The Siege of '08

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This is a satellite photo of northern California taken just before sunset today, Sunday. I marked the smoke plumes from some of the larger fires with an “X“. Click on it to see a larger version.

In addition to the 602 new fires discovered yesterday in northern California, today they picked up an additional 309 for a 48 hour total of 911 fires, an unsettling number. There are still more fires in southern California, and others will be discovered in both areas over the next couple of days.

We have only seen the beginning of the Siege of ’08 and it will be one for the history books. Comparing it to the Siege of ’87, for one thing, these are occurring at the beginning of the fire season. In 1987 the lightning was in late August allowing only a month or so of burning in the northern areas. This year a season ending rain event is at least 80-90 days away.

There is no way there are enough firefighters to staff all of these fires. Air tankers don’t put out fires–they only slow them down until ground forces can take direct action. But we only have 1/2 as many air tankers as we did in 1987. We do have more type 1 helicopters than 20 years ago though.

The federal agencies are very concerned recently about keeping fire suppression costs as low as possible and they plan to send bean counters out to all of the large fires as part of the “Accountable Cost Management” process. This Siege of ’08 is going to make their heads explode.

And by the way, the Clover “fire used for resource benefits” on the Sequoia National forest which has been burning for 3 weeks (they were not putting it out, just herding it around) this morning was changed to a full suppression fire and they began putting it out. This afternoon it cranked– and crossed the Kern river, crested the Sierras, and is headed toward Hwy. 395.

I’m not positive, but I think in the satellite photo above, the southeastern-most fire is the Clover fire…one of the larger smoke plumes in the photo. This is all they need with 911 new fires in the north half of the state.

602 new fires in Northern California

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The Northern California Coordination Center is reporting that there were 602 new fires yesterday. Many of these, they said, are still unstaffed and are in remote areas.

State of California fires
CalFire is providing this information about their fires in northern CA (national forest fires are not included):

Summary of Fires by Unit

Siskiyou Unit: 8 fires reporting minor acreage
Humboldt Unit: 37 fires for approximately 120 acres
Mendicino Unit: 90 fires, 1 to 125 acres
San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit: 15 fires up to 2 acres in size
Amador-El Dorado Unit: 18 fires
Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit: 7 fires all less than 1 acre each
Butte Unit: 21 fires for a total of over 60 acres
Tehama-Glen Unit: 34 fires for a total of 550 acres.
Shasta-Trinity Unit: 62 fires up to 50 acres in size.
Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit: 5 fires with 4 contained.
Lassen-Modoc Unit: 27 fires for a total of 25 acres.
Tuolumne-Calavares Unit: 15 fires for a total of 140 acres.

Gallery fire
(Update: this is now part of the Basin Complex)
Most of the lightning on Friday night and Saturday was north of San Francisco, but the northern part of the Los Padres NF also received their fair share and they have at least two new fires. One is large, the Gallery fire, 1,500 2,000 acres, 3 miles south of Big Sur near the coast. Late yesterday they borrowed some helicopters from the Indians fire.

According to NIFC this morning:

Crews are holding the fire at the North Coast Ridge Road and Highway 1, however both the north and south flanks of the fire remain open. Approximately 75 residences and businesses were evacuated during the night between Partington Ridge and Grimes Canyon.

The map below shows the Gallery fire on the coast south of Big Sur. The red, orange, and black areas are heat detected by satellites last night. The mapped perimeter of the Indians fire is shown in yellow. Click on the map to see a larger version.

Shasta-Trinity NF fires

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A fire in the Peanut area of Trinity County, south of Hayfork, CA. Timbre Beck-Murphy/Contributing photogrpaher,

The Record Searchlight newspaper in Redding, California has an update about the lightning-caused fires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Here is an excerpt:

By Constance Dillon, Rob Rogers
Sunday, June 22, 2008

Widespread thunderstorms rolling through the north state late Friday night and Saturday ignited scores of fires ranging in size from less than an acre to hundreds of acres in lightning-torn Trinity County.

The largest concentration of fires is known as the Lime Complex near Limedyke Mountain in the Hayfork Ranger District of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, forest spokesman Mike Odle said. The Lime Complex in Trinity County includes 30 fires burning more than 1,000 acres, Odle said.

Another large complex of fires is called the Iron Complex in the Big Bar Ranger District near Junction City off Highway 299. Multiple fires are burning 350 acres in the Iron Complex, Odle said.

Some 3,000 lightning strikes spawned 75 fires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest from Friday night to Saturday afternoon, and fire officials were bracing for more thunderstorms Saturday night, Odle said. Forest Service officials still were assessing the fires’ acreage Saturday afternoon.

Smoke first was reported Friday afternoon in the Hyampom Road area of Trinity County. By 3 a.m. Saturday, Forest Service crews started dispatching fire crews, engines, bulldozers and water tenders.

“We were told to expect 50 to 100 fires,” said Angelo Cattaneo, owner-operator of Cattaneo Trucking, as she stood in front of a row of water trucks and engines outside the Hayfork Ranger District on Saturday.

More than 20 smokejumpers were sent to fires in the more remote regions.

Fire crew leaders radioing the Hayfork Ranger District office with reports of small fires Saturday were interrupted by frantic reports of new flare-ups. “This whole place is on fire,” one Forest Service worker’s voice said over the fire scanner. Another voice cut in: “This place is too tight for my guys to rappel in.”

More about Northern California lightning bust

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From the reports I have seen, there are at least 300-400 fires that were started by the lightning that moved across the northern part of California from west to east during the last 24 hours. As this is written, lightning is still occurring in northeastern California.

Most of the fires are very small, their growth muted for a while by the overcast skies that brought the thunderstorms. But as the skies clear, smoke from a few large ones northwest of Redding and west of Ukiah is becoming visible in satellite photos. Only a small percentage of the fires are staffed and many new ones are being discovered every hour.

This situation is going to become dire unless the northern half of the state receives a great deal of rain in the next day or two. The weather forecast for the next several days at Redding shows temps in the low to mid 90’s, moderate winds, minimum RH’s in the high teens, and very little chance of rain.

It is starting to look like it could become another summer like the “Siege of 1987” when lightning in late August started 1,600 fires in northern California and southern Oregon that burned 650,000 acres. Some of the fires burned into October.

From the New York Times, September 2, 1987:


Firefighters called in from around the nation deployed in the forests of Northern California today, battling hundreds of lightning-ignited fires that have blackened 68,000 acres and forced people to move out of some mountain communities.

Three rural communities in western Oregon were threatened by fires surging through tinder-dry timber, while firefighters in Idaho slowly gained ground against a blaze that menaced an affluent neighborhood of Pocatello.

In California, nearly 9,000 firefighters battled major blazes in the Stanislaus, Klamath, and Shasta-Trinity national forests and nearly 300 smaller fires, said Mike Milosch of the United States Forest Service in Sacramento.

Mr. Milosch said firefighters had controlled about 700 other blazes ignited by nearly 5,000 lightning strikes since Saturday. The lightning is occurring in near-record heat that has left forests extremely dry. In the Air and on the Ground

Fire officials said there had not been as many lightning-caused fires in California since the summer of 1977 when a fire in the Los Padres National Forest blackened nearly 200,000 acres.

The Federal and state firefighters now battling the blazes employed at least 48 air tankers, 296 fire engines, 31 helicopters and scores of bulldozers.

Remember when we used to be able to deploy 48 air tankers to one state?

Lightning bust in Northern California

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Dozens of new fires started by lightning are burning in northwest California. Dry lightning came through the Six Rivers and Shasta-Trinity National Forests yesterday afternoon and started at least 40 fires on the Shasta-Trinity and half a dozen on the Six Rivers. A Type 3 team is managing a group of them, called the Lime Complex, south of Hyampon . Others are located between Clear Creek and Somes Bar. Smoke jumpers from Redding are working on many of the fires, and additional jumpers are being flown in from other jump bases to help.

The weather forecast for the Hyampom area this afternoon calls for 82 degrees, relative humidity at 23%, and winds 7 mph out of the southwest. (UPDATE @ 1242 MT: lightning is occurring now and more is expected during the day. A red flag warning has been issued.)

The map below shows some of the heat in red detected by satellites last night; click on it to see a larger version.
UPDATE @ 1018 MT, 6/21
An informal count of the vegetation fires that have started since Friday afternoon, based on fires reported by dispatch (some of these are complexes, consisting of multiple fires):

Six Rivers NF: 23 fires
Shasta-Trinity: 38 fires

UPDATE @ 1202 mt, 6/21
Below is a map showing the fires that have been reported just on the Shasta-Trinity NF in the last 24 hours. Those folks are going to be busy for a long time, unless the weather is very nice to them. A couple of the fires may be assists to other agencies, also dealing with new lightning fires.

Here is a map showing the fires that have been reported on the Six Rivers NF in the last 24 hours.

National Geographic article about wildland fire

On May 16 Wildfire Today gave you a heads up about an article on wildland fire that would appear in the July issue of National Geographic. It should be arriving in mailboxes right now, but their web site has on online version of the article and some amazing pictures of fires. No one takes pictures like the NG photographers, and they did not disappoint this time. Here is an example (click on it to see a larger version):

Photographer Mark Thiessen took most, if not all, of the photos–some of which can be found HERE. The online version of the article is here. It’s lengthy, on ten web pages.

Be sure to read the interview with Thiessen about how he got the photos. One thing that helped….he has a red card and has shot photos of fires for 10 years. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Any other situations where you tempted fate?

I was in a helicopter over Lake Arrowhead [California] shooting aerials. It was really rough up there. We were the only aircraft in the air over those fires. The air tankers weren’t allowed to fly, because the winds were too strong for them. So that picture in the story where you see a bunch of homes burning down from the air—those are million-dollar mountain homes, and that’s when you need the air tankers the most. But it was just too windy for them.