Inmate firefighter dies after falling ill on California fire

The 2,681-acre Buck Fire south of Hemet, California, was fully contained on Friday morning, and the North County Times reported that an inmate firefighter died yesterday after he became ill on the fire.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and Cal Fire are investigating the illness and subsequent death of 44-year-old Jimmy Randolph, who died at a hospital in Palm Springs with his family at his bedside. The cause of death will be announced after an autopsy is completed.

(UPDATED July 13, 2017. Mr. Randolf died in a hospital August 19, 2012 seven hours after he was found unresponsive where he was sleeping at the fire. The cause of death was listed as anoxic encephalopathy combined with complications of heat stroke.)

Buck Fire location

Fenner Canyon Conservation Camp on the Angeles National Forest houses minimum-security inmates and is operated jointly by CDCR and Cal Fire.

The Buck Fire also had a microburst rip through the ICP early Thursday, with hard rain and hail and 60 mph gusts that sent tents and much of the camp skittering across the ground. The fire, ignited by lightning last Tuesday, was also plagued with injuries; according to the Desert Sun, one firefighter was taken to a hospital for minor injuries. Three other firefighters incurred minor injuries, along with two civilians, one of whom suffered severe third-degree burns to his legs.

Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies are investigating a marijuana patch discovered in the area. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters encountered two men trying to protect the small grove of plants.

This fire had more than its share of weirdness. The Desert Sun also reported that a 59-year-old local man was charged with driving over a fire captain’s foot on Tuesday afternoon. Gregory Lance Good is being held in lieu of $30,000 bail on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and interfering with a firefighter in the line of duty. He was arraigned in Riverside County Superior Court and entered a “not guilty” plea.

Ponderosa fire forces evacuations near Manton, California. Fire in Lassen NP continues to burn.

Map of Ponderosa and Reading fires 150 pm August 19, 2012
Map showing heat detected by a satellite on the Ponderosa and Reading fires, 1:50 p.m., August 19, 2012. MODIS/Google. (click to enlarge)

The Ponderosa fire just east of the communities of Manton and Shingletown in northern California is forcing the evacuation of many residents in the area 25 miles northeast of Red Bluff. CAL FIRE reports that the fire has burned 12,000 acres and is zero percent contained since it started at about 11:30 on Saturday. At least 3,000 structures are threatened and four have already been destroyed. As of Sunday afternoon 974 personnel, 105 engines, 31 dozers, and 22 hand crews were assigned to the fire.

As you can see in the map above, the Ponderosa Fire is only 12 miles from the Reading  fire in Lassen Volcanic National Park. That fire was not initially suppressed by the National Park Service when it started on July 23, but has now burned almost 28,000 acres and is only 51 percent contained. The estimated costs to the taxpayers for the Reading fire to date is $13 million. Today 795 people were working on the fire

Firefighters make progress on Vallecito Fire northeast of San Diego

Vallecito Fire, Aug 13  6:07 PM
Vallecito Fire, Aug 13 6:07 PM +5 hours after strike. Photo by Lone Ranger

The overall containment of the six fires comprising the Vallecito Lightning Complex 40 miles northeast of San Diego has increased to 85 percent. Most of the roads are now open in the area except for access to San Felipe, which is open for residents only.

  • Vallecito Fire: 519 acres 100% contained, located South-East of Julian
  • Wilson Fire: 11,691 acres 75% contained, located near Scissors crossing North-East of Julian
  • Stewart Fire: 10,630 acres 90% contained, located near Scissors crossing North-East of Julian
  • Cooper Fire: 3 acres 100% contained, located near Scissors crossing North-East of Julian
  • Wynola Fire: 3 acres 100% contained, Hwy 79 at Wynola
  • Shoots Fire: less than 1 acre 100% contained, eastern San Diego Co.

A big THANKS goes out to Lone Ranger who sent us these photos taken a five and six hours after the fire started.

Vallecito Fire, August 13  7:14 PM
Vallecito Fire, August 13 7:14 PM. Photo by Lone Ranger

Former USFS Forest Supervisor blasts NPS for management of Reading Fire

Reading fire burn operation
Reading fire burn operation, August 14, 2012. Photo by Kim Lemke

Steve Fitch, a retired Forest Supervisor of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and “fire behavior expert” is criticizing the National Park Service for their management of the Reading fire, which has burned 25,242 acres. Approximately 16,000 of those acres are inside Lassen Volcanic National Park, 46 miles east of Redding, California. Apparently the NPS chose a limited fire suppression strategy during the early stages of the fire.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Redding Record Searchlight:

I can’t believe they went ahead with letting a fire burn for the ecosystem’s benefit in a season that, for the entire nation, is record dry. That fire is creating its own weather. It’s extreme temperatures there. … They probably nuked 10 percent or 15 percent (of the land).

[…]

Fitch said all signs should have pointed to immediately stopping the fire.

Fitch said prescribed burns, designed to clear out vegetation that climbs up into the trees, normally serve a good purpose in the wetter, cooler months. They prevent fires from using the overgrowth as a ladder to snake up into the tall trees that cover the forest.

But in the summer, high temperatures and low humidity give fires a high growth potential he said.

However, a host of other issues made the bad decision even worse, he said. The Forest Service’s aerial tanker fleet was at one-quarter strength this year.

“Everybody in fire management knew that,” he said. “That country up there, there’s no way to get into it. You’re relying on aerial firefighting resources.”

Firefighters making progress on Lassen NP fire

Reading Fire Lassen National Park
Reading Fire from Harkness, August 7, 2012. Credit: Lassen NPS

Higher humidities and lower temperatures have enabled firefighters on the Reading fire in Lassen National Park in Californina to make some progress in the last couple of days. That may change a little today with the forecast for warmer and drier conditions, including a high in the mid-eighties and a relative humidity of 21 percent.

While the fire behavior has slowed, firefighters have been conducting burnouts and constructing direct fireline where it is feasible. The fire is 46 miles east of Redding, has burned over 25,000 acres, and is listed at 25 percent containment.

Map of Reading Fire in Lassen NP
Map of Reading Fire in Lassen NP, showing heat detected by a satellite at 3:55 a.m. August 16, 2012. The green line is the park boundary. Click to enlarge.

While the firefighters work their butts off today, we can appreciate these photographs provided by the National Park Service.

Reading Fire
Reading Fire, August 5, 2012. Credit: Lassen NPS

Continue reading “Firefighters making progress on Lassen NP fire”

San Diego County fire causes evacuations of San Felipe and Ranchita

Map of Vallecito Lightning Complex, San Diego County
Map of fires in eastern San Diego County, showing heat detected by a satellite on the Vallecito Lightning Complex, at 12:35 p.m., August 15, 2012

The Vallecito Lightning Complex of fires in eastern San Diego County, California is causing evacuations of two communities, San Felipe and Ranchita. Five fires started by lightning have burned a total of 15,525 acres. Two of the fires were contained at 3 acres, and one burned 519 acres before it was contained. But two others, the Wilson and Stewart fires, have burned 8,000 and 7,000 acres, respectively, and are likely to merge. The two large fires are 40-50 percent contained.

On Wednesday highways between Borrego Springs, Julian, and Ranchita were closed. There have been no reports of structures that have burned.

Eight helicopters, CH-53 Super Stallions and CH-46 Sea Knights, from Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station are assisting with the fire, transporting firefighters and making water drops.

Over 1,400 personnel are fighting the fire, along with 77 engines, 48 hand crews, and 28 water tenders.