Wildfire potential, April through July, 2011

The Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center issued their National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook today for April through July, 2011.

The primary factors influencing these outlooks are:

  • La Niña: The ongoing La Niña episode is forecast to weaken in the spring and return to El Niño-Southern Oscillation neutral conditions.
  • Drought: Conditions are expected to persist and worsen across portions of the southwestern, southern, and central U.S. and along the mid-Atlantic seaboard. Some improvement is likely over Arkansas and sections of Virginia.
  • Fuel Dryness: Dryness observed over Florida and the extreme southeast states during the winter will continue into the summer. Unusually dry areas with above normal significant fire potential will expand westward across New Mexico and northward in Arizona through spring.

Wildfire potential, April 2011

Wildfire potential, May-July 2011

The latest revision of the Drought Monitor was released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Drought Monitor 3-31-2011

San Diego power company puts data from 101 weather stations online

San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) has installed at least 101 weather stations in their service area in San Diego, Orange, and Riverside counties in southern California. The primary purpose of the stations is to monitor wind speeds so that they can make decisions about when to turn off the power if they think their lines would be in danger of arcing or falling during wind events. The company is beginning to be a little gun shy since their lines have started numerous wildfires, including the 175,000-acre Laguna fire in 1970 and the disastrous Witch, Rice, and Guejito fires in 2007.

Wildfire Today covered this weather station story in August when the company had 94 of them up and running, but now the data from 101 stations is available in near real time on the internet.

Accessing and viewing the data is not very user friendly, but we applaud SDG&E for putting it online, something they did not have to do. Looking at a list of 100+ stations, with names you may not be familiar with, is not the ideal internet user experience, but if you live in the area you will probably recognize the locations near you. It would be great if they had one map that had an icon for each station, and mousing-over or clicking on the icon would bring up the weather data.

There is no single map that shows all of the stations, but if you go to the page with the 101 station list and click on the down arrow below “Regions”, choose an area, then click “Go” to the right, you will see a map of that area which displays the wind speed and direction for those few stations. Or you can select an area under “Communities” and see a text list of the stations in that area along with the wind speed, direction, temperature, and relative humidity.

Clicking on the name of a station brings up a page like this:

SDGE weather station data

Another view of the text data from 22 of the stations can be found here. It includes living and dead fuel moisture information in addition to wind speed, RH, and Red Flag Warnings.

In case SDG&E does implement their very controversial plan to turn off the power during periods of high fire danger, they have provided a web page for the affected residents that will show estimates of when the power will be restored. One of the problems with this is, if a resident has no power, they will most likely have difficulty accessing the internet.

Wildfire news, March 10, 2011

UPS driver makes initial attack on wildfire

Point Washington subdivision wildfire
Photo: Kathy Harrison

A UPS driver in South Walton, Florida, discovered a wildfire threatening some structures and took time away from his busy schedule to grab a garden hose. According to Bill Shultz who lived across the street, the driver, identified as Arthur Huels, called 911 and took action that kept the fire from destroying any houses. Here is an excerpt from the Walton Sun:

On the afternoon of Friday, March 4, Bill Shultz went to take his daughter’s dogs on a walk like he does everyday.

He saw a UPS truck parked outside the neighbor’s house, but that was “ordinary enough.” However, when the truck was still sitting there 20 minutes later, he knew something wasn’t right.

“Normally they are in and out in a hurry,” Shultz said. “Then I saw all the smoke coming out from behind the house.”

Shultz put the dogs in his car and quickly headed off across the street to see the cause of the smoke.

“The fire was right up very close to the house,” he told The Sun. “And there was the UPS driver battling down the flames with a garden hose.”

At approximately 2:20 p.m., firefighters from South Walton received a call about a fire in the Point Washington area according to Mike Morrison, public information officer for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

The UPS driver, later identified as Arthur Huels, called emergency responders when he came across the wildfire while on his daily delivery route.

Shultz and the UPS driver fought back the large brush fire with garden hoses until firefighters responded.

“And then he jumped back in his truck and finished his route,” Shultz said. “If that guy hadn’t stopped and done what he did, I don’t know what would have happened.”

Two arrested for stealing from wildfire victim’s home

From KFDA in Amarillo, Texas:

Two suspected thieves are behind bars following an alleged aggravated assault against a victim of the recent wildfires.

According to the sheriff, 48-year-old Martin Rodriguez- Flores and his son, a minor, attempted to run over a victim with their vehicle. Investigators say it happened after the victim approached them while they were attempting to haul off some of his burned property on Sanford Street. Authorities report finding a stolen ATV and lawn mower in the two suspects’ possession.

Rodriguez is in the Potter County jail. His son, is in the Youth Center of the High Plains. The two suspects face aggravated assault charges.

Potter county Sheriff Brian Thomas tells NewsChannel 10, he is infuriated people would attempt steal from victims of the recent wildfires.

This video has more information:

Dust devil causes prescribed fire on private land in Texas to escape, over 8,000 acres burn

From the Alpine Avalanche:

It took 70 to 80 local, state, national and international firefighters, tanker trucks, massive helicopters, two SEATs (small engine attack tanker airplanes) and lots of bravery and hard work for four days – but they defeated the Brewster County fire that consumed 8,225 acres of ranchland last week.

And although a few dozen homes, barns and outbuildings at times were threatened by flames, not one was reported burned down nor were any lives lost, Brewster County Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Santry said Tuesday.

Santry said the fire boss and crew had cleared fire breaks (a gap in vegetation designed to slow a fire’s progress) and were burning some of the brush, keeping an eye on the flames and the wind.

But a dust devil popped up behind the fire crew, hit the burning brush pile and carried embers to nearby grass and brush, all of it brittle-dry.

“You can’t predict that,” Santry said of the dust devil. “They’ll pop up out of nowhere.”

He said heat from blazes can also create what’s called a fire devil or fire tornado, a kind of whirlwind of flames.

In this case, although the ranch’s fire crew had taken all precautions to conduct a prescribed burn, Santry said they couldn’t control the freak dust devil. When the flames started eating more dried-out vegetation, the fire boss immediately called the Alpine Volunteer Fire Department.

 

Drought across the southeast

Drought monitor January 2011

Much of the southeast and south-central portions of the United States are currently in moderate to extreme drought. And the outlook through April is even worse.

Currently Texas, Louisiana, and Florida are in the worst shape but NOAA expects drought to spread extensively across the area over the next three months. In Florida over 400,000 acres were blackened by wildfires last year. If this outlook is accurate that number may be exceeded in 2011.

Drought monitor January through April 2011

New tool for predicting Santa Ana winds in California

Offshore flow severity index
Offshore flow severity index issued October 7, 2010. Click to enlarge.

A new tool is available that predicts the severity of Santa Ana winds in southern California six days in advance. Called the Offshore Flow Severity Index, it combines the relative humidity with the 1:00 p.m. wind speed predicted at the Saugus weather station to rate the events each day on a scale from one to four, with four being the highest. A category four event requires winds in excess of 30 mph with a relative humidity of less than 9%.

The term “offshore” is used because Santa Ana winds usually blow from a high pressure area over the Great Basin to a low pressure area off the southern California coast. These north, northeast, or east winds blow from the land to the ocean, or “offshore”, warming and drying as they move from high elevations to coastal elevations. Many of the larger and most devastating wildfires in southern California have occurred during offshore or Santa Ana wind events.

This forecasting tool will enable wildfire managers to modify their staffing or move fire resources into areas as needed to deal with the potential for large fires.

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UPDATE: October 26, 2011. Access to the site now requires a password, which seems very odd.