There is very little fire history in front of the Caldor Fire

Fire history in vicinity Caldor Fire
Fire history in vicinity of the Caldor Fire, 2000 through August 23, 2021.

In order for the spread of the 117,000-acre Caldor Fire to stop or to be suppressed by firefighters, something will have to change — either the weather or the fuel.

If the relative humidity stayed above 40 percent and the wind speed was less than five mph, it might lose enough intensity to allow firefighters on the ground and in the air to take direct action on the flanks. But there is no sign of that happening this week.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Caldor Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.

Let’s look at the fuel, which is the primary driver of this fire.

From the Incident Management Team:.

There is a heavy dead and down component with drought-stressed fuels. Live fuels are cured to levels normally seen in late September, and fuels are extremely receptive to spotting. Fuel moistures are historically low. Northern California remains under a Fuels and Fire Behavior Advisory. ERC’s are above the 97th percentile. 100 hr and 1000hr fuels are below [3 percent fuel moisture].

The predominant direction of spread has been to the northeast or east-northeast. If it continues in that direction for the next 10 miles it will not encounter the footprints of any fires that have burned in the last 21 years large enough to have a significant effect on the spread. Just beyond that distance on the north side of Highway 50 is the 2007 Angora Fire southwest of South Lake Tahoe.

North of Highway 50 four miles northeast of the location of the fire Monday night there is a large rocky area several miles across with sparse fuel. It is north of Twin Bridges and west of Fallen Leaf and could slow the fire in that location, but there’s no guarantee that it can’t find a way to burn around, through, or over it. Spot fires have been igniting a mile out in front; one was 1.8 miles.

Hazardous fuel treatments Caldor Fire
Hazardous fuel treatments in vicinity of the Caldor Fire, 2000-2021.

Another fuel-related factor to consider is the fuel treatments that have been accomplished over the years, shown in green on the map above. The Caldor Fire has already burned across dozens, and it will be interesting to find out if they had the intended effect. There has been a great deal of fuels work in the South Lake Tahoe area.

A reduction in the volume of vegetation resulting from a fuels project in most cases is not expected to stop a high-intensity wildland fire. At best in those areas the fire may spread more slowly and perhaps throw out fewer burning embers.

But by far the best protection for structures is make them as fire resistant as possible, including the envelope of the structure itself — the roof, vents, siding, doors, windows, foundation, fences, eaves, and decks. A FEMA publication (13 MB) has excellent detailed recommendations. And in the Home Ignition Zone the NFPA and FireWise programs recommend reducing flammable material within 100 feet of structures and spacing the crowns of trees at least 18 feet apart that are within 30 feet of the home, 12 feet apart at 30 to 60 feet, and 6 feet apart at 60 to 100 feet. Another house that is 15 to 50 feet away is also fuel, and if it ignites will be a serious threat.

The LA Times (subscription) published an excellent article August 21 about rethinking forest management — the effects of logging and prescribed fire, and learning to live with fire.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please keep in mind our commenting ground rules before you post a comment.

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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.

33 thoughts on “There is very little fire history in front of the Caldor Fire”

  1. Both articles Wild Fire Today and the L.A. are excellent descriptions of what the future holds for tomorrow.
    Summary: Nothing is working. The scope of fuel modification and structural protection is decades away, on a large scale. Many experts can’t even agree on the next approach (s). On the fire line, “if one house goes all the houses will go”.

  2. C’mon folks – “nothing is working” ?? What’s not working are thinning (and other mechanical activities alone) and suppression. Bill’s article started out talking about other fires in the vicinity of Caldor. We know that these other fires “work” – whether prescribed or wildfire – the FS just doesn’t use fire to any significant extent in managing the Sierra or other forests. Our predilection for suppression has blinded us to the fact that fire is an excellent ally and tool and that there is no substitute for this most basic and original of fuel treatments. The article in the LA times was garbage – and Hanson has no credibility on issues of fire and forest management. Get back to Rx fire and stop complaining that nothing works.

  3. Always amazing the lack of research…guess the Cleveland fire never happend and subesequent mudslides or the big fire 0f 1959, when are these writers going to do a little research..bogles the minds

  4. Backfires don’t seem to be in use today. I see fires to clear areas passed over but no fires set in front of the main out of control fire. lt’s been a half century since l was a USFS firefighter. Just don’t know the current practices.

  5. “If it continues in that direction for the next 10 miles it will not encounter the footprints of any fires that have burned in the last 21 years…”. The Cleveland Fire was not in the past 21 years, it was in 1992. A nearly 30-year old burn will have little impact, as the Caldor fire has shown because it’s already burned over the portions of the Cleveland Fire footprint south of 50.

    Try your own research before attacking people on the internet.

  6. The map pretty explicitly says the fire history depicted is 2000-2021. So it’s no surprise that there are no fires from the 50’s on this map.

    Fubctionally, a forest which last burned 50 years ago is not going moderate intensity or present a barrier to spread, the main reason fire managers consult these maps.

  7. I wonder if the IMT should move to point protection and let the fire burn. This fire is headed for South Lake Tahoe. The damage will be immense. Perhaps letting it be free range would allow it to create a mosaic that wouldn’t be possible with aggressive backfiring.

  8. Agree, same with some of these other large fires, especially with limited resources. Hopefully, they’re working on an anchor point at heel, as winds can shift. Anchor and flank, and point protection may be the best option.

  9. Yep I was there for the Cleveland fire running cattle on forest service’s permits near and around Union Valley reservoir. I remember the fire was down on Highway 50 and the next day it had run almost all the way up to the Reservoir. The forest management was so bad you couldn’t even ride a horse through it. We saw a giant trees being vaporized by the fire. Forest management is everything!

  10. 27 yrs in Pollock/Tahoe area. Really!We all knew this was coming. Had grown up farming with vineyards & orchards…. well managed. Nothing like the HOAs & Gov burocisy of all trees must come 1st. Forests, etc. must be managed for their & our best intrest. Help this forest and thin out! Mama nature will be stronger and you can hug a truly strong tree folkes. Not just a weak & charred stump. Old farm hand

  11. I think prescribed fire should be part of the large-scale solution, together with fuel reduction, strategic maintained fuelbreaks and active harvesting. The two main reasons that using fire isn’t a realistic option, at any effective scale, is California’s liability laws (you light the match and you are fully responsible for whatever happens, intentional or not), and, the more obvious, that fire makes smoke, and no one likes to breathe it (and the air quality boards can fine up to something like $1,000 a day for any air quality violations). You need light, beneficial fire over hundreds of thousands, if not millions of acres per year, to have any real impact, so the smoke would be present 4-5 months out of the year. Yes, it’s easier for the fed’s to burn, but their not great at it, as we have seen in too many instances.

  12. A couple of observations:
    1. Effectiveness of fire scars/treatments this year: Very recent fire scars seem to help (2020, 2019, maybe 2018, and 2017). Because of the incredibly dry fuels this year (example: techs on the FreWin pulling live fuel moistures from sagebrush reported it crumbled in their hands, and that was weeks ago), treatments and fire scars that are more than 4 years old don’t seem as effective. It would be great to be wrong, please share if you have seen something different.
    2. We have fires from 2020 still putting up smoke and occasionally walking around in their interior. We have Rx burns from this spring that were set up to be great but based on the weather following them, will probably not meet our objectives. We had a prescribed fire run in lodgepole crowns in May.

    I’d like to see more burning on our terms as a solution, and I’d like to find a path forward in that discussion that incorporates the increasingly harsh realities of weather and fuels.

  13. Good for you in making current maps for the Caldor fire better than all the rest. Maybe you
    could include more detail of cities/streets by making a zoom feature. Nevertheless, keep
    up the good work. Robyn Rawers (Placerville)

  14. Hubris will not stop what is about to become. Our karma is here, and while this fire has slowed, we are about to watch a reckoning. Wishful thinking, nor fear will stand in natures way. This fire may burn out or will race until it tastes the desert or reflects in Tahoes edge with all its rage and fury. Nature is trying to purify itself of us and our making. She will make quicker work of us and our deeds than we have imagination or understanding for. We have done this to ourselves. You can blame our government but look no further than your own foot that holds the gas petal down. This fire and the ones to come arise from the person in the mirror you stare into.

  15. Stop building homes in areas not designed for humans. Mother nature will continue to rebalance what humans have destroyed and altered. There are just too many people moving up here not only building in areas hard to get to but also squeezing the wildlife out of their habitats. The Eco system is screwed up. A dead tree in the woods is home to some wildlife and food to others. We keep disturbing this lifecycle, what do you all think will happen?

  16. “A FEMA publication (13 MB) has excellent detailed recommendations. And in the Home Ignition Zone the NFPA and FireWise programs recommend reducing flammable material within 100 feet of structures and spacing the crowns of trees at least 18 feet apart that are within 30 feet of the home, 12 feet apart at 30 to 60 feet, and 6 feet apart at 60 to 100 feet.”

    I’m just a dumb hick economist from Loyalton who admires the smart fire modelers from afar, so I’ll stipulate that the FEMA recommendations are as excellent as stated.

    But in the Ponderosa-dominant east side forest they make me scratch my head. “6 feet apart” is, here, a recipe for a disaster. In the few places where the big trees still stand (Park 40 where the PCT crosses Highway 36 south of Lassen) the crowns are at least twice the FEMA near-house recommendation (from memory; we’ll see how that worked once the Dixie Fire is done).

    What is our spacing model for the forests that the Prior Management grew, that Beckwourth and Carson travelled through? Is that not an appropriate model for the climate-crisis forests?

    We can discuss choice of tools and technologies to implement that or other solutions. I suspect that judicious use of chainsaws, and removal and efficient use of biomass, prior to (essential) final low-intensity burning, yields a better net carbon balance than the stone tools and fire of the last successful anthropocene foresters.

    But I am a scary forests creature, an economist from a town of pissed-off loggers, who think we have something to contribute to the forests that sustain and threaten us, and often resent the condescension that is too often thrown our way by the Scotch Broom of the Northern Sierra Political Ecology, the “experts.” I’ll go back to my den now.

    I also question the excellence of the LA Times model, which is at least also an illustration of the perils gullible reporters face in the presence of a skilled practitioner of Polemical Science.

  17. And Eastern states should sue all Western states for the same. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming etc… are all burning…there are no saints there.

  18. Fuel reduction treatments decline in effectiveness in <10 years in the Sierra, regardless of the intensity of the fuel treatment. Cleveland Fire was reforested with dense even-aged plantations, some of which have been thinned, but many have not. The Eldorado Forest is out of commercially viable ground for thinning, what's left does not have enough economic value to pay for the thinning or it's too steep for ground-based equipment and therefore not economically viable. The Eldorado is actually re-thinning the areas they thinned 10-15 years ago and there wont be enough volume to do it again for a long time. They hit the easy ground and skip the hard stuff.

    There was a large fuels project called Trestle that burned in the first days of the Caldor Fire and covered the entire eastern boundary of Grizzly Flats. The entire 10,000-ish acres was NEPA'ed for treatment, including all acres to be prescribed burned, even within all of the spotted owl habitat, which happened to be some of the best left on the forest. What happened?… the same thing that always happens, the commercial ground was logged, resulting in random acts of thinning, and some small areas were hand cut and piled burned with the help of outside funding (thank you Wild Turkey Federation!), but the under burning did not get done due to lack of personnel.

    All the credible fire scientists over the past 20 years have been saying the only economically feasible solution to the mess is to get large-scale prescribed fire and fire managed for ecological benefits back into the system. There are many reasons for the failure to get good fire back into the system. One is SPI will not allow a single tree to be killed by USFS Rx fire and their ownership pattern precludes the USFS from using large-scale fire. Another issue is the potential for escape. Which brings me to the Caples prescribed fire from a few years ago (which isn't on the map). Caples required additional crews and air support due to a change in the weather that was not predicted the day they lit it. Some people treated the USFS as if they committed a crime and they were idiots for Caples. Look at it now, Caples stands in the way of Caldor from getting to Kirkwood and the cost of treating Caples is nothing compared to the cost of suppressing the Caldor Fire.

    What needs to happen? The USFS needs to pay firefighters a livable wage and they need to hire enough staff on each forest so that two orders of magnitude winter burning gets done. Oh, and SPI needs to get with the times and realize the industry forestry model from 1985 isn't viable in 2025.

  19. Bill, thanks for the great maps and discussion of fire behavior this retired FS firefighter can relate to. We live in Christmas Valley, just paid off our little shoebox February. We have done a ton of work around the place since the Tamarack Fire. I believe it would be stand alone if the fire came off Echo summit into our neighborhood. Anyway thanks for your work on this website, Jim

  20. Back in the early 1970s ecology professors at UCSB perfectly predicted what we are now seeing regarding wildfires in the CA and the western US in general. They warned that a small group of eco-zealots were taking control of forest and wildlands forest management, and that their control would not end well. They were prescient and accurate in their understanding of the essential role fire has in ecological management, and how it was being circumvented. So what happened? Forest access was legally and physically restricted and the logging and sawmill industries withered and died. Existing roads and bridges were destroyed and the forests were essentially locked up. Preservation of the developing status quo was the ignorant rule of decades, and the forests matured and began to die due to lack of fire and lack of human management. When droughts hit, there was simply not enough moisture to maintain the dense growth and young and old trees became infested and died, more fuel. Thinning alone would have substantially reduced the number of diseased and dead trees, but those in control would not allow it or fund it. We are now reaping the benefits whole the responsible gray beards and ignorant disciples are now running for cover and blaming global climate change as the excuse for their sins. The price will be high.

  21. Thanks for taking the time to post your comments. Unfortunately, who is next and where? All that can accomplished at this point is aggressive initial attack on new evolving threatening wildfires. There will always be a very small percentage of new fires escaping containment. Anyone have an answers short time?

  22. Has anyone yet taken any data on resource damage in the areas where the fuels were treated over different time periods in the past (0-5, 5-10, 10-20 yrs)? I have seen structure damage assessments in Grizzly Flats but nothing yet on how fuels treatments affected (or didn’t) mortality of mature trees or other values at risk.

  23. Yes, they should. Props to almost all published comments here. The collective brain exceeds that of those in charge of managing this fire.

    Just one add to help all of your minds from blowing any further. POLITICS. There has never been a time in history where politics plays such a large role in disaster planning, fighting, or relief. It’s embarrassing to read many of the quotes made by officials that have been published regarding the caldor fire. From plans to excuses to reducing expectations…LIES.

    Stop wasting precious air runs trying to save one property. Stop wasting dozer efforts where you KNOW the fire will roll. Get way out ahead at, say, the 50 where it loops down and back up north again near the 89 and make a real barrier. North, protect Truckee. All else is lost already (or will be).

    If locals can’t handle that news and want attention because their home is not in that protection mix? Sorry about that. The fact is, though, with exception of property within a 3 iron of the west shores of Lake Tahoe…you might as well already have burned to the ground.

    Instead, they will continue to published how tough this is to fight, continue to waste resources to fight, and maybe lose Northern and Eastern areas that DID NOT have to burn because of it.

  24. Dale loves forest management and pretends mature trees are sick. Sorry, forest management doesn’t let trees mature or get big and fire resistant. These Sierra trees live to 500 years and get more beautiful and fire resistant as they age. There are few in the Tahoe basin even, forest service and SPI screwing over forests but the prescribed fire is so complicated can’t blame them there

  25. Nothing has been done since the Mills were shut down so it going to burn all of it because of lack of Forest management sorry but it’s true. The mills were getting shut down starting in 1985 environmentalist really helped out to destroy are Forest thanks

  26. The land surrounding Tahoe is almost 80% Federal Land…if you want to sue, you’ll be suing the Dept of Agriculture.

  27. Almost 80% of the land around Tahoe is Federally owned and managed. You’d be suing the Department of Agriculture, not California. And maybe our recent president who cut the budget for wildfire suppression, Forest management and fire equipment by $600 million before he left office. Sue him.

  28. In 2020, major western wildfires cost $$16.5 billion. Just 2 of the many climate based disasters, Hurricane Laura and the Midwest Derecho alone cost $40 billion. Wildfires were 5.5% of total disaster cost, severe storms, flooding and tropical cyclones are responsible for 68% of total disaster costs.
    Climate change is a bitch, and tho western states are burning, maybe it’s the western states that should be suing.

  29. All those dead trees you’re talking about use to burn up centuries ago. Now they are protected, so what happens now when there is a fire, all those dead trees that are “sacred” become fuel for these fires. It’s poor forest management.

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