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North Bay Wildfires

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After hearing of family members being evacuated in a seperate fire incident northeast of Sacramento, I tuned into the ABC affiliate out of San Francisco to hear of an especially massive and ongoing situation in the Napa/ Santa Rosa area. As of 1:30pm, apparently 1500 structures, and several thousand acres have burned since starting sometime last night. Believe 20k are under evacuation atm in the area as well. 

 

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The coverage on the news is freaking depressing and terrifying. Are these wildfires typical? I mean, I know they regularly get wildfires, but of these magnitudes? 

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Praying for the safety of everyone living there, it has been one heck of a year for many.

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6 hours ago, Missi said:

The coverage on the news is freaking depressing and terrifying. Are these wildfires typical? I mean, I know they regularly get wildfires, but of these magnitudes? 

Missi,

As simple as an answer to your question might be,  there are several factors that come into play that can enhance how likely such a scenerios can play out.

A vague look into California's  ecology finds that many of the native shrubs/ trees evolved with fire. Many native Pinus sp. will hold their seeds in the cones until a fire burns through, the heat from which helps open and disperse seeds. The "brushy" areas of the state, aka Chaparral,  are especially geared toward burning periodically. Several species in this plant community either exude volitile oils that can cause a fire to burn hotter ( Chamise, aka Greesewood, is an especially good example) . Others can be completely burned to the ground and regenerate from the root crown afterwards. Chaparral areas of the state are also some of the regions where half the population lives, especially closer to the coast, or in the foothills areas of the Sierra, or down in Southern CA. Chamise- dominant chaparral areas of the state can experience some pretty serious fires when they occur. Stuff can practically explode like Eucalyptus when set on fire. 

Weather plays a big part in how quickly a fire can spread once started. In the 20- something years I lived there, seeing smoke from a small fire somewhere in the hills of San Jose is pretty normal during the summer or early fall. What makes a typically small fire that can quickly be extinguished, turn into the kind of monster are down sloping winds that blow offshore. Around So Cal., most know this weather pattern as the Santa Anna, up north in the Bay Area, we'd call them the Diablos.. I think there are local names for similar wind patterns across the state, anyway,

When extreme, this weather pattern brings high winds and extremely low humidity. Combined with either excessive fuels( high winter rainfall= lots of spring growth that dries quickly in the spring, gets even drier through the summer), or excessively dried out fuel ( from several years of drought) and gaps in the topography ( passes, canyons, etc) These winds can accelerate and dry out further as they move from hilltops toward the ocean. This all can cause extreme fire behavior alongside the typical unpredictable nature of fires themselves. Put housing or commercial developments in the path and you can see what can happen. 

While small fires were fairly normal events, if you caught sight of a nearby fire producing a healthy " Chimney", it's a sign that the situation has changed. "chimneying" references sudden intensification of the active region of a fire's convective plume. The bigger/ more intense, the hotter and more extreme the fire/ fire behavior itself. Really big fires can produce local Thunderstorms, and sometimes even hail. Fires like what have been seen in recent days move rapidly downhill like a wall of embers and wind, incinerating anything in front of it. The smoke plume may not rise as high up but has a very ominous look.

The last thing that can factors into such a situation is human caused. Building in highly volatile areas, and many years of suppressing a natural cycle itself.

Native Americans used to set fires that would burn off grasses and small material in forests in regular intervals. Such fires rarely effected the trees themselves and helped keep excessive growth/ invaders in check, all the while recycling nutrients back into the soil and maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Modern suppression tactics by the Forest Service/ other agencies helped create forests choked by several decades of growth/ accumulated dead material. When a fire occurs, it burns more intensely and causes more damage. Fire suppression also keeps forests or brush areas less diverse. There are some interesting studies regarding why fire is so important in many ecosystems.

I've hiked through areas subjected to regular controlled burns that were crown-sprouting and full of spring wildflowers 6 months post burn,  in comparison to areas where the fire burned so intensely that it looked like a moonscape and took 2-4 years to start a legitimate regeneration process.  In some cases, like in parts of Arizona and New Mexico, such incredible fires can reshape or shift ecological zones ( no post burn regeneration of various tree/ shrub sp. Area becomes dominated by various grasses, cacti, plants adapted to less moisture/ more sun/ heat exposure)

In any event, it's sad to see the damage and I hope all effected make a full recovery, including my cousins who did end up loosing their home up near Grass Valley. 

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On 10/10/2017, 10:32:31, Silas_Sancona said:

Missi,

As simple as an answer to your question might be,  there are several factors that come into play that can enhance how likely such a scenerios can play out.

A vague look into California's  ecology finds that many of the native shrubs/ trees evolved with fire. Many native Pinus sp. will hold their seeds in the cones until a fire burns through, the heat from which helps open and disperse seeds. The "brushy" areas of the state, aka Chaparral,  are especially geared toward burning periodically. Several species in this plant community either exude volitile oils that can cause a fire to burn hotter ( Chamise, aka Greesewood, is an especially good example) . Others can be completely burned to the ground and regenerate from the root crown afterwards. Chaparral areas of the state are also some of the regions where half the population lives, especially closer to the coast, or in the foothills areas of the Sierra, or down in Southern CA. Chamise- dominant chaparral areas of the state can experience some pretty serious fires when they occur. Stuff can practically explode like Eucalyptus when set on fire. 

Weather plays a big part in how quickly a fire can spread once started. In the 20- something years I lived there, seeing smoke from a small fire somewhere in the hills of San Jose is pretty normal during the summer or early fall. What makes a typically small fire that can quickly be extinguished, turn into the kind of monster are down sloping winds that blow offshore. Around So Cal., most know this weather pattern as the Santa Anna, up north in the Bay Area, we'd call them the Diablos.. I think there are local names for similar wind patterns across the state, anyway,

When extreme, this weather pattern brings high winds and extremely low humidity. Combined with either excessive fuels( high winter rainfall= lots of spring growth that dries quickly in the spring, gets even drier through the summer), or excessively dried out fuel ( from several years of drought) and gaps in the topography ( passes, canyons, etc) These winds can accelerate and dry out further as they move from hilltops toward the ocean. This all can cause extreme fire behavior alongside the typical unpredictable nature of fires themselves. Put housing or commercial developments in the path and you can see what can happen. 

While small fires were fairly normal events, if you caught sight of a nearby fire producing a healthy " Chimney", it's a sign that the situation has changed. "chimneying" references sudden intensification of the active region of a fire's convective plume. The bigger/ more intense, the hotter and more extreme the fire/ fire behavior itself. Really big fires can produce local Thunderstorms, and sometimes even hail. Fires like what have been seen in recent days move rapidly downhill like a wall of embers and wind, incinerating anything in front of it. The smoke plume may not rise as high up but has a very ominous look.

The last thing that can factors into such a situation is human caused. Building in highly volatile areas, and many years of suppressing a natural cycle itself.

Native Americans used to set fires that would burn off grasses and small material in forests in regular intervals. Such fires rarely effected the trees themselves and helped keep excessive growth/ invaders in check, all the while recycling nutrients back into the soil and maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Modern suppression tactics by the Forest Service/ other agencies helped create forests choked by several decades of growth/ accumulated dead material. When a fire occurs, it burns more intensely and causes more damage. Fire suppression also keeps forests or brush areas less diverse. There are some interesting studies regarding why fire is so important in many ecosystems.

I've hiked through areas subjected to regular controlled burns that were crown-sprouting and full of spring wildflowers 6 months post burn,  in comparison to areas where the fire burned so intensely that it looked like a moonscape and took 2-4 years to start a legitimate regeneration process.  In some cases, like in parts of Arizona and New Mexico, such incredible fires can reshape or shift ecological zones ( no post burn regeneration of various tree/ shrub sp. Area becomes dominated by various grasses, cacti, plants adapted to less moisture/ more sun/ heat exposure)

In any event, it's sad to see the damage and I hope all effected make a full recovery, including my cousins who did end up loosing their home up near Grass Valley. 

Freakin' awesome info! I learned a LOT! Thanks so much!! ^_^

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We have regular controlled burns in Florida, as well. It's fascinating to see how quickly the native vegetation bounces back! Especially the sabals and palmettos.

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0% containment as of now.

no-cal-fire-palms.jpg.23fd702f5c65eea242

no-cal-fire-4.jpg.f316adb82819b0d37a0f2c

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On 10/10/2017, 12:17:10, Missi said:

The coverage on the news is freaking depressing and terrifying. Are these wildfires typical? I mean, I know they regularly get wildfires, but of these magnitudes? 

@Silas_Sancona said it wonderfully.

Large fires are pretty typical - at least in the Sierra - most of which is designated wild land anyway, so few homes and structures are endangered. Large fires in populated areas? not so common. The Rim fire in Yosemite burned an astounding 257,314 acres of forest a few years ago and the infamous Rough fire burned a mind-boggling 151,623 acres in 2016. I remember having ash come down on us from both of those fires for several days.

This picture went viral - it's the Los Prietos Hot Shots posing in front of the rough fire. Imagine trying to control a fire in that terrain! The second photo is of the Rim Fire that burned just outside of Yosemite. Difficult terrain + strong winds make for a really unpredictable fire. 

2015_09_14-15.13.44.142-CDT.jpeg.032446b

073016_pioneer_fire_inciweb.jpeg.f483d00

 

And this is a neat picture! This is from InciWeb's photo album from the Rough fire - a giant sequoia cone opened up to disperse seeds after the fire burned through the area. 

2015_09_19-14.57.30.653-CDT.jpeg.6768745

 

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As Silas_Sancona wrote in more detail above, many California ecosystems are fire adapted, esp. plants native to chaparral areas. Successful regrowth depends on the fires not burning too intensely or for too long. We'll just have to see this winter and spring what happens with the vegetation in NorCal that's been burned. I just learned today (Sat.) that the area where my childhood home is located in Santa Rosa is now under evacuation orders, so this is still a fast-changing situation. :(

PalmTree-SonomaFires.jpg

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On 10/14/2017, 3:32:34, Hillizard said:

As Silas_Sancona wrote in more detail above, many California ecosystems are fire adapted, esp. plants native to chaparral areas. Successful regrowth depends on the fires not burning too intensely or for too long. We'll just have to see this winter and spring what happens with the vegetation in NorCal that's been burned. I just learned today (Sat.) that the area where my childhood home is located in Santa Rosa is now under evacuation orders, so this is still a fast-changing situation. :(

PalmTree-SonomaFires.jpg

Hope the news is good.

 

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Yike.

59e51db5b1392_burnedcul-de-sac.jpg.70b9e59e51db547c02_burnedtruck.jpg.f267c93c5659e51db4dc221_burnedoutruins.jpg.db580e7

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