Cover Story: The Beginning of 2014's Historic Fire Season

Firefighters in California and throughout the western states have been battling serious wildfires in conditions not experienced before as extraordinary drought conditions are creating a scenario of historic proportions. This year, serious fires have consistently caused concern since the early start of the fire season.

Beginning in mid-May, firefighters across Southern California were sent into action when a series of wildfires burned from Santa Barbara County south to San Diego County. During the dry and warm early afternoon of May 13, 2014, firefighters in Santa Barbara County responded to a fire burning in heavy fuels in Miguelito Canyon, south of the City of Lompoc. A tree branch that had fallen across power line ignited the Miguelito Fire, which quickly spread into rugged terrain and immediately threatened structures in its path.

With conditions severe, even early in the season, fire resource response has been universally heavy for every report of a wildland fire in an effort to achieve quick knockdowns on every incident. First-arriving firefighters estimated 50 acres with a rapid spread rate and requested additional ground resources as well as air tankers, with the initial size-up reporting the potential for a major incident. More than 550 firefighters from Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties used 50 engines, assisted by ground resources such as water tenders, bulldozers and an armada of aircraft – four helicopters and eight air tankers, ) including VLAT (very large air tanker) Tanker-910, a DC-10 jet capable of delivering 11,600 gallons of retardant.

The Miguelito Fire was fully contained over the next two days after burning more than 600 acres, No property was lost, but 1,200 homes were evacuated.

Some of the other wildland fires that burned during that week were: Bernardo Fire (San Diego), 1,600 acres; Tomahawk Fire (Fallbrook), 5,400 acres; Poinsettia Fire (Carlsbad), 400 acres (one fatality and eight homes, an 18-unit condominium and two commercial buildings lost); Highway Fire (Deer Springs), 380 acres; La Pulgas Fire (Camp Pendleton):, 15,000 acres; River Fire (Oceanside), 105 acres; Cocos Fire (San Marcos), 2,000 acres (36 homes destroyed) and San Mateo Fire (Camp Pendleton), 1,500 acres.

Keith D. Cullom