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, geomac.usgs.gov

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%.

Martin Mars reloads

Martin Mars scooping
Hawaii Martin Mars scooping water at Lake Shasta.

I wonder what kind of wake the Martin Mars creates when it skims along a 3-mile stretch of Lake Shasta filling its 7,200 gallon tank at 80 miles per hour? It probably makes the lake a little choppy for the water skiers for a few minutes.

Always film posterOn Friday, it did this 20 times, reloading about every 25 minutes, dropping the water on the nearby 16,700-acre Motion fire. That is a damn good turn around time for an air tanker. The pilots have the option of dropping plain water on the fires, or mixing class A foam or fire retardant gel into the water.

Do you remember the opening sequence in the 1989 movie, the Steven Spielberg production with Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, and John Goodman that is centered around air tanker pilots? Turn up the sound when you play the 55-second clip below….it’s more fun that way.

One of the lines in the movie is still food for thought for firefighters.  John Goodman said to Richard Dreyfuss:

Pete, there ain’t no war here… And this is why you’re not exactly a hero for taking these chances you take. You’re more of what I would call a dickhead.

Some trivia about the movie, from Wikipedia:

The movie is set in the Kootenai National Forest in Montana, with some scenes filmed in and around Libby, Montana. Some 500 people from Libby were recruited for the movie as extras to act as wildland firefighters.

In the opening scenes the forest fires were created by Pathfinder Helicopter Inc.. They were hired by the Forest Service to burn some clearcuts near Libby that were filmed for the movie. The helicopter Pilot was Steve Tolle and the Ground Crew Manager was Jim Leighty.

The Libby airport was used to double as the Forest Service Headquarters in the movie.