Historic late October California wildfires

Late October has historically seen many large destructive wildfires in California. In addition to the Esperanza fire that killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters seven years ago today, October 20 through November 1 at times has been an extremely busy period of the year for firefighters.

  • October 20, 1991. The Tunnel Fire (or Oakland Hills or East Bay Hills Fire) killed 25 people (23 civilians, 1 police officer and 1 firefighter), injured 150, and destroyed 2,449 single-family dwellings and 437 apartment and condominium units in Oakland.
  • October 21, 2007. Witch, Harris, Poomacha, Horno/Ammo, Rice, Ranch, Buckweed, Santiago, and Slide fires in the Southern California counties of San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura.
  • October 21 to 26, 2003 Piru, Grand Prix, Old, Paradise, Padua, Simi, Roblar 2, Verdale, Mountain, and Otay.
  • October 25, 2003. The Cedar Fire east of San Diego is still ranked as the largest fire in the recorded history of California. It started late in the afternoon and the first night killed 14 people living in Wildcat Canyon and Eucalyptus Hills who had little or no warning. Eight of those killed died while they were evacuating. The fire burned 273,246 acres, and destroyed 2,232 homes in San Diego, Alpine, Harbison Canyon, Crest, Cuyamaca, Julian, and Santa Ysabel. While trying to defend a house near Santa Ysabel, fire Captain Steven Rucker, 38, from the Novato Fire Department was overrun by the fire and killed on October 29.
  • November 1, 1966. On the Loop Fire, the El Cariso Hotshots were trapped by flames as they worked on a steep hillside in Pacoima Canyon on the Angeles National Forest. Ten members of the crew perished that day. Another two members succumbed from burn injuries in the following weeks. Most of the nineteen members who survived were critically burned and remained hospitalized for some time.

Prescribed fire escapes on Fort Ord near Monterey

Fort Ord prescribed fire
Fort Ord prescribed fire at 11:11 a.m. October 15, 2013 nine hours before it escaped. Photo by Andrew Po.

A prescribed fire on Fort Ord near Monterey, California escaped Tuesday. The objective of the fire was to remove vegetation to make it easier to clear the area of unexploded ordnance. The plan was to burn 341 acres but it blacked an additional 100 acres. The fire was ignited in the morning and at 6 p.m. the Army said it was contained. Between 9 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. a large smoke plume was seen in the area.

This is the third escaped prescribed fire on Fort Ord in the last 16 years. In 1997, a planned 100-acre burn turned into a 700-acre wildfire. In 2003, a scheduled 490-acre burn jumped containment lines and burned 1,470 acres.


UPDATE October 19, 2013: Rock, who was at the prescribed fire (see his comment below) sent us this photo taken at about 10 a.m., hours before the fire escaped.

Fort Ord prescribed fire 10 a.m. October 15, 2013
Fort Ord prescribed fire 10 a.m. October 15, 2013. Photo by Rock.


Thanks go out to Rock

California: Deluz Fire, Camp Pendleton

The Deluz Fire started near the Naval Hospital on Camp Pendleton southwest of Fallbrook, California Friday afternoon. By Sunday night the spread had stopped after burning about 2,500 acres and it was reported to be 20 percent contained. Some residents of the O’Neill Heights Housing area were evacuated Saturday but were allowed to return Sunday afternoon. Southern California Interagency Team 1 assumed command of the fire at 2:00 p.m. Sunday.

NBC News has a very interesting time-lapse video of  images from the Red Mountain web cam showing the fire from the moment it started.

The video below from CNN was shot by Maylette Brown at Camp Pendleton. She said “The fire started from the housing area and was pushed towards the Naval Base Hospital. The closer the fire got to the hospital, the thicker the flames and smoke got to us.”


Betty White, honorary Forest Ranger

Betty White, yes, THAT Betty White, the actress, is featured in a new fire prevention video fulfilling one of her duties as an honorary Forest Ranger. She worked with the California fire prevention agencies to create One Less Spark, One Less Wildfire.

Ms. White was designated an honorary Forest Ranger in 2010. She said in interviews that she wanted to be a forest ranger as a little girl, but that women were not allowed to do that then.

Betty White honorary Forest Ranger
Betty White (center, obviously) and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell (left), November 9, 2010