Power company evaluating multiple failures on transmission towers as causes of large wildfires

jumper cable high voltage electrical transmission tower
File photo of a jumper cable on a high voltage electrical transmission tower.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) told a judge on November 29 that it is investigating whether there is a systemic problem with a piece of hardware on their high voltage electrical transmission towers that can start wildfires, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Investigators with PG&E and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection are looking at the possible failure of jumper cables on towers near the points of origin of two huge recent fires, the 2017 Camp Fire at Paradise, California and the Kincade Fire that started near the Geysers north of Santa Rosa October 23, 2019.

The Chronicle reported that “PG&E is also seeking more generally to determine whether there may be jumper cables that may be susceptible to failure for any reason in PG&E’s system,” the company told U.S. District Judge William Alsup.

It has been determined that PG&E equipment started the Camp Fire, but officially the cause of the Kincade fire is still under investigation.

On October 24 PG&E filed a required preliminary report with the California Public Utilities Commission that stated “at approximately (9:20 p.m.) on Oct. 23, PG&E became aware of a Transmission level outage on the Geysers No. 9 Lakeville 230kV line when the line relayed and did not reclose. At approximately (7:30 a.m.) on Oct. 24, a responding PG&E Troubleman patrolling the Geysers No. 9 Lakeville 230 kV line observed that CalFire had taped off the area around the base of transmission tower 001/006. On site CalFire personnel brought to the Troubleman’s attention what appeared to be a broken jumper on the same tower.”

Jumper cables are used on high voltage lines to route the wires around the metal tower so the electricity is not conducted into the structure. If a piece of hardware that supports the jumpers fails, the jumper wire breaks, or if it comes in contact with the steel tower, massive arcing will occur sending sparks and molten metal flying, which can ignite anything on the ground that is flammable.

The video below shows the ignition of the Kincade Fire on October 23 as seen in near infrared from a camera at Barham near Geyserville, California. Keep your eye on the bright light on the horizon left of center. It disappears at about 21:19:55 and 15 seconds later the fire can be seen growing rapidly.

Report released on the entrapment of firefighter and two civilians on Kincade Fire

The three people shared one fire shelter as the fire burned around them

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, has released a Green Sheet, or preliminary report, on the October 25, 2019 entrapment of one firefighter and two civilians. It occurred on the Kincade fire northeast of Geyserville, California about 43 hours after the fire started.

In mid-afternoon a Division Supervisor was scouting his division and searching for firefighters who he had been told were not wearing their Nomex wildland fire jackets. He turned his SUV off Pine Flat Road onto Circle 8 Lane, an unpaved road that reaches a dead end 1.5 air miles from Pine Flat Road.

map Kincade Fire entrapment deployment
3-D map showing the approximate location of the entrapment of three people on the Kincade Fire, October 25, 2019.

Later, seeing that the fire intensity had increased and crossed the road behind him, he realized that he was in imminent danger and decided to ride it out near an old cabin. A dozer operator had already cleared a line around the structure as as well as a line from the road downhill to the drainage.

Below is an excerpt from the Green Sheet as well as more maps, photos, and a video. The Division Supervisor is identified as “DIVS1”.

Continue reading “Report released on the entrapment of firefighter and two civilians on Kincade Fire”

Wrapping up the 77,000-acre Kincade Fire

The fire has burned 77,758 acres north of Santa Rosa, California

Kincade Fire 9:06 a.m. PDT Oct. 27, 2019
The Kincade Fire as seen from the St. Helena North camera at 9:06 a.m. PDT Oct. 27, 2019. Looking toward Healdsburg.

The Kincade Fire that raced across 77,758 acres north of Santa Rosa, California is not completely out and will not be for weeks or months, but there has not been any major spread for days. Satellites that can detect large areas of heat have not found any since November 1, but firefighters are still mopping up, extinguishing Black Oak stumps that the satellites can’t see, and are putting in fireline where needed. They will also need to repair miles of dozer line that helped keep the fire in check.

CAL FIRE reports that 175 homes, 11 commercial structures, and 186 other buildings have been destroyed.

All evacuation orders have been lifted except for three locations: Briggs Ranch Road area, Highway 128 North Knights Valley area to the Napa County Line, and The Chalk Hill Road area. (more information)

Resources assigned to the fire include 356 engines, 45 water tenders, 3 helicopters, 95 hand crews and 28 dozers for a total of 3,929 personnel.

The Press Democrat is not a huge media outlet, but the staff does a great job of covering wildfires in California’s North Bay. A November 1 article that summarizes the evolution of the Kincade Fire since it started on October 23 is evidence of why citizens should support local news and other original reporting. Their in-depth story has excellent photos and graphics as well as details you will not find other places.

Kincade Fire burns into two fires from 2017

The Tubbs and Pocket Fires

Kincade Pocket Tubbs fires California
The perimeter of the Kincade Fire at 1:09 a.m. PDT October 28, 2019 seen in relation to the Tubbs and Pocket Fires on October 24, 2017. Click to enlarge.

When the wind is blowing at 50 to 90 mph not much can stop a wildfire, but the footprints of two fires that burned in October of 2017, the Tubbs and Pocket Fires, may have had some limited effect on the spread of the Kincade Fire that started last week.

When a wildfire burns into a two-year-old fire scar, usually there is much less vegetation than what had been carrying the fire — fewer tons per acre  and lighter fuels. For example if moving from chaparral to grass, the intensity, the amount of heat produced, and number and size of fire brands generated would be much less. That does not mean the fire would go out on it’s own, but unless the weather is extreme, like it has been in northern California off and on for the last week, there would be less resistance to control. In other words, easier to put out.

In some cases with very steep slopes or  heavy fuels such as very dense brush or timber, retardant dropped from an aircraft might have little effectiveness in dry windy conditions. But in the lighter vegetation that follows a fire, aircraft can be very efficient in slowing the spread long enough to allow firefighters on the ground to move in and actually suppress it.

During the extreme weather in northern California the last few days the Kincade Fire spread partially into the Pocket Fire on the north and the Tubbs Fire on the south. On the map above take note of the unburned red polygon, or island, inside the perimeter of the Pocket Fire.

During extreme winds and single-digit humidity a fire can keep spreading until it runs completely out of fuel, but it would be interesting to hear from folks that were on the Kincade Fire to find out if there was any significant change in fire intensity when it moved into the two fire scars.

Firefighters on Kincade Fire prepare for Red Flag weather conditions

Two firefighters were burned Sunday

8:09 a.m. PDT October 29, 2019

map kincade fire California wildfire
Map showing in red the perimeter of the Kincade Fire at 12:49 a.m. PDT October 29, 2019. The white line was the approximate perimeter about 24 hours before. Click to enlarge.

On Monday the Kincade Fire grew a relatively small amount, all of it on the east and southeast sides. CAL FIRE reports that the official size is 75,415 acres. (see map above)

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

The weather on Monday gave firefighters the opportunity to make significant progress on the fire. But on Tuesday and Wednesday much of California is under a Red Flag Warning for strong winds and low humidity, including the Kincade Fire area.

Below is the National Weather Service forecast for wind and humidity near the fire at Geyserville. The wind barbs point to the direction the wind will be from. After 2 p.m. Tuesday the prediction is for 14 to 16 mph sustained winds out of the northeast with gusts of 21 to 33 until 4 a.m. Wednesday. The humidity will reach into the single digits and there will be no clouds or chance of precipitation.

Weather forecast Geyserville
Weather forecast for the Geyserville area October 29-30, 2019.

CAL FIRE reports that 57 homes and 5 commercial structures have been destroyed.

Resources assigned to the fire include 549 engines, 42 water tenders, 27 helicopters, 86 hand crews, and 66 dozers for a total of 4,548 personnel.

Many fixed wing air tankers have been used on the fire. The 747 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) has been activated as well as four DC-10 VLATs. These and other tankers, such as the C-130, 737, BAe-146, RJ85, P-3, and MD87 are being used on CAL FIRE and U.S. Forest Service contracts throughout California as fires erupt. There could be more if needed, but the Forest Service has not awarded the Call When Needed contracts for backup air tankers that was first advertised 517 days ago. The eight C-130 military Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, MAFFS, could also be activated.

7:14 a.m. PDT October 28, 2019

Strong northeast winds that continued Sunday pushed the Kincade Fire to Highway 101 south of Healdsburg, California. The map below indicates that the fire may have been stopped before entering the city.

Two firefighters were burned yesterday. CAL FIRE spokesperson Jonathan Cox said one firefighter with serious burn injuries was airlifted to University of California Davis Medical Center.

Sunday afternoon CAL FIRE reported that the fire had burned 54,298 acres, but an overnight mapping flight found that number had increased to nearly 80,000 acres. Approximately 94 structures have been destroyed and 17 damaged.

Continue reading “Firefighters on Kincade Fire prepare for Red Flag weather conditions”