Crew on North Complex in California overrun by fire deploys fire shelters

And, an update on the shelter deployment at the Dolan Fire

Map of the North Complex, Claremont & Bear Fires
Map of the North Complex, Claremont & Bear Fires 11:12 a.m. PDT Sept 11, 2020.

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 Shelter Test
Fire Shelter Tests in Canada, June, 2015.

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.

Nacimiento Station
Nacimiento Station, satellite photo, September 7, 2018.

Update: September 20, 2020:

North Complex burnover
North Complex burnover

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

West side of the Dolan Fire along California coast is mostly contained

Dolan Fire
CALTRANS contractors on the Dolan Fire work to make Highway 1 safe for drivers. InciWeb.

Firefighters have almost half of the 31,409-acre Dolan Fire south of Big Sur contained. The fire’s spread on the western side is stopped, aided by Highway 1, the beach, and the Pacific Ocean, but there is much work left to do on the east side some of which is in very rough terrain.

Below is an update from the Incident Management Team Thursday morning:

“The Pacific Northwest 2 Incident Management Team assumed command of the Dolan Fire this morning following a successful transition with California Incident Management Team 2. Thank you to Incident Commander Mike Minton and his entire team for their expert management and work to date.

“The marine inversion layer kept fire activity minimal overnight, active fire in the east and south ends especially around Cone Peak. Although limited fire spread has occurred over the last few days, the excessive heat watch forecast for this weekend is expected to increase fire behavior. Firefighters continue to bolster containment lines in the northern and southern perimeters, mopping up and increasing the line depth along McWay Ridge and within the Lucia and Hermitage areas. Crews continue to work on the primary containment line north of the Naciemento-Ferguson Road and along the road to Cone Peak. This indirect line will serve as the primary containment line to keep the fire from spreading to the south toward nearby structures. Dozers, hand crews and masticators are also working on additional contingency lines farther south. Overnight crews continued improving lines and patrolling Highway 1 for roll outs and increased fire behavior. Crews began building direct line in the eastern edge of the fire within the Ventana Wilderness yesterday.

“Firefighters continue with structure protection all along Highway 1, in the Partington area north, and in the Lucia and Hermitage areas to the south. Currently on the fire there are: 5 Type 1 Hotshot crews, 8 Type 2 hand crews, 60 engines, 10 dozers, 10 helicopters, 8 water tenders, 2 masticators, and a variety of other equipment to support firefighting efforts.”

Dolan Fire September 2, 2020
Dolan Fire as seen from Plasket Road September 2, 2020. Credit: Scott Babinowich?
Dolan Fire map
Dolan Fire map, September 2, 2020.

Over 15,000 personnel are battling California fires

Cooler weather has slowed some fires, but the August Complex grew by over 16,000 acres Tuesday

Updated August 26, 2020 | 11:38 a.m. PDT

California Fires August 26, 2020
California Fires August 26, 2020.

The  growth of the big complexes of fires in California, LNU, CZU, and SCU, has slowed in recent days, but the LNU and SCU Lightning Complexes still gained 4,509 and 5,717 acres respectively in the last 24 hours. The August Complex southwest of Red Bluff increased by 16,097 acres.

(To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the lightning fires in California, including the most recent, click HERE.)

The blazes have charred more than 1.32 million acres, killed seven people, and destroyed nearly 2,000 structures. The fires are being fought by 280 hand crews, 2,400 fire engines, 300 dozers, and 370 water tenders for a total of 15,000 personnel.

In addition to the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group working on a request for firefighting assistance from Australia and Canada, California activated the National Guard for help containing the blazes. On August 23 CAL FIRE issued equipment to 270 soldiers as they were beginning basic fire training at Camp Roberts. Another group of 300 soldiers will arrive next week for training. CAL FIRE will embed with each 20-person crew a Captain and two firefighters for supervision.

Below are updates on some of the largest incidents in California, with data from CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service.

LNU Lightning Complex

  • Updated August 26, 2020 at 1:13 p.m. PDT
  • Location: North Bay
  • Counties: Napa, Lake, Yolo, Solano, Sonoma
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Sonoma-Lake-Napa
  • Acres: 357,046. The largest fire in the complex is the Hennessey Fire, 299,763 . The Walbridge Fire west of Healdsburg is 54,923, and the Meyers Fire on the coast north of Jenner is 2,360.
  • Structures destroyed: 978
  • Personnel assigned: 2,207
  • Evacuation information:  CAL FIRE LNU Twitter page
  • Notes: Fires that merged to become the Hennessey Fire include Gamble, Green, Spanish, 5-10, Morgan, and Markley Fires.

SCU Lightning Complex

  • Updated August 26, 2020 at 1:13 p.m. PDT
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: Santa Clara, Alameda, Stanislaus, Contra Costa, San Joaquin
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Santa Clara
  • Acres: 365,772
  • Structures destroyed: 31
  • Personnel assigned: 1,655
  • Evacuation information:  CAL FIRE SCU Twitter page
  • Notes: Fire activity has lessened due to favorable weather conditions and increased humidity across the complex. Deep seated heat still remains in the bottom of the steep, inaccessible drainages. During the evening fire crews held existing control line around the fire perimeter continuing to both reinforce and add new containment lines. When weather and conditions are favorable there will be a controlled burn operation inside the control line. This controlled burn will widen the buffer and consume fuel between the edge of the fire and the control line.

CZU August Lightning

  • Updated August 26, 2020 at 1:13 p.m. PDT
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: San Mateo, Santa Cruz
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Mateo-Santa Cruz
  • Acres: 79,640
  • Structures destroyed: 443
  • Personnel assigned: 1,697
  • Evacuation information: CAL FIRE CZU Twitter page
  • Notes: It is burning in Southern San Mateo County and Northern Santa Cruz County actively above the marine layer in the heavy timber and thick undergrowth.  Approximately 77,000 people have been evacuated.

River and Carmel Fires

  • Updated August 26, 2020 at 1:13 p.m. PDT
  • Location: Five miles south of Salinas, near Pine Canyon Rd. and River Rd.
  • Counties: Monterey
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Benito-Monterey
  • Acres: 48,424
  • Structures destroyed: 30
  • Personnel assigned: 1,183
  • Evacuation information: CAL FIRE San Benito-Monterey Twitter page, and see maps produced by Monterey County here.
  • Notes: Firefighters patrolling the fire Tuesday confirmed that the fire remained within containment lines. The onshore winds from the northwest allowed the fire to travel very slowly to the south with in containment lines.The Carmel Fire 2 miles southwest of the River Fire has burned 6,901 acres and destroyed 37 structures.

Dolan Fire

  • Updated August 26, 2020 at 1:13 p.m. PDT
  • Location: on the coast 10 miles south of Big Sur
  • Counties: Monterey
  • Administrative Unit: U.S. Forest Service, Los Padres NF
  • Acres: 21,844
  • Structures destroyed: 0
  • Personnel assigned: 880
  • Evacuation information:
  • Notes: Fire behavior was moderate throughout Tuesday night. Crews performed structure defense in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and continued to protect private property and clear roadways around Partington and along Hwy. 1. Crews continued to secure direct and indirect lines to keep the fire out of Hermitage, Lucia and Morning Glory. Progress is slow due to rough terrain and lack of available crews. On Wednesday, crews will continue to focus on the northern and southern edges of the fire by constructing and enhancing control lines, with the priority being lines along McWay ridge and above Lucia northeast to Twin Peaks.

August Complex

  • Updated August 26, 2020 at 1:13 p.m. PDT
  • Location: 18 miles southwest of Red Bluff
  • Counties: Tehama, Glenn, Lake, Mendocino, Trinity
  • Administrative Unit: Mendocino National Forest and CAL FIRE
  • Acres: 197,148
  • Structures destroyed: 10
  • Personnel assigned: 476
  • Evacuation information:
  • Notes: As of Tuesday evening: firefighters are opening preexisting fire breaks as control lines on the south portion of the Doe fire (160,436 acres 31% contained). Structure protection is continuing when it is safe to do so. Line construction is continuing on the Glade Fire (18,307 acres 0% contained). Firefighters are working in coordination with Crane Mills Timber and using dozers to tie in the north portion of the Tatham fire (8,958 acres 11% contained). .

Predicted dry lightning could worsen the fire situation in California and other western states

Red Flag Warning in effect for Northern California Sunday and Monday

August 24, 2020 | 7:45 a.m. PDT

Map fires California Bay Area
Map of fires in the California Bay Area, August 23, 2020.

As if firefighters and residents evacuating or battling lightning-caused wildfires in California didn’t already have enough to worry about, another round of dry lightning is in the forecast for Sunday and Monday.

Thunderstorms with little or no rain is what ignited over 500 fires earlier last week. Now scattered or isolated dry thunderstorms could hit northern California and portions of Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado through Monday.

Nick Nauslar, a Fire Meteorologist at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, wrote about the forecast in a tweet at 11:30 p.m. Saturday:

Hundreds of new fires are likely if this event pans out. And thunderstorm outflow winds will impact some ongoing fires which would lead to an increase of fire spread/behavior. I hope I'm wrong and this forecast busts. But for now, data points to another big event.

So it’s not just the potential for new fires that that is cause for concern — the strong outflow winds associated with the thunderstorms could greatly increase the rate of spread of the existing fires. It can also put firefighters in even greater danger as the winds can shift 180 degrees very quickly changing the direction a fire is moving, possibly overrunning personnel.

(To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the lightning fires in California, including the most recent, click HERE.)

Check out this video showing the effect the passage of a thunderstorm had on the just-ignited Hennessey Fire August 17 in Napa Valley. That fire has now burned 287,811 acres. The effect of outflow winds is temporary, but a blaze that is suddenly much larger can outstrip the ability of firefighters to quickly suppress it.

Red Flag Warnings are in effect for the northern half of California through Monday evening. The highest threat of dry lightning is Sunday afternoon through Monday morning.

With existing shortages of personnel, equipment, engines, and firefighting aircraft, more fires would put further strain on the systems that are already being managed at the highest planning level nationally, Preparedness Level 5. In PL 5 over 80% of the nation’s incident management teams and wildland firefighting personnel are committed to incidents. Resource orders are being prioritized to fires across California and the west.

Aircraft that can map a fire using infrared imagery have not yet flown all of the large incidents and some maps and acreages are estimates. One of the two mapping aircraft owned by the U.S. Forest Service, N144Z which is the most capable, has not successfully mapped a fire since November 16, 2018 because an avionics issue has not been repaired. The Forest Service has hired privately owned mapping aircraft in an attempt to fill the void.

Below are updates on the largest incidents in California.

LNU Lightning Complex

  • Updated August 24, 2020 at 7:38 p.m. PDT
  • Location: North Bay
  • Counties: Napa, Lake, Yolo, Solano, Sonoma
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Sonoma-Lake-Napa
  • Acres: 350,030. The largest fire in the complex is the Hennessey Fire, 293,602. The Walbridge Fire west of Healdsburg is 54,068, and the Meyers Fire on the coast north of Jenner is 2,360.
  • Structures destroyed: 871
  • Personnel assigned: 1,857
  • Evacuation information:  CAL FIRE LNU Twitter page
  • Notes: Fires that merged to become the Hennessey Fire include Gamble, Green, Spanish, 5-10, Morgan, and Markley Fires.
LNU Lightning Complex map
Map of the LNU Lightning Complex of fires at 9:21 p.m. PDT August 22, 2020.

SCU Lightning Complex

  • Updated August 24, 2020 at 7:44 a.m. PDT
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: Santa Clara, Alameda, Stanislaus, Contra Costa, San Joaquin
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Santa Clara
  • Acres: 347,196
  • Structures destroyed: 12
  • Personnel assigned: 1,336
  • Evacuation information:  CAL FIRE SCU Twitter page
  • Notes: The complex is comprised of approximately 20 separate fires broken into three zones; the Canyon Zone, the Calaveras Zone, and the Deer Zone.

CZU August Lightning

  • Updated August 24, 2020 at 7:44 a.m. PDT
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: San Mateo, Santa Cruz
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Mateo-Santa Cruz
  • Acres: 74,000
  • Structures destroyed: 163
  • Personnel assigned: 1,511
  • Evacuation information: CAL FIRE CZU Twitter page
  • Notes: The fires continue to actively burn above the marine layer in the heavy timber and thick undergrowth. Damage Inspection Teams have begun to survey areas where fire activity has diminished and it is safe to do so. The number of destroyed structures reflected may change as teams continue to make progress. Firefighting resources are limited due to the number of fires burning throughout California. Limited visibility due to smoke is hampering aircraft operations. Approximately 77,000 people have been evacuated.
Map SCU Lightning Complex and CZU August Lightning Complex of fires
Map of the SCU Lightning Complex and CZU August Lightning Complex of fires at 7:54 a.m. August 23, 2020.

River and Carmel Fires

  • Updated August 24, 2020 at 7:44 a.m. PDT
  • Location: Five miles south of Salinas, near Pine Canyon Rd. and River Rd.
  • Counties: Monterey
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Benito-Monterey
  • Acres: 48,424
  • Structures destroyed: 21
  • Personnel assigned: 1,274
  • Evacuation information: CAL FIRE San Benito-Monterey Twitter page, and see maps produced by Monterey County here.
  • Notes: The Carmel Fire 2 miles southwest of the River Fire has burned 6,695 acres and destroyed 37 structures.

Dolan Fire

  • Updated August 23, 2020 at 9:31 a.m. PDT
  • Location: on the coast 10 miles south of Big Sur
  • Counties: Monterey
  • Administrative Unit: U.S. Forest Service, Los Padres NF
  • Acres: 19,287
  • Structures destroyed: 0
  • Personnel assigned: 488
  • Evacuation information:
  • Notes: On private land and the Los Padres National Forest, threatening the communities of Hermitage, Partington Ridge, and Lucia. Multiple businesses, communications sites, parks and recreational sites are also threatened. On Saturday crews continued to focus on point protection operations around Hermitage and Lucia to the South, and Partington Ridge and Anderson Peak communications infrastructure to the North. As the threat diminishes these priorities will shift. After more resources arrive the plan will expand to include additional perimeter control operations. The fire was mapped for the first time Saturday night with a fixed wing aircraft. This accurate method is the reason for the large increase in the known acreage.
River Carmel Dolan Fires map August 22 California
Map showing the locations of the River, Carmel, and Dolan Fires August 22, 2020.

August Complex

  • Updated August 24, 2020 at 7:44 a.m. PDT
  • Location: 18 miles southwest of Red Bluff
  • Counties: Tehama, Glenn, Lake, Mendocino, Trinity
  • Administrative Unit: Mendocino National Forest and CAL FIRE
  • Acres: 177,750
  • Structures destroyed: 10
  • Personnel assigned: 433
  • Evacuation information:
  • Notes: Of the 20 fires in the Complex the two largest are the Doe (136,430 acres) and Glade (13,088 acres). A Structure Damage Assessment Team has been ordered. Limited information is available about this incident.
August Complex Map
August Complex Map, August 22, 2020. Incident Management Team.

Briefing on the largest California fires

August 22, 2020 | 7:36 p.m. PDT

Map SCU Lightning Complex and CZU August Lightning Complex of fires
Map of the SCU Lightning Complex and CZU August Lightning Complex of fires August 21, 2020.

Saturday, on the seventh day after a 72-hour lightning bust started hundreds of wildfires in California, firefighters are stretched thin attempting to suppress the blazes and protect residents and property. Shortages of personnel, fire apparatus, and aircraft are showing up statewide.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the lightning-caused wildfires in California, including the most recent, click HERE.)

Nearly 12,000 firefighters are battling over 20 major fires and complexes of fires in California, most of which were started by about 12,000 lightning strikes. There have been 560 new fires in the last week, primarily a result of the lightning. Firefighters contained a large majority of the blazes, but in spite of their best efforts, over 771,000 acres had burned through Friday prompting evacuations of 175,000 residents. About 96 percent of CAL FIRE’s engines are committed throughout the state. The fires have killed at least five people and injured 33.

Governor Gavin Newsom said in a news conference Friday that he has requested the assistance of Australian and Canadian firefighters.

We’ve also reached out across the border into Canada for resources and support. And many of you up here recall, I think it was 2017, the support that we were provided and the support we provided in turn of some of the best wildfire firefighters in the world from Australia. We also have requests out for that talent as well.

The ability for the U.S. to send firefighters to assist Australia and New Zealand is authorized in a formal agreement under the Emergency Wildfire Suppression Act. Last winter the U.S. sent over 150 firefighters to assist with bushfires in Australia, and has been the recipient of assistance from down under on several occasions.

The Monterey Herald reported that due to the River and Carmel Fires prospective visitors to Monterey County have been asked to delay their travel plans. A joint statement released from U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta and four local politicians said, “We also ask anyone considering travel to Monterey County to delay your travel plans. This will ensure that already limited local resources are not strained.”

LNU Lightning Complex

  • Updated August 22, 2020 at 7:24 p.m. PDT, Aug. 22
  • Location: North Bay
  • Counties: Napa, Lake, Yolo, Solano, Sonoma
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Sonoma-Lake-Napa
  • Acres: 314,207. The largest fire in the complex is the Hennessey Fire, 261,793. The Walbridge Fire west of Healdsburg is 50,069, and the Meyers Fire on the coast north of Jenner is 2,345.
  • Structures destroyed: 560
  • Personnel assigned: 1,429
  • Evacuation information:  CAL FIRE LNU Twitter page
  • Notes: Significant fire growth is expected Saturday. Extreme fire behavior with short and long range spotting are continuing to challenge firefighting efforts. Fires that merged to become the Hennessey Fire include Gamble, Green, Spanish, 5-10, Morgan, and Markley Fires.
Map of the LNU Lightning Complex fires
Map of the LNU Lightning Complex of fires at 9:26 p.m. PDT August 21, 2020.

SCU Lightning Complex

  • Updated August 22, 2020 at 7:25 p.m. PDT, Aug. 22
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: Santa Clara, Alameda, Stanislaus, Contra Costa, San Joaquin
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Santa Clara
  • Acres: 291,968
  • Structures destroyed: 5
  • Personnel assigned: 1,179
  • Evacuation information:  CAL FIRE SCU Twitter page
  • Notes:  Fire activity is expected to increase Saturday when the inversion lifts and smoke clears. The complex is comprised of approximately 20 separate fires broken into three zones; the Canyon Zone, the Calaveras Zone, and the Deer Zone.

CZU August Lightning

  • Updated August 22, 2020 at 7:27 p.m. PDT, Aug. 22
  • Location: South Bay
  • Counties: San Mateo, Santa Cruz
  • Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Mateo-Santa Cruz
  • Acres: 63,000
  • Structures destroyed: 97
  • Personnel assigned: 1,157
  • Evacuation information: CAL FIRE CZU Twitter page
  • Notes: Continued hot and dry weather is predicted for the remainder of the weekend and into next week. Damage Inspection Teams have begun to survey areas where fire activity has diminished and it safe to do so. Firefighting resources are limited due to the number of fires burning throughout California. Visibility reduced due to smoke has been hampering aircraft operations. Approximately 77,000 people have been evacuated.

River, Carmel, and Dolan Fires

The Carmel Fire 2 miles southwest of the River Fire has burned 6,695 acres.

The Dolan Fire on the coast 10 miles south of Big Sur has spread to 8,500 acres on private land and the Los Padres National Forest.

River Carmel Dolan Fires map August 21 California
Map showing the locations of the River, Carmel, and Dolan Fires August 21, 2020.

August Complex

  • Updated August 22, 2020 at 7:34 p.m. PDT, Aug. 22
  • Location: 18 miles southwest of Red Bluff
  • Counties: Tehama, Glenn, Lake, Mendocino, Trinity
  • Administrative Unit: Mendocino National Forest and CAL FIRE
  • Acres: 160,005
  • Structures destroyed: 10
  • Personnel assigned: 357
  • Evacuation information:
  • Notes: The Complex, comprised of 20 fires, grew by over 31,000 acres August 21. The two largest in the Complex are the Doe (120,875 acres) and Glade (86,028 acres). A Structure Damage Assessment Team has been ordered. Firefighters in a remote location were resupplied with a four-day supply of food via four motorized GPS-guided parachutes which descended through smoke.
August Complex of fires map California
August Complex of fires map, 3 p.m. PDT August 21, 2020.