For more recent updates, please see Soberanes Fire: Week Nine
Important caveats: Please note that the squares on the heat detection maps represent the expected margin of error, not the size of the area burned. In other words, the detection could have come from anywhere within the square. Also be aware that false detections do sometimes occur. An outlying or “over the line” heat detection is not, by itself, a confirmation that there is fire in the area indicated. In addition, the satellites do not detect heat everywhere that fire exists. Creeping, backing or smoldering fire is often not detected. Finally, the detections are only snapshots of moments in time. Flare ups that occur before or after a satellite pass may be entirely missed.
Also be aware that yellow squares disappear from the map after 6 days. These are not maps of the area burned since the fire began, just maps of where heat has been detected during the past week.
Note: Tonight’s update will be my last update for Week Eight. I will be out of town and only sporadically in contact with the Internet for the next four days. I will return on Monday to take a look at how Week Nine is going. As always, check Big Sur Kate for the latest fire information.
What I’ll be doing instead of worrying about fire for the next four days…
9-14-16 8:00 pm Update
The big news of the day was the start of firing operations along the containment lines on Chews Ridge. The Forest Service says they intend to reinforce the line from Chews Ridge to the northwest (toward, if not to, Los Padres Dam) by burning out a strip of land along the line. “There is no intention to ignite all the unburned vegetation inside the Ventana Wilderness,” they write, “just the perimeter.”
This is probably a good move that will provide greater security for homes on Chews Ridge and beyond in the event that drier weather gets the fire moving again, but there is no denying that it is also a bold move. The practice on this fire, until now, has been to wait to conduct firing operations until an active fire front is nearly to the line – and even that has generated criticism (unfounded, in my opinion) that the Forest Service is artificially moving the fire forward.
In this case, the fire perimeter is still quite far from the line and, thanks to successful firefighting efforts and cooperative weather, this portion of the perimeter has not noticeably advanced since sometime around August 24. This obviously raises the stakes for the Forest Service since, if this firing operation gets away from them and causes damage, it will be difficult to convince the locals that it was necessary.
I’m sure they wouldn’t be doing it if they weren’t confident that the terrain and weather are on their side – but it’s still a bold move.
In any event, the firing began too late to be picked up by the satellites which, once again, found no heat over the fire.
This evening’s official numbers: 107,375 acres; 52% contained; 57 homes and 11 outbuildings destroyed; 1 fatality; 7 injuries.
Click here to view Monterey County’s Soberanes Post-Fire and Recovery Information page. It contains the newly released BAER report and associated maps for the northern portion of the fire.
9-14-16 7:00 am Update
A heavy marine layer continued to suppress active burning overnight and the satellites once again found no new heat. There is no infrared map this morning either. It was probably too foggy and cloudy to allow an infrared scan to proceed.
The new team that took over command of the incident yesterday apparently decided to take a fresh look at the containment figure, which has remained at 60% for over a month (since August 12). As a result, they have reduced containment to 52%.
They now place the size of the fire at 107,097 acres.
The prevailing northwest wind is expected to return and the weather is expected to get warmer and drier again as we head into the weekend.
9-13-16 7:30 pm Update
There were gusty south winds today, but there was also a 3,000 foot deep marine layer and the higher humidity suppressed active burning enough that satellite passes around 11:00 am and 3:00 pm found no new heat on the fire.
This evening’s official numbers: 107,050 acres; 60% contained; 57 homes and 11 outbuildings destroyed; 1 fatality; 7 injuries.
9-13-16 7:30 am Update
A satellite pass at around 11:30 last night found heat only at the southeastern end of yesterday’s run along the Coast Ridge. Big Sur Kate reports that someone with a view of the area saw no sign of fire on the wrong side of the line yesterday and the Forest Service reports this morning that “all indirect lines held throughout the night.” While it is likely that any spotting over the line has been minor and easily controlled, there is no question that the fire has far outrun the firing operations and is now burning directly below unfired line.
This is confirmed by this morning’s Operations Map, which includes some limited IR data. The IR data was added around 4:00 am this morning, but it’s not clear when it was acquired. The IR scan seems to have covered only the two areas of greatest concern; the Coast Ridge and the Arroyo Seco River.
The IR mapping shows a long run along and to the east of the Coast Ridge line with intense heat at it’s head (in approximately the same location as the MODIS heat detection on the map above). There is also some scattered heat along the bank of the Arroyo Seco River, but no sign of the fire having gotten across. Yesterday’s run from the North Fork to the top of the ridge above Tassajara Creek has also been drawn in on the map, but there is no sign of this new perimeter being based on actual IR data.
The driver of a water tender that went off the North Coast Ridge Road and rolled multiple times before coming to rest approximately 300 feet down the mountainside Sunday morning is reported to be in stable condition at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas. We wish him a speedy recovery.
The Forest Service says the fire is now 107,050 acres.
9-12-16 7:45 pm Update
It may have been cooler today, but lower humidity and breezy conditions created an active fire day anyway. There was no new heat detected at the leading edge of the fire, near the Arroyo Seco River, but the fire along the North Fork Big Sur River burned west to the edge of the fresh black along Cienega Creek and made another big run to the ridge overlooking Tassajara Creek. The firing operations on the Coast Ridge also resulted in a large-scale burn today. The red heat detections were acquired around noon and 2:00 pm this afternoon.
Yes. There are a lot of heat detections on the wrong side of the Coast Ridge fire line. This could be an error – or it could be that there was some spotting over the line today. There has been no word from the Forest Service, but more planes, including the DC-10 VLAT were called to the fire in the middle of the day today. The southernmost heat detections are on the ridge between Hot Springs Canyon and Big Creek. It is possible that the fire from yesterday’s firing operations, which had descended into Indian Valley last night, could have reversed course and run back at the Coast Ridge.
That happened just to the east, where the fire along Lost Valley Creek reversed course and, instead of burning further toward the Arroyo Seco River, burned upstream to somewhere around the confluence of Lost Valley and Higgins Creeks. The large fire front created by the Coast Ridge firing operations can be seen stretching across the upper Higgins Creek watershed.
The fire near Lost Valley Camp is now in position to make an uphill run at the Coast Ridge containment line.
Meanwhile, to the north, it appears likely that fire has, once again, spotted over into the upper Tassajara Creek watershed. This could also be the reason why additional planes were ordered today.
9-12-16 8:00 am Update
Satellite passes at around 10:30 pm and 3:00 am found fire moving downstream along the North Fork Big Sur River, backing toward the Arroyo Seco River and spreading east from firing operations on the Coast Ridge.
On the Coast Ridge, firing operations have now moved on past Marble Peak. As shown on this map and confirmed by the Forest Service, flames from those operations spread east last night into Indian Valley, at the headwaters of Higgins Creek. Fire has been smoldering in Indian Valley (and presenting a threat to the Coast Ridge containment line) for many days now. This burn out will, hopefully, neutralize that threat.
This morning’s infrared map, based on data acquired earlier in the evening, does not show this spread.
The leading edge of the fire, meanwhile, is still backing toward the Arroyo Seco River, just downstream of the Lost Valley Creek confluence. Should the fire get across the river, the eastern containment line could quickly be challenged by strong uphill runs.
This view, centered on Horse Bridge, at the Arroyo Seco River/Tassajara Creek confluence, shows more clearly the position of this portion of the fire relative to the Tassajara Zen Center. Willow Creek flows through the prominent canyon that drains into Tassajara Creek just above Horse Bridge.
The Forest Service is concerned that the fire smoldering and burning on the ridge south of Willow Creek (under the yellow squares) will spread down toward Willow and Tassajara Creeks, then run up canyon toward the Tassajara Zen Center.
The weather today is expected to be colder and drier than yesterday. Cooler weather is good, but relative humidity may, unfortunately, sink into the single digits on some parts of the fire. It may also be breezier than yesterday on the ridge tops, so further spread is a distinct possibility.
This morning’s official numbers: 105,705 acres; 60% contained; 57 homes destroyed; 11 outbuildings destroyed; 1 fatality; 6 injuries.
9-11-16 6:30 pm Update
Other than the firing operation on the Coast Ridge, the action today was all on the fire’s eastern edge. There doesn’t appear to have been any additional movement toward Willow or Tassajara Creeks. Instead, the fire moved down toward, but probably not yet across, the Arroyo Seco River downstream of the Lost Valley Creek confluence. Light red heat detections were acquired around 11:30 am; dark red around 3:00 pm.
9-11-16 7:00 am Update
A satellite pass around 11:30 pm last night found fire running along the top of the ridge between Willow Creek and the Arroyo Seco River.
The Forest Service is concerned that this fire could back into Willow Creek and get into the mouth of Tassajara Creek (Willow Creek flows into Tassajara Creek just upstream from Horse Bridge, on the Arroyo Seco River). From there, it could burn upstream toward the Tassajara Zen Center. This, together with concerns about fire spotting into the Tassajara drainage (see below), appears to be the reason for the evacuation order issued for the Tassajara Road south of Chews Ridge last night.
The fire could also continue down the ridge top toward Horse Bridge. If it gets across the Arroyo Seco River, it could run uphill at the containment lines along the Arroyo Seco – Indians Road. This is undoubtedly the reason for the evacuation warning issued for the Arroyo Seco area last evening.
As of this morning, the Forest Service reports the fire above Willow Creek is doing neither of these feared things, but is instead holding in place and cooling down.
To the north, the satellite found no sign of yesterday’s big run out of the North Fork Big Sur River getting fire established in the Tassajara watershed. The only heat detection in that area is deep in the North Fork canyon. The Forest Service agrees that yesterday’s run has cooled down, but warns that it “may have spotted over the ridge.” They will undoubtedly be working to douse any hotspots that appear there today.
Humidity is still increasing over the fire, but today may be a bit breezier than yesterday, as the prevailing northwest winds are expected to return.
This morning’s official numbers: 105,642 acres; 60% contained; 57 homes destroyed; 11 outbuildings destroyed; 1 fatality; 6 injuries.
9-10-16 7:30 pm Update
Firing operations continued southeast along the Coast Ridge between Anderson Peak and Marble Peak today. Meanwhile, the main fire remained very active along the North Fork Big Sur River and along Lost Valley Creek. Light red heat detections were acquired around 12:30 pm; dark red around 2:00 pm.
The fire made another big run out of the North Fork Big Sur River and up to the ridge overlooking Tassajara Creek today. There was a report a little over an hour after these heat detections were acquired that Incident Command was requesting 3 additional air tankers (for a total of 7) due to the fire making a “heavy” run and spotting up to a quarter mile ahead. Whether or not they succeeded (once again) in preventing fire from establishing itself in the Tassajara drainage we probably won’t know until tomorrow.
The fire along Lost Valley Creek changed direction today and, instead of burning further upstream toward Lost Valley, burned downstream, apparently on both sides of the creek, toward the Arroyo Seco River. If the fire crosses the Arroyo Seco it will have an uphill run toward Hanging Valley and the fire line along the Arroyo Seco – Indians Road. There are contingency lines along the top of the ridge to the right of the road.
This evening’s official numbers: 103,847 acres; 60% contained; 57 homes destroyed; 11 outbuildings destroyed; 1 fatality; 6 injuries.
9-10-16 7:30 am Update
The fire was most active overnight along the North Fork of the Big Sur River, where it made yet another run toward the ridge overlooking Tassajara Creek. This morning’s infrared map, based on data acquired around 11:00 pm last night, shows this run getting underway. The red heat detections are from around 11:00 pm and 3:00 am. The infrared map also confirms that fire has crossed Lost Valley Creek near the Zig Zag Creek confluence.
There should be moist air and very little wind over the fire today, which is good. But there will also be atmospheric instability, which could lead to cumulus build-up and even, possibly, a thunderstorm or two – which could create dangerous, fire-spreading downdrafts.
There have been questions in the comments here, and elsewhere, about why the Forest Service is “letting” the fire burn so far and why it isn’t doing more to stop it. The answer is that the fire is burning in terrain where it is too dangerous to fight it directly. Instead, firefighters build indirect lines (in blue on the map) and backfire from those lines as the fire gets close.
Meanwhile, they use planes and helicopters to slow or stop the spread of the fire within the lines. Thanks to cooperative weather, this effort has been quite successful. The fire in the Carmel River watershed has been held completely in check for some weeks now and fire has, so far, been prevented from establishing itself in the Tassajara Creek watershed. If the weather continues to cooperate, bucket drops and retardant lines may be able to hold much of the fire in place until rain puts it out.
This morning’s infrared map puts the size of the fire at 103,847 acres.
9-9-16 8:15 pm Update
There appear to have been three satellite passes today; around noon (light red squares), 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm (dark red squares).
Rather than making another run toward Tassajara Creek, the fire along the North Fork of the Big Sur River ran in the other direction today, back into the South Fork canyon. The noon satellite pass found some heat still lingering on the top of the ridge from yesterday’s run out of Cienega Creek, but none later. The 3:00 pm satellite found renewed heat in the area of the firing operations along the Coast Ridge.
Just as the Forest Service had warned, up canyon wind began moving the south end of the fire southwest up Lost Valley Creek. The positioning of the heat detections strongly suggests that the fire may have crossed Lost Valley Creek in one or more places.
There was, once again, no fire active enough to be noticed by the satellites in the Willow Creek watershed or around Black Cone (the portions of the fire perimeter closest to the Tassajara Zen Center).
This evening’s official numbers: 103,242 acres; 60% contained; 57 homes destroyed; 11 outbuildings destroyed; 1 fatality; 6 injuries.
9-9-16 7:30 am Update
Here’s the section of this morning’s infrared map depicting the business end of the fire. This map was based on data acquired a little before 9:00 pm last night. The fire apparently gave in to increasing humidity and laid down some later in the evening, as the overnight satellites found no heat.
The infrared scan did not find a spot fire on Tassajara Creek, so that was either an error or it was knocked down during the afternoon yesterday. The map does show fire from the run out of Cienega Creek spilling over into the Tassajara drainage and does show active fire along the North Fork Big Sur River. There are isolated heat detections in the Willow Creek drainage and overlooking Tassajara Creek north of Black Cone.
At the southern end of the fire, the infrared scan shows active fire close to, but not across, Lost Valley Creek. The Forest Service predicts that up canyon winds may push this fire southwest toward Higgins Creek and Lost Valley today.
According to the infrared map, the fire is now 103,242 acres.
For earlier updates, please see Soberanes Fire: Week Seven