California: Marek fire update, October 13

Update @ 11:55 p.m. Monday

There has been no recent update on acreage. Local residents can get information about fire-related traffic, evacuations, and shelters by calling a recording provided by the LA Fire Department at 800-439-2909. A Newhall pass weather station at 10:35 p.m. showed SSW winds at 6 mph with gusts up to 22. The RH was 17%. The Santa Ana winds are expected to increase tonight between 11 p.m. and 11 a.m.

Update @ 4:50 p.m. PT Monday

At a news conference that is just now concluding, officials announced:

  • The winds tonight will have gusts exceeding 60 mph.
  • Tonight’s operational period will be very challenging.
  • The fire has now burned 4,726 acres.
  • They repeated the possibility that the fire could burn west to the 101 freeway, or even cross it and burn all the way the Pacific Ocean.

Update @ 4:00 p.m. PT Monday

The fire has now burned 4,000 4,726 acres. The Santa Ana winds, which have decreased a bit today, will be their strongest between 11 p.m. tonight and 11 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday). Information about evacuations can be found at the LA County FD web site.

Update @ 1:38 p.m. PT Monday

Here is a map showing the approximate location of the Marek fire as of 9:45 a.m. Monday… provided by LA County Fire Department.

View Larger Map

Update @ 1:11 p.m. PT

LA Fire Department has a map of the areas that are being evacuated.

Update @ 12:07 p.m. PT

The one person known to be killed on the Marek fire was a homeless, transient, male who was living in a cardboard shelter.

Update @ 11:58 a.m. PT

In a news conference the Mayor of Los Angeles just announced there has been one fatality “on the city side” of the fire, which is on both LA city and County jurisdictions. It occurred on or near Foothill Blvd., but the identity of the male victim has not been released.


8:30 a.m. PT

In the evening on Sunday the Santa Ana winds had decreased on this fire that is also known as the Little Tujunga fire. The firefighters had made good progress and had even stopped the spread at around 2,200 acres, but as predicted, the winds increased overnight, causing the fire to spot over the shaky fire lines at 4:30 Monday morning pushing the fire toward the west across the 210 freeway, causing the closure of the 210 and the 118 highways as well as other primary roads. HERE is information about road closures. Many schools in the area are closed as well. Large areas are under mandatory evacuation orders. KTLA has a list of evacuation centers, as well as freeway and school closures.

The latest size given by the public information officers is 3,200 3,500 acres with 5% containment, but it is probably larger, since the fire is spreading rapidly. Numerous large structures and large trucks have been destroyed in industrial complexes, ignited by spotting and 200-foot flames. Some subdivisions of homes surrounded on one or two sides by brush are immediately threatened by fire that is within a few hundred feet. There are 60 strike teams of engines on scene or ordered, with 200 engines working the fire this morning.

Aircraft have been working the fire since 5 a.m. this morning, but the air tankers had to be grounded at around 8:30 a.m. due to the strong winds. The helicopters are still dropping water, trying to limit the number of structures that are destroyed.

On live aerial video provided by Los Angeles TV stations we have seen individual mobile homes in the middle of large mobile home parks burning, the result of long-distance spotting. In another mobile home park, the Valley Terrace park, we counted at least 25 mobile homes that had burned.

The Santa Ana winds are expected to continue through at least Tuesday with red flag warning in effect for much of southern California. Wind gusts have been reported at up to 75 mph in one of the mountain passes.

Opliger’s Type 1 Incident Management Team, which was already prepositioned, will inbrief at 1400 and will assume command at 1800 today. Dietrich’s Type 1 Team is staged and standing by at the Ontario Fire Cache.

California: fire on Angel Island, San Francisco Bay

A vegetation fire is burning on Angel Island, an island in San Francisco Bay. Reports say it is 10 to 50 acres and has been burning since about 9 p.m. PT Sunday night. The fire can be seen from web cams, HERE, HERE and HERE. On the cams, the fire appears to be burning pretty intensely as of 11:10 PT Sunday night. This link has local wind speed and direction as well as a cam image that appears to be compromised by a reflection, at least at night.

Marin County fire department is responsible for fire suppression on the 768-acre island. They have already sent firefighters, and engines have been ferried to the fire, which can be seen from many areas around the Bay. Fire boats from Tiburon and Sausalito are on scene as well as the Coast Guard. Hand crews and additional engines have been requested by the firefighters on the island.

Click on the maps to see larger versions.

Wildfire news, October 12, 2008

California: Marek fire in Little Tujunga Canyon

Update @ 7:00 p.m. PT: The fire is now 2,066 acres and is 20% contained.

From MyFoxLA:

More than 1,000 firefighters were assigned to the fire, which was largely halted by aggressive air and ground efforts. By mid afternoon, the blaze was 20 percent contained, said James Barnes of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. 

About 1,200 residents were ordered out of the area, and horses and other farm animals were walked, ridden and transported by to a recreation center at Hansen Dam.

A county fire official said it was unclear exactly when residents would be allowed back into their homes.

“You folks will not be able to go back in until at least tomorrow morning,” Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Mark Savage told evacuees. “We can have a tough night tonight, and the last thing we want to do, (A) put you in harm’s way, (B) put you in our way.”

Angeles National Forest spokesman Stanton Florea said the fire will likely burn for several days, but that firefighters were trying to get it tamped down ahead of dry and blustery Santa Ana winds expected this evening.

Update @ 1:30 p.m. PT: A spokesman for Los Angeles County fire department said firefighters are “getting a real good handle” on the the 750 acre fire, which has burned two homes, a garage, several sheds, and three motor homes. Strong Santa Ana winds are expected to arrive in the evening which will test the firelines being built this afternoon.

A fire north of Los Angeles, the Marek fire, has burned more than 500 750 acres and forced the evacuation of 1,200 people in Kagel and Lopez Canyons. The fire started at 2 a.m. Sunday morning and is being fought by 400 firefighters. The fire is being managed under Unified Command with LA City Fire department, LA County Fire Department, and the U.S. Forest Service. A Type 1 Incident Management Team (Opliger) has been assigned prepositioned on the Angeles National Forest. Pushed by 15-20 mph winds, the fire is threatening hundreds of homes.

For about 45 minutes we watched on live streaming video from the fire backing toward this structure (above). Finally the backing fire reached it and burned it to the ground. Either the firefighters could not reach it safely, there were not enough resources to assign an engine to it, or they were unaware of the the situation.

View Larger Map

Stronger winds are predicted Sunday afternoon and Monday, but are expected to decrease by Tuesday afternoon.

Zion Helitack aerial ignition

The Zion Helitack blog has a very interesting post about conducting a prescribed fire in Bryce Canyon National Park. They have several photos showing their involvement in aerial ignition.

Photo courtesy of Zion Helitack Blog

Wildfire news, October 11, 2008

California: wine country fire burns two structures

A fire in Napa Valley Friday night burned two structures and caused over 100 residents to evacuate. At last report this morning the fire which is east of St. Helena had burned 300 acres and was 40% contained.

CBS5 has some good video of the fire.

Photo courtesy of LA Times

Santa Ana winds expected in California

The fire agencies in California are pre-positioning some suppression forces in California due to strong Santa Ana winds that are expected for the next several days. Some red flag warnings in southern California have been downgraded to “watches”, but increased fire danger is still in the forecast.


Above, forecast for Saturday



Above, forecast for Sunday


20,000 gallons of salt water dropped on Camp Pendleton fire

The CL-415 Super Scooper air tankers, under a 3-month contract to San Diego County, dropped 20,000 gallons of salt water from the Pacific Ocean on the November fire October 8 on Camp Pendleton north of San Diego. Some questions have been asked about the effect of the salt water on the environment in an article from the North County Times. Here is an excerpt.

Did those aerial drops of bubble-gum-colored retardant and salty ocean water on a 1,500-acre Camp Pendleton wildfire this week harm the environment? The answer is yes, public officials and a native-plant expert said Friday.

Salt is not exactly good for plants and water quality, and retardant has been known to kill fish if dumped in streams, they said. At the same time, they stressed there is little reason for concern because any adverse impact was minor. 

John Robertus, executive officer for the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for the San Diego Region, said state regulators are far more concerned about the ash that runs off into streams following wildfires and the pollution that washes into them from local streets and factories.

And as for the salt added to the environment by such drops, it is minor compared to the huge amount that is routinely brought into San Diego County through distant water deliveries, Robertus said.

“We are importing salt through Colorado River water by the tons,” he said. “What you drop out of an airplane pales in comparison.”

Similarly, the amount of retardant applied to fires tends to be small and consequently of minor concern, officials said.

Richard Halsey, director of the Chaparral Field Institute in Escondido, said there has been speculation that, because retardant is largely a fertilizer, it could give a boost to fast-growing exotic grasses and enable them to push out native plants, but that has not been clearly shown. What is clear is that, in heavy concentrations, retardant can harm aquatic life, Halsey said.

In 2002, the U.S. Forest Service accidentally dropped retardant into an Oregon river, killing more than 20,000 fish. To avoid a similar mishap, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection operates with a written policy forbidding retardants within a football field’s distance of any stream, said Ray Chaney, special operations battalion chief at the Ramona Air Attack Base.

Retardant also was used to paint hillsides red permanently, until agencies shifted away from staining iron oxide five years ago, Chaney said. An example of that is a hill close to Highway 78 just west of Ramona, Halsey said.

“Some people call it Red Mountain,” he said.

Nowadays, Chaney said, firefighters employ a substance that causes the reddish color to break down after two to three weeks and fade away.

State Capt. Nick Schuler said pilots made 14 drops of salt water totaling 20,000 gallons using a pair of airplanes during this week’s firefight. The air tankers scooped water from the Pacific Ocean off of Camp Pendleton, just north of Oceanside Harbor.

The drops were made by Canadian-built CL-415 Bombardier Superscoopers that the county is leasing from the provincial government of Quebec for three months this autumn.

Schuler said pilots of two state air tankers and a U.S. Forest Service plane combined to spray 13,979 gallons off retardant on the flames.

NTSB report on DC-10 air tanker tree-strike


Air Tanker 910, file photo

The National Transportation Safety Board has released their official report on the DC-10 air tanker tree-strike incident that occurred in June of 2007. This was a closer call than we realized. The aircraft struck 13 trees, one of which was only 45-feet tall. This may explain some of the reluctance of the U.S. Forest Service to award a contract to Evergreen’s 747 air tanker



A huge jet-powered airliner maneuvering slowly a few hundred feet above mountainous terrain near convection columns does not have many options when encountering unexpected turbulence. If they need to gain altitude quickly, it takes a while for the jet engines to spool up after applying more throttle.

We told you on Wildfire Today about the study that NASA will be conducting for the USFS about the suitability of DC-10’s and 747’s for use as air tankers.

Here is an excerpt from the report. The entire document is HERE.

On June 25, 2007, about 1720 Pacific daylight time, a McDonnell Douglas DC 10-10, N450AX (Tanker 910), impacted trees with the left wing during a fire suppression flight in support of the White Fire about 12 miles southwest of Tehachapi, California. The airplane was owned by BC Aircraft Leasing LLC, and leased to 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (Cal Fire) was operating the airplane as a public use flight. The captain, first officer (FO), and flight engineer (FE), were not injured. The airplane was substantially damaged. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and Cal Fire flight tracking procedures were in effect. The airplane departed Southern California Logistics Airport, Victorville, California, at 1657.


According to Cal Fire personnel, the flight crew was preparing to jettison a load of retardant. While turning on final for the drop, the left wing impacted several trees. The flight crew climbed the airplane to 11,000 feet where they jettisoned the fire retardant. Then, they landed uneventfully at their departure airport at 1748.

Cal Fire had contracted with 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC to provide and operate the accident airplane. The airplane was to be operated on an exclusive use contract for wildland fire protection.

Thirteen impacted trees were identified by Cal Fire personnel. The first identified tree that sustained impact was 45 feet tall at a base elevation of 7,786 feet mean sea level (msl). (emphasis added)

Personnel Statements

The flight crew submitted written statements regarding the accident. In summary, they indicated that they were conducting the third drop of the day. After joining with the lead airplane on the downwind leg for the retardant drop, they descended to about 7,700 feet msl. The run was set for a slight descent down the line of fire on a ridge. As they turned from base leg to final leg in a left turn of approximately 30 degrees, the airplane developed a sink rate, and the flight crew heard several thump sounds. The Captain verbalized the problem, advanced the throttles, and rolled the airplane’s wings level. The Flight Engineer scanned the wing and noted damage to the left wing aileron, slat, and flap. The flight climbed and continued to a non-populated area with the lead airplane in trail. The fire retardant was jettisoned, the flight crew declared an emergency, and then they flew to Victorville where they landed uneventfully.

Wildfire news, October 10, 2008

California: Ranch-hands Accused Of Starting 2007 Zaca Fire Not To Face Felony Charges

SANTA MARIA – A Santa Maria Judge says two local ranch-hands repairing a water pipe on a hot and windy day in the Santa Barbara County backcountry last year did not recklessly cause the Zaca Fire. The Zaca Fire started on the Fourth of July and eventually burned more than 240 thousand acres in the backcountry.

Ranch-hands Jose Cabrera and Santiago Cervantes were charged with multiple felonies. The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office says the two men did not take necessary safety precautions when they used a metal grinder to repair the pipe that would deliver water for cattle on a ranch near Zaca Station Road.

The DA says sparks from the grinder flew into dry brush that started the Zaca Fire… and was spread by strong, santa ana winds.

Defense attorneys for the two men maintained it was an accident. Thery say Cabrera and Cervantes tool reasonable precautions by clearing some brush around the water pipe.. and by keeping a shovel and five-gallon bucket of water nearby in case of a fire.

During a preliminary hearing in Santa Maria, Judge Zel Canter ruled both of the men.. including their employer Rancho La Laguna.. were not reckless in their actions and may now only face misdemeanor negligence charges.

Despite the obvious relief on their faces in the courtroom, both Cabrera and Cervantes had little to say outside court.

“Yeah, yeah I am”, said defendant Santiago Cervantes after walking out of the courtroom, “Do you think justice was served? Yes. Do you think it was because it was an accident? That’s all I want to say, thank you.”

“Your reaction to the judge’s decision? No comment, no comment”, said defendant Cabrera as he quickly exited the courtroom.

“We don’t comment on pending cases”, says defense attorney Bob Sanger, “there’s still a misdemeanor charge against them”.

Deputy District Attorney Jerry Lelujian also had no comment on the judge’s ruling.

Also named in the criminal complaint involving the Zaca Fire is Rancho La Laguna where the two defendants once worked

Total damages from the Zaca Fire are nearly 120 million dollars.