A year ago today more than 10 large very destructive wildfires were burning in Northern California. They started on October 8 and 9 pushed by very strong winds and eventually destroyed about 8,900 structures (including homes and outbuildings), burned at least 245,000 acres, and caused the deaths of 44 people.
The fires instantly made thousands of residents homeless, and while rebuilding has begun, some are still struggling.
Many received no warning or alert on their telephones and were awakened during the night by neighbors pounding on their doors or the sirens of first responders.
The vehicle fleet in Sonoma County was heavily impacted by the Tubbs, Nuns, and Pocket Fires in October, 2017
Above: Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County, California, October, 2017. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.
The huge fires that tore through populated areas north of the San Francisco Bay Area last October heavily impacted the region. The Nuns, Pocket, Atlas, and Tubbs Fires in Sonoma and Napa Counties burned over 100,000 acres. At least 44 people were killed and more than 5,000 structures were destroyed after the siege began October 8.
Facts like the above are what you normally hear when the impacts of wildfires and other natural disasters are discussed. But a lot is going on behind the scenes to directly or indirectly mitigate the effects and provide logistical support for the emergency responders.
Three fires burned in Sonoma County — the Pocket, Tubbs, and Nuns Fires. The county is very large — 1,768 square miles with a population of half a million.
The County-owned vehicles are maintained by fleet manager David Worthington and his 22 colleagues. In an article published at Government Fleet, Mr. Worthington wrote about some of the lessons his organization learned during the fire siege. Many Logistics personnel on Incident Management Teams are familiar with some of these issues, but it is interesting hearing about the perceptions of a fleet manager outside of the wildfire organization.
You should read the entire article, but here are some of the topics that were covered in the article.
Many tires on Deputy Sheriff vehicles had flats caused by driving over debris and then in some cases were destroyed when the officer had to continue driving to get to a safe place to stop.
Several vehicles suffered significant damage from radiant heat — melted plastic trim, headlights, and damage to the vinyl layer in the window glass.
With a high demand for fuel, they stopped trying to schedule fuel deliveries, and had the vendors bring a truck every day to top off the storage tanks.
Replacing the plugged cabin air filters was as important as replacing the engine air filters.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bob. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
A system that can send emergency notifications to every cell phone in a designated area was not used.
Soon after the Pocket, Tubbs, and Nuns Fires burned thousands of homes in northern California in the days following the October 8 wind event, local residents began asking why they received no emergency notifications on their cell phones.
The day before, all cell phones in Rincon Valley east of Santa Rosa loudly blared with a message about a child abduction in San Francisco about 48 air miles to the south, but the Amber Alert system was not used as the wildfires bore down on the densely packed communities in Sonoma County.
Officials did use two other systems, Nixle and SoCo Alert, to send messages to less than 35,000 cell phone users. Those programs require people to opt-in or sign up in advance.
But most residents in Sonoma County did not receive any notifications by phone as the fires approached between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. They found out as neighbors knocked on their doors or police drove around blasting sirens.
At least 23 people in Sonoma County died in the fires.
“I’m emotional when it comes to this, and I’m a rational guy,” said Patrick McCallum, who fled the fires with his wife, Judy Sakaki, president of Sonoma State University.
They burned their bare feet and ran for their lives as flames tore through their Fountaingrove neighborhood. By that point, about 4 a.m., the Tubbs fire, which started outside Calistoga 9 miles to the east, had been burning more than six hours. McCallum, however, was only awakened by a smoke alarm and the couple’s home already was on fire. The landline phone in the bedroom never rang.
The [Amber Alert] program is available to the Sonoma County Emergency Services division, housed within the county fire department. Emergency officials have said publicly they opted against using the program because they didn’t want alerts to go out countywide and cause mass evacuations that could have prevented first responders from reaching affected areas.
“In this rushed environment to inform as many people as possible, we were worried that notification would go out too broadly, and potentially clog roads,” Sonoma County spokeswoman Hannah Euser said.
But state emergency officials have said the system can send messages to smaller geographic areas.
“Hurricane force” winds, according to the National Weather Service, are sustained winds or frequent gusts of 74 mph.
Above: Fine-scale weather model simulation (horizontal grid spacing of 370 meters) analyzing the surface wind when the Northern California fires started, 8 p.m. local time October 8, 2017. The darkest brown areas (with cross-hatching) indicate wind speeds greater than 40 m/s (~90 mph). The red shapes indicate heat from active fires first detected by a satellite (VIIRS) at 3:09 a.m. local time October 9, 2017. Simulation by Dr. Janice Coen, a Project Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Simulated with the Coupled Atmosphere Wildland Fire Environment model.
(Originally published at 10:40 a.m. MDT October 30, 2017.)
More research into the weather conditions when the devastating October 8 wildfires started in Northern California indicates that hurricane force wind was one of the factors responsible for the extremely rapid spread of the fires that killed at least 43 people and destroyed more than 8,900 structures.
Dr. Janice Coen, a Project Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado ran fine-scale weather model simulations (horizontal grid spacing of 370 meters) analyzing the wind during the time the fires started. Her research (see chart above) showed significantly higher surface wind speeds than previously thought — 75 to 90 mph just upwind of the major fires.
CAL FIRE has not released the causes of the October 8 conflagrations, but at about the same time firefighters were first responding to numerous fires, they also received multiple calls about fallen power lines and electrical transformers exploding.
California law dictates that power lines are supposed to be able to withstand 56 mph.
In an email Dr. Coen told us more about the October 8 wind simulation and her research related to fire weather:
“These early simulations suggest that within a wide area of strong winds, these small, local bands of extreme winds occurred where winds were perpendicular to the local ridge. And, that the location of the peaks and their peak speeds evolved throughout the event as the wind direction changed, in part due to the high pressure over the Great Basin moving along.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence that we’d be able to find evidence to prove or disprove if/when a particular simulated wind speed maximum occurred. And, although there is a lot of theoretical and laboratory work on stably stratified flow over objects, this three-dimensional terrain is too complicated to apply much of that.
“We’ve seen a sequence of devastatingly destructive fire events each driven by strong wind events – 2007 fires in southern California driven by Santa Anas, surprising destruction from a mountain downslope wind-driven fire in Gatlinburg, TN, and now this – yet fine-scale investigations of the mechanisms producing the peak winds and how they are distributed, particularly in relation to potential ignition sources, don’t really exist. And, though our forecast models may indicate strong gusty winds are possible, explicitly predicting how extreme the winds might be and where the most dangerous spots are with the detail shown here is beyond their capabilities.
“I hope to learn and share more about the mechanics of these events by visualizing these simulations, so we can see inside these events, prepare and anticipate, contribute to firefighter awareness and safety (as Diablo winds in general are a regional fire issue), and perhaps help potential ignition sources such as utilities manage the risk.”
Above: Some of the firefighters that have been working on the Tubbs and Nuns Fires for the last week. Photo by Twitter user @WineMeAway.
(Originally published at 10:47 a.m. PDT October 18, 2017)
On Tuesday there was minimal activity on two of the four large fires in Napa and Sonoma Counties north of San Francisco, the Atlas and Tubbs Fires.
There has been major progress on the Nuns and Pocket Fires but there is still open line on those two blazes where firefighters are conducting fairly large burn out operations to remove fuel between the lines and the active edge of the fires.
Mandatory evacuations and road closures are still in effect in many areas.
The total size of the Nuns, Pocket, and Tubbs Fires in Sonoma and Napa Counties has risen to 103,285 acres. At least 5,017 structures have been destroyed. There have been 41 fatalities on the Northern California fires since the siege began October 8.
The resources assigned include 579 engines, 60 water tenders, 32 helicopters, 10 air tankers, 101 hand crews, and 95 dozers, for a total of 5,274 personnel.
At least 40 people have been confirmed dead in Northern California fires.
Above: Map showing the perimeters of the Pocket, Tubbs, Nuns, and Atlas Fires in northern California. CAL FIRE October 15, 2017.
(Published October 16, 2016)
Firefighters in Northern California are having some success on portions of the four largest wildfires near Geyserville, Santa Rosa, and Napa. However winds out of the southwest on Sunday caused the fires to spread on the northeast sides on all of the fires except the Atlas Fire which has been much quieter than the other three for the last two days.
Officials say 102,000 residents were either evacuated or had no homes to return to Saturday and Sunday in Sonoma County. Some evacuations were lifted late Sunday. Less than 2,000 stayed in evacuation centers.
The fires in Sonoma and Napa counties have destroyed 3,947 structures. Approximately 4,230 personnel are fighting the blazes.
Officials report that 40 people have been confirmed dead in Northern California fires over the last week including fires in Mendocino County and near Yuba City.
Pocket Fire: 11,889 acres north of Geyserville. It continues to grow to the east and northeast.
Tubbs Fire, 44,481 acres. The most active area of the fire is still the northeastern portion around Red Hill and Mount Saint Helena. It continues to make short uphill runs on the north side of the peaks.
Nuns Fire, 48,627 acres. The northern portion 6 miles north of Calistoga grew to the north Sunday.
Atlas Fire, 51, 057 acres. It is much quieter than the other three fires.
The National Weather Service predicts hot and dry conditions for the Santa Rosa area Monday with a high of 88 degrees, relative humidity in the mid-teens, and west or southwest winds of 2 to 9 mph.
Tuesday should bring better conditions for firefighters; 81 degrees, 28 percent RH, and southwest winds at 3 to 11 mph.