Howard Fire ignites northeast of Ojai, Calif.

11:36 a.m. PDT Oct. 9, 2022

Howard Fire photo, 1020 a.m. Oct. 9, 2022
Howard Fire photo, looking west at 10:20 a.m. Oct. 9, 2022. FIRIS.

Aircraft were over the Howard Fire Sunday morning, including a lead plane and water-dropping helicopters.

The FIRIS OES 24 aircraft created an updated map at about 10 a.m. showing that the fire had grown to 85 acres, an increase of 10 acres since it was mapped Saturday evening.

The incident is 8 miles northeast of Ojai, California. It is burning on both sides of Sespe Creek and the 20W13 Road, 6 miles east of Highway 33.

FIRIS was able to see fire retardant around much of the fire as well as hand-constructed and dozer-constructed fire line on portions of the perimeter. The video below is from FIRIS.

7:15 p.m. PDT October 8, 2022

Howard Fire 3-D map 5:21 p.m. Oct. 8, 2022
Howard Fire 3-D map (in red) 5:21 p.m. Oct. 8, 2022

The Howard Fire started Saturday afternoon in a remote area 8 miles northeast of Ojai, California. It is burning on both sides of Sespe Creek and the 20W13 Road 6 miles east of Highway 33.

At about 5:50 the incident commander estimated it had burned 80 to 85 acres. About half an hour earlier it was mapped by the FIRIS aircraft at 75 acres.

Howard Fire
Howard Fire, looking southeast from Tecuyamtn1 camera at 4:32 p.m. Oct. 8, 2022. AlertWildfire.

For the first hour or so it was growing quickly putting up a convection column of smoke. Firefighters said it had the potential for 1,000 acres, but after aggressive initial attack by hand crews and aircraft in the difficult terrain, little smoke was seen as the sun was setting. Air tankers were able to complete a retardant line around 80 percent of the blaze by flight cutoff time. Orders were placed for aircraft to be available on the fire Sunday morning.

Several hikers were rescued by fire department helicopters.

Howard Fire map 5:21 p.m. Oct. 8, 2022
Howard Fire map 5:21 p.m. Oct. 8, 2022

60 Minutes investigates the initial attack on Caldor Fire

60 Minutes, Grizzly Flats, Caldor Fire

Last year’s Caldor Fire and the community that was heavily damaged by it, Grizzly Flats, has been in the news recently. The latest is a piece aired on CBS’ 60 Minutes yesterday (see video below) about the fire southwest of Lake Tahoe, California. On August 16 Cap Radio wrote about the fuel treatment program the US Forest Service planned to conduct around the town, but barely started. Then on September 26 and 27 National Public Radio published articles about the failed project and difficulties in conducting prescribed fires.

The 13-minute piece on 60 Minutes concentrated on the initial attack of the fire, which was first reported at about 7 p.m. on August 14. One of the first challenges was gaining access, complicated by a washed out road and others that had not been maintained. According to a dispatch log the Incident Commander ordered everyone off the fire at 1:42 a.m., about seven hours after it started. The reason stated in the log was for “accountability.” 60 Minutes said the Forest Service told them it was for the safety of the firefighters. Later on day 2, according to 60 Minutes, the agency  “dismissed a half dozen CAL FIRE engines and crews, letting most of them go before their replacements arrived.”

As you can see on the map below, about 29 hours after it started the fire was mapped at 781 acres. After another 44 hours it had burned through Grizzly Flats, growing to more than 55,000 acres.

Caldor Fire map, Aug 15 & 17, 2021
Caldor Fire map, August 15 & 17, 2021.

Our take

I strongly believe in aggressive initial attack “with overwhelming force using both ground and air resources, arriving within the first 10 to 30 minutes when possible.” But it is difficult to criticize, especially a year later, an Incident Commander’s decision to pull everyone off a fire due to concerns about safety. Obviously the burning conditions were in favor of the fire that first night, not the firefighters. In 44 hours it grew from 781 to 53,465 acres while spotting more than a mile ahead according to mapping data from infrared aircraft.

If the Forest Service had completed the huge fuel treatment project they had promised around Grizzly Flats, that does not automatically mean no structures would have been destroyed in the community. Would the treatment have been a mile wide, reducing the number of burning embers landing in the town? Probably not. And it only takes one — landing in a leafy gutter, on a deck, on wooden steps, in a vent, on firewood, or dead grass near a structure and the home can be destroyed. When one home ignites, it becomes another ember generator, showering the rest of the community with ignition sources, resulting in the fire growing exponentially.

In September of 2021 Jack Cohen and Dave Strohmaier wrote about the Home Ignition Zone on Wildfire Today:

“Surprisingly, research has shown that home ignitions during extreme wildfires result from conditions local to a home. A home’s ignition vulnerabilities in relation to nearby burning materials within 100 feet principally determine home ignitions. This area of a home and its immediate surroundings is called the home ignition zone (HIZ). Typically, lofted burning embers initiate ignitions within the HIZ – to homes directly and nearby flammables leading to homes. Although an intense wildfire can loft firebrands more than one-half mile to start fires, the minuscule local conditions where the burning embers land and accumulate determine ignitions. Importantly, most home destruction during extreme wildfires occurs hours after the wildfire has ceased intense burning near the community; the residential fuels – homes, other structures, and vegetation – continue fire spread within the community.”

Use of three large helicopters dropping retardant at night may have limited size of Route Fire

In September it burned 5,280 acres north of Los Angeles between Interstate 5 and Castaic Lake

Route Fire map, Sept. 3, 2022
Route Fire map, Sept. 3, 2022.

This article was first published at Fire Aviation.

A report produced by the managers of Southern California’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF) of four helicopters concludes that the aggressive aerial attack working with the units on the ground likely limited the final size and cost of the Route Fire. The fire started at about noon on August 31, 2022 and ultimately burned 5,280 acres north of Los Angeles between Interstate 5 and Castaic Lake. (Download the 3.2 Mb report)

This is a different incident from the Route Fire that burned 454 acres a few miles away along Interstate 5 September 11, 2021. You may remember that fire as the one where 13 firefighters who were becoming rapidly entrapped were crammed into two US Forest Service engines and rescued with only moments to spare. There were 23 bodies in the two engines, with seating designed for five each. Another 11 firefighters not quite as close to the flames were rescued by Los Angeles County engines.

The four QRF helicopters are all staffed for 24-hour coverage and equipped for night flying. With most of their base funding supplied by Southern California Edison they are located in Orange, Los Angeles, and Ventura Counties. Two of the helicopters are CH-47 Chinooks, one is an S-61, and the fourth is an S-76 used for aerial supervision. The helicopters are dispatched as a unit along with a mobile fire retardant base and can drop water until the base is established. The fact that they can drop retardant 24 hours a day, when fixed wing aircraft can’t work the fire at night, can be a game changer. During the Route Fire the mobile retardant base did not have to travel, it was set up at its base about 10 miles from the fire.

Quick Reaction Force helicopters
Quick Reaction Force helicopters. From the QRF report.

The assignment given to the QRF by Los Angeles County Fire Department on the Route fire was for it to stop the spread to the north. The S-61 was tasked to hold a particular location on the fire, using water from the adjacent Castaic Lake. It averaged of 696 gallons per drop.

The two Chinooks dropped averages of 2,434 gallons of water per drop and 1,896 gallons of retardant per drop. The three suppression helicopters flew an average of 9 hours each that afternoon and into the night, dropping 223,000 gallons of water and 55,000 gallons of retardant. The S-76 was used for 17 hours. The total cost of the retardant and flight time for the four ships was $403,950.

Map of 2022 Route and 1996 Marple Fires
Map of 2022 Route and 1996 Marple Fires. From the QRF report.

The report compares the Route Fire to the 1996 Marple Fire which started in about the same location at the same time of the day and time of year in similar weather conditions. By midnight the Marple Fire had exceeded 10,000 acres and continued spreading for two or three days until it was stopped at 19,860 acres.

Retardant line on north side of Route Fire, Sept. 1, 2022
Retardant line on north side of Route Fire, Sept. 1, 2022. From the QRF report.

In contrast, the spread of the Route Fire was stopped at 8 a.m. on Day 2. The three helicopters dropped water and retardant much of the night to hold it at a ridge on the north side, allowing hand crews and dozers to complete fire line.

It is very difficult to compare the suppression costs of two fires that occurred 26 years apart, but the authors of the QRF report estimated that the cost of the Marple Fire in today’s dollars would be somewhere between $70 million and $140 million. The cost of the Route Fire was $7 million to $8 million.

QRF delivery statistics, Route Fire

Forest Service seized PG&E equipment during investigation of Mosquito Fire

The fire has burned 76,781 acres and destroyed 78 structures near Foresthill, California

Mosquito Fire
Mosquito Fire as seen looking ENE from the Auburn camera at 5:32 p.m. Sept. 8, 2022. AlertWildfire.

US Forest Service investigators working to determine the cause of the Mosquito Fire have taken possession of one of Pacific Gas and Electric’s transmission poles and attached equipment. According to a report released by the company September 24, the Forest Service said the fire started in the area of one of the company’s power lines on Forest Service land. PG&E is conducting their own investigation of the cause of the fire.

The agency has not released the cause of the fire which has burned 76,781 acres and destroyed 78 structures near Foresthill, California 35 miles northeast of Sacramento.

In October, 2020 investigators from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection looking for the cause of the Zogg Fire southwest of Redding seized PG&E equipment. The fire which burned 56,338 acres, destroyed 204 structures, and resulted in four civilian fatalities, was caused by a tree contacting a power line operated by PG&E. In September, 2021 the company was charged with manslaughter and dozens of other charges related to the fire.

In 2018 investigators seized parts of a 99-year old PG&E transmission tower at the origin of the Camp Fire which burned into Paradise, California killing at least 85 people and making thousands homeless. In May, 2019 CAL FIRE announced that their investigators determined the fire was caused by the power line.

The Wall Street Journal (subscription) reported that investigators attributed more than 1,500 fires to PG&E power lines and hardware between June 2014 and December 2017. In 2021 we put together a list of 18 fires, mostly large, attributed to failures on PG&E power lines between 1999 and 2020.

Firefighters are mopping up the Mosquito Fire, which received substantial amounts of rain last week. It is still staffed by 1,248 personnel.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.

California’s Proposition 30 could add up to $1 billion to CAL FIRE’s budget

CAL FIRE budget

On November 8 California voters could approve a proposition that would add up to $1 billion to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection budget.

Proposition 30 would create an additional 1.75% state tax on personal income above $2 million that would used for zero-emission vehicle subsidies; zero-emission vehicle infrastructure, such as electric vehicle charging stations; and wildfire suppression and prevention programs.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office expects the measure would would raise $3.5 billion to $5 billion annually, growing over time. Of that, 20 percent would be spent on wildfire response and prevention activities. In general, the state would have to prioritize spending to hire, train, and retain state firefighters. The rest of the money could be used for other wildfire response and prevention activities. The proposition would increase state funding for wildfire response and prevention activities by $700 million to $1 billion annually. The state typically spends about $2 billion to $4 billion annually on wildfire activities, mostly on firefighting.

The other 80 percent of the additional revenue would be used to help households, businesses, and governments pay for part of the cost of new passenger zero emission vehicles, as well as electric vehicle charging stations at apartment buildings, single-family homes, and public locations.

In other news about California’s spending on its wildfire program, Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed $800 million over the next two years to implement various efforts to improve forest health and make communities more resilient to future wildfires.

Some areas of Mosquito Fire receive more than an inch of rain

Flash flood watch in effect for the burn scar

Updated 7:15 a.m. PDT Sept. 20, 2022

Heat detected by drone on the Mosquito Fire
Heat detected by drone a on the Mosquito Fire, nighttime mission Sept. 18, 2022. White represents heat. Darker shades are cooler. USFS.

Rain continues to fall on the Mosquito Fire with accumulations in or near the burn area ranging from 0.68″ to 2.22″.  A flash flood watch is in effect until Tuesday evening.

Precipitation accumulated, Mosquito Fire
Precipitation accumulated, Mosquito Fire area, 72 hours ending at 6:48 a.m. PDT Sept 20, 2022.

Firefighters are taking the opportunity to work close to the fire’s edge, constructing direct fire line using hand tools and dozers.

The precipitation is expected to taper off Tuesday and Tuesday night, with a few lingering showers on Wednesday. The forecast for the rest of the week shows no chance of rain, moderate winds, and the relative humidity returning to the 40s and 30s.

7:41 a.m. PDT Sept. 19, 2022

Precipitation, Mosquito Fire area
Precipitation, Mosquito Fire area, 48 hour period ending 7 a.m. PDT Sept 19, 2022. The dark green area is under a flash flood watch.

Several weather stations within or close to the Mosquito Fire have recorded more than an inch of precipitation during the 48-hour period ending at 7 a.m. PDT on Monday. Other stations measured 0.20″ to 0.54″.

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for the burn scar in effect until Tuesday evening.

Firefighters suppressing the Mosquito Fire
Firefighters suppressing the Mosquito Fire off Michigan Bluff Road, Sept. 7, 2022. Credit- Robert Foxworthy, CAL FIRE.

The forecast from the NWS predicts there is a greater than 50 percent chance the rain will continue at least through Tuesday with additional amounts that could exceed half an inch.

As a result of the rain, both the Placer and El Dorado County Sheriff Offices downgraded many of the Evacuation Orders and Warnings Sunday afternoon. Updated evacuation maps are available for Placer and El Dorado Counties.

Mosquito Fire map, 5 p.m. Sept. 17, 2022.
Mosquito Fire map, 5 p.m. Sept. 17, 2022. FIRIS.

On Monday firefighters took advantage of the favorable fire conditions to construct direct control lines along portions of the fire’s edge on the eastern flank. Firefighters with hand tools and heavy equipment, such as dozers, were out in force. Crews worked in the area of the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the American River as well as Interbay Road. Despite the rain showers, crews were able to successfully conduct firing operations along the Interbay Road due to the sustained dry fuel moisture in the vegetation. Crews were able to continue strengthening and holding control lines around the southeast corner near Stumpy Meadows.

The Mosquito Fire has burned 76,290 acres. More than 3,700 personnel are assigned.