Canyon 2 Fire caused by ember from previous fire

The Canyon 2 Fire destroyed approximately 15 homes and damaged 45 others in Anaheim, California

Canyon Fire map
The red dots represent heat detected on the Canyon 2 Fire by a satellite at 2:54 a.m. October 10. The yellow dots were detected at 12:54 p.m. October 9. The Canyon Fire started September 25, and the spread was stopped a few days later. Click to enlarge.

The Canyon 2 Fire that burned 9,200 acres and destroyed or damaged 60 homes started from an ember that blew from the previous Canyon Fire that blackened 4,300 acres south of the 91 Freeway between Anaheim and Corona, California.

The cause of the Canyon 2 Fire was released Monday by Anaheim Fire & Rescue Chief Randy Bruegman. According to the LA Times, Chief Bruegmann said the ember originated about 20 feet inside the fireline of the first fire, the Canyon Fire, and was blown about 50 feet into brush outside the line.

The Canyon fire damaged four homes and started July 25 when a Caltrans road flare was knocked off the 91 Freeway into grass by a passing vehicle. The Canyon 2 Fire began October 9.

Interim Chief of the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), Patrick McIntosh revealed October 25 that the first full dispatch of fire suppression equipment to the Canyon 2 Fire occurred 71 minutes after the first report of “smoke and flames”. By the time the first units arrived, the new fire was well established. The Chief said he would recommend to the County Board of Supervisors an independent review be conducted of how the fire was handled.

The OCFA has the responsibility under a contract for suppressing vegetation fires within Anaheim city limits. Monday the LA Times reported Anaheim Chief Bruegman said that arrangement is currently under review.

Our Opinion

Of course hindsight is always 20/20, and investigations could confirm this or not — but a person could argue that if the OCFA had done two things differently, there may have been a vastly different outcome for the Canyon 2 Fire.

  1. Thorough mopup of the first fire, the Canyon Fire. Most wildfires are completely extinguished hundreds of feet inside the fireline or perimeter. The ember that the wind blew from the fire 15 days after it started, was only 20 feet from the perimeter.
  2. A reasonably quick and aggressive attack of the new fire, the Canyon 2 Fire, rather than a 71 minute delay.

Dispatching issues may have led to a one hour delay in attacking Canyon 2 Fire

Fire Chief calls for independent investigation of early decisions made on the fire that destroyed or damaged 60 homes in southern California.

Interim Fire Chief Patrick McIntosh
Interim Fire Chief Patrick McIntosh at October 25 news conference about the Orange County Fire Authority’s response to the Canyon 2 Fire.

In a news conference Wednesday the interim Chief of the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) revealed the timeline for actions taken, and not taken, when the Canyon 2 Fire was first reported on October 9, 2017. The fire eventually burned 9,200 acres, destroyed 15 homes and damaged 45 others. For the last week the OCFA has been criticized over reports the initial response to the fire was delayed.

Chief Patrick McIntosh said Wednesday “flames and smoke” were first reported in a 911 call at 8:32 a.m. near the 91 freeway and the 241 Toll Road interchange in Orange County, California. The nearest fire station, Station 53, was not staffed because about three hours earlier the wildland engine was dispatched with four others from the OCFA to one of the fires in Northern California. Support personnel at the station were asked if they could see smoke. They went outside and seven minutes later reported they could only see what appeared to be ash blowing off the previous Canyon Fire.

At 9:27 and 9:28 two more reports came in of smoke near the 91 Freeway and Gypsum Canyon which is in the same area as the earlier report. At 9:31 one engine from Station 32 and a helicopter were dispatched.

At 9:41 personnel at Station 53 said they could see a column of smoke which appeared to be building and recommended additional resources.

Chief McIntosh said the OCFA initiated a “High Watershed Dispatch” at 9:43 which included 7 engines, 2 helicopters, 2 water tenders, 2 dozers, 1 hand crew, 2 air tankers, and one fixed wing air attack.

The Orange County Register earlier this week reported on some details about the response of aerial resources:

At 9:52 a.m., the first OCFA helicopter lifted off from Fullerton Airport. But a second helicopter – which a Fire Authority memo dated Oct. 8 said was required because of “red flag warnings” in effect that week – did not leave and had to be dispatched again five minutes later.

The fixed-wing planes that would have been part of a “medium level” response were not en route until 10:19 a.m., from Hemet, 51 minutes after the fire was reported.

There are also questions about the helicopters operated by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department that were not used on the fire. The ships reportedly have water dropping capabilities but may or may not be certified by state or federal agencies to work on wildfires. The OCFA and the Sheriff’s office have been feuding about the responsibilities of their two helicopter fleets. Historically the Sheriff’s fleet has taken the lead for searches, while the OCFA has handled rescues. In the last year, however, the Sheriff has been poaching responses to rescues resulting in multiple helicopters appearing over the same incident potentially causing airspace conflicts and confusion.

In the news conference the Chief said he will recommend to the County Board of Supervisors an independent review be conducted of how the fire was handled.

“My heart tells me we could have done something different”, the Chief said, but he wants to wait for the review before saying exactly what that should have been.

“Our commitment to you and to our community is full disclosure, full transparency, we have nothing to hide as an agency” the Chief continued. “If there are things that need to be done better and different, we will do those.”

In Fullerton at 8:53 a.m. the day the fire started, about 9 miles northwest of the fire, the winds were calm and the relative humidity was 68 percent. But by 12:53 p.m. the humidity had dropped to 5 percent and a Santa Ana wind was blowing from the east at 24 mph gusting to 35 mph — conditions that could cause a wildfire to spread rapidly.

We have been writing since 2012 about how a prompt, aggressive attack may prevent a small fire from becoming something much more serious.
Dr. Gabbert prescription new fires magafires prevent

Sometimes a timid initial attack can lead to the loss of structures. The U.S. Forest Service and other agencies spent a small amount of money on the anemic and delayed initial attack of the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire. But later, homeowners and insurance companies had to spend $353 million for the property that was destroyed in Colorado Springs. Other times a weak response can result in a large fire that kills many people, such as the 1994 South Canyon and the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fires which killed a total of 31 firefighters. The Waldo Canyon Fire also killed two residents. And let us not forget the Chimney Tops 2 Fire.  Very little ground-based action occurred during the first five days which then spread into the eastern Tennessee city of Gatlinburg killing 14 people, forcing 14,000 to evacuate, destroying or damaging 2,400 structures, and blackening 17,000 acres.


Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Mike.
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Canyon 2 Fire burns 7,500 acres in Southern California

(Originally published at 7:36 a.m. PDT October 10, 2017)

Canyon Fire map
The red dots represent heat detected on the Canyon 2 Fire by a satellite at 2:54 a.m. October 10. The yellow dots were detected at 12:54 p.m. October 9. The Canyon Fire started September 25, and the spread was stopped a few days later. Click to enlarge.

With attention — and resources — focused on the explosive growth and sheer scale of wildfires burning through Northern California’s wine country this week, crews to the south on Monday were busy battling an erratic, destructive and wind-whipped fire of their own.

The Canyon 2 Fire started Monday morning in the Anaheim Hills area.

By Tuesday morning, Anaheim Fire & Rescue reported the blaze to be at 7,500 acres. About 1,100 firefighters were assigned to the incident, with 14 helicopters and six planes assisting from the air.

It was just 5 percent contained.

The evacuation zone was primarily for residences in the wildland-urban interface south of the 91 Freeway and east of the 241.

Mandatory evacuations remained in place Tuesday. Some 24 structures are believed to have been destroyed, but exact details remain somewhat unclear.

Shifting winds were top of mind for crews on Tuesday.

Of note, the coastal marine layer that typically brings with it low-lying clouds and higher humidities was apparent Tuesday morning. However, the boundary line was pronounced, and the area of the Canyon 2 Fire was still experiencing single-digit relative humidity levels, courtesy of the Santa Ana Winds.

The Canyon 2 Fire was among several wildfires that blew up Monday in California, fed by high winds, low humidity and an abundance of fuels. Resources across the state were taxed as some fires went from ignition to tens of thousands of acres in just a few hours.

By Tuesday, “we’re gonna be as stretched as we can be,” said Steven Beech, an incident commander with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, according to the LA Times. 

The area is only a few miles from Disneyland. Suffice to say photos from the so-called “Happiest Place on Earth” were a little more striking on Monday.