Scientific American has produced a video that describes the formation of the fire tornado that burned and scoured a mile-long path as the Carr Fire burned into Redding, California July 26, 2018.
In the video below, click on the little square at bottom-right to see it in full screen.
There were two fatalities on the Carr Fire that day. Redding Fire Department Inspector Jeremy Stoke was burned over in his truck on Buenaventura Boulevard. On the other side of the Sacramento River, on the west side, Don Ray Smith was entrapped and killed in his dozer.
According to a Green Sheet report by CAL FIRE, the conditions that resulted in the entrapment of three dozers and the Redding Fire Department Fire Inspector that day were due to the fire tornado — a large rotating fire plume that was roughly 1,000 feet in diameter. The winds at the base were 136-165 mph (EF-3 tornado strength), as indicated by wind damage to large oak trees, scouring of the ground surface, damage to roofs of houses, and lofting of large steel power line support towers, vehicles, and a steel marine shipping container. Multiple fire vehicles had their windows blown out and their bodies damaged by flying debris.
The strong winds caused the fire to burn all live vegetation less than 1 inch in diameter. Peak temperatures likely exceeded 2,700 °F.
The Carr Fire burned 229,651 acres, destroyed 1,077 homes, and killed 3 firefighters and 5 civilians
The news media sometimes calls any little fire whirl a “fire tornado”, or even a “firenado”. These and related terms (except for “firenado”) were, if not founded, at least documented and defined in 1978 by a researcher for the National Weather Service in Missoula, David W. Goens. He grouped fire whirls into four classes:
Fire Devils. They are a natural part of fire turbulence with little influence on fire behavior or spread. They are usually on the order of 3 to 33 feet in diameter and have rotational velocities less than 22 MPH.
Fire Whirls. A meld of the fire, topograph, and meteorological factors. These play a significant role in fire spread and hazard to control personnel. The average size of this class is usually 33 to 100 feet, with rotational velocities of 22 to 67 MPH.
Fire Tornadoes. These systems begin to dominate the large scale fire dynamics. They lead to extreme hazard and control problems. In size, they average 100 to 1,000 feet in diameter and have rotational velocities up to 90 MPH.
Fire Storm. Fire behavior is extremely violent. Diameters have been observed to be from 1,000 to 10,000 feet and winds estimated in excess of 110 MPH. This is a rare phenomenon and hopefully one that is so unlikely in the forest environment that it can be disregarded.”
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Rick. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
The National Park Service has released an After Action Review (AAR) for the Carr Fire that burned into Redding, California in July, 2018. Ignited by the mechanical failure of a travel trailer, it started within the Whiskeytown–Shasta–Trinity National Recreation Area (WHIS) on National Park Service-administered lands. The fire covered 229,651 acres, destroyed 1,077 homes, and killed 3 firefighters and 5 civilians. Many of the burned structures were in Redding. It became the 7th largest fire in California recorded history.
The decision to conduct a very brief one-day AAR administered by two facilitators for this very large, complex, and deadly fire rather than a conventional-months long investigation was an interesting choice. The reason given, “Unfortunately, incidents of this complexity are becoming more of the norm than the exception, and there is not a realistic capacity within the Service for each qualifying incident to receive the traditional level of review and analysis.”
No names were used in the report and the process was designed to be non-punitive. The goal was to identify issues, successes, and recommendations in planning, operations, administration, or management which could be addressed at the local, regional, or national level to improve future incident management.
The report uses dozens of acronyms, very few of them defined, which may not be familiar to the casual reader. A glossary would have been helpful, or defining the acronym the first time they were used.
All wildland fire management units are encouraged to develop a roster of high-quality, relief duty officers from their interagency organizations as part of their pre-season fire preparedness planning.
Initiate stakeholder engagement early on all incidents that demonstrate a likelihood to impact multiple jurisdictions. Early, forthright, open dialogue is critical, and was cited on this incident with contributing to the success of the IMTs response to multiple firefighter fatalities and incidents within the incident. Consistency of personnel within unified command representation has value and is a best practice worth striving for.
Participation in the cost-share agreement is not a mandatory prerequisite to joining a delegation of authority or leader’s intent letter to an incident management team (IMT). All primary landowners with values at risk in the fire planning area should receive consideration for inclusion in the decision making process. The transfer of DPA among federal agencies is intended to provide efficiency in fire response, but is not intended to replace agency administration on complex, long-duration incidents.
A future topic for discussion within the California Wildland Fire Coordinating Group (CWCG) should be the subject of agency DPA versus agency ownership and how that relates to agency administration, agency representation, delegations of authority, and ultimately unified command. When feasible, a single federal IC should be delegated authority to represent all of the affected federal agencies in unified command.
The Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS) needs to be reviewed annually at the unit level to ensure that management requirements and strategic objectives are current and applicable. Consideration should be given to ordering fire behavior analysts (FBAN), long-term analysts (LTAN), and strategic operational planners (SOPL) to help supplement the planning section within any IMT. These positions need to be well integrated with the IMT, and can assist with communicating the long-term plan for an incident to stakeholders and the public alike. The SOPL position, in particular, can be a highly effective position in bridging any gaps or inconsistencies between the agency administrator leader’s intent and operations on the fire.
Continue to use the right IMT for the job based on the primary responsibility area, relative risk, and anticipated complexity of an incident. The Organizational Assessment and Relative Risk modules within WFDSS and the Indicators of Incident Complexity located within the IRPG are standardized resources to help objectively determine incident complexity. Complexity and risk assessments, as well as any changes, should be documented by ICs. The CWCG should further address the issue of IMT utilization in complex multi-jurisdictional areas to help ensure efficiency of wildfire engagement statewide.
The NPS All-Hazard team and CAL FIRE providing employee support services (ESS) were both considered successes and other units being severely impacted by an event of this magnitude should consider doing the same. Ensure that any IMTs operating within proximity of each other are in strong communication through daily IC calls or meetings to avoid any duplication of effort or confusion to the extent possible in an already chaotic environment.
Expectations of the reassignment of resources needs to be communicated to the GACC early on to decrease administrative paperwork and the chasing down of resources out in the field. Local government fire engines that already have some agreement with a federal agency should be mobilized on that agreement first in preference over the secondary mobilization option provided by the Farm Bill. A mechanism for states to pay for Farm Bill engines would represent an efficiency gain.
There is an opportunity for the CWCG to include direction on fatality response in the CFMA during the next revision. The California Fire Assistance Agreement (CFAA) covers California local government fire response and also needs to include adequate direction on incident fatality response.
Efficiencies need to be built into the dispatch system in regards to contract resources that allow for contract resources to be reassigned by the GACC based upon location, availability, and incident need, and to not cycle back into the Virtual Incident Procurement (VIPR) system for reassignment.
In lieu of an established lend-lease program, GACCs, ICs, unit fire program managers, and duty officers, are encouraged to continue strong daily communication to solve short-term resource shortage issues and address immediate life safety threats posed by rapidly escalating incidents. Resource accountability is especially challenging in these situations and must be stressed among the coordinating entities.
Agencies need to continue to recognize they have differing policies and objectives. Long-term planning tools, including those available in WFDSS, should be utilized by SOPLs and LTANs and communicated to the unified IC for the respective agency. This unified IC would advocate to incorporate WFDSS and PACE modeling into the long-term strategic decision making process during the incident.
A pre-season SOP be developed that articulates that only one incident number be generated corresponding to the jurisdiction of the point of origin of the fire. This is would be incorporated into the LOP/Local AOP which is tiered under the CFMA.
It was agreed that the standard procedure should continue having PIO representation from each participating agency. The need for a joint information center should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis on all complex, multi-jurisdictional incidents.
Expanded discussions with FIRESCOPE and the county sheriffs within California to address consistency of evacuation procedures and communications between the 58 county law enforcement entities across California.
A standard SOP should be implemented, whereby only one incident number is generated according to the ownership of the origin point of the fire. This standard would be incorporated into the LOP/Local AOP which is tiered under the CFMA. This will result in clearer communication and understanding of resources ordered by the fire and from a single dispatch ordering point. In cases where a secondary incident must be created for any reason it must be correctly nested under the parent incident in ROSS and IROC to ensure proper resource statusing and accountability. Incident ownership can be transferred within these systems and should be done as early as possible if need be. Additionally, evaluate and determine best fire management dispatching practices and options for the WHIS program in light of the incident (state vs. federal). Include scenarios revolving around complex DPA and jurisdictional boundary issues in pre-season preparedness planning. Practice how this might look in terms of incident number, accounting information, single ordering point, agency administrator roles, unified command, cost share, and resource statusing and accountability.
Continue early engagement with partners when cost share is anticipated to efficiently come to consensus about cost apportionment early in the incident.
Move forward with the NPS hiring of positions to implement the interagency BAER plan.
Start contracting process early and coordinate use of equipment and resources.
A man who stole items from inside a Redding Fire Department truck during the Carr Fire at Redding, California received much more than the 1-year sentence plus probation recommenced by the Probation Department. Judge Cara Beatty gave Brian Daniel Martinson five years in county jail, according to the Shasta County District Attorney’s Facebook page.
Mr. Martinson had pleaded guilty to grand theft and committing the crime during a natural disaster.
Martinson was accused of stealing items belonging to Redding firefighter Erick Mattson that were inside a fire department utility truck while it was parked in front of Mattson’s home.
Mattson was at his Palo Cedro home resting in between fighting the Carr Fire when Martinson broke into the truck.
In August, Martinson was arrested in Chico after being caught shoplifting from a Sportsman’s Warehouse. Officers there found Martinson with a backpack belonging to the firefighter and items from the fire department.
The stolen property included more than $5,000 worth of things that included a laptop and a hard drive containing family photos. Chico police said at the time the hard drive wasn’t located.
Butte County investigators questioned Martinson and he admitted to burglarizing the fire truck, the DA’s office said.
The Carr Fire started July 23, 2018, killed eight people and burned over 229,000 acres and 1,604 structures.
In a different but similar incident, the two men who were arrested on the first day of the Camp Fire for stealing a vehicle and other items from a fire station at Jarbo Gap November 8 have pleaded not guilty to the crimes. Robert DePalma and William Erlbacher, both of Concow, California are scheduled to appear in court December 6 for a preliminary hearing. They remain in custody with bail set at $250,000 each. More information about this incident is at the Chico Enterprise-Record.
The Camp Fire burned more than 153,000 acres at Paradise California, killed approximately 85 people (as of November 25, 2018), and destroyed over 14,000 homes.
During the Carr Fire earlier this year at Redding, California a dozer operator entrapped by the rapidly spreading fire told a 911 operator, “Don’t risk anybody’s life for mine”.
The Redding Searchlight obtained the recording of the July 26 call in which the dozer operator said there were two other dozers with him and, “There’s a CAL FIRE pickup just exploded right in front of me. I think the guy didn’t get out.”
“I don’t know if the two guys behind me are alive,” the man told a dispatcher, possibly referring to the other two dozers working with him.
There were two deaths that day on the Carr Fire, but the 911 caller who identified himself as “Don”, was not one of them. Redding Fire Department Inspector Jeremy Stoke was burned over in his truck on Buenaventura Boulevard, not far from the location of the caller. On the other side of the Sacramento River, the west side, Don Ray Smith was entrapped and killed in another dozer.
The caller said the windows in his dozer had been blown out and he had lowered his curtains, referring to the drop-down curtains made of fire shelter material that can reduce the amount of radiant heat entering the cab.
Below are excerpts from an article at the Redding Searchlight:
“Don’t risk anybody’s life for mine, but as soon as it lays down…” he trails off in a 911 call obtained by the Record Searchlight on Friday in response to a California Public Records Act request. “As soon as it lays down, send somebody for me, please?”
“I’m in a dozer. All the windows got blown out. I got my curtains down,” he starts off telling the dispatcher.
“OK, sir, I need you to get out of there,” she tells him with urgency.
He’s still calm as he tells her the horrifying truth.
‘I don’t know how long I can last’
According to a Green Sheet report by CAL FIRE, the conditions that resulted in the entrapment of the three dozers and the Redding Fire Department Fire Inspector that day were due to a fire tornado — a large rotating fire plume that was roughly 1,000 feet in diameter. The winds at the base were 136-165 mph (EF-3 tornado strength), as indicated by wind damage to large oak trees, scouring of the ground surface, damage to roofs of houses, and lofting of large steel power line support towers, vehicles, and a steel marine shipping container. Multiple fire vehicles had their windows blown out and their bodies damaged by flying debris.
The strong winds caused the fire to burn all live vegetation less than 1 inch in diameter. Peak temperatures likely exceeded 2,700 °F.
The conditions described by the 911 caller, including his location and the fact that he was with two other dozers, are consistent with the section of the Green Sheet report describing the entrapment of three pieces of equipment identified in the document as Dozer 2, Dozer 3 and Dozer 4. Wildfire Today covered this report on August 20. Below is an excerpt from the section about the three dozers:
(From pages 13-14) At approximately 8:02 p.m., Dozer 2, Dozer 3, and Dozer 4 continued northbound on Buenaventura Boulevard toward Keswick Dam Road. Approximately one-half of a mile from Land Park, all three dozers were violently impacted by flying debris, rocks, embers, smoke, and intense heat. The flying material shattered windows on all three dozers. As hot air entered the cab of Dozer 2, the operator repositioned the dozer and parked next to Dozer 3. When Dozer 3’s windows shattered, airborne glass entered the operator’s eyes. Dozer 3 stopped on Buenaventura Boulevard and deployed his fire curtains.
Dozer 4 became disoriented when impacted by the flying debris. As a result, the dozer hit a civilian vehicle that was stopped along Buenaventura Boulevard. The impact caused the dozer operator to land on the floor of his cab. The dozer continued to travel until it came to rest against a tree. Once stopped, the operator tried to drop the fire curtains. Due to burn injuries on his hands, he was unable to manipulate the straps, and had to cut the straps with a razor knife to deploy the curtains. He successfully dropped three out of the four curtains. The operator then deployed a fire shelter. In order to escape the intense heat, he exited the cab and sought refuge under the dozer, but saw a tree blocking his route. When the dozer operator reentered the cab, he saw emergency vehicle lights on Buenaventura Boulevard. He ran up to the vehicle where PREV1 directed him into the backseat. Once in the pickup truck, the dozer operator noticed there was also a civilian in the vehicle.
Prior to the rescue of the Dozer 4 operator, at approximately 8:01 p.m., PREV1 and SUP1 exited north on Buenaventura Boulevard from Land Park and Stanford Hills. SUP1 was now travelling back out of the subdivision with the evacuated family members.
Both PREV1 and SUP1 drove slowly, due to the heavy smoke conditions. Both vehicles were in close proximity to each other. As they approached the general area where the three dozers were stopped, PREV1 saw a civilian vehicle on fire. SUP1 passed PREV1 as he slowed to a stop. SUP1 continued north approximately 150 feet when both of their pickup trucks were suddenly impacted by flying debris, rocks and embers.
SUP1’s vehicle began to shake violently, and the passenger windows shattered. SUP1 ducked down to avoid being hit by flying debris and he momentarily drove off the road. SUP1 regained control of his vehicle, drove back onto the road, and exited the area to the north.
As PREV1 slowly approached the burning vehicle, he felt his pickup truck get “pushed” from the west. All the windows in his pickup truck except the windshield shattered. PREV1 took refuge in his vehicle. Approximately 30 seconds later PREV1 observed a male civilian attempting to get in his pickup truck. PREV1 directed the civilian to get in the back seat. Moments later, PREV1 saw a second individual (Dozer 4 operator) running toward him wrapped in a fire shelter. PREV1 directed the dozer operator into the back seat. PREV1 asked if they were injured. The dozer operator indicated that his hands were burned. PREV1 notified Redding ECC that he had a burn victim.
When Chief Royal Burnett retired in 1993 his employer’s agency was still called California Department of Forestry (CDF). At that time he was Chief of the Shingletown Battalion of the Shasta-Trinity Ranger Unit in Northern California. Still keeping his hand in the game, Chief Burnett recently spent some time analyzing how the disastrous Carr Fire spread into his town, Redding, California in July of 2018.
“I retained my interest in fire and fuel modeling after retirement”, the Chief said, “and with my fire geek friends I try to keep current.”
Chief Burnett told us that when he left the CDF he was qualified as a Type 2 Incident Commander, Type 1 Operations Section Chief, Type 1 Planning Section Chief, and Fire Behavior Analyst. He has lived Redding, California for 40 years.
The article below that the Chief wrote about his analysis of the Carr Fire is used here with his permission. A version of it has previously appeared at anewscafe.
The Carr Fire burned 229,651 acres and 1,079 residences, about 800 in the county area and the remaining number inside the city limits.
My friends Steve Iverson, Terry Stinson and I spent several days looking at the portion of the Carr Fire burn where it entered the city of Redding. This would be the Urban portion of the Wildland Urban Interface. That part of our town is newer construction, high-end subdivision homes built to California’s “SRA Fire Safe Regulations”. That is, non-flammable roofs, stucco siding, and all the rest of the State’s requirements. How did we lose almost 300 of them in one wildfire?
Many of these homes were built right on the edge of the Sacramento River canyon on finger ridges to maximize the view, or on the rim of side draws — anything to maximize the view from the property and capture the afternoon up-canyon wind flow. Most had large concrete patios and some had pools. There were no wooden decks extending over the canyon that I saw.
The Canyon is about ½ mile across where most of the houses burned, with the slope estimated at around 100 percent. The aspect where most of the homes burned is west-facing, meaning it catches the afternoon sun and preheats the forest fuels.
The canyon itself was predominantly filled with manzanita 12 to 15 feet high (75 percent) and the remainder was oak woodland, with scattered ceanothus brush and poison oak . The brush field was approximately 75 years old, having sprouted after Shasta Dam was completed in 1945. Available fuel loading ranged from 1 to 3 tons per acre in the oak woodland to 13 tons per acre in the heavy brush. All herbaceous material was cured and live fuel moisture was approximately 80 percent in manzanita — right at the critical level, which means it will burn as if its a dead fuel, not a live one.
So, we’ve got a canyon filled with tons and tons of very flammable brush on an extremely steep slope with hundreds of very pricey homes perched on the rim, on a day when the temperature was 112 degrees and relative humidity was around 9 percent. To repeat a phrase from the 1960s, this was a “Design For Disaster”. (That was the title of fire training film describing the events of the Bel Air fire in Los Angeles County in 1961). [below]
We can determine how things burned by looking at burn patterns and other forensic evidence. For those who did this for a living its like reading a book. It was easy to figure out why the houses on the rim burned — they were looking right down the barrel of a blowtorch. Even though they had fire resistant construction, many had loaded their patios with flammable lawn furniture, tiki bars and flammable ornamental plants. Palm trees became flaming pillars, shredded bark became the fuse, junipers became napalm bombs.
Under current standards houses are build 6 to an acre; 10 feet to the property line and only 20 feet between houses. Once one house ignited, radiant heat could easily torch the next one.
We followed burned wood fence trails from lot to lot — wooden fences were nothing more than upright piles of kindling wood — and then into some ornamental shrubbery with an understory of shredded bark which torched and set the next house on fire. Then the fire progressed away from the canyon rim, not a wildland fire now, but a series of house fires, each contributing to the ignition of the next one.
We noted several, perhaps as many as a half dozen homes that burned from the ground up. Fire entered the building at the point where the stucco outer wall joined the slab and fire in the decorative bark was forced into the foam insulation and composition board sheeting under the stucco by the wind. Normally a fire in decorative bark is not a problem, it simply smolders. But in this case, where literally every burning ember was starting a spot fire and those spot fires were fanned by 100 mph in-draft wind, those smoldering fires were fanned into open flames which burned the homes. A simple piece of flashing could have prevented some of that loss.
We built homes to a fire resistant standard and then compromised them.
The fire hit Redding on an approximately two-mile front. It spotted across the Sacramento River in several locations and spread rapidly in the canyon, spawning numerous fire whirls. The updrafts caused the convection column to rotate, generating firestorm winds estimated at 140 mph. I’d guess most of the homes that were lost burned in the first hour after the fire crossed the river. The fire and rescue services were overwhelmed.
The city of Redding allowed home construction on canyon rims, places that have proven to be fire traps over the years in almost every community where this construction has been allowed. Houses built in those exposed areas are similar to houses built in a flood zone. Its not a question IF they will burn, the question is When?
These subdivisions had limited egress. In one high-priced gated subdivision there is only one way in or out. Redding planners have seemingly ignored the lessons from past disasters like the Tunnel Fire in Oakland Hills in 1991 where 2,900 homes burned and 25 people died.
The city’s green belts have proven to be nothing but time bombs — fuel choked canyons that are a haven for her homeless. How many fire starts have we had in the canyon below Mercy Hospital, or in Sulfur Creek below Raley’s on Lake Boulevard? The homeless problem has exacerbated the fire problem. The fuels are there, the homeless provide the starts.
Even today, new subdivisions are being built overlooking the burned out canyons, looking across the rim at the ruins of homes burned in the Carr Fire.
The Sacramento River canyon will regrow, and it will be more flammable next time and stumps sprouting brush and noxious weeds will germinate in the burned area. The skeletons of the burned trees will become available fuel. In a couple of years the fuel bed will be more receptive to fire than it was before the Carr Fire.
If we don’t learn from our mistakes we are doomed to repeat them.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has released a Green Sheet report about the rollover of a dozer that occurred August 1, 2018 on the Carr Fire west of Redding, California.
Below are excerpts from the 14-page report:
“At approximately 7:00 AM on Tuesday, July 31, 2018, two CWN bulldozers (DOZ1 and DOZ2) were 24 hour resources assigned to Branch III, Division D on the Carr incident. DOZ1’s operator (OP1) had been assigned to the same area on the previous 24-hour operational period (south of HWY 299E on County Line Road) and worked the night shift (7:00 PM to 7:00 AM). OP1 had 4 years of bulldozer operating experience and at least 17 years in the logging industry. OP1 had used the bulldozer extensively in Sonoma and Napa counties in the Fall of 2017.
“At approximately 12:30 AM, STL1 looked toward DOZ1, located up the spur ridge and observed DOZ1 close to the steeper east aspect of the spur ridge. From STL1’s vantage point, DOZ1 was facing him and appeared to be tilted to the right at approximately 40-45 degrees. STL1 observed DOZ1 attempt to climb back to the center of the spur ridge in reverse. While DOZ1 backed, STL1 further observed the front of DOZ1 abruptly rotated 90 degrees to the left and the front of the dozer lift into the air. DOZ1 then lost traction and slid backwards downhill, at which time STL1 saw DOZ1 roll twice, end over end, before he lost sight of it down the slope. STL1 could hear DOZ1 continue to roll down the slope, and then stop. STL1 went to the edge of the slope where DOZ1 left the ridgetop, and could see DOZ1 approximately 300 feet downslope.
“At approximately 12:32 AM, STL1 notified Branch II (t) of the accident and his intention to proceed to DOZ1 to ascertain injuries and needs. STL1 contacted DOZ2 to cease operations and then proceeded to DOZ1’s location. Branch II Safety Officer and Division C Fireline Medics responded to the accident site. Carr Communications was notified of the accident at 12:34 AM by Branch II (t).
“While walking downslope to DOZ1, STL1 heard the engine speed fluctuating up and down. STL1 found the dozer upright on its tracks with the cab still intact. STL1 observed movement inside the bulldozer cab. DOZ1 appeared to be stable and STL1 boarded the dozer on the uphill (right) side. The right cab door was jammed and would only open a couple of inches. STL1 contacted OP1 and did a quick visual assessment. OP1 suffered injuries to the head but was alert and oriented.
“At approximately 12:35 AM, STL1 updated Branch II (t) of OP1’s condition via radio. Branch II (t) advised STL1 to follow the “Incident Within an Incident” protocol in the Incident Action Plan. OP1 self-extricated through the left cab door. With OP1 sitting on the ground, STL1 performed a thorough secondary patient assessment. A night hoist capable helicopter was requested due to mechanism of injury, patient location, and extended ground transport time to a medical facility. A California National Guard night vision equipped 24-hour helicopter medivac resource, assigned to the incident, responded from Redding Helibase and an Advanced Life Support ground ambulance was dispatched to Hwy 299E and County Line Road (Buckhorn Summit) from their staging area in west Redding.
“Division C Fireline Medics arrived at the accident site at 1:35 AM. Due to a heavy smoke inversion, the helicopter experienced difficulty accessing the accident site and at 2:01 AM, Division C Medics cancelled the helicopter and walked OP1 out to meet the ground ambulance. OP1 was transferred to the ALS ambulance at 2:43 AM and began transport to Mercy Medical Center with a 2-hour estimated time of arrival…”