Creek Fire has burned over 346,000 acres northeast of Fresno, CA

Updated October 18, 2020   |   7:18 a.m. PDT

The map above shows the perimeter of the Creek Fire collected by a mapping aircraft (N170WL) at 10:30 p.m. PDT Oct. 17, 2020. The red shaded areas represent intense heat. During the last 24 hours there was growth on the east side northwest of Mono Hot Springs. The preliminary updated size is 348,085 acres.

October 17, 2020   |   11:40 a.m. PDT

We are trying something new on Wildfire Today — creating a Google Map containing the perimeter of the Creek Fire. One of the main differences from our usual maps is that you can zoom in to see more detail. But keep in mind the perimeter is the approximate location, and can rapidly change as the fire spreads.  The data came, as usual, from an overnight USFS fixed wing mapping flight. Let us know your thoughts about this type of map.

The 346,477-acre Creek Fire is the largest fire in the recorded history of California, when comparing fires that are not part of a complex or multiple fires that merged. It is about 22 air miles northeast of Fresno.

Most of the spread of the fire over the last two days has been on the northeast side, which compared to the overall size of the blaze seems like a relatively small area, but it is generating large quantities of smoke affecting much of Central California.

Forecast for wildfire smoke
Forecast for wildfire smoke at 2 a.m. MDT October 18, 2020.

Firefighters make firelines by removing vegetation, so that the fire will burn up to the line and stop, since there is nothing left to burn. Roads and natural barriers can also be used. On October 12 there were 600 miles of fireline on the Creek Fire:

  • Dozer Lines: 363
  • Handline (constructed by hand crews): 87
  • Roads as Line: 150

Resources assigned to the fire include 19 hand crews, 43 fire engines and 13 helicopters, for a total of 983 personnel.

The incident management team reports that 105 residences and 508 other structures have been destroyed.

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

Trump administration reverses decision to deny California’s request for fire disaster assistance

A disaster declaration allows cost-sharing for damage, cleanup and rebuilding

Updated October 16, 2020   |   3:25 p.m. MDT

Friday afternoon the Trump administration reversed their decision to deny the request submitted by California for a disaster declaration for six destructive wildfires in 2020.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the President has approved California’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration to bolster the state’s emergency response to wildfires across the state and support impacted residents in Fresno, Los Angeles, Madera, Mendocino, San Bernardino, San Diego and Siskiyou counties.

“Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request. Grateful for his quick response,” said Governor Newsom.

A Presidential Major Disaster Declaration helps people in the impacted counties through eligibility for support including crisis counseling, housing and unemployment assistance and legal services. It also provides federal assistance to help state, tribal and local governments fund emergency response, recovery and protective measures.

October 16, 2020   |   8:20 a.m. PDT

Fires California aid request denied

The Trump administration has denied the request submitted by California for a disaster declaration for six destructive wildfires in 2020. A declaration would allow cost-sharing for damage, cleanup and rebuilding between the state and federal government. The state plans to appeal the decision.

According to data compiled by Wildfire Today from InciWeb and the National Interagency Fire Center, the six fires in the aid request burned a total of 655,637 acres and destroyed at least 1,604 structures.

One of the six, the 341,722-acre Creek Fire northeast of Fresno, is the largest single fire in the state’s recorded history that was not part of a complex or the result of multiple fires burning together. It is still very active and grew for another 4,067 acres Thursday, producing large quantities of smoke affecting much of central California.

The other fires in the aid request were the Slater in northwest California, Bobcat near Los Angeles, El Dorado east of Yucaipa, Valley in San Diego County, and Oak near Mendocino.

From ABC News:

Federal Emergency Management Agency press secretary Lizzie Litzow told ABC News in a statement Friday that “the damage assessments FEMA conducted with state and local partners determined that the early September fires were not of such severity and magnitude to exceed the combined capabilities of the state, affected local governments, voluntary agencies and other responding federal agencies.”

FEMA, however, did approve four fire management assistance grants in five California counties for wildfires included in the state’s disaster request, according to Litzow.

“These grants will deliver millions of dollars of assistance for emergency expenses and funds to help reduce the risks of future disasters,” she said. .

Under the Fire Management Assistance Grant Program, FEMA provides assistance in the form of grants for equipment, supplies, and personnel costs for the mitigation, management, and control of any fire on public or private forest land.

Mr. Trump has threatened numerous times to stop sending federal money to California, including during a Cabinet meeting October 17, 2018:

So I say to the Governor, or whoever is going to be the Governor of California, better get your act together cause California we’re just not going to continue to pay the kind of money that we’re paying because of fires that should never be to the extent.

The President reaffirmed the issue November 10, 2018 in a tweet:

There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!

Trump tweet Nov 10, 2018 forest fires california

On January 9, 2019 Mr. Trump again addressed the issue in a tweet:

Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forrest (sic) fires that, with proper Forrest (sic) management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives and money!

Trump President forrest
Tweet by President Trump which was deleted Jan. 9, 2019, then reposted with correct spellings.

According to a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service the federal government manages 46 percent of the land in California. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection manages or has fire protection responsibility for about 30 percent.

Climate change is part of the equation that has resulted in longer fire seasons, extremes of heat and cold, drought in some areas, high fire danger, and dry fuels that are very receptive to rapid fire spread.

Creek fire burned gas station
Gas station on the Creek Fire, photo by Daniel R. Patterson, PIO
national guard helicopters creek fire california
Helicopters from the California National Guard mobilized for the Creek Fire. Photo by Daniel R. Patterson, PIO.

Meteorologists determine the Creek Fire created two fire tornados

Northeast of Fresno, California earlier this month

Satellite photo showing smoke from fires in California
Satellite photo showing smoke from fires in California at 6:01 p.m. PDT Sept 5, 2020. NASA/Wildfire Today. The Creek Fire

The Creek Fire ran for more than 10 miles and burned 36,000 acres during the first 22 hours after it started at 6 p.m. September 4 northeast of Fresno, California. During that time it created two fire tornados and sent its smoke plume up to 55,000 feet, taller than the tornadic thunderstorms in tornado alley.

An analysis by meteorologists from the National Weather service has revealed that the extreme growth on September 5 generated rare phenomenons — vortices rated at EF2 and EF1, sometimes called fire tornados when they are created by a wildfire.

One was near Mammoth Pool Reservoir and the other was near Huntington Lake. Over 200 people trapped by the fire at Mammoth Pool Reservoir were flown out by courageous National Guard Pilots in helicopters, at times through darkness and smoke.

The NWS personnel rated the vortices based on the effects on trees, including areas where trees were debarked, indicating an EF2 event.

Below is an excerpt from an article by Matthew Cappucci  in the Washington Post.

Jerald Meadows, the warning coordination meteorologist at the Hanford office, said both tornadoes shared common features. “The main contributing factor was the debarking of all the pine trees up with the Mammoth Pool tornado,” Meadows said. “They both uprooted trees to the root balls and snapped large pines. But the [EF1 tornado] did not have any signs of true debarking. We’re probably talking the difference between 100 and 110 miles per hour.”

The Mammoth Pool tornado, which touched down inside the Wagner Campground, snapped several two-foot-diameter trees about 20 to 30 feet above the ground; it was rated as having winds of 115 to 125 mph. The Huntington Lake fire tornado had winds of 90 to 107 mph, and the NWS noted that it was “the result of unprecedented fire activity.”

The article reports that the NWS personnel on duty while the tornados were occurring had concerns about activating their severe weather warning system.

“A tornado warning was considered but not issued,” said [Jerald Meadows, the warning coordination meteorologist at the Hanford Office], who feared that disseminating such an alert might leave people unnecessarily conflicted about deciding whether to shelter or evacuate.

“A tornado warning for a fire opens up a can of worms,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re messaging properly, and we were talking to fire crews letting them know of the circulations we were seeing.”

Before the onslaught of fire tornadoes that has been a hallmark of 2020′s blazes, some National Weather Service offices have had internal discussions and concluded that they would not issue tornado warnings for wildfire-related twisters. While the National Weather Service hasn’t issued specific policy guidance to its 122 forecast offices on how to handle fire tornadoes, Meadows suspects considerable research will be needed to reach a resolution.

This article was edited September 26 to clarify the locations of the fire tornados at Mammoth Pool Reservoir and Huntington Lake.

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

Scientist says more fire tornados are being reported at wildfires this year

Researcher uses radar data to make three-dimensional maps of smoke plumes

Radar rendering of smoke plume over the Creek Fire
Radar rendering of smoke plume over the Creek Fire. By Neil Lareau, University of Nevada Reno.

The extreme heat caused by a large high pressure system in the West has led to an unusual number of fire tornados.

An article in the Washington Post by Matthew Cappucci explains how Neil Lareau, a professor of atmospheric sciences in the department of physics at the University of Nevada at Reno, used detailed weather radar data to make three-dimensional maps of smoke plumes over fires. While it is unusual to have a fire tornado anytime, the data indicates that on at least three fires this year fire tornados have been detected by radar. One was photographed on the Loyalton Fire August 15 about 12 miles northwest of Reno, Nevada. National Weather Service meteorologists who spotted it on radar issued the agency’s first-ever fire tornado warning.

Fire tornado Loyalton Fire
Fire tornado on the Loyalton Fire, by @DVRockJockey August 15, 2020.

Fire tornados and huge smoke plumes topped by massive pyrocumulus clouds are indicators of extreme fire behavior. There is absolutely nothing firefighters or aircraft can do to slow a blaze under those conditions — and those pyrocumulus clouds seem to be occurring more frequently this year.

Creek Fire
Creek Fire September 5, 2020. IMT photo.

The day after the Creek Fire started, its smoke plume grew to 55,000 feet, taller than the tornadic thunderstorms seen in Oklahoma and Kansas in the the spring.

From the Post:

“Anecdotally, this is the deepest that I’ve seen,” said Lareau, who was shocked by the height achieved by the smoke plume. “It’s about a solid 10,000 feet higher than we’re typically seeing with the highest of these plumes.”

Before 2020, only a few fires had ever produced documented fire tornadoes in the United States; now we’re seeing them every week or two. Lareau says the tremendous heights of the wildfires’ clouds, combined with more concerted and astute observation, are factors in the numerous fire tornadoes that have been reported this year. He thinks there may also be some truth to the apparent increase.

“We have a ton of eyes on every fire, looking at every frame, but still, we weren’t seeing these before,” he said. “And we’re seeing all too much of it right now. It’s rather worrying.”

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

100 more people rescued by helicopters as Creek Fire grows to over 140,000 acres

Helicopter pilot said it was, “By far the toughest flying I have ever done.”

Map of the Creek Fire
Map of the Creek Fire at 8:41 p.m. PDT September 7, 2020.

The Creek Fire 22 miles northeast of Fresno grew explosively Monday, and has now blackened 143,929 acres.

Military helicopters continue to rescue people that are becoming trapped as roads are blocked by the fast moving blaze. In addition to the 224 that were rescued by National Guard helicopters September 5 near Mammoth Pool Reservoir, about 100 more were rescued Monday night and Tuesday morning. The Guard and the U.S. Navy extracted people from the Edison Lake and China Peak areas and took them to the Fresno airport, the Fresno Bee reported. Helicopters that were transporting civilians included Blackhawks, Chinooks, and a Navy Seahawk.

Rescued people arrive at Fresno Creek Fire
People who were rescued from the Creek Fire by Chinook helicopters arrive at Fresno airport September 8, 2020. California National Guard image.

From the Bee, September 8:

Five flights have taken place Tuesday, according to Maj. Jason Sweeney, a spokesman for the California National Guard. More were imminent.

In the latest flights, a U.S. Navy Seahawk helicopter returned 17 people and a dog to Fresno from Edison Lake and a National Guard twin-rotor Chinook helicopter flew back from Edison with 46 people and four dogs. The Navy joined the efforts a short time later, sending a rescue helicopter from Lemoore Naval Air Station to Edison Lake, and returned with 11 people.

Not all of the attempts to rescue people were immediately successful. On some missions poor visibility caused by smoke forced pilots to abort and try again later.

(To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Creek Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.)

One of the helicopter pilots who rescued people trapped in the fire said in an interview posted at the Bee that he has been shot at while flying for the Army but, “[T]he stress and added workload of going in and out of that fire every time is by far the toughest flying I have ever done.”

At least 65 structures have burned, according to CAL FIRE, and another 5,300 are threatened.

Resources assigned to the Creek Fire include 10 hand crews, 82 fire engines, and 7 helicopters for a total of 846 personnel.

In normal times if there was not competition for firefighting resources nationally due to numerous fires burning at the same time, there would be between 3,000 and 5,000 personnel on a fire this size. In the United States 23,018 are working on fires today, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. As another example, the Bobcat Fire that is threatening the wildland-urban interface in the Los Angeles area has 85 total personnel and no hand crews three days after it started.

Tuesday’s weather forecast for the Shaver Lake area calls for 79 degrees, 14 percent relative humidity, and wind out of the northwest or north at 10 to 20 mph gusting at 15 to 28 mph — and no chance of rain. Conditions will moderate Tuesday night, and Wednesday will bring 71 degrees, 20 percent RH, and 5 to 8 mph winds out of the southwest.

Creek Fire reaches Mammoth Pool Reservoir; military helicopters rescue over 150 people

More than a dozen had critical injuries

Updated September 7, 2020  |  12:41 p.m. PDT

Map of the Creek Fire 12:05 a.m. PDT Sept. 7, 2020
Map of the Creek Fire at 12:05 a.m. PDT Sept. 7, 2020. Perimeter provided by the incident management team.

The Creek Fire Sunday grew in all directions but not as much to the north as might be expected after it ran for over 10 miles in that direction during its first 22 hours. The blaze spread south near the west shore of Shaver Lake but according to mapping at 12:05 a.m. Monday stayed primarily west of Highway 168.

The Incident management team reported at 10:47 a.m. Monday the fire had  burned 78,790 acres.

August 6, 2020  |  4:54 p.m. PDT

Map of the Creek Fire
Map of the Creek Fire at 8:38 a.m. PDT August 6, 2020. The perimeter was supplied by the incident management team.

The perimeter of the Creek Fire on the map above was supplied by the incident management team and is much more accurate than data from satellites. The Forest Service reports it has burned 45,500 acres.

Early Saturday afternoon the fire crossed the San Joaquin River and made a run north to the Mammoth Pool area and beyond. Members of the public sheltered in place near Wagner’s Store and Campground and Mammoth Pool Reservoir. Using helicopters, the California Army National Guard safely evacuated 207 people that were trapped by the fire.

The fire burned actively overnight Saturday and into Sunday morning. Firefighters were challenged Sunday by steep rugged terrain, heavy fuel loading, and high temperatures. Additional resources have been ordered including a Type 1 Incident Management Team. Evacuations and closures remain in effect.

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