Four wildfires burning in California are so extraordinarily large that it takes two or more of the largest and highest qualified Incident Management Teams (IMT) to organize and supervise the suppression of each these monster fires.
One of those, the 846,898-acre (that is not a typo)August Complex in Northern California has three Type 1 teams– CAL FIRE 5, Great Basin 2, and Alaska 1. This monster of a fire is 63 miles long (north to south) and at its widest point is 47 miles, east to west. The blaze is divided into three zones, West, North, and South Zones. The fire is the result of 37 fires that started on August 17, burning together on the Mendocino National Forest 32 miles southwest of Redding.
One firefighter, Diane Jones from a fire department in Texas, was killed in a vehicle accident August 31. Twenty-one residences have been destroyed.
One individual with COVID-19 symptoms and two other people who had contact with the individual are in isolation until they can be cleared by testing.
Resources assigned to the fire include 70 hand crews, 388 fire engines, and 35 helicopters for a total of 4,290 personnel — a figure that includes 125 California National Guard personnel.
Some lists of the largest fires in the recorded history of California circulating this year have listed complexes, multiple individual fires managed under one organization, high on the list. But a group of fires arbitrarily lumped under one IMT should not, for historical purposes, be ranked.
However, the August Complex is comprised of multiple fires that burned together and became one, so in my mind it legitimately belongs on the list as the largest in the recorded history of the state. The next three on the list at Wikipedia are all multiple-fire complexes; they should at least have asterisks explaining they are not single fires. But even if the multiple-fire complexes are included, the August Complex is still about 388,000 acres larger than number two on the list, the 2018 Mendocino Complex which consisted of two fires, River and Ranch.
The U.S. Forest Service has released the name of the forestry technician who died September 17, 2020 in Southern California. Charlie Morton, a Squad Boss on the Big Bear Hotshots passed away on the El Dorado Fire .
Below is an excerpt from a message sent to all Forest Service employees by Chief Vicki Christiansen September 21 at 5:35 p.m.
“Local efforts to support the firefighter fatality that occurred last Thursday, September 17th have progressed and we are now able to share more information with you. Tragically, Charlie Morton, Squad Boss on the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Crew, died during suppression activities on the El Dorado Fire on the San Bernardino National Forest in California. The Big Bear Hotshots are local to the San Bernardino National Forest.
“Charlie joined the San Bernardino National Forest in 2007 and worked on both the Front Country and Mountaintop Ranger Districts, for the Mill Creek Interagency Hotshots, Engine 31, Engine 19, and the Big Bear Interagency Hotshots. His family has asked us to share, “Charlie is survived by his wife and daughter, his parents, two brothers, cousins, and friends. He’s loved and will be missed. May he rest easy in heaven.
“The loss of an employee in the line of duty is one of the hardest things we face in our Forest Service family. Certainly, this is true for me as your Chief. Our hearts go out to Charlie’s coworkers, friends and loved ones. Charlie was a well-respected firefighter and leader who was always there for his squad and his crew at the toughest times. We will keep the Big Bear Hotshots and the San Bernardino National Forest employees and community in our thoughts and prayers.
“Now more than ever we are reminded of the truly honorable work and sacrifices made by our wildland fire employees. They commit themselves each day, for weeks and months on end, to protecting lives and supporting communities around the country, in service to their fellow Americans. Our nation owes them all a debt of gratitude.
“We are still learning about the circumstances surrounding Charlie’s passing. We will provide information on plans for services and expressions of condolence as soon as they become available. But for now, I extend my deepest sympathies to Charlie’s coworkers, friends and loved ones. Again, they will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”
Investigators found that the El Dorado Fire was started by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party.
Send cards and condolences to the Morton family here: P.O. Box 63564 Irvine, CA 92602.
For FedEx or UPS: c/o ‘Support for Charlie’ 1 League # 63564 Irvine, CA 92602.
We send out our sincere condolences for Mr. Morton’s family, friends, and co-workers.
CAL FIRE has a zoomable map showing the status of structures that have been evaluated for damage during the North Fire.
“The damage inspection is still ongoing and subject to change,” CAL FIRE writes on the map’s page. “The points shown in this map are being updated regularly. Data is subject to change as information is gathered and verified. The icons on the map indicate the current known status of the structure. If your structure is not identified by an icon, it has not yet been identified. Addresses may be entered into search bar to find a specific location.”
CAL FIRE reports that 1,393 structures have been destroyed in the blaze.
Friday afternoon strong winds gusting up to 35 mph pushed the Bobcat Fire north down-slope out of the Angeles National Forest into the Antelope Valley foothill communities of Juniper Hills and Valyermo. Structures burned, but no details have been released.
The Incident Management Team reports that the perimeter now envelops 91,017 acres.
Updated September 18, 2020 | 7:06 p.m. MDT
The Bobcat Fire is being pushed northeast into the Antelope Valley by strong winds out of the southwest — 10 mph hour gusting to 35 mph, with 90 degree temperatures and 9 percent relative humidity.
The incident management team had constructed contingency control lines with dozers to prevent the fire from getting into the valley, but the strong winds pushed the flames across the lines. An additional 60 fire engines were called in Friday to augment the forces already on scene.
The LA County Sheriff has issued new evacuation orders and/or warnings for the north and east sides of the fire.
Many of the 10 air tankers were reloading with retardant at the San Bernardino Airport, but late in the afternoon the air tanker base there was running very low on retardant, and directed that the tankers go to alternative bases for their next load. They were expecting that by the time the load after that was needed, the temporary shortage would be mitigated.
Updated September 18, 2020 | 4:45 p.m. PDT
Friday afternoon the northern end of the Bobcat Fire pushed down into the foothills at Juniper Hill and Valyermo. Some structures in the area were destroyed and more evacuation orders were issued. The LA County Sheriff has the latest evacuation information.
Firefighters had to briefly shelter in Fire Station 79 on Valyermo Road as the fire moved through the area. There was a report that a pumphouse at the station burned when the fire spread across the road.
While the fire burns into the desert floor, it is also pushing west, again threatening Mt. Wilson Observatory where approximately six large air tankers are working to slow the spread.
A helicopter is igniting a burning operation, or “strategic aerial firing”, on the eastern perimeter to strengthen containment lines and slow the spread to the east.
There are reports that the community of Big Pines at the intersection of Big Pines Highway and Angeles Crest Highway/2 is threatened.
September 18, 2020 | 8:33 a.m. PDT
The Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest north of Arcadia continued its spread north on Thursday, advancing north of Highway 2.
From the Incident Management Team:
“The Bobcat Fire had very active fire growth in the north end of the perimeter where it reached Juniper Hills and the communities around it, additional aviation assets were requested. Due to the increased fire activity and spread, evacuation orders were expanded to include the northern foothill communities. As the top end of the fire heads northwest and northeast, crews and aviation assets continued to work to keep the fire south of Pearblossom.
“On the west end of the fire, firefighters will be scouting for additional opportunities to build both indirect and direct fire lines to protect the area around Chilao. Fire activity remained active around Mt. Wilson with crews and equipment working very hard to protect infrastructure. To the east, downslope winds activated eastward fire movement near the San Gabriel Reservoir.”
An evacuation warning was issued Thursday night for residents in the unincorporated community of Wrightwood approximately 10 miles east of the fire.
The U.S. Forest Service announced in a news release this morning that a firefighter was killed while working on the El Dorado Fire in Southern California Thursday, September 17, 2020. Neither the name nor the circumstances were released.
CBS News reported that the firefighter had been missing.
Crews had been trying to locate the firefighter, who went missing in the San Bernardino National Forest while fighting the El Dorado Fire, officials said Thursday night, CBS Los Angeles reported. The firefighter was found dead, according to San Bernardino National Forest Public Information Officer Kate Kramer.
The Northwest California/Southwest Oregon area has kept firefighters very busy at times during the last 20 years, as you can see on the map above.
A new fire is rapidly putting itself into that history. The Slater Fire reported September 8 grew to 89,000 acres by September 9 and has now spread to 150,000 acres. That growth, however, has slowed in the last several days.
It started northeast of Happy Camp, California and ran north into Oregon then took a left and crossed Highway 199. It has come to within about four miles of the 2002 Biscuit Fire.
If recent fire history is any indication, the Slater Fire may not even slow down when and if it reaches the Biscuit burn, and of course it depends on the weather, which has moderated this week. The 2017 Chetco Bar Fire and the 2018 Klondike Fire burned for miles into the then 17 or 18-year old fire scar. The entire eastern two-thirds of the Chetco Bar Fire was in the footprint.
Strong winds that drove the dozens of fires September 8 in Oregon are not super rare. The Klondike Fire west of Grants Pass started July 15, 2018. In early October it had become virtually dormant, but a few hot spots were revitalized by an east wind event on the 14th. According to an article in the Mail Tribune the suddenly vigorous fire was transporting burning embers that started spot fires six miles out ahead of the flaming front:
“Extreme spotting” propelled fine embers up to six miles ahead of the main fire, dropping the live ash right between firefighters’ tents and close to people’s homes.
“We even had to move our own fire camp,” [information officer Kale] Casey said.
So if the weather this year is anything like it was two years ago, firefighters could be busy in the area for at least another month.