Red flag warnings and record-breaking heat expected in California

A weather forecast for record-breaking triple-digit heat and single digit humidities has brought out a red flag warning for some areas in southern California for Monday and Tuesday. The temperatures are expected to be about 20 degrees hotter than normal,  between 95 and 105 at the lower elevations in the mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties on Monday, then a few degrees cooler on Tuesday. Downtown Los Angeles is expected to hit 100 degrees on Monday, with it reaching 105 degrees in Burbank and Pasadena.

Northeast winds at 10 to 20 mph with 30 mph gusts are expected on Monday, with Tuesday afternoon bringing 25 mph onshore winds.

Red Flag Warnings, October 1, 2012

The map below shows the area in southern California covered by the red flag warning, which is in effect from 6 a.m. Monday until 6 p.m. PDT Tuesday.

Red Flag Warning, Southern California, October 1, 2012

There is also a red flag warning for some areas in northwest Montana for gusty winds and low humidities from 11 a.m. through midnight MDT on Monday. The winds are expected to be southwest at 15 to 25 mph with gusts up to 50, with the humidities as low as 16 percent.

The passage of a cold front has resulted in a red flag warning for western Minnesota from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m. CDT on Monday. Winds should be northwest at 20 with gusts up to 30 mph along with humidities as low as 20 percent.

A fire weather watch is in effect for areas in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Alpine Lake Fire spreads 6 miles on Friday and Saturday

Alpine Lake Fire September 14, 2012. Photo by Lance Robinson
Alpine Lake Fire September 14, 2012. Photo by Lance Robinson

The Alpine Lake fire 40 miles west of Riverton, Wyoming had been relatively quiet for the last ten days until it made some very significant runs on Friday and Saturday. On those days it showed extreme fire behavior, was plume-dominated, and spread six miles to the east adding about 11,000 acres, bringing the size to 34,630 acres. The Red Flag Warning that was in effect for the area turned out to be accurate, as the fire was influenced by extremely low relatively humidity. On Saturday the highest RH recorded at the Wind River weather station (12 miles southeast of the fire) for the 24-hour period was 17 percent at 11 p.m. Between 4 a.m. and 3 p.m. the RH was in the single digits, with the lowest reading of 6 percent occurring at 4 a.m. It remained quite low Saturday night and Sunday morning, finally getting as high as 25 percent at 7 a.m. on Sunday before it started decreasing again.

This weather contributed to the extreme fire behavior and rapid spread of the fire all day Saturday and continuing late into Saturday night.

Map  Alpine Lake Fire
Map showing heat detected on the Alpine Lake Fire by satellites at 10:45 p.m. MT, September 15, 2012 (click to enlarge)

We talked with Karl Brauneis, a former US Forest Service employee who is assigned as an Information Officer to the fire, which is burning on Bureau of Indian Affairs land.

Karl Brauneis, Alpine Lakes Fire
Karl Brauneis, Information Officer, Alpine Lakes Fire. (KTWO News)

Mr. Brauneis told us that since the fire started on August 7, the result of a lightning strike, it was managed by four to five people plus a helicopter and a helitack crew until they experimented with a Type 2 Incident Management Team for a short time beginning on September 7. He said the IMTeam was “too heavy” and “too muscled up” for the fire and was released. But after the fire activity increased later, they brought in a smaller Type 3 IMTeam, with Mike Hosstetler as Incident Commander.

Mr. Brauneis said the topography is extremely rugged, the area has no logging or grazing activity, and there is no wildland-urban interface. He described it as a “pre-Louis and Clark landscape”, meaning there is no development or any human-made improvements that have to be protected. Those factors, he explained, make it nearly impossible and not necessary to suppress the fire. When it burns down from the 8,000 to 10,000 foot elevations to the sage and grass on the lower slopes, which it is beginning to do now, they will be able to take suppression action. At that time the firefighters will engage the fire more aggressively, protecting the Saint Lawrence Basin and the Saint Lawrence Basin Ranger Station.

In fact on Saturday air tankers were used for the first time on the fire and included retardant drops from Tanker 911, a DC-10, as well as some single engine air tankers. They expect to use air tankers again on the fire today.

The video below was uploaded by KTWO News on September 7.

Newspaper suggests residents bring beer to firefighters

Horsethief Canyon Fire and bike race
Bicycle racers ride past the Horsethief Canyon fire. Photo by David Cernicek

Firefighters generally don’t have an opportunity to read newspapers while they are working on a fire unless an Information Officer posts them on a bulletin board at the Incident Command Post. But firefighters on the Horsethief Canyon Fire just south of Jackson, Wyoming would have been intrigued, at least, if they knew that a writer for a local paper, the JH Weekly, wrote that they did not need baked goods or food, but:

Dropping by the command center … with a six pack would probably not be discouraged by most of the Pulaski swingers.

While the “Pulaski swingers” might enjoy a brew at the end of a shift, the fire has rules against alcohol in fire camp. We asked Nan Stinson, a spokesperson for the fire if they had received any donations of beer, and she said she thought at least one person had shown up with some beer but they were turned away.

Map of Horsethief Fire
Map of Horsethief Canyon Fire, 8:38 p.m. MT, September 13, 2012. Google/MODIS. (Click to enlarge)

The fire has not spread much in recent days, but there is a Red Flag Warning in effect for today. The weather forecast predicts west winds at 14 mph with gusts up to 20, temperature of 80, and a relative humidity of 14% Saturday afternoon.

The fire has burned 3,353 acres and is 41 percent contained. The resources assigned include 9 helicopters, 16 hand crews, 43 engines, and 3 dozers.

Burnout operation on Horsethief Fire
Burnout operation on Horsethief Canyon Fire, September 12, 2012. Credit: Horsethief Canyon Fire.

Detailed assessment reveals 52 structures destroyed on fire near Casper

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Map Sheep Herder Hill Fire 09-13-12
Map of the Sheep Herder Hill Fire 09-13-12. The red line is uncontrolled fire edge, while the black indicates completed fireline.

The incident management team running the Sheep Herder Hill Fire 5 miles southeast of Casper, Wyoming, while emphasizing that many structures have been saved, announced that 36 residences and 16 outbuildings are confirmed as destroyed. The team is calling the 15,416-acre fire 50 percent contained.

Some evacuations have been lifted, but they are still in effect for approximately 150 homes, with another 750 on advisory alert.

Assigned to the fire are 354 personnel, six hand crews, 4 helicopters, and 2 single engine air tankers.

Spread of fire near Casper slows

DC-10 drops on Sheep Herder Hill fire on Monday
Tanker 911, a DC-10, drops on the Sheep Herder Hill Complex near Casper on Monday. Photo by Alan Rogers, Casper Star-Tribune. Used with permission. (click to enlarge)

This spectacular photo of Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, dropping on the Sheep Herder Hill Complex near Casper, Wyoming was taken by Alan Rogers of the Casper Star-Tribune yesterday. The photo, along with the video we posted on September 10, tends to disprove the assertions that the Very Large Air Tankers can only be used in “flat or gently-rolling terrain”.

The Casper Star-Tribune has several other photos of the interior of the DC-10 on their web site along with an article about the aircraft. We thank Mr. Rogers for allowing us to use this excellent photograph.

The fire, which became known as the Sheep Herder Hill Complex when a new fire started a couple of miles away Monday night, grew by about 600 acres on Tuesday to a total of 15,887 acres, according to Neal Kephart, a spokesperson for the fire. The Type 2 Incident Management Team led by Incident Commander Todd Pechota took over management of the new fire, named Elkhorn, and aggressively attacked it Monday and Tuesday with engines, aircraft, and smokejumpers, stopping the spread after it burned 8 acres.

Map of Sheep Herder Hill Complex, September 11, 2012.
Map of Sheep Herder Hill Complex, September 11, 2012. ESRI

Evacuations are still in effect for 150 homes, and another 800 are threatened, according to Mr. Kephart.

Firefighters are getting a break from the weather today, with a forecast for a high temperature of 67 degrees and a 7 to 9 mph wind out of the east and northeast. The relative humidity will bottom out at 21%.

The DC-10 and Tanker 40, a BAe-146, are still parked at the Casper airport 15 miles northeast of the fire along with 4 single engine air tankers, but as of 11:30 a.m. today had not been used yet today.

Other resources on the fire include 7 helicopters (4 large Type 1s, and 3 smaller Type 3s), 17 engines, 4 dozers, and 292 personnel. Two of the helicopters are from the National Guard.


Fire near Casper burns structures and 15,000 acres

Sheep Herder Hill Fire, Photo by Wyoming State Forestry Division
Sheep Herder Hill Fire, Sept. 10, 2012. Photo by Wyoming State Forestry Division

A lightning-caused wildfire 5 miles south of Casper, Wyoming has burned 15,284 acres south of the city on Casper Mountain. According to the National Situation Report seven structures have been destroyed.

The fire started at 4:30 p.m. on September 9, and grew quickly. A Rocky Mountain Region Type 2 Incident Management Team with Incident Commander Todd Pachota was dispatched to the fire on Monday.

Approximately 150 homes, including 400 residents, have been evacuated.

Map of Sheep Herder Hill fire
Map of Sheep Herder Hill fire, 4:27 a.m., September 11, 2012. The city of Casper is located at the icon for I-25.

On Monday Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, left Sacramento with a load of fire retardant, flew to the fire and dropped 11,600 gallons, then landed at the Casper airport, only 15 miles northwest of the fire. It had to sit there for a while as thunderstorms passed over, then it reloaded and dropped on the fire again, for a total of 23,200 gallons. The ship could be an awesome weapon at that fire with very fast turnarounds, dropping 11,600 gallons each time.

The weather on Tuesday will be more moderate than the last two days. The cloud cover will increase to 74% by noon, high temperature will be 75, the humidity will bottom out at 21%, and the winds will be northeast shifting to the northwest at 8 to 14, with gusts to 21 by late afternoon.

A live web cam feed can be found at K2Radio. You have to manually refresh the page to obtain updated images.

The video below is a time-lapse showing the smoke from the fire on Sunday. Unfortunately a tree partially blocks the view.

UPDATE at 12:47 p.m. MT, September 11, 2012:

The Incident Management Team has posted a map of the fire at their InciWeb web site.