Thanksgiving power shutoffs due to fire danger could affect 76,000 in Southern California

Red Flag Warnings November 26, 2020

Southern California Edison has notified some of their customers that strong Santa Ana winds on Thursday and Friday could result in a preemptive power shutoff on Thanksgiving in order to reduce the chance of wildfires being ignited by power line failures caused by the winds.

The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag Warnings from Ventura County south to San Diego County as well as the Lower Colorado River Valley.

The Red Flag Warning goes into effect at 2 p.m. Thursday about the time many Southern Californians will be thinking about sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner. It will end at 6 p.m. Friday.

The forecasters expect 40 to 55 mph northeast winds in the lower elevations with isolated gusts to 65 mph in the mountains, with 12 to 25 percent relative humidity Thursday dropping to 8 to 15 percent Friday. The wind will decrease during the weekend but it will remain breezy and dry.

Red Flag Warnings November 26, 2020
Red Flag Warnings November 26, 2020.

The Angeles National Forest will have extra firefighters on duty through this wind event.

Several wildfires pushed by very strong winds break out in Northern California and Western Nevada

Near Reno, Nevada and in California, Walker, Doyle, and Vinton

November 18, 2020   |    3:28 p.m. PT

We have found better satellite data for the location of the Mountain View Fire at Walker California, which confirms that as of 8:35 p.m. PT November 17 it had spread from Highway 395 northwest across the state line into Nevada.

Map of Mountain View Fire
Map of Mountain View Fire, showing heat detected by satellites as late as 8:35 p.m. PT Nov. 17, 2020.

At 3:10 p.m. PT Wednesday the weather conditions at Walker were 42 degrees, 80 percent relative humidity, with wind out of the southeast at 2 mph — conditions not conducive to rapid spread of a vegetation fire.


November 18, 2020   |    12:39 p.m. PST

California fires, November 18-19, 2020
California fires, Nov. 18-19, 2020

A number of wildfires broke out in Northeastern California and Western Nevada Tuesday as a cold front raced through the area.

Low humidity and very strong winds gusting at 40 to 60 mph caused the fires to spread rapidly to the northeast or east.

We will update this article as more information becomes available.

Pinehaven Fire

The Pinehaven Fire on the southwest side of Reno, Nevada started at 1 p.m. Tuesday southwest of McCarran Blvd. in the Caughlin Ranch area and crossed the road spreading to Cashill and Skyline Boulevards. It was pushed until 3 p.m. by 20 to 35 mph winds gusting at 40 to 60 mph from the west-southwest while the relative humidity was in the 20s.

Over a tenth of an inch of precipitation was recorded at weather stations Tuesday afternoon.

The fire destroyed five homes and damaged 15 others before the spread was stopped at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The entire area affected was about 1,200 acres but the fire spotted, leaving some areas unburned.

Pinehaven Fire burns home Reno Nevada
The Pinehaven Fire burns a home in theh Caughlin Ranch area of Reno, NV. Photo by Truckee Meadow Fire Protection District.

Laura 2 Fire

While the Pinehaven Fire was burning into Reno, the Laura 2 Fire started in the community of Doyle, California 38 air miles to the northwest near U.S. 395. In an update at about 11 a.m. Wednesday the Bureau of Land Management said it had burned 2,000 acres in Lassen County. Rain has slowed the spread. Officials estimate 20 structures have burned.

Mountain View Fire

Mountain View Fire
Mountain View Fire at 10:36 a.m. PST November 18, 2020.

The Mountain View Fire near Walker, California has burned 20,879 acres and resulted in one fatality, according to the Mono County Sheriff’s Office and the BLM. It started in the vicinity of Walker and was pushed by winds out of the west-southwest at 30 to 50 mph gusting at 60 to 78.

There are reports that dozens of structures burned.

The fire has spread into Douglas County, Nevada near the Lyon County line. On the map below, it is not certain that the red dots in Nevada are part of the Mountain View Fire. If it is, clouds may have blocked the view from the satellite between the two areas where heat is shown. Or, between satellite overflights light vegetation burned and cooled, leaving not enough heat to be detected. Precipitation that began at 1 a.m. Wednesday slowed the spread.

Mountain View Fire map
Map of the Mountain View Fire showing heat detected by a satellite as late as 2:24 a.m. PST November 18, 2020 (the red dots). It is not certain that the red dots in Nevada are part of the Mountain View Fire. If it is, clouds may have blocked the view from the satellite between the two areas where heat is shown. Or, between satellite overflights light vegetation burned and cooled, leaving not enough heat to be detected.
Mountain View Fire
Mountain View Fire November 17, 2020. Photo by by Mono County Sheriff’s Office.
Mountain View Fire
Mountain View Fire at 3:05 p.m. PT November 17, 2020.

Gulch Fire

The Plumas National Forest announced that the Gulch Fire burned about 150 acres near Vinton, California before it was contained at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Report released on burnover of firefighters on Silverado Fire

Two firefighters are still in critical condition in Orange County, California

Silverado Fire spot fires burnover firefighters injured

The two firefighters that suffered very serious injuries while battling the Silverado Fire are still in critical condition, on ventilators, and in induced comas. However, they have survived multiple surgeries and are improving, but they have a long and tough road ahead.

They are members of a 17-person Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) hand crew that was assigned to the fire east of Irvine, California on October 26, 2020 when the fire burned over their location. In addition to the two firefighters still hospitalized, another suffered radiant heat injuries and other firefighters had superficial heat injuries.

The OCFA has released an Informational Summary Report, or Green Sheet, about the incident.

The burnover occurred at about noon during a Red Flag Warning for strong offshore winds, low humidity, and dry fuels. The weather conditions at the time were 60 degrees, 8 percent relative humidity, and winds out of the north-northeast at 16 mph with gusts to 42 mph. The fire was burning in grass and brush, with live fuel moistures for the chamise and sage at or below the critical levels.

Map, Silverado Fire burnover October 26, 2020
Map, Silverado Fire burnover October 26, 2020. OCFA.

Very briefly, the firefighters were along an indirect mid-slope dozer line with fire below and unburned vegetation on both sides. They were firing out below the  line, igniting with drip torches until the wind kept blowing out the flames on the wicks, so they switched to using fusees. Several spot fires occurred on the slope above the dozer line which were suppressed by the crew. Another spot fire which grew rapidly about 80 feet above the line was attacked by eight firefighters with hand tools and three engine crew members with a fire hose.

Shortly thereafter, a second rapidly spreading spot fire started below and upwind of the eleven firefighters. They escaped from the area as best they could back down to the dozer line.

Escape routes Silverado Fire

Five hand crew members were impacted by radiant and convective heat, reporting singed hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes while stumbling out of the way of the second spot fire’s path. The remaining three hand crew members, according to the report, “were impacted significantly”.

The two most seriously injured personnel were transported with paramedics in an engine and a hand crew vehicle to Orange County Global Medical Center, arriving at 12:32 p.m. and 12:57 p.m.

There was no mention in the report of fire shelters, either being carried or deployed by the firefighters. We have unconfirmed information that they had fire shelters but there wasn’t enough time to deploy them.

The Silverado Fire burned 12,466 acres and destroyed 5 structures.

In 2007 in Orange County 12 firefighters on the Santiago Fire were entrapped and deployed fire shelters, but there were no serious injuries.

Silverado Fire map, October 28, 2020.
Silverado Fire map, October 28, 2020.

Former Carson Helicopters executive fears COVID-19, requests release from prison

Steven Metheny’s falsification of records for a helicopter led to the deaths of nine firefighters and crew members in 2008

Carson Helicopters
Photo credit: Carson Helicopters

Steven Metheny, 50, the former Vice President of Carson Helicopters has requested compassionate release from prison because he fears he will contract COVID-19 while serving time in the federal prison in Lompoc, California.

He filed the request in October and on November 2 Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Potter wrote in a response, “The mere existence of COVID, without more, is not sufficient to justify compassionate release.” Potter argued that Metheny’s weight is the only eligible health condition that increases his risk of COVID-19. “But, obesity alone should not result in defendant’s release,” Potter wrote.

Mr. Metheny’s falsification of records for a Sikorsky S-61N helicopter under contract to the U.S. Forest Service led to the deaths of nine firefighters and crew members in 2008.

Mr. Metheny was accused of falsifying performance charts and the weights of helicopters his company had under contract to the U.S. Forest Service for supporting wildland fire operations. As of a result of his fraud, a Carson helicopter crashed while trying to lift off with too much weight from a remote helispot on the Iron 44 Fire on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, California in 2008. He was sentenced to 12 years and 7 months in prison in 2015 for attempting to defraud the government out of more than $32 million and has been serving time in Lompoc, California.

Nine people were killed, including the pilot-in-command, a U.S. Forest Service check pilot, and seven firefighters. The copilot and three firefighters were seriously injured.

Mr. Metheny went to great lengths after the crash to attempt to conceal the fraud. When he knew that investigators would be examining the company’s operations, he directed other employees to remove weight from other similar helicopters, including taking off a fuel cell and replacing a very heavy battery with an empty shell of a battery. Some of the employees refused to participate in that deception, with one explaining that he was done lying about the helicopter’s weight.

During the trial in 2014 defense lawyer Steven Myers argued that the helicopter pilot could have avoided the crash by doing a standard maneuver on takeoff, where the pilot hovers and checks his gauges.

Judge Aiken who presided over the trial dismissed that argument, noting her father had flown helicopters in the Korean War, crashing 13 times. “Whether the gauges were right or not, the pilot didn’t have the right information,” Aiken told Mr. Metheny.

In June, 2020 the same judge refused to reduce Mr. Metheny’s sentence when he argued he had ineffective counsel. He said he would not have pleaded guilty in 2014 if his attorney had told him that crash victims were going to be allowed to testify at his sentencing, or that he’d be ordered to repay tens of millions of dollars in restitution upon release from prison. Judge Aiken called Mr. Metheny’s claims that his defense lawyer made false promises “palpably incredible.”

The next hearing on Mr. Metheny’s motion for compassionate release is a phone conference scheduled for November 13 in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon.

Killed in the crash were pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54; USFS check pilot Jim Ramage, 63; and firefighters Shawn Blazer, 30; Scott Charlson, 25; Matthew Hammer, 23; Edrik Gomez, 19; Bryan Rich, 29; David Steele, 19; and Steven “Caleb” Renno, 21. The copilot and three other firefighters were seriously injured.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Pat and Kelly.

Report issued for water tender rollover in Northern California

Mendocino National Forest, September 27, 2020

Water Tender rollover
The water tender after the rollover. September 27, 2020. IMT photo.

This is the 66th article on Wildfire Today about rollovers of wildland fire vehicles. But, it is the first we have heard about in 2020.

From the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center:


At approximately 0755 hours on September 27th, August Complex South Zone communications was notified of a Water Tender accident via radio by another Water Tender Operator who was also working in the area.

The Water Tender involved in the accident was full with approximately 4,000 gallons of water being utilized for road dust abatement.

Before experiencing radio challenges, the first Water Tender on scene was able to notify communications that there had been an accident and the Water Tender Operator had an injury to the shoulder, back and neck.

It is unknown if the driver was ejected from the vehicle during the accident, but the first water tender on scene did observe the driver climbing out from underneath the front bumper area of the wreckage.

Due to the accident’s location and lack of clarity of the nature of the accident/injuries, the Incident Management Team started a Life Flight response per the Medical and Incident Within an Incident (IWI) Plan. Upon activating the local Life Flight care provider, it was determined that the closest two helicopters were unavailable due to maintenance issues, leaving the third option of an ETA of 35 minutes. The decision was made to utilize the exclusive use Helicopter 514, staffed with an EMT, to transport the paitient with a 10 minute ETA.

A Safety Officer assigned to the incident arrived on scene, provided a size-up of the incident and assumed command of the IWI. When units arrived on scene, the Water Tender was upright, resting on its wheels against a tree with its tank separated from the chassis.

The area of the accident had a suitable landing spot. The patient was loaded into the helicopter and taken to the local trauma center for evaluation.

Water Tender rollover
Photo shows the divot in the road created by the upper passenger corner of the Water Tender’s tank during the rollover. September 27, 2020. IMT photo.

LESSONS

  • Always take the time to put on your seatbelt. This should be a given because it is a state law, but in a rush to accomplish a task or when a task is short duration, clicking a seatbelt can get skipped. A properly worn seatbelt can reduce injuries during an unintended outcome.
  • It is critical for any vehicle operator to keep vehicles at a reduced speed to the extent possible while vehicles are under heavy load driving on surfaces with increased stopping distances.
  • Beware of soft shoulders, narrow sections, blind corners, compromised visibility, and distractions— any combination of these conditions is especially dangerous.
  • Given the frequency with which water tenders roll on wildland fires, be very judicious about assigning work for tenders. Always ask: “Is this mission necessary?”

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has reports for 13 Water Tender Rollovers from 2015 to 2020.

Report: Firefighter killed on August Complex was assisting with backfiring operation

The firefighter was the engine boss on a contract engine from Texas working on the fire in Northern California

August Complex Fatality
Leslie Johnson / Cal Fire / San Francisco Chronicle

Additional information now available about the circumstances in which a firefighter was killed August 31 on the August Complex of fires in northern California reveals that the tragedy occurred during a  backfiring operation. The San Francisco Chronicle reported details about the fatality after receiving documents from CAL FIRE obtained through a public records request.

Diana Jones Cresson Volunteer Fire Department, Texas
Diana Jones (Photo by Cresson Volunteer Fire Department)

Diana Jones, 63, from Cresson, Texas, was the engine boss of a three-person contract engine crew that was assigned to the fire on the Mendocino National Forest. Along with supervisors and at least one other engine they were on a 20-foot wide logging road igniting and holding a mid-slope backfire below the road.

view of accident site
Google Earth 3-D view of accident site

When a spot fire occurred above the road Jones’ crew applied water on the fire. The spot fire continued to grow and then the fire in the drainage below the road intensified. The supervisor ordered the crew to “Get out of there!” but Jones could not hear the command. The driver got out of the engine to tell her that they had to leave, and then picked up a nozzle to knock down the flames.

At that time Jones got in the driver’s seat in order to move the truck  but another engine farther up the road had turned around to come back to help. With the narrow dirt road then blocked by the second engine in the front and two other vehicles to the rear, the driver, still dismounted, told her to follow him or her toward the second engine.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

As the engine’s back-up alarm beeped, signaling the vehicle was in reverse, Jones’ right wheels inched closer to the edge. The commander yelled over the radio: “E1, stop, stop, stop, stop … stop!”

The engine tumbled off the dirt shoulder, the report said, slamming into a tree about 15 feet below.

“Vehicle over side, in the fire,” a commander radioed, asking for air support.

The firefighter in the backseat tried to pull Jones out of the engine, as windows popped and shattered from the heat, but the temperature became too intense. The firefighter exited the driver’s-side rear door and crawled to the road with burns to the legs, arms, hands and face, the report said.

The task force leader put on breathing apparatus to search for Jones and the engine operator, but Jones suffered “fatal thermal injuries due to the engine burn over,” Cal Fire concluded. The report does not indicate whether the preemptive backfire or the larger conflagration ultimately burned Jones.

The Chronicle’s article had a little background information about Jones:

Jones had joined the Cresson volunteers five years ago after her husband died and she moved closer to her two sons. She had worked as a hairdresser and in logistics in the Middle East, said Ron Becker, chief of the small Texas fire department.

“She took to it aggressively and very well,” said Becker, adding she got her license as an emergency medical technician and certification in wildfire fighting. “I would never suggest to you that she didn’t know what she was doing and I’d never suggest that she wasn’t totally capable of what she was doing.”

August Complex Fatality
Leslie Johnson / Cal Fire / San Francisco Chronicle