While reporting on the Cave Fire near Santa Barbara, California a fire photographer encountered a little more wildfire activity than she expected.
FirePhotoGirl is very active in coverage of fires and other emergency incidents, shooting footage for Southern California media as well as her twitter account, @FirePhotoGirl.
On November 25 just before midnight she was on the Cave Fire driving her vehicle down Painted Cave Road when she made what looks like a good decision to turn around. She described it like this when posting the dash cam video on YouTube:
Painted Cave – I was trying to go down and had to turn around. If you cant tell it was a little too warm. Do not try this or put yourself in harms way. This was very dangerous.
A new real time wildfire mapping system was used on the Cave Fire near Santa Barbara, California this week.
In September the Orange County Fire Authority began a 150-day pilot program to use and evaluate the Fire Integrated Real-Time Intelligence System (FIRIS). The program got off the ground thanks to funding secured in the 2019-2020 California state budget by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach).
The system utilizes a fixed-wing aircraft equipped with infrared and radar sensors that can see through smoke. The plane provides real-time fire perimeter mapping and live high definition video to support supercomputer-based wildfire predictive spread modeling.
A supercomputer at the University of California San Diego runs WIFIRE spread projections based on fire perimeter data collected by the aircraft. The output estimates where the fire will be in the next six hours. The fire spread model adjusts for successful fire suppression actions by firefighters on the ground and in the air. This intel allows for more timely and accurate decision making for resource allocation and evacuations.
If I am correctly interpreting the WIFIRE product at the top of this article the system predicted that the Cave Fire would grow from 4,994 to 8,880 acres over a 90-minute period beginning at 10:56 a.m. on November 26, 2019. Spot fires were predicted more than a mile ahead. However, decreasing winds that day slowed the spread. A weather station in San Marcos Pass about three miles northwest of the fire recorded sustained wind speeds from 1 to 5 mph between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Rain beginning at 2 a.m. November 27 stopped the spread at 4,330 acres.
The video below is “B-Roll”, that is, unedited footage of the FIRIS system. The first 6.5 minutes are simply images of aircraft, but after that you will be able to look over the shoulder of the imagery technician as he observes infrared imagery of a fire, manually interprets the heat signatures, then traces the fire perimeter on the screen. That perimeter could then be electronically sent to the super computer in San Diego County which would run a fire spread model to predict what the fire will do in the next six hours.
Our attempts to obtain more information about FIRIS from personnel on the Cave Fire that used the system were not successful.
The predicted rain that would stop the spread of the Cave Fire near Santa Barbara arrived at 2 a.m. Wednesday, four hours after it was expected, but by 9 a.m. had accumulated 0.87 inch in the weather station in San Marcos Pass. An additional 1.3″ through Thursday night is in the forecast.
Mike Eliason, an Information Officer for Santa Barbara County Fire Department, said Wednesday morning that there is a slight chance of snow in the higher elevations of the fire. The lowest edge of the fire at Santa Barbara is at 300 feet, but the ridge near the north side rises to 3,500 feet.
At an 11 a.m. press conference Tuesday fire authorities said the Cave Fire at Santa Barbara, California had burned 4,262 acres. In addition to the 10 air tankers and 9 helicopters, 500 firefighters are working on the blaze.
The strong wind that drove the fire rapidly downhill toward the city Monday night slowed on Tuesday. Rain is expected to begin at about 10 p.m. Tuesday, but forecasters have backed off the two inches that was predicted through Thursday, cutting it in half, to about one inch. There is a chance of more rain this weekend.
The spread of the Cave Fire northwest of Santa Barbara, California slowed after midnight Monday night but it continued to grow actively near Painted Cave Road and had burned into the San Marcos Foothills Nature Preserve just north of the city limits of Santa Barbara.
At 7:34 a.m. PST Mike Eliason of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department reported, “4,100 acres with 0% containment. 600 firefighters assigned. No structures (homes) destroyed & no injuries.”
In the map above the red dots represent heat detected by a satellite orbiting 500 miles above the earth. The locations have not been confirmed by individuals closer to the ground. We expect to obtain slightly more accurate satellite data later Tuesday morning.
Originally published at 10:40 p.m. PST November 25, 2019
Firefighters are working to protect structures threatened by the Cave Fire that spread rapidly after it started northwest of Santa Barbara, California at 4 p.m. Monday. It was pushed by winds out of the north that increased from 5 mph to 16 mph, with gusts up to 30. At sunset a nearby weather station in San Marcos Pass recorded a temperature of 61 degrees with 16 percent relative humidity.