2008 California wildfires

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2008 California wildfires
Summer 2008 California wildfires on July 9.jpg
Some of the wildfires as seen from space during the height of the summer outbreak on July 9, 2008.
Statistics[1]
Total fires 4,108
Total area 1,375,781 acres (5,567.59 km2)

The 2008 California Wildfire season was one of the most devastating since the turn of the 21st century. While only 4,108 fires occurred, less than half as many as in 2009, the total area burned far exceeded that of previous years.[1] Throughout the year 1,375,781 acres (5,567.59 km2) of land was burned.

By July 5, 2008, 328 wildfires were burning, and those fires were only 81% contained.[2] For the first time since 1977, the military helped with ground-based firefighting, when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger dispatched 400 California National Guard troops, including Chief Medical Officer Susan Pangelinan, to manage fire lines.[3] He said the number of fires had stretched the state's fire-fighting resources thin. "One never has resources for 1,700 fires. Who has the resources for that?" Schwarzenegger said, adding "Something is happening, clearly. There's more need for resources than ever before... it's fire season all year round".[4]


Major Fires[edit]

Below is a list of all fires that exceeded 1,000 acres (400 ha) during the 2008 fire season.[5] The list is taken from CAL FIREs list of large fires.

Name County Acres Km2 Start Date Contained Date Notes
Wawona Nw Mariposa 1,130 4.6 9 April 2008 19 April 2008
Honey Bee Tulare 1,225 5.0 6 May 2008 23 May 2008
Colyear Tehama 1,331 5.4 6 May 2008 9 May 2008
Avocado Fresno 1,100 4.5 20 May 2008 21 May 2008
Summit Santa Clara 4,270 17.3 22 May 2008 27 May 2008
Clover Tulare 15,300 61.9 28 May 2008 20 July 2008
Indians Monterey 81,378 329.3 8 June 2008 10 July 2008
Jackson Sacramento 6,400 25.9 10 June 2008 12 June 2008
Ophir Butte 1,600 6.5 10 June 2008 13 June 2008
41 Madera 3,300 13.4 10 June 2008 11 June 2008
Lagrange Tuolumne 1,346 5.4 10 June 2008 11 June 2008
Humboldt Butte 23,344 94.5 11 June 2008 21 June 2008
Whiskey Tehama 7,783 31.5 12 June 2008 22 June 2008
Albion River Lightning Mendocino 1,000 4.0 20 June 2008 30 June 2008
Lime Complex Trinity 98,715 399.5 20 June 2008 15 August 2008
Mad Complex Trinity 3,705 15.0 20 June 2008 21 July 2008
Hells Half Complex Trinity 15,146 61.3 20 June 2008 28 July 2008
South Complex Humboldt 29,327 118.7 20 June 2008 15 September 2008
Brown Complex San Benito 3,870 15.7 21 June 2008 24 June 2008
West Branch Butte 3,206 13.0 21 June 2008 21 June 2008
Frey Butte 10,000 40.5 21 June 2008 21 June 2008
Flea Valley Butte 1,248 5.1 21 June 2008 21 June 2008
Paradise Humboldt 1,076 4.4 21 June 2008 1 August 2008
Blue 2 Complex Siskiyou 82,186 332.6 21 June 2008 Unknown
Popcorn Lassen 3,000 12.1 21 June 2008 22 June 2008
Cub Complex Lassen 19,718 79.8 21 June 2008 20 July 2008
Peterson Complex Lassen 7,842 31.7 21 June 2008 2 July 2008
Wild Napa 4,200 17.0 21 June 2008 26 June 2008
Basin Complex Monterey 162,818 658.9 21 June 2008 27 July 2008
Wagers Lightning Mendocino 3,000 12.1 21 June 2008 21 June 2008
Jack Smith Lightning Mendocino 3,000 12.1 21 June 2008 13 July 2008
Mallo B Mendocino 4,466 18.1 21 June 2008 17 July 2008
Squaw 1 Lightning 2 Mendocino 3,000 12.1 21 June 2008 13 July 2008
Red Mountain 1 Mendocino 7,515 30.4 21 June 2008 1 August 2008
Gate Lightning Mendocino 3,000 12.1 21 June 2008 13 July 2008
Soda Complex Lake 8,632 34.9 21 June 2008 26 July 2008
Canyon Complex Plumas 47,680 193.0 21 June 2008 30 September 2008
Iron Complex Trinity 105,805 428.2 21 June 2008 9 September 2008
Sta 57 Ono Cdf Igo 2 Shasta 4,000 16.2 21 June 2008 24 July 2008
Whitmore Old Crow C2 Shasta 2,054 8.3 21 June 2008 15 July 2008
EO2A Shasta 1,200 4.9 21 June 2008 6 July 2008
Stein Shasta 1,148 4.6 21 June 2008 7 July 2008
Moon Shasta 6,030 24.4 21 June 2008 9 August 2008
Platina 4 Trinity 12,980 52.5 21 June 2008 4 July 2008
Lewiston 8 Trinity 1,311 5.3 21 June 2008 23 July 2008
Lakehead Shasta 27,936 113.1 21 June 2008 23 August 2008
Oliver Mariposa 2,200 8.9 21 June 2008 26 June 2008
North Mountain Tuolumne 2,889 11.7 21 June 2008 3 July 2008
American River Complex Placer 20,541 83.1 21 June 2008 30 July 2008
Yuba River Complex Sierra 4,254 17.2 21 June 2008 15 July 2008
Whiskeytown Complex Shasta 6,420 26.0 21 June 2008 19 July 2008
Bear Wallow Complex Siskiyou 192,038 777.2 22 June 2008 30 September 2008
Popcorn Lassen 3,000 12.1 22 June 2008 8 July 2008
Mill Complex Tehama 2,100 8.5 22 June 2008 29 June 2008
Walker Lake 15,000 60.7 22 June 2008 29 June 2008
Orr Springs Rd Ukv 2 Mendocino 3,000 12.1 22 June 2008 10 July 2008
5-8 Cliff Lightning Mendocino 1,000 4.0 22 June 2008 13 July 2008
Venture Shasta 1,912 7.7 22 June 2008 4 July 2008
Corral Lassen 12,500 50.6 23 June 2008 7 July 2008
Oliver Mariposa 2,789 11.3 23 June 2008 6 July 2008
Mill Creek Tehama 13,580 55.0 24 June 2008 1 July 2008
Piute Kern 37,026 149.8 28 June 2008 25 July 2008
Hardy Mendocino 5,581 22.6 30 June 2008 30 June 2008
Gap Santa Barbara 9,443 38.2 1 July 2008 28 July 2008
Butch Lightning Mendocino 2,800 11.3 4 July 2008 4 July 2008
Lost Pipe Lightning Mendocino 1,200 4.9 4 July 2008 10 July 2008
Jack Smith Lightning Mendocino 2,000 8.1 4 July 2008 15 July 2008
Albion Lightning Mendocino 3,000 12.1 4 July 2008 8 July 2008
Horse Lightning Mendocino 1,000 4.0 4 July 2008 8 July 2008
Orr Series Lightning Mendocino 3,000 12.1 4 July 2008 13 July 2008
Montgomery Flat Lightning Mendocino 3,000 12.1 4 July 2008 15 July 2008
Alder Creek Beach Mendocino 1,000 4.0 7 July 2008 7 July 2008
Tehipite Fresno 11,596 46.9 19 July 2008 11 November 2008
Panther Siskiyou 72,344 292.8 24 July 2008 30 September 2008
Telegraph Mariposa 34,091 138.0 25 July 2008 15 September 2008
Rich Plumas 6,112 24.7 29 July 2008 10 August 2008
Craig Butte 2,001 8.1 3 August 2008 11 August 2008
Rim Butte 1,651 6.7 13 August 2008 13 August 2008
Empire Butte 2,000 8.1 13 August 2008 3 August 2008
Flea Valley 2 Butte 1,248 5.1 21 June 2008 21 June 2008
Camp Beldon and Pit Butte 47,647 192.8 13 August 2008 13 August 2008
Smokey Butte 1,324 5.4 13 August 2008 13 August 2008
Jack Siskiyou 6,900 27.9 17 August 2008 22 August 2008
Gladding Placer 1,000 4.0 1 September 2008 3 September 2008
Gulch Shasta 2,847 11.5 7 September 2008 11 September 2008
Hidden Tulare 3,668 14.8 10 September 2008 30 September 2008
Chalk Monterey 16,269 65.8 25 September 2008 29 October 2028
November San Diego 1,400 5.7 8 October 2008 9 October 2008
Marek Los Angeles 4,824 19.5 12 October 2008 16 October 2008
Sesnon Los Angeles 14,703 59.5 13 October 2008 18 October 2008
Juliett San Diego 4,026 16.3 13 October 2008 17 October 2008
Lackerman Butte 1,310 5.3 23 October 2008 23 October 2008
Tea Santa Barbara 1,940 7.9 13 November 2008 17 November 2008
Freeway Riverside 30,305 122.6 15 November 2008 22 November 2008

Smoke and air quality[edit]

Air quality in northern and central California deteriorated as a result of smoke from the wildfires, especially in the Central Valley from Bakersfield in the southern San Joaquin Valley section to Redding in the northern Sacramento Valley section.[6][7]

Northern California[edit]

From June 21 to June 27, much of Northern California was covered in a thick blanket of smoke, which reduced visibility and turned the sky yellow and the Moon red.[8][7][9][10]

Some areas endured record levels of air pollution, along with hazardous concentrations of particulate matter.[6] These smoky and hazy conditions prompted health officials to issue air quality advisories and warnings, as particulate matter reached unhealthy levels in the North Bay on June 25.[11] In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District urged the elderly and people with respiratory problems to stay indoors.[8] In spite of the warnings, health officials noted a jump in the number of people with eye and throat irritation. The bad air quality also forced the cancellation of the 100-mile (161 km) Western States Endurance Run, the first in the race's 31-year history.[6] Air quality began to improve on June 28,[6] followed by decreased smoke and improved visibility a day later.[12] By June 30, residents in the Sacramento Valley saw blue skies and good air quality, as a result of onshore winds and the Delta breezes.[13]

However, air quality in Oregon degraded as plumes of smoke drifted northward instead of concentrating in the Central Valley.[14]

Spare the Air[edit]

Hazy conditions returned on July 7, along with high temperatures over 100 °F (38 °C) in the Central Valley. The heat and smoke combined forced public health officials and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue "Spare the Air" advisories and an emergency plan for heat waves, respectively.[15][16] Air quality districts issued another Spare the Air day for July 8, July 9, and July 10, as calm wind conditions in Northern California failed to blow away the smoke from the wildfires.[15][17] Smoky conditions continued into late August, when most of the wildfires were extinguished. The smoke from the fires finally began to disperse on September 10, after the last of the wildfires was fully contained.

View east of the smokey sky, from Carson City, Nevada (11 July 2008).

Summer Fires[edit]

The Summer 2008 fires were a concentrated outbreak of wildfires during the late spring and summer of 2008. Over 3,596 individual fires were burning at the height of the period, burning large portions of forests and chaparral in California, injuring at least 34 individuals and killing 32.[18] The majority of the fires were started by lightning from dry thunderstorms on June 20,[8] although some earlier fires ignited during mid-May. International aid from Greece, Cyprus, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and New Zealand helped fight the fires.[19]

In total, the summer fire season burned 1,161,197 acres (469,920 ha), which accounts for 84% of the total area burned during the 2008 season.[20][21][22]

The Basin Complex Fire in the Ventana Wilderness became the third largest wildfire in California's history based on size (until it was surpassed in size by the 2013 Rim Fire), and also the second costliest wildfire to extinguish in U.S. history.[citation needed]

Weather[edit]

The fires broke out after three years of below-normal rainfall dehydrated much of California's forests and woodlands, making them prone to wildfires. Spring 2008 for California was the driest on record for many locations; for example, San Francisco registered only 0.67 inches (17 mm) of rain out of a normal of 5.18 inches (13 cm) from March to May.[8][23] As vegetation turned into bone-dry tinder in early June, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought for the first time in 17 years.[24] Dry thunderstorms and lightning, rarely seen on the California coastline in June, rolled onshore on the weekend of June 20–21. The storm unleashed 25,000 to 26,000 dry lightning strikes across Northern and Central California, igniting more than 2,000 fires.[25][26] The number of wildfires skyrocketed in the days after the thunderstorms and high daily daytime temperatures of over 120 °F (49 °C) dramatically increased the various fires' growth.[8] The same thunderstorms also caused fires in Oregon.[citation needed]

A heat wave commenced on July 7, with temperatures in inland locations, such as the Central Valley soaring above 115 °F (46 °C). Lake Berryessa recorded a high temperature of 126 °F (52 °C), prompting weather agencies like the National Weather Service to issue high fire danger warnings.[15] These near to record-breaking temperatures concerned many firefighters, who feared that the high heat, low humidity, and high-elevation winds could make firefighting more strenuous.[27][28]

Contributing factors[edit]

John Juskie, a National Weather Service science officer, was quoted in June 2008 in the Los Angeles Times stating "in historic terms, we're at record dry levels."[29] The spring of 2008 not only broke the record for least inches of rainfall, at 0.17 of an inch, it represented less than one-third of the previous record low of 0.55 of an inch of rainfall in 1934.[29]

A record lack of rainfall, severely dry vegetation and uncharacteristically windy weather combined to create tinderbox conditions across Northern California.[29] In most areas of Northern California, the grasses and brush were as dry in June as they normally would be in October. Moisture content was less than 2%, compared with about 40% normally for this time of year, fire officials stated. In addition, "no one has seen a springtime like this with the winds," Juskie said.[29]

November Fires[edit]

Smoke and highlighted burn areas imaged on November 16 by the Terra Earth observation satellite.

The month of November saw a large number of fires, around 2,151, that began burning across Southern California on November 13, with 4 of them becoming major wildfires. At least 400 houses and 500 mobile homes were destroyed. According to USA Today, these wildfires combined with those from October of 2007 and the Summer of 2008 were the worst group of wildfires that California had experienced in two decades.[30]

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told residents, "If you wait until the fire gets there you have waited too long, this fire can be on you in a moment's notice."[31] California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Governor Schwarzenegger described the conditions contributing to the fires as a "perfect storm," including strong Santa Ana and sundowner winds, with gusts reaching 80 miles per hour (129 km/h), as well as high temperatures, low humidity and dry conditions.[32]

Fire history[edit]

The first of the wildfires was the Big Horn Fire, which ignited on May 13.[33] Three other minor wildfires ignited subsequently, but were extinguished by May 17. On May 20, the Avocado Fire ignited in Fresno County, only to be extinguished 2 days later.[34] On May 22, 2008, the human-caused Summit Fire broke out in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which became the first major fire.[35]

Other wildfires[edit]

On July 5, 2008, California Governor Schwarzenegger commented that "I've been driving up and down the state of California going to all the various fires, and you can imagine, this state is very prepared for fire, but when you wake up one morning and have 500 fires across the state, it was a real shock to me... only to find the next morning there were 1,000 fires, and the next morning 1,400 fires, and then 1,700 fires igniting over 14 days."[21]

The Gap Fire near Goleta in Santa Barbara County burned 8,357 acres (3,382 ha).[36] The fire was contained on July 29, after several weeks of activity.[37]

By July 11, 2008, it was reported that a total of 793,483 acres (321,111 ha) was burned, a total exceeding the initial estimate of 510,000 acres (210,000 ha) burned by the October 2007 California wildfires.[38] On July 12, 2008, the area burned reached 801,726 acres (324,447 ha), exceeding the estimated 800,000 acres (320,000 ha) burned by the 2003 California wildfires, making the Summer 2008 wildfires the greatest wildfire event in Californian history, in terms of burned area. On that date 20,274 personnel had been committed to fight the fires. Total resources included 467 hand crews, 1,503 engines, 423 water tenders, 291 bulldozers, 142 helicopters, 400 soldiers and numerous air tankers. The fire was responsible for the deaths of 23 individuals.[39][40]

On July 25, a blaze sparked by target shooting broke out in Mariposa County, in the Sierra Nevada foothills of central California.[41] By the following day, the Telegraph Fire had gone from 1,000 acres (400 ha) to 16,000 acres (6,500 ha), and within days had destroyed 21 homes in the community of Midpines. Residents were evacuated from approximately 300 homes that were immediately threatened, with an additional 4,000 homes placed on standby for evacuation in Midpines, Greeley Hill, and Coulterville.[42]

During August, wildfire activity began to diminish, although there were still hundreds of wildfires still burning. On August 29, wildfire activity had ended, although three more wildfires ignited after September 1,[43] beginning with the Gladding Fire.[44] On September 10, the Colony Fire was 100% contained, ending the last of the Summer 2008 California wildfires.[45]

Reference[edit]

  1. ^ a b "National Report of Wildland Fires and Acres Burned by State 2008" (PDF). National Interagency Fire Center. Retrieved 12 August 2015. 
  2. ^ Moran, Nancy; Brandt, Nadja (2008-07-05). "California's Wildfires Have Scorched 527,000 acres". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  3. ^ "Military joining fire battles up, down California". MSNBC. 2008-07-02. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  4. ^ Abdollah, Tami (2008-07-05). "'Critical day' for growing Goleta fire; Big Sur blaze only 5% contained". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2011-05-14. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  5. ^ "Large Fires 2008" (PDF). CAL FIRE. Retrieved 14 August 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Wildfires' smoke, ash chokes Northern Californians". CNN. Associated Press. 2008-06-28. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  7. ^ a b Bulwa, Demian (2008-06-27). "Myriad wildfires pollute air, pose health risks and keep on spreading". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Bulwa, Demian (2008-06-23). "Firefighters battling hundreds of blazes". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  9. ^ "Editorial: An early fire season". San Francisco Chronicle. 2008-06-25. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  10. ^ Jackson, Maddalena (2008-06-25). "Smoky haze raises health risk in Valley". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on July 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  11. ^ Rubenstein, Steve (2008-06-26). "Smoke from Lake County fire a danger to some". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  12. ^ Milbourn, Todd (2008-06-30). "Smoke clears slightly, but air is still bad". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on July 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  13. ^ Jackson, Maddalena (2008-07-01). "Delta breeze clears the air in Sacramento Valley". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on July 8, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  14. ^ Crombie, Noelle (2008-07-04). "Smoke from California wildfires drifts into Oregon". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  15. ^ a b c Bulwa, Demian (2008-07-07). "Hot weather brings smog, fire warnings". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  16. ^ Lofing, Niesha (2008-07-07). "Governor activates emergency plan in response to heat wave". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on August 1, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  17. ^ Tucker, Jill (2008-07-10). "Heat wave eases thanks to onshore breeze". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  18. ^ http://www.fire.ca.gov/fire_protection/downloads/siege/2008/2008FireSiege_full-book_r6.pdf
  19. ^ Riechmann, Deb (2008-07-17). "Bush surveys record-breaking California wildfires". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  20. ^ "All statewide fires from 6/22/08 to 8/11/08" (PDF). California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. 
  21. ^ a b Saillant, Catherine; Bailey, Eric (2008-07-02). "Push is on to stall Goleta fire before winds; more evacuations at Big Sur". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  22. ^ "Wildland Fire Information". CAL FIRE. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  23. ^ Larson, Elizabeth (2008-06-16). "Dry weather, spring freeze cost local farmers millions". Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  24. ^ Zito, Kelly; Yi, Matthew (2008-06-05). "Governor declares drought in California". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  25. ^ Bowman, Chris (2008-06-29). "Fire season may get worse". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on July 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  26. ^ Wohlsen, Marcus (2008-06-24). "Lightning storm sparks 800 plus fires in California". MeteoGroup. Archived from the original on 2011-05-14. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  27. ^ Coté, John (2008-07-08). "Inland temperatures heading into record territory". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  28. ^ May, Meredith; Talyor, Michael (2008-07-08). "Big Sur fire crews worry about hotter weather". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  29. ^ a b c d Bailey, Eric (June 24, 2008). "Lightning takes Northern California fires from bad to worse". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-07-22. 
  30. ^ Dorell, Oren (2009-04-22). "Renewed drought conditions fan California's wildfire fears". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-05-03. 
  31. ^ Gorman, steve (15 November 2008). "Los Angeles fears blackouts as wildfire burns". Reuters. Retrieved 18 November 2008. 
  32. ^ Comments of Govovernor Schwarzenegger in televised press conference at 9:50 PDT on November 16, 2008.
  33. ^ http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_details_info?incident_id=257
  34. ^ http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_details_info?incident_id=262
  35. ^ "Homes burn as wildfire rages in Santa Cruz Mountains". San Jose Mercury-News. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  36. ^ Jablon, Rovert (2008-07-05). "California wildfires strain state's resources". Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  37. ^ "9,443-acre Goleta wildfire fully containment [sic]". San Diego Union-Tribune. 2008-07-29. 
  38. ^ Hanley, Christine; Janet Wilson; Mitchell Landsberg (October 24, 2007). "1,155 homes—and counting". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-10-24. 
  39. ^ "Big Sur Evacuated as Wildfires Race to the California Coast". Environment News Service. July 2, 2008. Retrieved July 2, 2008. 
  40. ^ Johnson, Bill (July 4, 2008). "California Continues To Burn". Mymotherlode. Retrieved July 4, 2008. 
  41. ^ "2,000 homes threatened by 'erratic' wildfire near Yosemite - CNN.com". CNN. 2008-07-27. Retrieved 2010-05-24. 
  42. ^ Burke, Garance (July 29, 2008). "Wildfire threatens homes and vacations in Yosemite". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2011-05-14. 
  43. ^ http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_archived?archive_year=2008
  44. ^ http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_details_info?incident_id=311
  45. ^ http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_details_info?incident_id=320