Prescribed fire escapes near Watsonville, CA, evacuations ordered

Mapped at 83 acres Saturday morning

9:17 p.m. PDT Oct. 16, 2021

At 6:17 p.m. Saturday CAL FIRE revised the reported size of the Estrada Fire, increasing it from 83 acres to 148, saying the new number was the result of “accurate ground truthing and mapping.”

Firefighters will again work through the night Saturday to establish strong control lines.

11:09 a.m. PDT Oct. 16, 2021

Estrada Fire map
Estrada Fire map. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2 a.m. PDT Oct. 16, 2021.

A prescribed fire intended to treat 20 acres grew out of control Friday, prompting evacuations in Central California.

The project was initiated by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection near the intersection of Hazel Dell and Hidden Canyon Road six miles northeast of Watsonville, California. After escaping the planned burn unit boundary it spread quickly, growing to 83 acres by Friday evening, when CAL FIRE said aircraft had established a line of fire retardant around the perimeter.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time these things go off without a hitch,” said Ian Larkin, CAL FIRE Chief for the San Mateo Santa Cruz unit. “No problems, they don’t get out of control, they don’t jump our containment line…The reason we did this yesterday was we had a prescription level of good weather, it was in prescription, and it was an ideal situation for us to be able to get good consumption of the fuel, and we just had this mishap. It was about 80 to 100 feet of tying it all in and we had a spot take off across the line.”

At 7:17 Saturday morning CAL FIRE said crews made significant progress overnight.

Estrada Fire
Estrada Fire, seen by the Mt. Madonna camera at 4:10 p.m. Oct. 15, 2021, looking southeast.

Evacuation orders were still in effect at 10:48 a.m. PDT October 16. (Evacuation map)

The video below, at 0:50, shows a fire whirl that is persistent, in spite of the water being applied from a fire hose.

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