California and Oregon fires — lives lost and structures burned

Elkhorn Fire
Elkhorn Fire. Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California. September 3, 2020. Sanford Ridge Off of Winter Trail in Wilderness Area. Photo by Mike McMillan.

Lives lost

The tally of the number of lives lost in the California and Oregon blazes will undoubtedly climb as teams search through the footprints of residences. It took weeks in 2018 to document every fatality at the Camp Fire at Paradise, California. Here are the numbers collected so far by the San Francisco Chronicle:

  • 19, at least — California
  • 10, at least — Oregon

Structures destroyed

It is difficult to get good consistent numbers about structures that have burned. CAL FIRE usually includes damaged buildings as well as those that have been destroyed. The Incident Status Summary, ICS-209, that incident management teams on a fire submit every day asks for the number that were destroyed. And it is likely that many teams on fires have not had the time to count all of the affected structures.

Here are the numbers of destroyed structures from the September 14, 2020 National Incident Management Situation Report compiled at the National Interagency Coordination Center, broken down by Geographic Areas. It uses data from the ICS-209:

  •  4,258 — California
  • 2,077 –Northwest (Washington & Oregon)
  • 168 — Northern Rockies
  • 46  — Great Basin
  • 64 — Rocky Mountain

Acres burned

The fire season is not over in all areas, but the number of acres burned to date has exceeded the 10-year average number burned in a year. But the figure varies greatly from year to year. 2019 had the least number since 2004, when considering only the states outside of Alaska.

5,887,136 — The total number of acres burned to date in the U.S., not counting Alaska

5,608,376 — 10-year annual average number of acres burned in the U.S., not counting Alaska

Acres burned annually in the U.S.
Acres burned annually in the U.S., 1985-2019, except Alaska.

There have been many large fires in the last one to two months in Arizona, California, Oregon, Colorado, and Washington, but it has been quieter than usual in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and New Mexico.

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Now that the extreme weather has moderated, firefighters beginning to make progress on fires in northwest Oregon

Map of fires in northwest Oregon, September 13, 2020 Riverside Beachie Creek Lionshead
Map of fires in northwest Oregon, September 13, 2020.

Lionshead Fire

Of the three very large fires south of Portland, Oregon the 138,718-acre Lionshead has been the most active in the last 24 hours, with most of the growth occurring on the northeast and southeast sides. Crews continue to secure and protect property and conduct damage assessments as fire activity, smoke, and other hazards allow. Wildfires have not burned in the area for many decades, which has resulted in heavy layers of fuel on the ground that firefighters must work through to construct fireline and mop up, a very laborious and time-consuming process.

Resources assigned to the fire include 51 hand crews, 62 engines, and 10 helicopters for a total of 1,482 personnel.

Air quality on the Lionshead Fire
Air quality on the Lionshead Fire, Sept 11, 2020. InciWeb photo.

Riverside Fire

On the Riverside Fire dozers completed a line around spot fires on the west side to help secure the areas closest to the communities of Estacada and Molalla. On Sunday crews were working on the north side above the North Fork Reservoir, looking at opportunities to move towards the east. Firefighters are using two unmanned aerial systems (UAS, or drones) to assess fire conditions from the air. Helicopters are flying when visibility allows.  The blaze has burned 53 structures at last count, and 133,799 acres, and is still a mile away from the Beachie Creek Fire. Resources assigned to the fire include 8 hand crews, 11 engines, and 3 helicopters for a total of 315 personnel.

“You’ll start in the coming days to see some lines showing containment” on the Riverside fire said Alan Sinclair, incident commander for the Type 1 incident management team. “We’re having a little bit more favorable weather and things are coming together.”

Riverside Fire
Riverside Fire, from La Dee Flats September 9, 2020. InciWeb photo.

Beachie Creek Fire

Fog slowed activity of the fire and firefighters on the 188,374-acre Beachie Creek Fire Sunday. After it dissipated firefighters resumed work on the perimeter and accessing damage to structures. Crews and heavy equipment are tying in the control lines on the west and northwest sides. The Beachie Creek and the Riverside Fires remain about one mile apart. Resources assigned to the fire include 11 hand crews, 45 engines, and 7 helicopters for a total of 563 personnel.

Three Area Command Teams (ACT) were mobilized Thursday to assist local units in suppressing the fires in the western states. One of them, led by Area Commander Joe Stutler, will be coordinating the efforts in northwest Oregon. The other two will be California.

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Bobcat Fire spreads closer to foothill communities of Arcadia and Monrovia in southern California

Evacuation order issued Sunday morning for a portion of Arcadia

Updated September 13, 2020  |  8:22 p.m. PDT

Bobcat Fire, Sept 13, 2020
Bobcat Fire Sept. 13, 2020. USFS photo.

Firefighters on the ground and in the air fought back the Bobcat Fire as it spread downhill toward Chantry Flat in Santa Anita Canyon Road Sunday afternoon. There was significant western growth towards Mt. Wilson and Mt. Harvard where hand crews and dozers are working to protect the area. Crews conducted strategic firing operations on the north side and six large air tankers dropped retardant. Some of the drops were between the Mt. Wilson Observatory and Sierra Madre.

At the top or north end of the fire crews stopped the spread of spot fires near Buckhorn Flat and Highway 2.

Sunday night the priority will be to protect the foothill communities using the additional resources that recently arrived.

Sunday evening fire officials said the Bobcat Fire had burned 33,312 acres.

firefighters Bobcat Fire
Firefighters constructing fireline on the Bobcat Fire, Sept. 13, 2020.

September 13, 2020  |  10:40 a.m. PDT

 map of the Bobcat Fire
Map of the Bobcat Fire. The white line was the perimeter at 10:24 p.m. PDT Sept 12, 2020. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 3 a.m. PDT Sept. 13, 2020.

The Bobcat Fire in Southern California remained active Saturday night and early Sunday morning, continuing to burn downhill toward Monrovia, Sierra Madre, and Duarte. It is also moving north toward SR2 in the Buckhorn Flat area, and there is significant western growth toward Mt Wilson. The fire has burned 31,991 acres.

Sunday morning an evacuation order was issued for residents north of Elkins Avenue and East of Santa Anita Avenue in Arcadia. Evacuation sites have been set up at Santa Anita Racetrack. The most current information for Arcadia residents is at the city’s website.

Crews are constructing hand line and dozer line where possible to stop the downhill progression. Indirect lines are being used where direct attack is not possible. As visibility allows, helicopters, when available, are being used to support the ground forces. Elsewhere on the fire the focus will be on keeping it south of Highway 2 and west of Highway 39. Indirect dozer line continues to be constructed to keep the fire away from Mount Wilson and to herd it into the Station Fire scar where there will be significantly reduced fire behavior. This fire has mainly been driven by steep terrain and dry fuels, some of which have not seen fire activity in at least 60 years.

 map of the Bobcat Fire
3-D map of the Bobcat Fire at 10:24 p.m. PDT Sept 12, 2020.

Resources assigned to the fire include 18 hand crews, 72 engines, 5 helicopters, and 7 dozers for a total of 813 personnel.

Bobcat Fire
Bobcat Fire September 12, 2020. InciWeb.
Bobcat Fire
Bobcat Fire September 10, 2020. Photo by Tim Dunfee.

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Video shows large number of structures burned during the Almeda Drive Fire in southern Oregon

It impacted the cities of Talent and Phoenix, September 8, 2020

structures burned Almeda Fire Phoenix Talent Oregon
Devastation from the Almeda Drive Fire in the area of Phoenix and Talent in southern Oregon. Screenshot from video shot by Jackson County on September 8, 2020.

The latest official estimate of the number of structures destroyed in the Almeda Drive Fire in southern Oregon on September 8 is 600 homes and 100 commercial buildings. A video appears to indicate that number is conservative.

Authorities have confirmed two deaths. Since lightning and power lines can be ruled out, they have concluded it was human-caused. It is possible the number of fatalities could rise as searches are conducted. It was weeks before searches were concluded after the Camp Fire at Paradise, California. There will be lists of people that are unaccounted for, but many of them will be safe and having difficulty communicating with family and friends.

map Almeda Drive Fire
Map of the Almeda Drive Fire

The Oregonian reports officials are considering arson as a possible cause:

Authorities are investigating the Almeda fire as an arson after discovering human remains in Ashland, the city police chief said. The Jackson County’s Major Assault/Death Investigation Unit is investigating the nature of the death of the person found, according to Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara.

“One thing I can say is that the rumor it was set by Antifa is 100% false information,” the police chief said by email. “We have some leads, and none of it points in that direction.”

structures burned Almeda Drive Fire Phoenix Talent Oregon
Devastation from the Almeda Drive Fire in the area of Phoenix and Talent in southern Oregon. Screenshot from video shot by Jackson County on September 8, 2020.

The FBI is asking the public to not waste the time of law enforcement with conspiracy theories and misinformation.

FBI information fires Oregon

To have been so destructive, it is a little surprising that the fire only burned 3,200 acres. The 40 to 45 mph wind on September 8 was from the southeast, which aligned with the Interstate 5 corridor as it burned like a blowtorch for 8 miles, starting north of Ashland and tearing through the cities of Talent and Phoenix. Photos of what remains of the area show retardant drops made by air tankers, a DC-10 and two MD-87s, but they were largely ineffective. This is no surprise, since a wind stronger than 15 or 20 mph can scatter the retardant off target, or if the wind is stronger and turbulent it can be unsafe to operate an aircraft flying low and slow.

The video shot by Jackson County authorities on September 8 is below. It begins near Ashland, then continues up the Interstate 5 corridor through Talent and Phoenix.

Below are more screenshots from the video.

Continue reading “Video shows large number of structures burned during the Almeda Drive Fire in southern Oregon”

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