Federal government seeks to recover $25 million in costs for the 2013 Mountain Fire

Mountain Fire, from Hwy 74
Mountain Fire, from Hwy 74, July 17, 2013. USFS Photo by Sam Wu.

The United States federal government has filed suit to recover the costs of the suppression and damage caused by the 2013 Mountain Fire that burned 27,500 acres. Most of the fire was in the San Bernardino National Forest in southern California. The lawsuit seeks nearly $25 million in damages from the owner of a Mountain Center residence and the property’s caretakers for alleged negligence that led to the fire.

The civil complaint alleges negligence and violations of California law as being the cause of the fire that started on July 15, 2013, and burned a large swath of the San Jacinto Mountains, for a time threatening the town of Idyllwild and forcing over 5,000 residents to evacuate. An investigation determined that the fire started when an electrical discharge inside of an improperly maintained electrical junction box “shot sparks and hot material out of the box and onto dry ground vegetation below,” according to the lawsuit.

Map of Mountain Fire
Incident Management Team map of Mountain Fire, July 18, 2013 a few days before the spread was stopped.

The Mountain Fire started on property known as Gibraltar West that is owned by Tarek M. Al-Shawaf, who is the lead defendant in the lawsuit.

The defendants had a duty “to properly inspect and maintain their electrical equipment, electrical wires, and electrical junction boxes to ensure that they were safe, properly secured, and clear from dangerous conditions,” the complaint alleges.

“In addition to endangering countless lives, including those of firefighters who battle these large-scale blazes, the failure to properly manage the property and the electrical equipment on the property in this case cost taxpayers approximately $24 million dollars,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker.

The complaint specifically alleges that the Forest Service spent more than $15 million to fight the fire, that the fire caused more than $9 million in damages to natural resources, and that more than $300,000 had to be spent to perform emergency rehabilitation.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Mountain Fire”.

Videos of the Mountain Fire

Our main article about the Mountain Fire in southern California has the details about the fire and is updated frequently, but here we have collected some video of the fire activity.

The first one is long, 39 minutes, but if you skip around you’ll find something that interests you. DC-10s can be seen dropping retardant at 10, 20, and 22 minutes. The video was shot on July 16 and 17 by “Lakeside Fire” at Garner Valley, Lake Hemet, Palm Springs, and the Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base.

The next one, much shorter at 27 seconds, is a time lapse view of the fire on July 15, shot by Mike Sauder.

The next one is another time lapse and covers portions of four days, from noon on July 15 to about 8 a.m. on July 18. It is an animation of images taken every two minutes from a web camera on Toro Peak and was compiled by Hans-Werner Braun.

The next one, only 17 seconds long, was shot by the Riverside Press-Enterprise and shows the fire burning across a road on July 15.

The last one can’t be embedded here, but it has some interesting interviews about the fire.

California: Mountain Fire

(UPDATE at 9:20 a.m. PDT, July 21, 2013)

Monsoonal storms brought heavy rain to the Mountain Fire west of Palm Springs early this morning. The weather station at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway just north of the fire measured 1.61 inches between 11 p.m. Saturday and 8:53 a.m. today. The Keenwild weather station 5 miles southwest of the fire had 0.23″ since midnight. A flash flood watch was issued for the fire area as well as the Riverside County Mountains, San Diego County mountains and San Diego County deserts. There is a 55 to 80 percent chance of more rain through 10 p.m. with additional accumulations of up to 0.60 inch.

This morning the incident management team said firefighters are taking advantage of the break in the weather:

With diminished fire activity, firefighters made great progress with line construction particularly along the East side towards Palm Springs. Although conditions were hazardous and some crews were taken off the line due to the severe weather, firefighters continue to fight the fire aggressively where possible. Today’s priority for fire operations is focused at the northernmost part of the fire with crews at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway constructing direct hand line at the fire’s edge to reduce the threat to Idyllwild and surrounding communities.

The U.S. Forest Service has been using their new night flying helicopter and air attack ship on the fire, and proudly produced this graphic.

Night flying data, Mountain Fire

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(UPDATE at 7:25 a.m. PDT, July 20, 2013)

3-D Map of Mountain fire, perimeter,
3-D Map of the north side of the Mountain fire, at 10 p.m., July 19, 2013, looking north. The pink line was the perimeter at 10 p.m. Friday, and the red line was 24 hours before that. (click to enlarge)

The Mountain Fire continued to spread to the north Friday, coming closer to the highest point in the area, Mt. San Jacinto, and within 0.7 mile of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The 3-D map above which shows the north portion of the fire illustrates the very steep slopes the firefighters have as their work environment. The fire spread very slowly on the south side, while the east and west sides were relatively quiet Friday.

A major change in the weather is in the works, with the forecast for the higher elevations calling for much higher humidity and a 30 to 40 percent chance of showers over the next 48 hours. This should slow the fire’s spread and give firefighters a better opportunity to construct more direct fireline.

The incident management team has produced a map of the fire.

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(UPDATE at 9:23 a.m. PDT, July 19, 2013)

Mountain Fire, from Hwy 74
Mountain Fire, from Hwy 74, July 17, 2013 USFS Photo by Sam Wu

The variable wind direction Thursday caused the fire to spread, as expected, in multiple directions. It continued to progress in the Tahquitz meadows area, but firefighters on the ground assisted by aircraft, including two military MAFFS C-130 air tankers from the California Air National Guard, held the fire at a ridge. The fire remains active on the north side and continues to threaten the community of Idyllwild, according to the Incident Management Team.

The IMTeam produced a very readable map, below. It was released at 6 a.m. July 18 and contains the fire perimeter as it was known late in the day on July 17.

Map of Mountain Fire
IMTeam map of Mountain Fire, July 18, 2013

We put together the following maps using data from various sources.

Map of Mountain fire July 19, 2013
Map of Mountain fire. The white line is the perimeter at 9 p.m. PDT July 18. The red line is the perimeter 24 hours before that. The red squares represent heat detected by a satellite at 2 a.m. PDT July 19, indicating that the fire continued to spread to the north during the night. The apparent growth on the east side is most likely not new growth, but is probably a correction, showing movement of the fire several days earlier.  (click to enlarge)
Map of Mountain fire, July 19, 2013
3-D Map of the Mountain fire, looking toward the northwest. The white line is the perimeter at 9 p.m. PDT July 18. The red line is the perimeter 24 hours before that. The red squares represent heat detected by a satellite at 2 a.m. PDT July 19. (click to enlarge)

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(UPDATE at 7:41 a.m. PDT, July 18, 2013)

We collected some interesting videos of the Mountain Fire HERE.

The maps below show the perimeter of the Mountain fire as it was mapped at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Continue reading “California: Mountain Fire”