Progression maps for 5 currently active fires

At least five very large fires are currently active in the United States:

  • Gap in northern California,
  • Pioneer in central Idaho,
  • Maple in Yellowstone National Park,
  • Soberanes on the central coast of California, and,
  • Beaver Creek in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming.

Below we have progression maps of these fires (in that order).

We recently found out about a new website that has developed a very impressive mapping service for wildfires. It was the source of these maps. The site not only shows the locations, but in some cases for large fires it displays the perimeters — which can be animated to see the growth or progression of the fire over time. They have this information going back to 2003. It is on the EcoWest website and was created by a collaboration of the Sea to Snow company and the Bill Lance Center for the American West at Stanford University.

The perimeter data is dependent on what is made available by the agencies managing the fire, so there is not always a perimeter for every day.

You can minimize the Description box by clicking the down arrow at the top-right of the box.

(Update Sept. 22, 2020: the data from EcoWest previously posted below is no longer available.)

USFS Regional Fire Director describes the management of the Pioneer Fire

“There simply isn’t any safe place for [firefighters] to work”

Above:  Pioneer Fire August 31, 2016. InciWeb photo.

The Regional Director of Fire and Aviation for the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Region, Sue Stewart, distributed a three-page document on August 31, 2016 describing the background and status of the Pioneer Fire that as of September 2 has burned 180,000 acres in central Idaho. Below are two excerpts. You can view the full document here.


“The Pioneer Fire on the Boise National Forest started on July 18th, and despite our best efforts it escaped our initial attack. Six weeks later, on August 31st, the fire is 157,000 acres and still spreading to the north. There is about 350 miles of fire perimeter, with 182 miles of completed fireline. Here are the things it’s important to understand about our management of this fire:

1. Our initial attack was immediate and aggressive. Here’s the narrative statement that reports our initial response on July 18th:

The Pioneer Fire was reported at 1717 hours to Boise Dispatch by the lead plane assigned to the Casner Fire while it was returning to Boise Airport. The initial fire size-up from the lead plane was 1 to 1.5 acres in continuous fuels. No structures in the immediate area of the fire and poor road access. The fire was initial attacked by one air attack, one lead plane, four helicopters, one heavy air tanker, two single engine air tankers, 11 smoke jumpers, Boise Hotshots, Crew 11, Engine 412, one wet patrol unit, and a fire investigator.

At 1804 hours dispatch received an update that the fire was increasing in size. The first resource on scene was Boise BLM Helitack at 1810 hours. They immediately ordered a heavy air tanker, two single engine air tankers, two type 2 helicopters, and one type 1 helicopter for the fire.  The helitack crew was unable to find a landing site near the fire area. They flew to Idaho City Airstrip to put on a bucket for water drops and returned to the fire.

At 1841 hours dispatch received another update that the fire was five acres, growing, burning in timber, torching, and crowning flame lengths. By 1906 hours the fire was reported between 15 and 20 acres, spotting, with uphill runs. The fire was reported to be 30 acres by air attack at 2004 hours. Later, air attack reported the fire 100 acres with group tree torching at 2127 hours.

At 2207 hours the type 3 incident commander ordered additional resources to the fire. The order included, one additional type 2 helicopter, four type 1 crews, three type 2 IA crews, five type 4 engines, two water tenders and two dozers for the next day.

The cause of the Pioneer Fire is under investigation. The origin of the fire was located on Boise National Forest in Forest Service fire protection at T7N, R6E, section 16.

Reports that heavy air tankers were sitting unordered and unused while the fire was attacked by single engine air tankers are incorrect. We only had access to one of them, the other was on a mandatory day off. (Pilots are required to stand down to rest for safety one day each week during which time critical maintenance is taken care of on those heavily used aircraft.) The initial response was commensurate with the challenges the fire presented at IA, and we launched the heavy air tanker right away.


9. If we could put this fire out without compromising the safety of our firefighters and aviators we would do so. We will not put people in harm’s way without safety zones in which they can seek refuge from extreme fire behavior, and so as the fire continues to move to the north toward the Deadwood Reservoir and into some more remote terrain our suppression investments will decline significantly commensurate with values at risk from the fire.

In the past week as the fire has moved past locations where we might reasonably and safely check its progress, we have scaled back our workforce. There are just half the numbers of firefighters as there were last week; there simply isn’t any safe place for them to work and so we are able to redirect firefighters to other incidents where they can make a difference. As the Pioneer Fire bumps into old fire scars, however, we have opportunities in the altered fuels to stop its progress and we will be taking advantage of those opportunities. A projected containment date in October is not giving up – it’s simply being realistic about what we can do safely.”

Pioneer Fire in Idaho is one of 5 fires in US with over 1,000 firefighters assigned

The Pioneer Fire was very active Monday and Tuesday.

Above: Pioneer Fire. Uncredited/undated InciWeb photo.

On Tuesday the Pioneer Fire in central Idaho continued its march to the north, adding another 16,000 acres to bring the total to over 157,000 acres. Burning 32 miles northeast of Boise and 23 miles west of Stanley, it has been creating huge convection columns rising 30,000 feet into the atmosphere for the last two days.

Map Pioneer Fire
Map of the Pioneer Fire at 8 p.m. MDT August 30, 2016.

Most of the growth on Tuesday was on the north side while it was pushed by an 8 to 12 mph wind gusting at 18 to 24 that was variable, but mostly out of the south. As we write this at 2:50 p.m. on Wednesday, the wind so far today has been out of the west and northwest at 4 to 10 mph with gusts of 16 to 24. The smoke being pushed to the east will probably make the air quality rather unpleasant in Stanley, due east of the fire.

The fire was very active late into Tuesday night due to the low relative humidity which ranged from 24 to 30 percent during the night at the White Hawk weather station at 8,344 feet elevation. At 2:33 p.m on Wednesday it was 66 degrees with 21 percent humidity.

Map Pioneer Fire
Map of the Pioneer Fire August 30, 2016. The black line is completed fireline. The red is uncontrolled fire edge.

The Pioneer Fire is one of five currently active fires in the United States that are staffed by more than 1,000 personnel.

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As of Tuesday evening the total number of resources assigned to fires in the US included 444 hand crews, 1,060 engines, 147 helicopters, and 19,064 personnel. When the number of crews approaches 500 and there are almost 20,000 personnel committed, you know things are getting busy.

Impressive convection column on Pioneer Fire is being studied by researchers

Above: The photo above was taken from the research aircraft August 30 by Nick Guy of the University of Wyoming’s Atmospheric Science department.

The Fire Weather Research Laboratory from San Jose State University is conducting research from an aircraft flying over the Pioneer Fire in central Idaho. Today using N2UW, a twin engine 1977 Beech 200T King Air, they flew for over three hours at 27,000 feet studying the fire for the RaDFire project.

The aircraft is outfitted with a ton of instruments including Doppler radar. Craig Clements, Associate Professor in the Meteorology Dept. at SJSU, described it for us:

The radar is called the Wyoming Cloud Radar (WCR). It’s on the aircraft, points up, down, and down-forward to get horizontal winds and vertical winds. The goal of the RadFIRE (Rapid Deployments to Wildfires Campaign) is to get data on plume dynamics from ground based mobile Doppler Lidar. But we were awarded 10 flight hours to test the WCR to see if it works in smoke plumes. And it does so well, more than we can imagine!

The group has been known to fly through the convection column. I’ve done that a few times and it’s an interesting experience — it can get a little turbulent, as you might expect.

On Monday they said the top of the pyrocumulus cloud over the fire topped out above 30,000 feet. In Tuesday’s photos it was at about 25,000 feet but toward the end of the day the top got up to at least 32,000 feet, Mr. Clements said.

The project is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and it’s being led by San Jose State University. Other collaborators on the project are David Kingsmill at the University of Colorado Boulder, and the University of Wyoming King Air team.

Since it started on July 18 the Pioneer Fire has burned over 140,000 acres.

This last photo of the convection column was not taken by the researchers. It was shot by Steve Botti in Stanley on August 29, more than 20 miles away from the fire.

Pioneer Fire
Pioneer Fire, as seen from Stanley August 29, 2016. Via Mike Warren.

Pioneer Fire spreads north across Highway 21 near Lowman, Idaho

Above: A burnout operation near Lowman, Idaho on the Pioneer Fire, August 5, 2016. USFS photo.

(UPDATED at 11 a.m. MDT August 6, 2016)

The Pioneer Fire at Lowman, Idaho, 32 air miles northeast of Boise, Idaho, continued to spread up the steep slopes after it crossed highway 17 Friday afternoon pushed by thunderstorm-generated winds gusting up to 35 mph. Spot fires initially occurred over the roadway west of the burnout firefighters were conducting near Lowman to protect the community. By 2 a.m. aerial mapping showed the fire had spread about 1.2 miles north of the highway and consumed an additional 1,200 acres.

On Friday the fire grew by about 6,700 acres, to 58,136 acres.

The video below of firefighters working along Highway 21 was posted by the incident management team on August 5.


3-d map Pioneer Fire
3-D map of the Pioneer Fire looking southwest. The white line was the perimeter at 7 p.m. MDT August 4. The red line was the perimeter at 2 a.m. August 6. Click to enlarge.

The incident management team’s plans for Saturday, in part:

Crews will look for opportunities to bring dozer line north from Burns Ridge down to the river west of the fire in an effort to create a new containment line. North of the river the fire is established in steep slopes with light grassy fuels. Aircraft this morning will survey the fire west and north of Lowman looking for suitable places to build containment lines. The possibility of another thunderstorm today or tomorrow brings potential for stronger wind gusts, which could create more extreme fire behavior.


Originally published at 9:02 p.m. MDT August 5, 2016

A strong south wind added to the complexity of the burnout being carried out since Thursday by firefighters in an effort to stop the Pioneer Fire from impacting the community of Lowman, Idaho and crossing Highway 21. Sustained winds at 20 mph with gusts of 28 to 40 mph pushed the blaze across the highway Friday, significantly increasing the workload now laid out before the incident management team.

map Pioneer Fire 3-d
3-D map of the Pioneer Fire looking west. The red line was the perimeter at 7 p.m. MDT on August 4, 2016. The red dots north of the fire represent heat detected by a satellite at 3 p.m. MDT August 5, 2016. The red arrows depict the fire spread on Friday afternoon. Click to enlarge.

Evacuations have been ordered by the Boise County Sheriff’s Office for some areas near the Payette River, and Highway 17 is closed. The fire is 32 air miles northeast of Boise, Idaho.

The 52,000-acre fire is being fought by 1,489 personnel, 43 hand crews, 52 engines, and 10 helicopters. Five structures have been destroyed.

map Pioneer Fire
The white line was the perimeter of the Pioneer Fire at 11 p.m. MDT on July 28. The red line was the perimeter at 7 p.m. MDT on August 4, 2016. The red dots north of the fire represent heat detected by a satellite at 3 p.m. MDT August 5, 2016. Click to enlarge.

The incident management team running the fire led by Beth Lund is about to time out, so a replacement has been ordered which will inbrief at 9 a.m. on August 8.

Drones briefly halt air operations over Pioneer fire

Helicopter Pioneer Fire

(Updated 4:35 p.m. MDT, July 31, 2016)

Drones shut down air operations over the Pioneer fire for 45 minutes on Sunday, while the fire continued to spread due to erratic weather conditions.

In a post on InciWeb, the incident management team said the drone incursion came at a critical time for firefighters.

Aviation operations once again stopped for 45 minutes during a critical period of fire suppression due to an unmanned aircraft incursion. IF YOU FLY WE CAN’T. PLEASE DO NOT FLY DRONES IN OR NEAR THE FIRE AREA.

Such a delay seems to have become common place on many fires, and last week incident management teams in California and Montana reported halting air operations due to drones in the area.

A spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center has urged people not to flying drones into wildfire areas, and has said that people caught flying drones in wildfire zones could face criminal charges.

Meanwhile, the Pioneer fire has burned 27,271 acres and is 27 percent contained.


Crews on the 18,933-acre Pioneer fire north of Idaho City are facing a weekend of windy weather, which will likely fan the flames of a fire that has been burning since July 18.

Here’s the outlook for Sunday’s weather:

A passing cold front this evening may produce thunderstorms with gusty, erratic winds and increased fire behavior.Smoke will likely again be visible from great distances.

Crews are also grappling with poor access, steep terrain, dry forests and old mining sites, according to posts on InciWeb.

On Friday, heavy smoke from the fire drifted east and triggered warnings for unhealthy levels of smoke pollution. Smoke from the Pioneer fire was also drifting into Northern Colorado.

Saturday’s outlook in Idaho, however, predicted normal air quality, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.