Fire Storm: Thermal Satellite Maps Track the Growth of Southern California’s Station Fire

Station Ignition Point

The Station Fire ignited about 3:30pm on Wednesday, August 26, at approximately the spot indicated along the side of the Angeles Crest Highway in the Angeles National Forest.

Station 8-26 11pm

This is what the thermal satellites found at 11:00pm Wednesday night.

8-27 2-30pm Station

2:30pm Thursday. Spreading fire beginning to threaten homes along LA’s northern fringe.

8-28 2-30am Station

12 hours later (2:30am Friday). Fire expanding in all directions.

8-28 1-30pm Station

1:30pm Friday. Firefighters are slowing the fire’s southward progress into populated areas, but expansion to the north and east is accelerating.

8-29 3am Station

3:00am Saturday. Other than in the northeast corner, things seem to be cooling off.

8-29 11am Station

11:00am Saturday. Fire becoming more active. A run to the west is threatening the communication facilities on the summit of Mt. Lukens and a run to the southeast is bringing the fire close to neighborhoods in Alta Dena.

8-29 2pm Station

Fire Storm. Just 3 hours later (2:00pm Saturday) the map looks like this. Although there’s very little wind, the fire has suddenly blown across thousands of acres to the north, overrunning homes in Big Tujunga Canyon and seriously burning several residents (including two who tried sheltering in a hot tub). In the south, the fire is burning into the backyards of homes in the La Canada/Flintridge area.

8-30 2am Station

12 hours later. By 2:00am Sunday, the run to the north has extended so far that the fire is becoming a threat to Acton and other communities along the 14 Freeway. Throughout the night, tireless firefighting efforts save scores of homes along the urban/wildland interface, from Sunland to Alta Dena.

8-30 Noon Station

Sunday Noon. Expansion is becoming more gradual again. Firefighting efforts are concentrated on saving homes near the mouth of Big Tujunga Canyon. Check out this satellite photo of the smoke plumes taken Sunday mid-morning.

8-31 3am Station

3:00am Monday. A change of wind direction sends the fire running east across thousands of additional acres. The fire has now burned over 85,000 105,000 acres (the number just keeps climbing) and is only 5% contained (although how the containment percentage can remain the same after an expansion like this we’re not too sure).

Looks like it’s going to be up to the weather to decide how long this one burns…

8-31 2pm Station

2:00pm Monday. Fire still moving east, especially in the vicinity of Cogswell Reservoir. Fire also making steady progress west.

9-1-09 AM Station

2:00am Tuesday, September 1. Fire cooling off a bit overnight (lower temperatures and higher humidity help). Most active in the southeast, but burning on the west flank and the backfires set yesterday along the foot of Mt. Lukens are also evident. Over 121,000 acres have now burned and somehow, miraculously, the containment percentage has managed to keep perfect pace with the increase, as the fire remains 5% contained.

9-1-09 3pm Station

3:00pm Tuesday. Continuing to cool off. Today’s weather has given firefighters a great opportunity to make progress with backfires and fireline construction.

9-2-09 3am Station

3:am Wednesday. Fire becoming more active, particularly on the southeast flank, deep in the Angeles National Forest. Fire has now burned more than 140,000 acres, but yesterdays lull allowed some real progress. The containment estimate is now up to 22%

9-2-09 4pm Station

4:00pm Wednesday. A week since the fire began. Most remaining fire activity appears to be confined to the mountainside between Mt. Wilson and Cogswell Reservoir in the southeast, and the area around Magic Mountain (the actual mountain, not the amusement park or the book by Thomas Mann) in the northwest. Containment now estimated at 28%.

9-3-09 3am Station

3:00am Thursday. Renewed fire activity north of Cogswell Reservoir and on the northeastern flank of the fire near Juniper Hills, but firefighters appear to be succeeding in their effort to keep the fire from descending Big Santa Anita Canyon (just southeast of Mt. Wilson). Fire still hot in the Magic Mountain area on the west and new evacuations are taking place in that vicinity. The fire has now burned more than 144,000 acres and containment is estimated at 38%.

9-3-09 4pm Station

4:00pm Thursday. Most of the action has been in the west today, where firefighters are working to keep the fire away from homes in Pacoima Canyon. The fire’s eastern front remains active, but its forward progress remains slow. A few thousand more acres have been added, bringing the total burned to over 147,000. The containment estimate is still 38%.

9-4-09 3am Station

3:00am Friday. Only new heat detections are on the southeast flank. That doesn’t mean the fire has gone out elsewhere, but it’s a good indication of where the fire is most active. The fire has now burned over 148,000 acres and is considered to be 42% contained. Because heat detections only remain on the map for a week, yellow dots are now disappearing near the fire’s point of origin.

9-4-09 4pm Station

4:00pm Friday. New heat detections are still only occurring on the fire’s southeast flank, and mainly inside the fire perimeter. The number of acres burned and the containment estimate have not been adjusted during the day. Many fire crews are now returning home.

9-5-09 3am Station

3:00am Saturday. Fire running north from the southeast flank toward the area already burned by the fire’s northeastern arm. Fire also pushing east near Cogswell Reservoir. All quiet on the western front. More than 154,000 acres have now burned. The containment estimate remains at 42%, according to Cal Fire, but has increased to 49%, according to the Forest Service.

9-5-09 3pm Station

3:00pm Saturday. Fire off and running again, with a solid looking head moving east and heat detections turning up south of Cogswell Reservoir, as well. There are reports that some fire lines have been “compromised” and firefighters that had been scheduled to leave the fire today are now being told to stay. There’s, so far, been no update on acres burned.

9-6-09 3am Station

3:00am Sunday. Fire burning actively on the eastern flank and around Cogswell Reservoir, on the west fork of the San Gabriel River. The fire has now burned more than 157,000 acres and the containment estimate has been nudged up to 52%.

9-7-09 3am Station

3:00am Monday, 9-7-09. Nearly all the new heat detections are deep in the mountains on the fire’s northeast end. This may change, though, as firefighters are hoping to secure the southern flank of the fire by conducting burnout operations today between Mt. Wilson and Cogswell Reservoir. The estimate of the fire’s size hasn’t changed this morning, but containment has crept up to 56%.

Readers have asked why we don’t link to any of the “fire maps,” both official and unofficial, that are circulating around out there, and which purport to show the boundary of the fire as a nice, neat, easy to understand, line. The reason is that fire boundaries are not neat lines. Fires burn in fits and starts, spot fires break out ahead of the main fire and many patches within the fire area remain unburned. In addition, nearly all maps are created by someone simply drawing a line around the heat detections that we’re presenting here in their raw form. The heat detecting satellites are not 100% accurate and drawing a line around their detections only adds additional inaccuracy. We think the maps we’ve presented here convey a far more accurate sense of where the fire is and what it’s doing than any map we’ve seen that presents the fire boundaries as a definite line.

Even the incident command team, which has access to much better data and fire mapping technology, only tends to release woefully out of date and inaccurate fire maps to the public. Below is a corner of the most up-to-date official fire map currently available. It is dated 9-5-09 (2 days old) and is clearly not very accurate or precise. This neighborhood in La Crescenta, for example, did not burn as indicated by the map. On the contrary, local firefighters successfully backfired from the fringes of this neighborhood over a week ago. Why officials choose to put out maps with obvious errors like this we don’t know, but we’re not going to link to them here.

La Cresenta

9-7-09 3pm Station

3:00pm Monday. Fire moving north so actively that burnout operations near Cogswell Reservoir are cancelled for today. Incident command doesn’t seem to have had time to update the fire’s size or publish a new containment estimate.

9-8-09 2am Station

2:00am Tuesday. Fire activity decreasing. Fire has now burned over 160,000 acres. Cal Fire says the fire is 60% contained. The feds, so far this morning, are sticking with 56%.

9-8-09 3pm Station

3:00pm Tuesday. Fire activity remains low. No change in acres burned. State and feds still can’t agree on whether fire is 60% or 56% contained.

9-9-09 3am Station

3:00am Wednesday. Nearly 2 weeks since the fire began and, for the first time, the satellites have failed to detect any heat. The size is still pegged at a little over 160,000 acres and everyone agrees this morning that containment is at 62%. If fire activity remains low, we expect the containment figure will begin climbing rapidly.

3:00pm Wednesday. Still no new heat detections. No change in acreage or containment either. Is it time to stop worrying about fire and start worrying about floods?

3:00am Thursday 9-10-09. The long-awaited burn out operations between Mt. Wilson and Cogswell Reservoir are underway, but they haven’t produced enough heat to be visible to the satellites. The containment estimate has jumped to 71%. There is no change in acres burned.

3:00am Friday. The burn out operations along the southeastern edge of the fire area continue, as can be seen on the Mt. Wilson webcam, but they still haven’t produced enough heat to be detected by the satellites. The estimate of acres burned has been nudged up a couple hundred acres to 160,557 and the containment estimate has been raised to 77%. Lots of personnel are being released.

3:00pm Friday. Still no sign of life from the fire. Cal Fire raises the containment estimate to 81%. Forest Service sticking with 77%.

9/25/09 Forest Service has announced they are giving up trying to predict when they will achieve full containment. Containment is now at 98%, but the last 2% may have to wait until the rains arrive.

Station Fire Declared Contained at 7:00pm 10/16/09

Inciweb for Station Fire Sometimes slow/impossible to load, because that’s just the way Inciweb is.

Mt. Wilson webcam Now back on line.

Excellent time-lapse video of Station Fire Plume

LA Times Blog Easily the best and most up-to-date coverage of the fire we’ve seen.

LA Times Article on the possibility that  the Forest Service blew a chance to contain the Station Fire on the 2nd day.

One Response to Fire Storm: Thermal Satellite Maps Track the Growth of Southern California’s Station Fire

  1. bigsurkate says:

    The webcam at Mr. Wilson is still working at 1:30 pm on Monday, and no flames visible.

    BTW, nice progression presented here, XT.

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