Warm, dry weather increases wildfire activity in western Washington and Oregon

A fire southeast of Salem prompted evacuat.ion orders Tuesday

Numerous wildfires have broken out recently in western Washington and northwest Oregon after several days of warm, dry, and windy weather.

“That’s a result of very strong dry eastern winds that have been pushing across the cascade mountain range and through the Columbia Gorge,” Northwest Coordination Center fire weather program manager John Saltenberger told KGW8 news.

A fire southeast of Salem, Oregon near Lyons jumped the Santiam River and prompted evacuation orders on Tuesday, which were lifted Wednesday. Reported Tuesday afternoon near the North Santiam State Recreation Area off Highway 22, it was mapped at 189 acres after firefighters stopped the spread. By Thursday morning they had a fire line around 80 percent of the perimeter.

A three-alarm vegetation fire south of Seattle in White Center started in a vacant lot Wednesday afternoon. Burning embers landed on the roof of an apartment building and set it ablaze, damaging all seven units in the structure.

The King County Sheriff’s Office reported that a 34-year old man was arrested, suspected of setting the fire.

No residents were injured but two firefighters were transported to a hospital with injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

TDN.com reported that the Washington DNR responded to eight wildfires in its seven-county Southwest Region on Wednesday — three in Cowlitz, two in Lewis, two in Clark and one in Wahkiakum.  All of the personnel from Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue, were out on fires Wednesday.

Below is an excerpt from TDN.com:

About 40 firefighters and three state helicopters Wednesday fought a wildfire east of Cathlamet that was estimated Tuesday at 40 acres but had grown to 100 acres Wednesday. DNR Spokeswoman Mary McDonald said late Wednesday afternoon it is considered contained.

The fire, which broke out Tuesday and was spread by brisk gusts, burned up a steep slope on the north side of State Route 4 in the Little Cape Horn area. The highway remained opened, said Russ Truman, fire dispatch and prevention officer for the State Department of Natural Resources regional office in Castle Rock.

McDonald said a DNR helicopter was rerouted from the wildfire near Cathlamet to Tower Road after reports the brush fire had reached a structure there. Further details were not available.

“We are tapped,” [ Cowlitz 2 Fire Chief Dave] LaFave said. “Our people are worn out. This is a record. I’ve been in this department 36 years, and I’ve never seen this. People need to stop burning. … There can’t be anything so pressing that (burning) needs to happen right now.”

Russ Truman, fire dispatch and prevention officer for the State Department of Natural Resources regional office in Castle Rock said “Things are burning like they do in September.”

Eatonville (referenced in the tweet below) is about 50 miles south of Seattle.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Stanley. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Comparing the Haines Index with the Hot-Dry-Windy Index

In a comment on the earlier post about the Hot-Dry-Windy Index (HDW), Brian Potter, a research meteorologist with the U.S. Forest Service, offered to provide some preliminary results looking at how HDW performed during the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire in Oregon, as well as how the Haines index performed during that fire.

The HDW is a new tool developed for firefighters to predict weather conditions which can affect the spread of wildfires. It is described as being very simple and only considers the atmospheric factors of heat, moisture, and wind.

Mr. Potter has provided three figures showing the weather indices computed from the National Weather Service’s NAM model analyses. Because they use a different model from the HDW website, he does not have historic percentile values for HDW, but they are illustrative, nonetheless. These are preliminary data and have not been through peer review or evaluation.

Here is a graph of HDW values compared to growth on the Chetco Bar Fire:hot dry windy index fire growth

Here are the Haines Index values for the mid-elevation version of the Index:

Haines index fire growth

And the high elevation version of the Haines Index:

Haines index fire growth

Mr. Potter said he has some thoughts about the graphs, but is interested in hearing what others take away from them.

The Chetco Bar Fire in southwest Oregon started July 12, 2017 and burned over 191,000 acres.

Chetco Bar Fire map
Map showing the location of the Chetco Bar Fire (on the left) in southwest Oregon, October 2, 2017. USFS.

Oregon county changes zoning to require new construction to be low density

Structures farther apart are less likely to ignite neighboring homes during a wildfire

Deschutes County in Oregon has approved new zoning that will require new construction on the west side of Bend to be low density and fire-resistant.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that the new regulation will result in 90 percent fewer homes in the area than the previous code permitted.

One contributing factor that led to more than 15,000 homes being destroyed in two fires in California in 2018, the Camp and Carr Fires, was the close spacing between the structures.

Paradise Camp fire homes burned
A neighborhood on Debbie Lane in Paradise, California, before and after the Camp Fire that started November 8, 2018. The homes were 14 to 18 feet apart.

Cities, counties, and planning boards (where they exist) are often under pressure to approve new housing developments. They want to expand their tax base. Developers try to fit as many homes into a new subdivision as possible to maximize their investment. This too often results in homes that are 20-feet apart. If one is ignited by a burning ember that may have traveled a quarter of a mile from a fire (or a burning home) the radiant heat alone can ignite the homes on both sides. Then you can have a self-powered conflagration spreading house to house through a city. As long as the structures are that close together, the homeowners have not reduced the fuel in the Home Ignition Zone within 100 feet of the structure, and the home itself is not built to FireWise standards, a massive disaster can be the result.

Reducing the chances that a fire in a populated area will turn into a disaster that burns thousands of homes involves at least three categories of factors, in addition to weather:

  • Envelope of the structure itself: characteristics of the roof, vents, siding, doors, windows, foundation, fences, eaves, and decks. A FEMA publication (13 MB) has excellent detailed recommendations. Headwaters Economics found that the cost of building a fire-resistant home is about the same as a standard home.
  • Home Ignition Zone — topography and fuel within 100 feet.
  • Community infrastructure and planning: distance to nearby structures, evacuation capability, safety zones, road and driveway width, turnarounds at the end of roads, signage, and emergency water supply. Again, the FEMA document has great recommendations.

More information about how to prevent wildfires from wiping out communities.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

A physician describes “smoke induced depression” in Oregon

Terwilliger Fire
Terwilliger Fire in western Oregon, August 24, 2018. Inciweb photo.

The Mail Tribune posted a video about how in recent years the occurrence of wildfire smoke seems to be more frequent in Oregon.

Some of the short term effects of smoke are well known, such as how it can affect people with pre-existing respiratory conditions, but not much research has been completed on the long term effects on residents or firefighters.

In the video, Doctor of Nursing Practice Matt Hogge introduced a condition called smoke induced depression.

“You see a lot of people coming in with mild mental health concerns”, he said, “that might not have those in their day to day life, but the anxiety of not being able to go outside and do the things that they are normally able to do really affects some people’s moods.”

Report of “extreme spotting” 6 miles ahead of Klondike Fire

(Originally published at 5:34 a.m. PDT October 17, 2018)

Typically by mid-October firefighting agencies in Oregon have downsized their ranks of seasonal firefighters and are preparing to enter winter mode. But the Klondike Fire west of Grants Pass, after being dormant for weeks, exploded back to life on October 14 and in a big way. Within a matter of hours it burned an additional 4,968 acres to bring the total up to 172,287 acres.

According to an article in the Mail Tribune it was transporting burning embers into the atmosphere that started fires six miles out ahead of the flaming front:

“Extreme spotting” propelled fine embers up to six miles ahead of the main fire, dropping the live ash right between firefighters’ tents and close to people’s homes.

“We even had to move our own fire camp,”  [information officer Kale] Casey said.

The map below shows spot fires detected by an infrared mapping flight.

map Klondike Fire
The red line on the map was the perimeter of the Klondike Fire at 9 p.m. October 15, 2018. The white line shows where the perimeter was before the October 14-15 additional growth. Click to enlarge.

The Incident Management Team posted an update on Tuesday October 16:

Fire personnel focused all efforts to ensure that Sunday’s wind driven spot fires did not damage any of the homes in the Oak Flats, Spud Road and Agness area. Fire managers estimate that the weekend wind event resulted in approximately 5,000 acres of new growth to the west of the primary containment lines. Level 3 evacuations remain in effect for these areas while fire crews and engines work to construct and link together new and existing containment lines.

The Oregon State Fire Marshal’s five structural task forces that arrived yesterday have split into day and night shifts to ensure that all homes under evacuation are protected. These resources include twenty engines and five water tenders with firefighters from thirty-three different fire agencies from across the state.

Fire behavior moderated significantly yesterday as the 30 mph winds over the weekend diminished significantly, allowing fire firefighters to attack spot fires directly. Containing the remaining spot fires east and west of the Illinois River and west of the 3577 Road is the primary objective for all fire personnel.

Warm, dry, breezy weather awakens Klondike Fire in Southwest Oregon

After being relatively quiet for weeks the fire jumped firelines Sunday requiring evacuations in Agness

(UPDATED at 5:10 a.m. PDT October 16, 2018)

map Klondike Fire
The red line on the map was the perimeter of the Klondike Fire at 9 p.m. October 15, 2018. The white line shows where the perimeter was before the October 14-15 additional growth. Click to enlarge.

The map of the Klondike Fire above is a result of mapping by a fixed wing aircraft at 9 p.m. PDT October 15. The new growth on October 14 and 15 added another 4,968 acres to bring the total up to 172,287 acres.

The weather forecast for the fire area on Tuesday (Agness, OR) predicts a high temperature around 80, relative humidity in the teens, and 5 mph east to northeast winds. The area is not under a Red Flag Warning.


Klondike Fire in southwest Oregon
A satellite photo taken October 15 showing heat (the red dots) and smoke on the Klondike Fire in southwest Oregon.

The Klondike Fire had been quiet for weeks until warm, dry, breezy weather on Sunday brought it back to life, burning thousands of acres outside the firelines and requiring evacuations in the small town of Agness 20 miles northeast of Gold Beach, Oregon. The Sheriff’s Office in concurrence with fire officials  made the determination that evacuations were appropriate for residents north of the Rogue River and in the areas of Oak Flat, Spud Road, and along the 33 road in Agness.

Incident Management Teams had released 171 fire personnel over the last seven days, to bring the total down to 316. The 167,423-acre fire had not increased in size for over a week. Approximately 250 additional resources have been requested, including aircraft, engines, and Type 1 Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHC). Northwest Incident Management Team 7 (NWIMT7) assumed command of the October 14, 2018 at 8:00 p.m.

The Oregon Governor has declared the Klondike Fire to be a “conflagration”which allows the State Fire Marshal to mobilize firefighters and equipment to assist local crews.

map Klondike Fire
The red line on the map was the perimeter of the Klondike Fire the last time it was mapped, on October 12, 2018. The yellow dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 4:54 a.m. PDT October 15, 2018. We will update this map when new data becomes available.

At 2 p.m. Monday afternoon a weather station near Agness recorded 73 degrees, 10 percent relative humidity, and 2 mph SSE winds. The maximum wind gust over the previous 24 hours was 20 mph Sunday evening.

Our very unofficial analysis of Sunday’s activity indicates that approximately 4,500 additional acres burned on the northwest side of the fire east of Agness. Firefighters have requested a Monday night infrared mapping flight to get a more accurate assessment.