A better look at the pyrocumulus over the Chuckegg Creek Fire in Alberta

Compare two satellite images

These May 26 images from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite were processed by Jess Clark of the Forest Service Geospatial Technology and Applications Center. They highlight the northern portion of the Chuckegg Creek Fire in Northern Alberta that has burned 130,000 hectares (321,000 acres).

In an article yesterday, May 27, we posted a low-resolution satellite image of the fire in which we pointed out shadows cast by towering pyrocumulus clouds over areas that were burning intensely. These photos that Mr. Clark sent are more zoomed in and have higher resolution.

satellite photo Chuckegg fire May 26 2019
Satellite photo of the Chuckegg Creek Fire May 26, 2019 processed by Jess Clark, USFS. Visible bands. Click to enlarge.

The photo we posted yesterday and the one above utilize the bands of light that are visible to the naked eye and are what you would see if you were flying over the fire 50 miles above the ground.

The false color image below uses bands that minimized the appearance of smoke, enhanced water vapor in the pyrocumulus, and highlighted heat from the fire.

satellite photo Chuckegg fire May 26 2019
Satellite photo of the Chuckegg Creek Fire May 26, 2019 processed by Jess Clark, USFS. Enhancing water vapor, heat, and minimizing smoke. Click to enlarge.

Mr. Clark explained the utility of these images:

“This really highlights just how important multispectral imaging is for those of us interested in seeing fire effects and extent on the ground. The National Infrared Operations Program (NIROPS) maps fire extent on a tactical basis with much higher resolution aerial imagery, but there are occasions when this space-based data helps corroborate or clarify the data NIROPS interpreters couldn’t see. Our main use of imagery like what I’ve attached is for severity mapping after the fire’s out to aid emergency response teams (BAER) in their mitigation planning efforts. It’s also used by the silviculture folks as they plan reforestation efforts, if appropriate.”

Firefighters continue to defend High Level, Alberta

The Chuckegg Creek Fire has burned more than a quarter-million acres

aerial photo Chuckegg Creek Fire alberta
The Chuckegg Creek Fire, looking west along highway 58, west of High Level, Alberta on Saturday evening, May 25, 2019. (photograph by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta).

 

(Originally published at 10:15 a.m. MDT May 27, 2019)

The Chuckegg Creek Fire in northern Alberta has burned more than a quarter-million acres just west of the town of High Level. Alberta Wildfire announced Sunday that they estimate it has grown to 107,000 hectares, or 264,000 acres. (UPDATE at 2:38 p.m. MDT May 27: Alberta Fire now says the fire has burned 127,000 hectares [314,000 acres – almost one-third of a million].)

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Chuckegg Creek Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Dry conditions and the lack of recent precipitation has caused the blaze to grow significantly on Sunday. Pushed by a wind out of the west, large pyrocumulus clouds formed over the fire north of Highway 58 casting shadows that could be seen in the satellite photo below.

Chuckegg Creek Fire Alberta satellite photo
Satellite photo of the Chuckegg Creek Fire near High Level, Alberta May 26, 2019. The arrows point to a shadow caused by high, towering pyrocumulus clouds caused by intense burning. The red dots represent heat.
map Chuckegg Creek Fire Alberta
Map showing heat detected by a satellite on the Chuckegg Creek Fire near High Level, Alberta during the seven days prior to May 27, 2019.

The weather forecast for Monday calls for moderate south and southeast winds which should cause most of the spread to be on the west and northwest sides, but Tuesday and Wednesday should bring stronger winds out of the west and northwest along with humidities in the 20s. The high temperature will be 91F (33C) on Tuesday. If the fuels north of highway 58 and northwest of High Level are conducive to burning, the fire could grow closer to the town under those conditions.

weather forecast Chuckegg Creek Fire
Weather forecast for High Level, Alberta, Tuesday May 28, 2019. Temperature shown in Centigrade.

Below are excerpts from a Sunday evening update by Alberta Wildfire:


Today’s weather conditions led to increased wildfire activity. Extreme fire behaviour was observed on the north and west sides of the fire, away from the town. The weather also created challenges along the established fire guard. Wildfire and Structural firefighters were active on controlling hotspots along the fire perimeter in the priority areas around High Level. Airtankers worked today to drop fire retardant to reinforce the fire guard that heavy equipment and firefighters placed to protect the community and infrastructure.

The weather forecast tomorrow expects a cold front to arrive, bringing dry conditions and variable winds. This forecast will produce extreme fire behaviour conditions again tomorrow for firefighters.

  • Heavy equipment continues to work along the northeast side of the fire and make good progress on this section of the fire perimeter.
  • Firefighters have completed a successful controlled burn technique to create a containment boundary along highway 35 south of High Level, highway 58 west of High Level and the fire perimeter, as weather conditions allowed firefighters to do so.
  • Alberta Wildfire firefighters in conjunction with municipal firefighters, along with air support from helicopters and air tankers continue to work hard to contain the fire. The main area of spread remains away from town. There have been no homes or businesses damaged to date but the threat remains.
  • The High Level Fire Department and other municipal firefighters have set up sprinklers on the southwest and northwest side of town. In addition, structural protection has been completed on Mackenzie County homes southeast of High Level, Tolko and Norbord.
  • Structural firefighters have also been taking preventive measures on homes. This includes removing debris from yards, removing patio furniture from decks and other flammable material.
  • There are 194 structural firefighters that continue to establish and maintain structural protection on homes in the Town of High Level and on other critical values at risk within Mackenzie County. Alberta Wildfire has 400,firefighters along with 28 helicopters on this fire. There are more resources arriving daily.
  • Atco has restored power supply and is supporting normal operations to Mackenzie County, Town of High Level, La Crete, Fort Vermilion & Dene Tha’ First Nation. Atco has secured large-scale backup generators that can be drawn on to provide power to communities, if needed.

Firefighters working to protect town of High Level

The Chuckegg Creek Fire in Northern Alberta has burned more than 241,000 acres (97,600 hectares)

aerial photo Chuckegg Creek Fire High Level Alberta
An aerial view of the firing operation on the Chuckegg Creek Fire southwest of High Level, Alberta.

For several days firefighters have been conducting a firing operation to protect the town of High Level, Alberta. The Chuckegg Creek Fire has primarily spread to the northwest but the east flank of the blaze has moved closer to the community of 3,159 residents.

The burning operation is southwest of the town, using Highways 58 and 35 as anchors.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Chuckegg Creek Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Alberta Wildfire personnel in conjunction with municipal firefighting resources and air support from helicopters and air tankers continue to focus containment efforts around the fire perimeter south of High Level. With current weather conditions firefighters have been effective due to lighter winds out of the northeast. This aids crews protecting power line poles west and south of the Town. The main direction of spread remains away from town. That is expected to change Sunday when the winds will be out of the south, southwest, and northwest accompanied by warmer temperatures, 80F (27C). .

Heavy equipment has been working on the northeast side of the fire and continues to make progress consolidating a line around the fire perimeter. They have built approximately eight kilometers of containment line.

The High Level Fire Department and other municipal firefighters have completed structure protection on the southwest and northwest sides of the community. In addition, structural protection is complete on Mackenzie County homes southeast of High Level, Tolko and Norbord.

map Chuckegg Creek Fire High Level Alberta
Map of the Chuckegg Creek Fire near High Level, Alberta. Alberta Wildfire, May 23, 2019.

Firefighters conduct firing operation to protect town of High Level, Alberta

The #ChuckeggCreekFire has burned 92,000 hectares (227,000 acres) in northern Alberta

firing operation burnout protect High Level Alberta Chuckegg Fire
Smoke from a firing operation firefighters conducted on May 22 along Highways 58 and 35 to help protect the town of High Level, Alberta. Photo by Alberta Wildfire.

Firefighters battling the Chuckegg Creek Fire in Northern Alberta, Canada took advantage of a wind coming out of the northeast Wednesday to conduct a burnout or firing operation along Highways 58 and 35 to help protect the town of High Level. The goal is to eliminate fuel by burning to make it more difficult for the fire to make a run into the town if pushed by a southwest or west wind.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Chuckegg Creek Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Below is more information from Alberta Wildfire:

  • Due to northeast winds and resources the fire has not reached the Town of High Level. The main area of spread remains away from town.
  • The High Level Fire Department and other municipal firefighters have completed structure protection on the southwest side of town and is being established on the northwest side of the town. In addition, structural protection has been established on Mackenzie County homes southeast of High Level, Tolko and Norbord.
  • Structural firefighters have also been taking preventive measures on homes. This includes removing debris from yards, removing patio furniture from decks and other flammable material.
  • [Wednesday] afternoon, firefighters conducted a successful controlled burn operation to create containment along highway 35 south of High Level, and west along highway 58. Further ignition operations will be utilized when conditions allow.
  • Alberta Wildfire firefighters along with air support from helicopters and air tankers continue to focus containment efforts south of High Level, and with current conditions firefighters continue to be effective, due to lighter winds out of the northeast. This in result continued to aided crews on protecting power line poles west and south of the Town of High Level.
  • The last recorded size is approximately 92,000 hectares. [227,000 acres]
  • Heavy equipment has been working along the northeast side of the fire and continue to make progress on consolidating a guard around the fire perimeter.
  • There are 110 structural firefighters that continue to establish and maintain structural protection on homes in the Town of High Level and on other critical values at risk within Mackenzie County. Alberta Wildfire has 76, firefighters along with 24 helicopters on this fire. There are more resources arriving daily.

The weather forecast for High Level, Canada predicts winds out of the northeast or north-northeast through Saturday, which should make it possible for firefighters to continue the burnout or construct firelines on the east and northeast sides of the fire. Sunday will bring warm temperatures and winds out of the southwest to southeast which could challenge the 76 wildland firefighters assigned to the blaze.

map High Level Alberta Chuckegg Fire
Map by Wildfire Today showing heat that was detected in the 24 hours previous to 5:21 a.m. MDT May 23, 2019. The arrows indicate where firefighters conducted a burnout or firing operation along Highways 58 and 35 to help protect the town of High Level, Alberta.

The town of High Level, Alberta is being evacuated

The entire community is under an evacuation order due to the approaching Chuckegg Creek Fire.

evacuation plan map High Level, Alberta
Map for the evacuation plan for the town of High Level, Alberta. Evacuations will be carried out by zones, within town limits.

The town is in the northern portion of Alberta and had a population of 3,159 in 2016.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Chuckegg Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

An area north of the town of High Level is under a voluntary evacuation notice.

Map Chuckegg Creek HWF042 wildfire
Map of the Chuckegg Creek HWF042 wildfire southwest of High Level, Alberta at 3:12 p.m. CDT May 20, 2019. Click to enlarge.

Some of the homes in High Level are very close together which will make it difficult for firefighters to defend the structures if the fire enters the community pushed by a strong wind.

Homes in community threatened by wildfire in Alberta are dangerously close together

In some areas the homes in High Level, Alberta are closer than the homes were in Paradise, California before the Camp Fire of November, 2018.

housing density High Level, Alberta Chuckegg Creek Fire
Satellite photo showing housing density in High Level, Alberta, which is threatened by the Chuckegg Creek fire. Note the graphic scale at bottom-left. The spacing between some of the homes is about 10 feet. Photo from Google Earth dated Sept. 19, 2019. Click to enlarge.

The entire town of High Level, Alberta is being evacuated today, May 20, 2019. If the Chuckegg Creek Fire burns close to or into the town while pushed by a strong wind, it could be a repeat of the nightmare scenario we saw last November in Paradise, California when the Camp Fire spread from house to house.

Map of the Chuckegg Creek HWF042 wildfire
Map of the Chuckegg Creek HWF042 wildfire southwest of High Level, Alberta at 5:18 a.m. CDT May 20, 2019.

Monday at 3:12 p.m. MDT the Chuckegg Fire was about four miles southwest of High Level. Moderate or strong winds are expected to push the head of the fire toward the northwest  this week, but spread on the flanks will most likely cause it to move closer to the town at the same time. By the weekend the forecast calls for winds out of the west that would seriously increase the threat to the town unless the 64 firefighters assigned on the 170,000-acre fire can perform heroic measures to stop the fire in that area.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Chuckegg Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

In some neighborhoods in Paradise last Fall the homes were about 18 to 20 feet apart according to the measurements we took using Google Earth. In High Level, that separation distance is about half that — in some areas the homes are about 10 feet apart.

When one structure is ignited by a burning ember that may have traveled a quarter of a mile or more from a fire (or a burning home) the radiant heat alone can ignite the homes on both sides. Then you can have a self-powered conflagration spreading house to house through a city. When the structures are that close together, the homeowners have not reduced the fuel in the Home Ignition Zone, and the home itself is not built to FireWise standards, a massive disaster can be the result. A strong wind exacerbates the problem. In Paradise the wind kept much of the heat and the embers close to the ground, preheating fuels ahead. The canopies of some of the trees survived, but virtually nothing near the ground remained unburned.