Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wildfires strike Los Angeles area and northern CA wine country today

Wildfires strike Los Angeles area and northern CA wine country today, Early season wildfires have broken out across California today, at least three of them so quickly that they have been on national news but have not yet reached the national incident reporting system.

Small but fierce blazes appeared in the northern California wine country in Napa and Sonoma Counties. The official fire season in CalFire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit is starting two weeks early this year because of conditions more like June than the first of May. Sixty-five returning seasonal firefighters will complete training on Friday.

High winds brought down trees onto power lines in the red-flagged, record-dry region. (Only 40 percent of normal precipitation fell last winter.) Brush ignited timber in Knights Valley early this morning near Highway 128, starting the Yellow Fire, which occupied 114 firefighters. Another blaze burned 75 acres and destroyed a barn near Yountville. Two acres of rugged country burned near Calistoga. Steep terrain there meant that responders had to hike in with hoses.

Already dry conditions, warm temperatures, low humidity, and winds gusting up to 50 mph contributed to the power of these fires. They are largely contained by the end of the day.

East of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino Mountains, a fast-growing brush fire lit up 1,500 acres (from zero) in just several hours this afternoon. According to Robert J. Lopez of the Los Angeles Times, this wildfire is still blazing 100% out of control as the sun sets in western skies. Reports say that five hundred people living near Banning have been evacuated so far. The National Weather Service has issued red-flag warnings for the area, and smoke advisories are in effect until further notice. People with respiratory diseases are on alert, some taking a long weekend elsewhere. Aggravated asthma and headaches are being reported. Ash is falling as far as Redlands, approximately 20 miles away.

More than 400 firefighters have been battling the Summit fire. Six helicopters and six aerial tankers have made repeated water and fire-retardant drops on walls of flame fueled by burning brush and chaparral on the mountainsides. Dry easterly winds of 30 mph have raked the flames, and the relative humidity there is only 12%. High risk and very dry conditions are forecast for the next seven days from the Oklahoma panhandle and west Texas through New Mexico, southern Colorado, Arizona, and California, where coastal areas are at especially high risk.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise issued its first seasonal Fire Weather and Fire Danger Outlooks today.

Seven federal and state agencies work together at the NIFC to coordinate and support wildland fire and disaster operations: the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, National Association of State Foresters, National Weather Service, U.S. Fire Administration, and Aviation Management Directorate.

Temperatures are expected to be three to six degrees above normal through May in the areas burning today. Severe drought continues to dry both live and dead brush and fuelwood west of the Rockies, with the exception of California's Great Basin. The seasonal wildfire risks are expected to grow and continue significantly higher than normal through August.

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