Quail Fire forces evacuations west of Davis, California

Smoke spreads toward Sacramento

(12:22 a.m. PDT June 7, 2020)

Map Quail Fire
Map showing the approximate locations of heat detected on the Quail Fire by satellites at 9:02 p.m. PDT June 6, 2020.

The Quail Fire that started Saturday afternoon southwest of Winters, California has burned about 1,200 acres west of Davis according to a 9 p.m. PDT update from CAL FIRE. Evacuations are in progress.

It was initially reported near the intersection of Quail Canyon Road and Pleasants Valley Road south of Highway 128 approximately 9 miles north of Vacaville and 13 miles west of Davis.

Quail Fire photo
The Quail Fire looking northeast from Mt. Vaca at 8:41 p.m. PDT June 6, 2020. PGE/Axis camera.

An evacuation Center is located at 3 Oaks Community Center, 1100 Alamo Dr., Vacaville, CA 95687.

At 9:45 p.m. MDT the Incident Commander requested an additional four strike teams (5 engines each) of any type of engines, immediate need. Approximately 100 structures were threatened, according to CAL FIRE.

Smoke from the Quail and other fires in the North Bay area is predicted to spread to the east affecting residents in Davis, Sacramento, Fairfield, Elk Grove, and Concord.

Product from NOAA’s Hazard Mapping System Fire and Smoke analysis for 7:58 p.m. PDT June 6, 2020.

The wind in the fire area is predicted to be out of the west-northwest Saturday night at 16 gusting to 23 mph at 10 p.m., decreasing to 9 mph by sunrise. The maximum relative humidity overnight will be 65 percent, then will drop into the low 20s by Sunday afternoon, with an air temperature of 75 degrees.

Map Quail Fire aircraft
Aircraft operating near the Quail Fire west of Davis, California at 8:04 p.m. PDT June 6, 2020. FlightAware/Wildfire Today.

Lakeville Fire near Petaluma, CA burns 141 acres

photo Lakeville Fire Petaluma Calif
Photo of the Lakeville Fire southeast of Petaluma, California, June 5, 2020. Photo by CAL FIRE.

Yesterday the Lakeville Fire southeast of Petaluma, California burned about 141 acres before being suppressed by firefighters assisted by air tankers. The origin of the fire was near the 4500 block of Lakeville Highway.

Map Lakeville Fire Petaluma Calif
Map showing the location of the Lakeville Fire southeast of Petaluma, California, June 5, 2020. Wildfire Today/Google Earth.

If the firefighters in the photo below (at top/right) are carrying drip torches as it appears, they may be burning out from a retardant line to consume the fuel between the retardant and an already burned area.

More photos on Twitter.

Some early fire lookout structures were in trees

Recent drone photos of the remains of a tree lookout in Oregon

Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp

Years ago, in order to detect new ignitions of wildfires, land management agencies occasionally took advantage of tall trees on hilltops, building platforms near the top with ladders or other climbing aids below.

Using his Phantom 3 Pro drone, Steven Stenkamp shot photos of a what remains of a tree lookout on the Deschutes National forest in Central Oregon.  Pumice Springs lookout was built in 1930 and used for less than 10 years, Mr. Stenkap said.

Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp

“The Pumice Springs Lookout had a ladder for about 20 feet, then 2 x 4s for about another 10,” Mr. Stenkap told us. “From there, the lookout used branches until he (or she) was about 10 feet from the platform where there was, and still is, another section of ladder.  According to the data from the drone the platform is at 81 feet.  The lookout was also known as Sand Springs lookout.  The tree is just about equal distance from each of those springs.”

Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp
Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp
Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp

Before he retired, Mr. Stenkap’s duties at the Bend Fire Department in Oregon included flying a DJI Matice drone.

Witness panel is set for June 9 Congressional hearing about COVID-19 and firefighting

When the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds their hearing at 10 a.m. EDT June 9, 2020 on “Wildfire Management in the Midst of COVID-19” neither U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen or Fire and Aviation Director Shawna Legarza are slated to be present. Usually the Chief testifies at hearings about the Forest Service, and since Ms. Legarza testified last year at a hearing about expectations for the fire season, there was speculation that she would attend this one as well.

It is likely that the Senators will ask about the results from the Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness Study that has been going on for eight years. Chief Christiansen has been testifying for the last two years before this committee saying it would be released “soon”. When pressed in February by Colorado Senator Sen. Cory Gardner, who last year made his opinion about the delay very clear, she said it would be released “this Spring”. Senator Gardner said, “Before June?”. She said, “Yes”.

I asked Ms. Legarza by email why she was not going to testify, and she replied, “Normally the Fire Director does not testify. Last year was the first time ever. Was a great experience. I am very appreciative of all the work the committee has done while I have been in this job.”

David Pitcher and Tom Harbour
Tom Harbour (left) the U.S. Forest Service National Director of Fire and Aviation Management (who did not testify), and David Pitcher (right) President and CEO of the Wolf Creek Ski Area at Pagosa Creek, Colorado. November 5, 2013.

A quick search of Wildfire Today found two examples of former Fire Director Tom Harbour attending congressional committee hearings. On October 17, 2011 he testified before a subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security committee at a field hearing in Austin entitled “Texas Wildfire Review: Did Bureaucracy Prevent a Timely Response?” On November 5, 2013 he sat directly behind the witnesses but did not testify at a hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources titled, “Shortchanging Our Forests: How Tight Budgets and Management Decisions Can Increase the Risk of Wildfire”.

I obtained from a Washington insider the list of government employees who ARE slated to testify Tuesday:

  • John Phipps, Forest Service, Deputy Chief, State and Private Forestry
  • Amanda Kaster, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land & Minerals, DOI
  • George Geissler, Washington State Forester
  • Norm McDonald, Alaska Div. of Forestry, Director Fire & Aviation

Some of the Senators and witnesses may appear virtually instead of in person. The current Senate rules during the pandemic do not allow spectators at committee meetings or hearings.

TBT: Firefighter’s film-making son invited to the White House

For Throwback Thursday I found a good news story — much needed during these turbulent times. Published March 21, 2015, it feels like it was a thousand years ago:


Noah Gue President Obama
Noah Gue talks with President Obama in the White House. Photo credit, White House.

The six-year-old son of a wildland firefighter was one of 15 filmmakers to be invited to show a video at a film festival at the White House. Noah Gue worked with his father, Michael Gue, a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service in Bozeman, Montana, to make the film to help raise awareness of climate change and inspire conservation. Noah’s parents produced the film in which he is the on-screen narrator. He also got a credit for editing. The film was selected to be shown Friday at the second White House Student Film Festival.

Noah Gue President Obama
Noah Gue high-fives President Obama in the White House. Photo by Jacquelyn Martin.
Noah Gue Hilary Swank
Noah Gue talks with Hilary Swank in the White House. Photo by Jake Rosenberg.

The fact that Noah had a loose front tooth did not escape the notice of President Obama who mentioned it in his opening remarks at the event. Here are some excerpts from the official transcript:

Thank you so much, everybody! Have a seat. Well, hello, everybody, and welcome to the second annual White House Film Festival. (Applause.) It’s like the Sundance or Cannes of film festivals that are open to the public through a government website. (Laughter.) It may also be the only film festival where one of the entrants has his tooth loose. (Laughter.) And may pull it out right here at the ceremony. (Laughter.)

[and later]

…Today, we’re celebrating a 6-year-old in Montana. Is that you? (Applause.) He’s the guy without — he’s missing teeth. (Laughter.) But he’s also challenging us to see conservation through a child’s eyes…

Noah’s father, Michael, is a prolific photographer, as is his wife who is a wedding photographer. We have featured Michael’s fire pictures a couple of times on Wildfire Today, HERE and HERE. His Instagram account has over 7,000 followers…

Congratulations to Noah and Michael!

Congress to hold hearing on “Wildfire Management in the Midst of COVID-19”

Save the date: June 9, 2020 at 10 am EDT, 7 am PDT

senate committee hearing fire four-person panel
On June 13, 2019 a four-person panel provided testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. L-R: Shawna Legarza, Director, Fire Aviation and Management, Forest Service; Jeff Rupert, Office of Wildland Fire, Department of the Interior; Chris Maisch, Alaska State Forester & National Association of State Foresters; and Wade Crowfoot, Secretary, California Natural Resources Agency. Screenshot from the Committee video.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. EDT June 9, 2020 on “Wildfire Management in the Midst of COVID-19”. It will be webcast live on the committee’s website, and an archived video will be available shortly after the conclusion. Written witness testimony will be available on the website at the start of the hearing.

This could be very interesting, depending on what questions the Senators ask and if they follow up when the witnesses give vague or evasive answers. In 2019 Shawna Legarza, the Forest Service Fire and Aviation Director, was one of four on a panel. If she appears this year it will be with only 21 days remaining before her announced retirement date.

Shawna Legarza, Fire and Aviation Director, Forest Service
Shawna Legarza, Fire and Aviation Director, Forest Service, June 13, 2019 at a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Screenshot from the Committee video.

This committee regularly holds hearings about the activities of the land management agencies, but also has hearings specifically about wildland fire topics. Senators sometimes press the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior agencies on topics such as the number of air tankers on contract, using technology to track fires and resources, transferring management of the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers from the FS to the Department of Labor, is the FS asking for enough funding to accomplish their goals, sexual harassment, and the outlook for the coming fire season.

Obviously this year the issue of fighting fire during the pandemic will come up. Another possible topic is accountability and lack of transparency for how decisions are made about contracting for firefighting aircraft and how taxpayers’ dollars are being used. Are they being spent wisely? When will they release the Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness Study that has been going on for eight years? Launched in 2012 at a cost of about $1.3 million annually, the study is supposed to quantify the effectiveness of the various types of fixed and rotor wing aircraft used on wildfires. In FY 2017 for example, the most recent year with exact numbers available, the agency spent over half a billion dollars on fire aviation; $507,000,000. If ever completed the AFUE study could make it possible to answer the question: “What are the best mixes of aircraft to do any fire suppression job?” Data collected from this study and other sources would be used to inform decisions about the composition of the interagency wildland firefighting aircraft fleet — to use the best, most efficient, and effective tools for the job.

In hearings before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2018 and 2019 the Forest Service told the Senators the results of the study would be released “soon”. In another hearing in February, 2020 Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen again said it would be released “soon”. When pressed by Colorado Senator Sen. Cory Gardner, who last year made his opinion about the delay very clear, she said it would be released “this Spring”. Senator Gardner said, “Before June?”. She said, “Yes”.  A clip from that exchange is below.

Link to the entire hearing

(Members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee)

(The list of members of the committee was replaced with the more current link above)