and thinning do reduce future fire severity and increase resilience to beetles and drought in western dry forests, including Sierran mixed conifer. The Caples project area is 8,800 acres and vast majority of the fire has burned within the perimeter that was proposed for prescribed fire.

    The purpose of the project was to reduce 100 years of fuel build up in a roadless area and some of the last old growth on the Eldorado, as well as to protect the water supply of over 100,000 people. I was out there last Tuesday, and the fire effects were beautiful and achieving desired conditions. The 1,000 acres I saw were not destroyed, they were saved.

    Backed by a mountain if science support, I am a firm believer that getting more good fire on the ground is the right thing to do, and we must achieve an order of magnitude increase in acres burned as managed wildfire or prescribed fire. If we don’t take the risk, the likely consequence is we lose a lot of it to high severity fire and climate-related tree mortality.

    They lit the Rx fire before the red flag warning was in the forecast and the project area was within prescription. When the red flag warning came up, they became defensive. I recommend reading the inciweb description: for a more accurate and detailed synopsis.

    My heart goes out to the USFS fuels staff that made the call, the right call, and will likely have their careers tarnished due to forces they could not foresee or control. These are good, smart, hardworking people that were doing the right thing.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree that thinning and prescribed fire in its various forms are necessary and good for some forest types, including the area being treated on the ENF in the Caples fire. The science is clear that if it’s done in the right place at the right time it can be effective.

      It’s also true that any prescribed fire has the potential to escape control. Despite good planning and good implementation, you simply can’t account for everything when it comes to using prescribed fire. There are however plentiful examples of prescribed fire being done at absolutely the wrong time (e.g. Cerro Grande fire in 2000).

      After reading the Inciweb description it seems like the Caples fire probably falls somewhere in the middle ground — prescribed pile burns that were started at appropriate times but expanded ignitions during questionable conditions to expand a defensive perimeter. I have to wonder why they didn’t do closer, more aggressive control on the piles themselves immediately upon learning about the forecast rather than attempting what seems to have been a larger burn-out operation to hurriedly get the rest of the prescription done before the winds arrived.

      However, this is all armchair-quarterbacking since I wasn’t there. Nothing about this makes prescribed fires bad or suggests the ENF fire folks are incompetent. Everybody makes a bad call now and then or simply an unlucky call, especially when under pressure from a bureaucratic mindset to accomplish prescriptions.

    2. Ben, Ben, Ben …

      You come off to me as a young twenties guy without much, if any, wildland fire experience who follows the grain as a “Party Liner.” And that you truly do not comprehend what you saw out there and so, I challenge you on areas you are publicly presenting. I hope you know that when you come on this “reputable site” ( Gabbert’s ) among folks who truly get what is happening, you cannot BS us. Have you heard of the advanced Forensic Fire Weather folks who know how real this is … those folks and others are chuckling and why? … here are some examples of why they are chuckling …

      1. The USFS ENF personnel did, in fact, light the fires knowing of the red flag conditions
      2. The fire effects are much less than “beautiful” and were not “achieving desired conditions” 3. You say you saw “1,000 acres … not destroyed” yet failed to talk about the spot fires that were several hundred acres
      4. And what about failing to mention the VLAT retardant drops in the Class 1 Caples Watershed. Did you have the opportunity to witness any of those?

      In closing, the current alleged self-proclaimed “fire authors” might as well shelf their titles because the “future” will be the Forensic Fire Weather experts.

      For a guy who has little to no time on any Crew and wet behind the ears, just out of school … come on … who are you trying to impress. This is a serious screw-up that needs to be called out and addressed.

    3. Good morning ☀️ Ben,

      This Rx Burn 🔥 debacle had me “fluffed with frustration” yesterday.

      I apologize to you because you were just giving your own perception and or opinions.

      I awoke and I remembered about how Fire debacle aftermaths go…

      I know those stages well because I am not just the eyewitness to one of the biggest Wildland Fire Fatalities debacles … I am also training to be a Fire and Law Investigator and Forensic Weather expert
      and most my moments come from “experience” versus in the classroom being taught by the very folks who were on the biggest debacle I eye-witnessed … 😬🙄🧐☹️🤯🤔🤭🤫

      Now, the “classic pattern” you have been possibly held hostage to is the “enthusiastic” one yet please as you “grow” remember this there are six stages of project failure:


      I got the 😇PUNISHMENT OF THE INNOCENT 😇 on the fire 🔥 I eyewitnessed from the very people who say they wanted complete lessons

      yet the ones involved will account to God some day 🙏

      yet I will always make sure that no other fire does not get as Brian Frisby told Joe Harris “swept under the rug” …

      I wanted to be a housewife hiker 🚶🏼‍♀️with my loved ones and friends👫👭👨‍👩‍👦‍👦 not focused to your Fire 🔥 world yet it is my duty and responsibility as well as any woman or man that was in the crucial last 18 minutes on June 30, 2013 to make sure no more man made debacles.

      Even if you did not own a Fire weather Kestrel or know the right folks or being trained by the best of the best that even some staff of NOAA and NASA state I intimidate them … why because there are folks who know how to archival look at what others try to hide?

      Anything you do … has a footprint or blueprint … especially now in the technology we are at…even conversation on phones.

      I did not want you to feel I was being mean yesterday yet this Caples Fire not RX Burn has its blueprint … 🗺 and the days of hiding are gone. Civilians can pull public records and foias. Ask for the complete burn plan. Contact me and I will give you what you need to pull but be prepared to learn a lot of errors happened by phone so maybe pull that and texts and emails. That was the area I learned the MOST in the Yarnell Fire was from the records or “lack of”.

      Those who had faced trauma from the outage because of their very very bad decision making … then the very minimum remove their red card quals for that specific area ASAP …

      and as they say ⚾️ in baseball “you’re out” …

      look at Yarnell where they laid retardant and look at the diseased and deaths that take one third of the community even one of the doctors treating people for cancers and such died…

      Now take the time to do your before the fire images then TRUE progression images and weather images than the burn scars then now lay your retardant drop and start a NEW case studies and start watching the disease and death tolls rise…oh wait it was in a remote area right. …away from civilians so now we need to have the tree huggers 🌲 or wildlife folks who give a shit to take NOTICE huh. Also pull all camera footages in your public records or foia request.

      God asked me to forgive the people who were involved that ended up killing my wildlife family locally and so I have

      yet there will not be another debacle that is allowed to go by like they did at Yarnell.

      With me, one time you can fool me but there will not be a time I just sit back and watch and when I saw your comment Ben … I feel you meant well but now it is time for you to sit back and watch the “experienced” ones show you that classroom time can only get you so far in that industry … maybe much promotions or such but “old school” experience is what needs to be at play here.

    4. Come on. Anyone could see this was going to become a problem a week before the winds came up. Even the local weather men were warning them. We could see coming it on this one too: Why didn’t they bring in resources in the week BEFORE the wind event? “due to forces they could not foresee”. BS. We saw it from across the lake a week ahead of time and we knew they were in trouble. Some guy with a $100K++++ salary was asleep at the wheel.

  6. Thanks Ben. But ISTM that pure logic can distinguish between good ideas that are put into effect at appropriate times, and good ideas that became bad ideas because of bad timing in their implementation. All week long PG&E has been shutting power to hundreds of thousands of people due to high winds. Yet the USFS is STARTING fires during the exact same high winds?

    1. Did you read the report? According to the link that Ben posted up, they started the fire on Sept. 20, which is way before the power shutoff. Mountain weather is fickle.

      1. Regardless of when they started it, there was ample warning that the winds were going to come up. Anyone with half a brain saw this coming nearly a week before they lost control.

    2. This illustrates perfectly Einsteins observation that the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.

  7. Easy to second guess the dedicated firefighters that are charged with protecting us. They have to make dangerous calls and take some risks in order to avoid really big risks. These folks go to work everyday ready to put their lives on the line to protect all of us. The rest of us go to work to pay the bills and support our families, but we are not expected to put our lives on the line. Yes, they are human and sometimes make mistakes, and sometimes the calculated risks they take don’t work out as they planned. They sometimes pay for that in their own blood. These are not faceless government bureaucrats making mindless decisions without any care for the cost or consequences. They deserve our respect and admiration, even when they appear to have taken a risk they should not have. God knows, I know they are willing to risk it all if me and my family are in danger and need to be rescued from fire.

      1. I agree Kevin. Thank God for the fire fighters, and they were needed to save a USFS screw-up which impacts so many.
        Michael G

  8. It is common for North winds to follow cold fronts in Northern California. The Oct 11 post on this website regarding the Caples fire says ignitions continued until October 7…well into the Red Flag warning period.

  9. I echo the others who ask with both hands balled into fists, WHO MADE THE DECISION TO DO A CONTROLLED BURN DURING A WEEK OF LOW HUMIDITY, WARM TO HOT TEMPS, WITH HIGH WIND AND/OR HIGH WIND WARNINGS???? I picture the maturity level to be equal to a bunch of kids playing with fireworks.

  10. There have been too many managed and Rx fire escapes to ignore. This fire has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, caused air pollution in already overtaxed air basins and discomforted the public, who are rightfully afraid of wildfire. I propose an independent investigation. If negligence is determined, the Forest should be held accountable. Perhaps they should be forced to pay suppression costs and air pollution fines… the money to be taken from the Forest operating budget at 10% a year.

  11. “Controlled burns” should be renamed to “Uncontrolled burns”. For years I have witnessed many “Controlled burns” started by the USFS then left completely un-attended. The USFS fire staff is continually letting these fires get away from them. Is there any learning curve at play? More monitoring and safety equipment should be employed during this thinning process. I got an idea! Maybe the size of these “Controlled burns” should be sized according to the suppression capabilities available. How many of these fires are needed for the USFS to learn a lesson?

  12. All of you are so quick to point fingers, this burn this late in the season is healthy. Yes they escape but if we don’t attempt these burns when it starts in the summer it will nuke the overgrown forests. Oh and stfu about your tax dollars these are all funded off the forests budget that also allows for escape fires. Educate yourselves and watch the big burn and documentaries on how the 100 years of stopping all fire allowing for overgrowth and extreme fire behavior.

    1. Michael,

      You’re kidding, right. You do know that our tax dollars that you refer to as “funded off the forests budget” initially come from us tax payers. And they don’t allow for escape fires. I have educated myself and watched the Big Burn and like documentaries on the ramifications of 100 years of fire suppression and very well aware of extreme fire behavior.

      I’m unclear on how any of that is even remotely related to the USFS ENF personnel alleged incompetence and blatant disregard for professional standards of responsible RX burning and even more the actions taken to bury it.

      I suggest that you educate yourself on the several historical RX burns (e.g. Mack Lake and Los Alamos) that others refer to as the lessons learned of heeding the weather – which is our first Fire Order. And what logically follows is to especially heed and make appropriate proactive decisions and take proactive actions regarding COLD FRONTS.

      And how about telling the truth? It is covered in the oath you took as well as your general ethics and conduct as a Federal employee

      There is a bright side to this Caples RX debacle, and that is the professional decision and attempted action(s) of the Type 3 (RXB3) Burn Boss that recognized the situation was getting out of hand, that they had an opportunity to check it with a dozer, and proposed cutting it off.

      However, unfortunately, arrogance and incompetence prevailed when the RXB3 was rebuffed and the RXB2 instead transitioned to a Type 2 operation and kept on burning, which included the obfuscation of the facts.

  13. We should do preventive burns, and thin the forests regularly BUT it seems that a little thinking would make you do a controlled burn when it is really hard for a fire to SPREAD like during DECEMBER or when we have a real rainy season.

    1. It’s always a balancing act when it comes to prescribed fire — too wet or green and the fire won’t carry and do what you want it to, too dry and it burns too hot and becomes difficult to control. I’ve done prescribed fires for research purposes in regions where the annual window was often only a couple of weeks in a good year and some years you couldn’t burn at all because the window disappeared before you could use it.

  14. The USFS ENF personnel began firing operations on the Caples RX on Oct, 3, 2019,;and the following day. Oct 4th, were reporting moderate difficulties holding control lines. These unfavorable conditions were made very clear to the ENF Fire Staff and yet firing operations continued well into the forecast and observable Red Flag conditions.

    The USFS ENF had a virtual Fire Armada of local, professional help waiting for the call for assistance and yet the ENF Fire Commanders responses were ‘all is well with 50 acres accomplished’ each day. The typical method of ordering additional resources was bypassed in favor of more discreet means.

    Pride, arrogance, lack of experience, and many USFS personnel willing to lie (and acquiesce to lying) to avoid theirs’ and others’ knowledge and documentation of their complicity deserves serious examination and some type recourse owed to tax paying citizens.

    These alleged “managers” broke so many rules, ignored so many required checklists, betrayed so much public confidence, and everything that makes public trust more than just mere words.

    So Ben, when you go on your field trip to measure mortality. consumption, and how much soil is scorched, remember that those who call themselves your commanders are willing to lie to you and everyone else that knows no better.

    In a word – before, during, and after the Red Flag warning, the Caples RX was really the Caples Fire, just covered up and hidden for all those days.

      1. Martha,

        Yes to the well written post b Gabbertt, Martha? Or Yes to some person who commented?

        Thank you Bill for your continued dedication and passions for the Fire industry and your amazing photography I have hanging on my wall.

        Very humbling person you are …

  15. We drove down Iron Mtn road Oct 5 after a snow drop of a couple of inches, and the burns were going which seemed like good timing. In the past, when we have come down the road and witnessed burns, two huge slash piles were burning, and the one truck crew was having lunch below the third. No one was monitoring the top burn piles and I thought they were awfully laid back, given that we can’t have any small fires or our BBQ has to be done on the porch not on the surface. I didn’t witness the area where the fire got out of hand, but given the extreme fire conditions, it seems someone made a poor decision to continue to start new burns. If our cabin burns down, I expect the forest service to pay for it, not my Cal Fire insurance.

  16. Fred Schoeffler… thank you for your insightful comments. You have the experience and fire creds to make them . The only way we will be able to make the USFS burn in a more responsible manner is to daylight the mistakes, not cover them up.

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