Lake Fire spreads 7 miles in 12 hours, burns over 12,000 acres

The fire is 15 miles west of Lancaster, California

Updated August 13, 2020 | 10 a.m. PDT

Map of the Lake Fire
Map of the Lake Fire at 4:04 a.m. PDT August 13, 2020. USFS

The Lake Fire started August 12, 2020 between Castaic Lake and Lake Hughes in southern California. When the first units arrived on scene the fire was about 100 acres burning on both sides of Lake Hughes Road, spreading to the northeast.

It was reported at 3:40 p.m. and within 29 minutes was creating pyrocumulus clouds indicating extreme fire behavior. It is very unusual for a fire to grow that quickly with that intensity.  Three and one half hours after it was reported the size was estimated at 10,000 acres. The rapid spread was aided by burning embers starting spot fires one mile ahead. A map released by fire officials with data from 4:04 a.m. Thursday indicated the fire had burned 12,681 acres. (At 7:10 a.m. Thursday PDT the Angeles National Forest Twitter account said it was 10,500 acres.) At that time the northeast end was on the slopes leading down to the desert after crossing Pine Canyon Road.

(To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Lake Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

“It’s pretty explosive fire behavior,” said Angeles National Forest Fire Chief Robert Garcia. “It’s typically what we see a little bit later in the season and often driven by wind. The fuel, moisture conditions and the fire at this particular location with the slope, it really created the recipe for rapid fire growth.”

Lake Fire August 12, 2020
Lake Fire August 12, 2020, by Bill Neckels.

The records of a weather station at Elizabeth Lake showed that the fire was pushed to the northeast by a 7 to 13 mph wind gusting at 15 to 22 mph, with relative humidity in the teens and temperature in the low 90s. Western U.S. firefighters would not consider the weather conditions extreme. This begs the question, what kind of fire behavior will Santa Ana winds bring in the next several months?

Early in the incident, fire officials considered the possibility of the fire impacting homes along Pine Canyon Road, almost six miles to the northeast, and that it could keep going into the desert to the east. The Incident Commander placed orders for strike teams of Type 1 engines for structure protection, with 5 engines in each strike team. The orders were placed in multiples of 5 and 10 as the fire rapidly spread. By 6 p.m. a total of 20 strike teams, 100 engines, had been requested. The fire crossed Pine Canyon Road at about 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Evacuations were ordered along Pine Creek Road and for the community of Lake Hughes as well as other areas, affecting about 100 homes. Traffic on the road became very congested as large numbers of media vehicles, fire apparatus, and evacuees tried to occupy the space at the same time. Fire officials requested that all media leave the area in order to reduce the congestion.

Weather conditions moderated after 10 p.m. Wednesday with much calmer winds of less than 4 mph, but there was little humidity recovery, hovering around 20 percent during the night. The forecast for Thursday is for 92 degrees, 18 percent relative humidity, and variable winds generally out of the west at 9 to 15 mph gusting at 20 to 24 mph. There is a 15 percent chance of rain.

The Lake Fire is burning in an area that hasn’t burned since 1968, according to fire officials. The fire started in brush at about 2,300 feet and as it approached Pine Canyon road at over 4,000 feet it got into heavier fuels.

Firefighters, media, and residents were all trying to evacuate or withdraw at the same time.

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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+

2 thoughts on “Lake Fire spreads 7 miles in 12 hours, burns over 12,000 acres”

  1. I believe there is a typo in the first line which states “The Lake Fire started August 4, 2020…” which should be August 12, 2020 for the fire start date.

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