Jesusita fire burn over preliminary report

CalFire has released the “Blue Sheet” or preliminary report about four burn overs that occurred on the Jesusita fire last week.  We were aware of the one in which firefighters took refuge in a structure and suffered burns. Two of them remain hospitalized at Grossman Burn Center near Los Angeles.

But it turns out that there were four burn over incidents that involved firefighters sheltering in structures or their vehicles.

Below are the entire contents of the report.




Firefighter Burn Injury

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Jesusita Fire


Firefighter Burn Injury Investigation


This Preliminary Summary Report is intended as an aid in accident prevention, and to provide factual information from the first 24 hours of the accident review.  To that end it is published and distributed within a short time frame.  Information contained within may be subject to revision as further investigation is conducted, and other reports and documents are received.


On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 6, 2009, several engine companies assigned to structure protection on the Jesusita Fire, North of the City of Santa Barbara, experienced extreme fire behavior related to the surfacing of strong down slope (sundowner) winds typical of the area.  This sudden increase in fire behavior resulted in the burn over of a Ventura County engine company, causing burns and smoke inhalation to the engine crew members.   During this same fire behavior event, several other engine companies and overhead personnel were required to take refuge in structures and apparatus. This event resulted in significant damage to two Type One engines, two light duty vehicles, and minor injuries to fire personnel.


Strike Team VNC 1580A was assigned to structure protection in the Spyglass Ridge Road area of Mission Canyon. One of the Engine Companies had deployed two attack lines around structures, and one line for engine protection. At approximately 1610 hrs, a strong down canyon wind spread the fire toward the structure.  The firefighters retreated into the structure and were forced out when the structure became well involved.  Three Firefighters were transported to the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks where the Firefighters were admitted for burns and smoke inhalation.

Strike Team LFD 1001A was assigned to structure protection in the Holly Road area of Mission Canyon. During the increased fire behavior, individuals assigned to two light duty vehicles took refuge inside structures.  The two light duty vehicles were destroyed by fire.  One minor eye injury was reported.  The individual was treated and released at a local hospital.  Civilians on Holly Road that chose to stay after the evacuation order was given remained in their home through the increased fire behavior event. These civilians were escorted from the area afterwards with no injuries and minor damage to the structure.

Strike Team LFD 1002A was assigned to structure protection in the Palomino Road area.  Strike Team LAC 1240A responded from staging to assist Strike Team LFD 1002A.  In the process of turning around one engine from Strike Team LAC 1240A, the fire behavior increased.  The Engine Company attempted to defend the engine.  As the fire behavior continued to increase, the Engine Company took refuge in the closest structure.  The structure subsequently caught fire.  The Engine Company escaped the structure without injury, returned to the Engine and exited the area.  The engine sustained minor damage.

Strike Team XVE 1550A was assigned to structure protection in the Tunnel Road area.  A Santa Paula Engine from the Strike Team was providing structure protection as the fire behavior increased.  The Engine Company took refuge in a structure.  Due to changing fire behavior the engine was repositioned and received minor damage while backing.  An engine company from Ventura City, also assigned to the Strike Team, took refuge in their engine while engaged in structure protection in the same area. While inside the engine, fire shelters were taken from the plastic containers but not deployed.   No injuries occurred.

Recommendations For Immediate Corrective Actions

  • Assure resources assigned to staging are fully briefed on current and expected weather and fire behavior.
  • Have communications broadcast significant changes in fire weather.
  • Insure all personnel utilize appropriate PPE at all times.


Update on Jesusita fire

Fog has allowed firefighters to make significant progress on the Jesusita fire near Santa Barbara, California. A more refined count on structures burned resulted in the new figures of 31 77 homes and 2 detached garages being destroyed, and 47 22 other homes being damaged (CalFire changed their numbers). About 8,733 acres have burned and the 4,543 personnel assigned to the fire have achieved 55% containment.

All but the residents of 140 parcels have been allowed to return to their homes as mandatory evacuation orders are being lifted.

UPDATE @ 7:40 a.m. PT, May 11

The fire is 65% contained.  According to InciWeb:

With the influence of the fog the fire continues to lay down. No significant fire growth. Foothill Road (HWY 192) opened at 1000 today while HWY 154 remains closed. Some areas on the West side of the fire remain evacuated. Repopulation has occurred resulting in 90% of the evacuated area able to return home.

Joe Waterman, the Incident Commander for the fire, said investigators have concluded that the fire was caused by someone using a power tool to clear brush.  The fire started near the Jesusita trail.

Los Angeles County supervising fire dispatcher Art Marrujo said a private weed abatement crew was using machinery to clear brush when a spark from their equipment started the fire. Other reports said the device being used was a weed wacker.


Map of Jesusita fire perimeter

It’s tough to find maps that show the perimeter of the Jesusita fire, but Northtree Fire put this one together with data from the USGS wildfire viewer,

The data is from May 6 at 4 p.m, before the big run that burned dozens of homes that evening.

KEYT reported at 8:00 p.m. PT that 2,739 acres and 75 residences have burned in the Jesusita fire.  The fire has jumped some control lines on the west side and is very active on that flank, moving toward Highway 154. The east side is also active.

Jesusita fire: Engine crew takes refuge in house

From the AP:

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Battalion Chief Scott Smith’s yellow jacket reeked of wood smoke and his eyes were red with exhaustion at the Emergency Operations Center.

Earlier, one of his crews nearly lost its engine to the flames and Smith fetched them out of a burning home where they had taken shelter Wednesday amid a wildfire near Santa Barbara that had charred 500 acres and driven thousands from their homes.

“The fire front came up the hill fast and got in front of the engine,” which was backed into a driveway at the end of a narrow street, said Smith, a firefighter for 30 years who plans to retire next year.

The four-man crew on the engine — No. 70 out of Malibu — were wetting down a home when they ran out of water, he said. They had no time to hook up to a hydrant down the street as the flames fast approached so the men took shelter in the home’s garage, which Smith said is a standard procedure. When it got too hot in the garage, they moved inside the house.

“They were safe in there for a certain amount of time,” Smith said.

Once the bulk of the fire had passed, Smith and another firefighter went up the hill to get them out.

“When I got there the side of the garage was on fire,” Smith said.

Smith fetched his crew out of the home and they struggled to connect the engine to a water line.

“Heat and smoke had killed the engine and we had to cool it down and restart it,” he said.

“By the time we got done with the engine, the house was already too far gone.”

In the blur of the moment, the 54-year-old firefighter didn’t notice anything about the home, or even which street he was on, because his sport utility vehicle’s GPS didn’t report it.

“No one got hurt, just a little dirty,” he said, spreading his hands as if to demonstrate that he still had all ten dusty fingers. One of the firefighters felt sick because of dehydration, was treated at a hospital and later returned to work.

Engine 70 made it down the hill back to headquarters on its own power. But it was streaked with soot and smoke and its plastic signals had melted slightly in the heat.

“It was either the guys or the house,” Smith said, “and with me it’s always my guys.”

Update on the Santa Barbara Jesusita fire

Photo: Lisa Slavid, 8:45 p.m. PT, May 5

From a press conference that just finished at 7:30 a.m. PT, featuring Chief Tom Franklin, of Santa Barbara County FD.

  • The winds last night were not as strong as expected, so the spread of the fire was limited.
  • The current size is 196 acres.  Earlier estimates of 420 acres were hampered by the smoke obscuring portions of the perimeter.
  • Three helicopters worked the fire last night using night vision equipment. Five helicopters will be working the fire today.
  • The spread of the fire has been slowed by the high live fuel moisture and the moderate relative humidity. But a high live/dead ratio in the area is a factor that accelerates the rate of spread.
  • Winds late this afternoon are expected to be 30 mph with gusts up to 40 to 55.
  • At least 1,200 homes have been evacuated.
  • The fire is about 1/2 mile away from homes.
  • It is between the old Tea and Gap fires.
  • Containment is at 0%.

BTU Complex: 50 homes burn in Concow

At least 50 homes burned Tuesday in the city of Concow, California as the BTU (or Butte) Lightning Complex swept through communities 20 miles east of Chico. The entire east half of the city of Paradise, a city of 26,000, is under evacuation orders, and some areas of Magalia have also been evacuated.

If the weather forecast is accurate, Paradise and Magalia are under a severe threat from the fire. Firefighters hope to stop the fire at the West Branch of the Feather River just east of the city.

This is the third time in the last few weeks that Paradise has had a bulls eye painted on it by fires heading in their direction.

HERE is a link to a very interesting map of the fire in the area made by the newspaper in Chico, the Chico Enterprise Record. This is an amazing use of Google Maps. You might call it groundbreaking. There is a ton of information there—I hope the data is accurate. Click on the icons on the map to get details.

Record high temperatures as high as 115 in the valley on Tuesday contributed to the extreme fire behavior. Foothill temperatures were expected to be in the 90s on Tuesday.

The Weather forecast for Paradisc, CA: (note that the maximum relative humidities at night only go up to 30% and 26%)

Tuesday night: Areas of smoke. Clear, with a low around 79. Northeast wind between 10 and 15 mph, with gusts as high as 18 mph. RH 30%.

Wednesday: Areas of smoke. Sunny and hot, with a high near 110. North northwest wind between 5 and 10 mph. RH 10%.

Wednesday Night: Areas of smoke. Clear, with a low around 77. North wind between 7 and 13 mph. RH 26%

Thursday: Areas of smoke. Sunny and hot, with a high near 108. Northeast wind 6 to 8 mph becoming west. RH 11%.