Featured image from LA Co. Firefighters Local 1014.

Yesterday this was the Lake fire. In the closeup, you can clearly see the wind direction, blowing from the east and averaging about 10 miles an hour. I added a cloud cover layer and you can see haze/smoke everywhere because there’s a monsoonal flow coming in.  Firefighting efforts are concentrated to the south because the community of Castaic is located about 4 miles south of the southernmost point of the active fire.  What would you predict would happen?

Smoke and haze, left. Wind direction, right.

Bang! The fire explodes to the west. There will be fewer firefighting efforts to the west because there is no large community immediately in that direction. It may also be too damned dangerous to put humans in the way. The fire expanded so fast it was probably impossible to escape should there have been hotshots inserted. There are ranches, resorts, and homes in the path but they should have evacuated by now. Firefighters will be performing structure protecting to the extent they can but hopefully, nobody is going to be taking lethal risks.

Wind direction at 9:30 am.

Uh-oh. This is bad news! Surface winds have shifted to coming from the north. The more recent the involvement, the more likely the fire will spread from that location. The reds and yellows are actively burning. The greens and blues are smoldering and a gust of wind could pick up an ember and toss it onto unburned brush. The grey is still a danger but not so much.

That big mass of new fire will move south with the wind. Some of it will hit already burned areas and die out.  Some of it will make an end-run around the currently smoldering blue area and there’s already a hot spot next to the blue (probably created by a flying ember from that green patch) and it could easily explode.

Hotshot crew from Wikipedia. There is no more difficult or dangerous job in America.

Manpower and resources are in short supply. We’re competing with the Ranch Fire out by Azuza. and another fire by Malibu. The incident commander will be using meteorological projections, already burned areas, natural fire breaks, and the topography and vegetative cover of the area to place his resources and limit or redirect the fire. There’s no way this is going to be extinguished until all the fuel available has been consumed. The trick is to direct the fire back onto itself with clever strategy.

But damn! Look how the wind has shifted again in just a few hours! If you placed your crews and your water/fire retardant drops according to the winds for this morning, by afternoon they are useless. And look at the forecast 12 hours from now. Fighting a fire requires all the strategic skills of a full-scale war. This is why a hotshot crew can be completely safe one minute and in deadly peril the next.

Wind direction at 1:30 pm on the left. Predicted wind 12 hrs. from now, right.

But wait! There’s more! Recently burned areas will not burn again so readily. The 2013 Powerhouse Fire lay to its east. Much of the fuel there was consumed and 7 years will not have built up a heavy fuel load yet. Part of the reason the Lake fire is so vigorous is that the area hasn’t been burned over in a hundred years. Any spread into the Powerhouse area will be slow and less intense.


And to the north are the 2004 Pine Fire and the 2007 Fairmont Fire. Sixteen years sounds like a long time but the chaparral grows slowly and the area will still burn less intensely.

There’s also the Warm Fire of 2015 to the south. I freehiked through it several months after and discovered an oak tree still smoldering away just as it was about to explode into fire. I think I may have prevented a major conflagration.  Or not. I blogged about it and described the terrain the Lake Fire is burning in here:

Fish Canyon Narrows

There is an east-west truck trail along a dry creek about a mile south of the fire. I’m betting that’s where they’ll make a stand to protect Castaic. What we can hope is that the wind will continue to shift until it is blowing the fire back onto itself. It will then go out of its own accord.

Sadly, this is burning out a huge swath in areas I haunt. They are close to home, yet perfect for freehiking because comparatively few people ever go so deep into the wild. The loss of homes, ranches, and businesses is tragic and eclipses any sadness I may feel.

Here’s a book that everyone in Southern California should read and take to heart: