Wildfire history of California, interactive

California fire history map
California fire history map by Capital Public Radio. All fires in Southern California 1878-2018. Click to enlarge.

We often hear, “It’s not IF an area will burn, but WHEN”.

Capital Public Radio has developed an interactive map showing the footprints of wildfires that have occurred in California since 1878. You can see all of the fires at once, or individual years, and the map is zoomable. (The map may not display well in all browsers. It seems to work best using Firefox.)

I may or may not have spent too much time looking at these maps.

California fire history map San Diego County
California fire history map by Capital Public Radio. San Diego County, 2003. The largest fire is the Cedar Fire. Click to enlarge.

40 fire wildfire detection cameras to be install in the North Bay

The cameras can spot a fire soon after it ignites.

FireAlert camera
Technicians install an AlertWildfire camera. File photo from the University of Nevada.

Several organizations are cooperating to install a network of cameras in the North Bay area of California that can detect wildfires soon after they start. At a perfect location with a 360° view the near infrared sensors can spot the signature of heat on up to 5,000 square miles, and up to 20,000 square miles at night. If a second camera detects the same heat source or smoke, the triangulation can tell dispatchers the exact location, enabling firefighters to get to the scene quickly.

A supercomputer attached to the network can then model the fire’s spread in 30 seconds to predict where it will be burning in the next several hours.

Recently one of the $2,600 cameras was installed on a hill that overlooks the path of the deadly Tubbs fire that burned into Santa Rosa in 2017.

Below is an excerpt from the Press Democrat:

With support from PG&E, the network plans to cover Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, Lake and Marin counties with up to 40 such cameras by the end of March.

Thirteen of the pan-tilt-zoom cameras are already operating in the North Bay, with their images available to emergency dispatchers and to the public at alertwildfire.org.

The broader goal is to establish 200 new cameras statewide this year and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget includes funding for 100 more, said Graham Kent, director of the seismological laboratory at the University of Nevada, Reno, that started the program.

The Sonoma County Water Agency is also supporting the camera installation project.

The AlertWildfire group, a consortium of universities, including Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, Sonoma State University, and Oregon State University will build and maintain the system.

“These cameras will provide us with early fire detection and a level of situational awareness that is critical as we adapt to new wildfire behavior,” Sonoma County Water Agency director and Board of Supervisors Chair James Gore said.

The fire-camera system is built to the specifications of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Seismological Lab’s earthquake monitoring communications network based in their College of Science. It features private high-speed internet connectivity capable of transmitting seismic, environmental and climate data, in addition to the live-streaming high-definition video from the fire cameras.

“These fire camera networks realize their full functionality when a cluster of cameras are deployed in one area and to supply early detection, 911 confirmation, and situational awareness as well as triangulation to locate the fires,” Neal Driscoll, a professor at UC San Diego and co-leader of AlertWildfire, said. “Sonoma County Water Agency’s vision has made the North Bay region the next fire camera cluster.”

map AlertWildfire system
The dots represent the locations of fire detecting cameras in the AlertWildfire system.

Dozens of cameras are already installed and working in Southern California, the Lake Tahoe area, and locations in Nevada.

Video from the first night of the Camp Fire

@FirePhotoGirl is a professional photographer who documents and reports on emergency incidents, concentrating on fires, usually in Southern California. This video is from the first night of the Camp Fire, which virtually wiped out the town of Paradise in Northern California last fall. Her handle is the same on both Twitter and Instagram.

Lessons learned from Camp Fire could augment data utilization and community resilience

Camp Fire Northern California
Firefighters monitor the Camp Fire in Northern California. Inciweb photo.

A Mississippi State University civil engineering faculty member who researches resilience against extreme events and natural hazards is responding to lessons learned from California’s deadly Camp Fire by outlining how to utilize the power of data to improve disaster response and minimize economic loss and human harm in similar events.

In a letter published January 10, 2019 in Science Magazine, Farshid Vahedifard writes that in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Northern California, it is critical to examine how decision makers and first-responders can “prevent an extreme hazard like the Camp Fire from turning into a massive human disaster.”

Vahedifard is an MSU Bagley College of Engineering associate professor who also holds the Civil and Environmental Advisory Board Endowed Professorship. He penned the Science letter with MSU colleague Alireza Ermagun, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; Kimia Mortezaei, an MSU engineering postdoctoral associate with the university’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems; and Amir AghaKouchak, a University of California-Irvine associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

With reports pointing to shortcomings in disseminating critical information to warn residents before and during the November fire that killed 85 people, scorched more than 153,336 acres and destroyed more than 18,800 structures, the authors point out that a “lack of an integrated framework for circulating information among decision-makers and passing it to residents exacerbated the devastating impact of the wildfire.”

They assert that investment in an integrated system for identifying, harnessing, synthesizing, and communicating pertinent data would “enable decision-makers and communities to better anticipate, prepare for, respond to and recover from extreme events such as the Camp Fire.”

They continue, “We must identify relevant stakeholders, examine the required data, collect public and relevant private data efficiently, and develop platforms for processing datasets such as weather data, cell phone GPS data as proxy for people, social media feeds, and traffic cameras and sensors. We then need strategies to convert data sets into usable information by using artificial intelligence technologies for decision-support systems. To communicate the resulting information effectively, we need a reliable data infrastructure for real-time analysis that could alert residents by email, phone messages, text warning, television, radio, and ‘reverse 911.’”

Vahedifard and colleagues previously have published research and commentary highlighting how a chain of events, such as wildfires, landslides and mudslides, cascades like a series of toppling dominoes and leads to catastrophic disasters.

Facing liability over wildfires, PG&E to file for bankruptcy

The company may have $30 billion in potential liability costs related to their role in starting wildfires

PG&E service territory
Map showing the service area of Pacific Gas & Electric, and the land protected by CAL FIRE (State Responsibility Area).

Pacific Gas and Electric has announced that it will file for Chapter 11 protection before the end of the month as it faces $30 billion in potential liability costs related to their role in starting wildfires. The company already carries a heavy debt load of more than $18 billion.

A dozen of the fires that started in Northern California around October 8, 2017 have been blamed on PG&E’s electrical equipment, according to CAL FIRE investigators, who also are looking into power line equipment failures that may have caused the Camp Fire on November 8, 2018. Over 40 people died in the Northern California fires, and 86 perished in the Camp Fire which also destroyed more than 14,000 homes.

The bankruptcy process would put a halt to more than 750 civil suits brought by thousands of homeowners and insurance companies over the wildfires allegedly caused by PG&E’s equipment, some of it 100 years old. The suits would then be resolved in a bankruptcy proceeding.

PG&E supplies power and natural gas to approximately 5.2 million households in the northern three-fourths of California. The company also declared bankruptcy in 2001 which lasted until 2004.

State law requires the corporation to notify employees at least 15 days before any bankruptcy filing. Chief Executive Geisha Williams has stepped down after serving for less than two years, the company said on Sunday.

In a brief submitted to a federal court in December, the California Attorney General said PG&E could be prosecuted for murder, manslaughter, or lesser criminal charges if investigators determine that “reckless operation” of its power equipment caused any of the wildfires in which people were killed during the previous 15 months.

Thousands told to evacuate below burn scars in Santa Barbara area as heavy rain is predicted

The evacuation order begins at 10 a.m. January 15

Fire debris flow flooding Santa Barbara evacuation map
Map showing areas under evacuation orders beginning at 10 a.m. January 15, 2019. Santa Barbara County. Click to enlarge.

Three to four thousand residents in areas below the footprints of three recent fires in Southern California’s Santa Barbara County have been ordered to evacuate as a winter storm approaches which could lead to debris flows below the Sherpa, Whittier, and Thomas fires burn areas. The evacuation order is in effect beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday January 15.

Thomas Fire debris flow flooding
Mud and debris flow in Montecito below the Thomas Fire, January 9, 2018. Photo by Mike Eliason, Santa Barbara FD.

Santa Barbara County has more information about the evacuation, including a map. A Red Cross shelter will be open at 10 a.m. at Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave., Goleta. Two schools are closed and three are holding classes at alternative sites.

The National Weather Service is predicting 1.5 to 3 inches of rain in the Santa Barbara area with up to 4.5 inches locally on south-facing slopes. Peak hourly rainfall rates could reach 0.75 to 1.25 inches. The heavy rain should taper off Tuesday night, followed by showers on Wednesday which will increase to heavy rain again Wednesday night.

Fire debris flow flooding Santa Barbara