Lori Mallory Eckhart took these remarkable photos of the Claremont-Bear Fire September 8, 2020, the day it made a massive run west to Oroville, California increasing in size by more than 100,000 acres in 24 hours. The camera she used was a Nikon D7100 with an f/3.5-6.3 18-300 mm lens.
The Claremont and Bear Fires burned together and are now managed as part of the 252,000-acre North Complex organization.
The white cloud above the smoke is a pyrocumulus cloud produced by the intense heating of the air over a fire. This induces convection, which causes the air mass to rise to a point of stability, where condensation occurs. If the fire is large enough, the cloud may continue to grow, becoming a cumulonimbus flammagenitus which may produce lightning and start another fire.
A firefighting hand crew was overrun by the fire they were fighting September 9 and had to deploy their fire shelters. It happened on the Claremont/Bear Fire, two merged blazes that are part of the North Complex.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection explained that the fire became unpredictable due to erratic weather and dry fuel conditions. The agency said the personnel were “virtually unharmed except for two minor injuries.” The incident is under review.
Fire shelters are small foldable pup tent-like fire resistant devices that a wildland firefighter can unfold and climb into if there is no option for escaping from an approaching inferno. The shelters can resist radiant heat, and if the person inside can seal the edges under their body, convective heat as well, but there are limits. Many firefighters have used the devices successfully, but others have been killed inside them.
The North Complex has burned 252,534 acres east of Oroville, California. Approximately 1,000 structures have been destroyed and 10 civilians have been killed. Resources assigned include 73 hand crews, 18 helicopters, 254 fire engines, 76 dozers, and 98 water tenders for a total of 3,108 personnel.
On September 5, three firefighters on the Bridger Foothills Fire northeast of Bozeman, Montana were forced to deploy and take refuge in their fire shelters when their safety became compromised by the proximity of the blaze, fire officials said.
September 8 on the Dolan Fire south of Big Sur, California, another crew of firefighters was entrapped and deployed their fire shelters. Updated information from the U.S. Forest Service is slightly different from what was originally released shortly after the incident. Andrew Madsen, an information officer for the fire, explained that of the 14 that were entrapped, three were flown to Community Regional Hospital in Fresno. One was initially in critical condition and the other two were in serious condition. As of today, September 11, the two that were serious have been released, and the critically injured individual is much better and is expected to be released in a day or two. Mr. Madsen said some of the other 11 members of the crew had “smoke inhalation” issues, but were evaluated at the scene and are OK. The crew was attempting to protect the Forest Service’s Nacimiento Fire station as the blaze approached.
One of the fires on the North Complex of fires east of Chico, California apparently grew by about 100,000 acres Tuesday. Operations Section Chief Jake Cagle said Wednesday morning that 45 mph winds pushed the Claremont/Bear Fire to the southwest for miles until it reached Lake Oroville east of the city by the same name. But it didn’t stop there. According to the map produced by the incident management team it worked its way around the south side of the lake and may have even spotted across the lake.
With the extremely rapid growth, firefighters were unable to have the luxury of containing the fire’s edge, their time had to be spent on the urgent matters of firefighter and public safety, notifying citizens of mandatory evacuations, and protecting structures.
The exact location of the fire’s edge was not certain at mid-day Wednesday because an aircraft scheduled to map the fire Tuesday night became unavailable due to a maintenance issue. Without the more accurate mapping system, the incident management team used heat-sensing data collected by satellites to evaluate the size, which is far less reliable. Mr. Cagle estimated Wednesday morning that the fire at that time was about 45 miles long and 30 miles wide.
The incident management team believes the North Complex of fires has burned approximately 254,000 acres, an increase of about 104,000 acres over the figure released earlier in the day.
The North Complex is comprised of multiple fires, most of which were suppressed, but remaining were the Bear and Claremont blazes. The map below shows where they were on August 20 before they burned together. The team fighting the fire now is referring to it as Bear Fire, or the North Complex.
The map below is not an accurate perimeter. It is an estimate from satellite heat sensors that may have detected heat in the smoke a distance from the fire, in addition to the fire itself. It may show the fire as being much larger than it actually is. This can happen during explosive growth of a fire that is burning very intensely and putting up a very large column of smoke containing a great deal of ash and debris.
Many of the wildfires that started on the Plumas National Forest from lightning on August 17 have been contained, but three are large and active on the North Complex. It is being managed by California Incident Management Team 1 working closely and coordinating resources with CAL FIRE.
(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the lightning-caused wildfires in California, including the most recent, click HERE.)
The largest fire in the complex is the Sheep Fire, a result of at least three fires merging into what is now a 10,241-acre blaze three miles southwest of Susanville, California. Three residences have been destroyed and 250 are threatened.
From the Incident Management Team the morning of August 21:
The Sheep Fire moderated overnight allowing crews to make considerable progress constructing dozer line in the areas of Golden Lane, Amesbury, Jura Road, and Old Archery and Scotts Logging Roads. This followed yesterday’s spread of the fire northwest into the front-country and into the flats moving into subdivisions on the southeast side of Susanville. Crews were able to defend the structures in those neighborhoods … and hold the line without losing any additional structures. Crews on the south and west sides of the fire took advantage of the favorable weather to halt the fire spread in those areas.
The Claremont Fire one mile south of East Quincy has burned 5,678 acres.
From the Incident Management Team August 21:
The Claremont Fire continued to spread toward the west side of Quincy-La Porte Road yesterday with a few spots on the other side of road, but crews were able to get to those spots and hold the fire to the west side. Active structure protection took place last night in East Quincy where 30 engines and other heavy equipment were battling blazes. Fire fighting objectives for crews today are centered around steering the fire away from town and the Highway 70 corridor.
The Bear Fire has burned 250 acres in steep, inaccessible terrain 10 miles southwest of Quincy near the Pacific Crest Trail.