Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Images of the Monster

As I sit down to start writing this, the Station fire has been burning for exactly one week. Seven days after we first started hearing about the Station fire, it has grown to over 141,000 acres and has killed two firefighters. This is the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County ever measured. One in 1897 may have been larger, but it was not accurately measured. Folks, this one is a monster.

I started to collect images of this fire and of others in California. As usual, (The Boston Globe) beat me to it and has put together a slide show of the very best images available of the past week's activities. Here is the link:

A few comments some of the images:

1. The towering column of smoke has attained enough altitude that the moisture in the column has reached where it is cold enough to freeze. These have been called pyronimbus columns by the media, we call the phenomenon Ice Capping. They indicate tremendous amounts of fuel being burned at a rapid rate, producing enough heat to push the inversion layer. . These were present at least part of the day for 5 of the last seven days.

2. This Satellite image shows the massive smoke plume from space and that it reached out of the image. Also note the three (possibly four) distinct "ice capped" convective columns.

6. The fear in those horses eyes. 'Nuff said.

7. MARS really attacks! For more on this aerial tanker see my post of July 12, 2009 here:

Here is another link to a video that was shot by Coulson Air Tankers, the operators of the MARS. It shows the tanker scooping up a load of water on a lake, then dumping on a ridge just below some broadcasting facilities. I think that the lake is Diamond Valley Reservoir located in Riverside County Ca. and the broadcasting facility is Mt. Wilson, located just north of L.A. The video can be found here:

Here is a link to an interesting time lapse series that shows the build up of the Station fire on August 30th. The video can be found here:

Finally, I took this image on the fly from over 70 miles away. It is not very good, but it shows how tall the smoke column was and how it dominated the sky in the L.A. Basin.

The media has called this fire "The Perfect Fire Storm" . High temperatures, extremely low humidity, steep terrain and heavy dry fuels all led to the rapid and sustained growth of this fire.

It is not over yet, although lowering temperatures and rising humidity, especially at night, have allowed crews to make significant progress on containing this fire.

As massive as this fire is, the thing that worries me most is that this growth occurred with little or no wind. The seasonal Santa Ana winds are due in the next month or so. Whats going to happen then?

Thanks for reading,

Just another Schmoe, keeping the wolves from the door.


  1. I didn't realize helicopters (Pic #20 from dropped water as well. Weird looking chopper and very interesting.

    And I've got a question for ya Capt. I saw on the news that they were questioning the backfires that are set as being more of hinderance then help. I get the concept of how its supposed to work, but don't always understand it if that makes sense.

    If the wind (however slight) is blowing the fire in a direction, how does starting a fire ahead of it work if its going to blow the fire in the same direction??

    Stay safe Capt.

  2. Well peedee, the answer to your question is a little complicated. I am no expert in firing operations, but I will tell you what I know.

    Let's say the fire is coming toward your house. There is a lot of unburned fuel between your house and the approaching flame front. If you have been a diligent homeowner and have created a defensible space around your house, I may start burning out just upwind of the cleared space in order to expand it. I will try to keep the fire small so I can control it. Patience is necessary, because I don't want to get too much fire on the ground and lose control of it.

    The other scenario is that a large flame front is approaching and I wait until the convective column begins to draw enough air in from the bottom to overpower the wind. A good test for this is to throw some dirt into the air and when the dust begins to be sucked into the main fire, begin firing. The air feeding the fire, should draw the flames from you fire toward it, clearing the desired area.

    Any firing operation requires a knowledgeable person leading the operation, good coordination with your surrounding resources, a good, secure place to begin from and support from an engine company or hand crew to help control the firing operation.

    Although, I have been in a situation where we "ringed" a structure in order to save the house and possibly ourselves. Basically, we lit fire around the cleared structure and let the people downwind fend for themselves. They were aware of what we were doing, and were doing it themselves. All's well that ends well, but I was not happy about doing it. A "Brush Bunny" from the Dept. of Forestry advised us to do it so we did.

    Firing operations can and do go wrong. An engineer from California was killed while protecting a structure a few years back. Unauthorized firing operations that were occurring without anyone's knowledge were at least a contributing factor if not a direct cause. Losing control of the operation can increase fire size and intensity and increase property loss.

    However, it is a valuable tool that is used quite often with positive results.

    I know there are a few readers from Cal-fire that read this blog. Some of them are freaking masters at firing operations in the wild-land interface.

    Hope this helps.

  3. I live there!

    You can't breathe when you go outside. Everything is covered with gray dust an inch thick.

    Messy Girl (formerly the Nanny)