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Erskine fire California’s most destructive this year, fire potential expanding to Sierras and central coast


The "Erskine fire" started on June 23, 2016, northeast of Bakersfield, California due to a yet-unknown cause. By June 27th, it grew into the state's largest and most destructive wildfire this year. As the summer progresses, above-normal fire potential is expected to expand into the Sierras and central coast region of California.

As of 14:00 UTC (07:00 PDT) on June 28, the fire was 45% contained and continues to pose a threat to structures. It had already scorched 18 890 hectares (46 679 acres), destroyed at least 250 structures, and was responsible for at least two deaths. Across the state, wildfires have so far scorched more than 28 300 hectares (70 000 acres).

Images below were acquired on June 26. At the time, the Erskine fire had burned 17 588 hectares (43 460 acres). 

Image shows the region at 10:34 UTC (03:34 PDT) on June 26, 2016. It was acquired with the day-night band (DNB) of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite. The DNB can detect relatively dim signals such as city lights and reflected moonlight. In this case, it also shows the glow of wildfire. Credit: NASA/NOAA/DoD Suomi NPP / VIIRS

This image shows the fire later that same day. This natural-color image was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Red outlines indicate hot spots where MODIS detected warm surface temperatures associated with fires. Winds carried smoke from the fire northward. Credit: NASA Aqua/MODIS

In South Lake, more than 100 trailers and houses were burned in a 2.6 km2 (1 mi2) area.

Convinced that protecting wealthier communities was the priority of first responders, angry South Lake residents pressed officials to explain at a community meeting held Monday, June 27 why firefighters didn’t save more of the town, the Los Angeles Times writes today.

“We don’t count because we’re poor?” Janice Ryan asked during a gathering at Kernville Elementary School, the makeshift evacuation center. “Why aren’t we as important as the next town? Why was South Lake bypassed?”

“When you have heavy wind going at 65 to 80 km/h (40 to 50 mph), there’s not any fire department anywhere in the world that would be able to catch a fire going that fast," Kern County Fire Department spokesman Anthony Romero responded to accusations. “No one is less important here. Everybody is important,” he said.

“Unfortunately, this fire was too big, too fast for us to get in front of.”

Source: Cal Fire, Wildfiretoday.com / @latimesgraphics

As of 15:00 UTC on June 28, there are 10 named wildfires burning across the state of California:

Acres / Hectares
Border Fire
Potrero area
San Diego
7,609 / 3,079
Sherpa Fire
west of Goleta
Santa Barbara
7,474 / 3,024
San Gabriel Complex
(Formerly Reservoir & Fish Fires)
north of Azusa
Los Angeles
**US Forest Service incident
Pony Fire
15 miles southwest of Happy Camp
**US Forest Service incident
Erskine Fire
Off Erskine Creek Rd in Lake Isabella
46,679 / 18,890
Marina Fire
Hwy 395 & Mono Lake
**US Forest Service incident
Laguna Fire
in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, 2½ miles northeast of Laguna Beach
47 / 19
Campo Fire 
off Campo Seco and Chili Camp Road, near Burson 
33 / 13.3
Reservoir Fire
Near Indian Valley Reservoir, 7 miles Southwest of Leesville
215 / 87
Frazier Fire
off Nacimiento Lake Dr. and Frazier Rd.
San Luis Obispo
75 / 30

Active wildfires in California as of June 28, 2016. Source: Cal Fire – Incident Information

Active wildfires in California as of 15:00 UTC on June 28, 2016. Credit: Cal OES

Video courtesy Cal OES

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, above-normal fire potential is expected to expand into the Sierras and central coast region of California as summer progresses. 

Southern California – Monthly Seasonal Outlook
By National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) – June 1, 2016 

Normal significant wildland fire potential is expected for June. An increase to above normal potential is expected for some of the Area by July and will expand into August and September.

Significant fire potential is expected to climb to above normal levels during the summer into the early fall. The highest potential will be over Southern California during the first part of the summer as the past rainy season only brought 50 to 70 percent of normal rainfall. As the summer progresses, above normal significant fire potential area will expand northward to include much of the Sierras and the central coast region.

During the mid to late summer months, the highest potential may be over the Sierra Foothills where a severe, multiyear drought has exacted a toll on the vegetation of the area. A pine beetle infestation along with stress from the drought has brought a high level of plant mortality to many areas of the high country in Central California. Aerial surveys indicate parts of the Sierra Foothills between 2,000 to 6,000 feet have suffered over 50 percent tree mortality, especially in Ponderosa Pines. Many stands have yet to drop their needles and thousands of acres in the Sierras will be primed for large fires from a fuels standpoint.

Sea surface temperatures are rapidly cooling along the equator. The eastern Pacific should not have nearly the potential to spin up tropical disturbances compared to last year. This year, expect an average summer monsoon season with thunderstorms fewer in number compared to last year and in 2014. Temperatures this summer should continue to average a few degrees above normal. Significant fire potential is expected to remain above normal into the fall and perhaps the early portions of winter.

The next monthly outlook will be published on Friday, July 1, 2016.

Featured image: Erskine fire – June 25, 2016 (Imgur)

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