|Jesusita Fire Entrapment Report Map|
Safety Concerns Encountered During Review
1. LCES CONSIDERATIONS: Appropriate LCES mitigations must be
established based on current and expected fire behavior. Assigned resources
should be alert for changing conditions and adjust both tactics and LCES
measures to meet new levels of risk.
a. Lookouts: Lookouts must be dedicated to this task as a singular duty
and be thoroughly familiar with the responsibilities of the position.
b. Communications: All assigned resources must be familiar with the
incident’s communication plan and have radio capability for the listed
frequencies. The com plan on 05/06/2009 was inadequate, lacking a
sufficient number of tactical frequencies to match the scope of the incident
and the number of resources assigned.
c. Escape Routes: Escape routes are easily compromised in structure
defense by remaining at the structure beyond what would be considered
safe in wildland fire operations. Escape routes on this incident were
compromised by large numbers of Type I engines on a poor system of
steep, narrow, winding roads funneling through a single outlet.
d. Safety Zones: Adequate safety zones were nearly non-existent in the
areas of Mission Canyon, Lauro Canyon, and Spyglass Ridge. In nearly
all cases, structures should not be relied on as safety zones. They are
“survival zones” and should be used only as a last resort. If no adequate
safety zones exist, decision points should be set for leaving the area using
a designated escape route.
2. USE OF BREATHING APPARATUS: In a number of cases on this incident,
crews felt it necessary to don breathing apparatus simply to remain in an area.
This is a situation that shouts, “Get Out!” When conditions are degraded to this
extent, a structure should be considered indefensible and resources move to a
safe area. Personnel involved in structure protection must not use breathing
apparatus to justify taking greater risks, but rather as a last-resort “survival tool”
in case of entrapment.
3. MOBILITY: Mobility is one of the most important tactics employed in
structure defense. Consider actions in the deployment of firefighting equipment
that will allow for rapid response to the changing fire environment as well as
maintaining the ability to escape to a safety zone. Avoid having engines
anchored to hydrants.
4. SITUATION AWARENESS: Maintaining situation awareness is essential due
to the numerous factors that can quickly compromise the safety of the resources
assigned. Overhead at all levels should remain flexible and be prepared to
modify tactics based on changes in the fire environment. Critical information
concerning recognized hazards, unexpected weather changes, significant
events, etc. needs to be communicated to all resources as well as the Planning
5. Spot Fires: Spotting can create multiple fire fronts sometimes surrounding
firefighters, engulfing them in an ember environment, and subjecting them to
dense smoke which obscures visibility.
6. Briefings: All personnel must receive a quality briefing prior to starting their
shift. This should include resources pulled from staging areas into active line
assignments. Briefings should include pertinent local factors affecting fire
SITE SPECIFIC FIRE BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS
1495 Spyglass Ridge Road
The Spyglass Ridge Road address was among the first areas to be impacted by
the extreme fire behavior event that occurred on the afternoon of May 6th, 2009.
According to video analysis, still photography and witness statements, the
morning of the 6th was generally benign in regards to fire behavior. However, as
the day progressed, the fire began to experience the combined effects of
lowering relative humidity, increasing temperature and change in wind direction.
At approximately 1430 the north wind effect began to overpower the traditional
upslope, upcanyon wind pattern. This wind direction directly aligned the
entrenched fire with the topography. By 1530 the fire was producing significant
downrange spotting. This spotting component then led to a rapid blowup
condition with exceptional convection dynamics; further increasing downrange
spotting. Just prior to 1600 this convective energy ran upslope in the aligned
drainage directly north of the Spyglass Ridge Road address. Low scorch height
patterns and unburned 1 hour fuels in this drainage indicate very high wind
speeds as the fire advanced through the property. Personal property, as well as
the structure itself, contributed to the fire load and local intensity. By 1610 the fire
was now deeply established in the "bowl" topographic feature directly to the
south of the property and convective energy was now being funneled
perpendicular to the initial impact. By this point, considerable heat energy still
remained in the area; but the primary activity had moved on towards the south. It
is worth mentioning that this property was closest in proximity to the fire when it
changed direction and intensity as well as being topographically aligned with
three separate drainages.
2850 Holly Road
The property at Holly Road was affected in rapid succession as the energy
released from the chaparral fuel type provided solid lifting dynamics to send
firebrands in the downwind direction and directly into the "bowl" feature directly to
the west of the address. Due to the high probability of ignition, spot fire quickly
became established in this feature. The fire then followed the path of least
resistance up through the various drainages; releasing more energy and further
propagating fire spread via spotting. Being centrally placed on a ridge running
north to south and in the overall direction which the fire progressed; the Holly
Road property is topographically aligned to several of the aforementioned "draw"
features. Evidence suggests that significant heat coursed through the property.
Consequently, spotting occurred into the "draw" towards the east side of the
property and additional fire channeled upslope from the opposite direction of the
main heat flow. This pinching type fire behavior, commonly reported during the
incident as whole, was described as "the fire was everywhere". This process
would repeat itself over and over as the event unfolded.
1433 Mission Canyon Road
The home on Mission Canyon Road is generally located in the shadows of
Mission Canyon; a large, narrow feature running deep into the front coastal range
of Santa Barbara. This topographic placement was instrumental in how the fire
spread moved through the area in question. With the weather pattern which was
in place during the first week of May, subsidence generated wind followed the
same path as the erosion patterns in the canyon. At approximately 1530, the east
flank of the fire perimeter from the previous days' burn period became
increasingly active and large spot fires were noted outside of retardant lines. The
fire was then spread further by strong erratic winds which were observed to blow
in opposite directions within a short time span. Within moments, the fire was
burning aggressively on the west side of Mission Canyon and soon spotted to the
east side of the canyon and directly below the property. Once established in
heavy fuels below the property, the fire was aligned with the upslope topography
and the cross slope wind component coming adjacent the Spyglass Road
location. Needle freeze and heat patterns indicate that fire quickly impacted the
property. As seen in other locations, the fire spotted into a small gulley to the
east of the property with Model (2) fuels and ran upslope to the home,
contradictory to the main fire flow.
1165 E, G Tunnel Road
The homes on Tunnel Road are characterized by the rolling terrain on which they
are placed. A central road bisects the ridgeline lengthwise with sloping terrain
falling off to the east towards Mission Canyon and westward towards a small box
canyon near Palomino Road. During the extreme fire behavior event, the Tunnel
Road properties were primarily impacted by a significant spotting dynamic
produced by robust energy release from the upwind fuel beds of model (4)
chaparral. It appears that numerous fires were ignited in the highly receptive fuel
bed composed primarily of annual grasses and considerable ornamental
vegetation under a canopy of oak trees; fuel Model (2). It is important to note,
that by this time, many homes upwind of the property were becoming well
involved with fire, promoting further spotting and radiant heat spread. As reported
by witnesses, the fire quickly spread in all directions under the influence of low
relative humidity and erratic winds.
1170 Palomino Road
The 1170 Palomino Road property is the last residence on the street and is
located along the same spur ridge that translates through the Holly Road
address; eventually terminating at the Spyglass Road site. Like many of the sites,
this Palomino Road address is topographically aligned with several "bowl" and
"chimney" features. The small box canyon to the east is the same canyon which
borders the Tunnel Road addresses to the west. This canyon is south facing and
possesses brush and annual grasses consistent with a low load Model (4).
During the fire event, this Palomino address was also affected by the significant
long range spotting as the fire behavior rapidly accelerated from the north. The
south facing fuel bed of 1, 10, and 100 hour fuels quickly ignited and raced
through the favorable topography. At some point it is estimated that products of
combustion were focused from three separate directions. Several large homes in
the immediate vicinity succumbed to the fire and further supplied heat and ember
source for continued spread.
1125 Palomino Road
Lowest in elevation amongst the incident sites, 1125 Palomino Road was
geographically furthest from the initiation of the extreme fire behavior event of
May 6th, 2009. The property is located mid-slope along the eastern edge of a
south facing bowl. The fuels in the area were generally classified as annual
grasses with intermixed Mustard. This light loaded, but highly receptive fuel bed
was directly adjacent to several working orchards of citrus and avocado. Site
surveys and witness statements confirm that spotting from upwind ember source
was the primary factor in fire initiation and spread. A north facing aspect located
to the west of the site address was identified as one of the first locations in the
vicinity to receive fire activity. Pushed by winds from the north, this area quickly
spread fire over the top and into the bowl where the Palomino property is located.
The fire rapidly advanced through the light, flashy fuel bed, focused by the
topography towards the property. Sloping terrain behind the property to the east
also contributed to the funneling of heat through traditional convection from the
numerous spots fire which became established in a small valley to the east of the
property. During this time period, numerous structures in the vicinity were well
involved in fire, further increasing available embers for spot fire production
Jesusita Fire – Final Summary
Incident Complexity and Incident Command Decisions The Santa Barbara
front country historically has been a challenging location to fight a wildland fire.
Based on the mid slope location of the Jesusita Fire, potential winds, and
proximity to urbanized areas, the decision to order an Incident Management
Team very early was an excellent decision. Unified Command was initiated very
early as well, and the ordering of the CAL FIRE Incident Command Team was
based on predicted fire spread.
Extended Attack Incident Management Challenges
The early decision for a Type I Incident Command Team illustrates the challenges for the Extended
Attack incident management on the evening of May 5 and during the day on May
6, 2009. Ramping up quickly, and providing incident management prior to the full
Incident Command Team was a challenge. Setting up an Incident Base,
producing the Incident Action Plan (IAP), resource ordering, incident staffing,
frequency coordination, correct weather forecasts, and allocating staged
resources were challenges for the Extended Attack management. The
contingency plan developed for this area during the 2008 Zaca Fire was not
Operations Section and Branch Director Interaction
The Operations Section Chief directed the actions of two perimeter branches and one structure protection
branch. As the fire behavior increased on the afternoon of May 6, 2009, and the
fire began moving quickly down slope toward the Mission Canyon area, the
functions of perimeter control and structure protection became in conflict.
Perimeter control branches directed their resources out of the area due to the
extreme fire behavior, and into a safe area. The same increased fire behavior
increased the threat to the structures in Mission Canyon, and at the same time
perimeter control forces were leaving, additional structure protection resources
were being requested and placed in the area.
Fire Behavior was Underestimated
The early May time period as well as the observed fire behavior prior to the surfacing of the winds on May 6 led many fire suppression resources to believe control objectives could be easily met. The
backing fire that was completely consuming mature stands of chamise illustrated
the low fuel moistures in the fuel bed. This was observed by many, but this did
not trigger any concern over fire suppression operations.
Structure Protection Resource Deployment Decisions
The structure protection of Mission Canyon and other surrounding areas was a priority for the
extended attack incident commanders. Fire suppression resources assigned to
structure protection had opportunities to survey or triage the areas, and develop
a resource deployment strategy. In most cases, inadequate safety zones were identified or travel times to a designated safety zone were unrealistic due to the narrow roads and congestion. Trigger points or decision points were met for withdrawal of resources, but conditions had deteriorated or time was now
inadequate to move to the safety zones.
Structures Utilized as Primary Safety Zones
Due to the lack of or distance to a true safety zone, various structures were identified by fire suppression
resources as a safety zone.
Decisions to Stay and Defend Structures The decisions by company officers
and chief officers to “hunker in” or stay and defend structures in untenable conditions led to the burnover and near misses. Tactical decision to utilize hydrants and lay supply line also led to loss of mobility and the lack of ability to move out of the area to a safety zone.
Use of Breathing Apparatus During Structure Protection
Breathing Apparatus were used by fire suppression resources during structure protection.
To remain in a position that a breathing apparatus must be used to provide structure protection is a situation that places wildland firefighters in an untenable condition. Movement of personnel and resources to an appropriate safety zone would be warranted. It is understood that there may be times when multiple
structures are burning that appropriate airway protection can include breathing apparatus, but only within the capability and training of the firefighters.
There is no doubt that the wearing of the breathing apparatus by VNC FC-54 and VNC
FF-54 protected their airways and saved their lives. But, to preplan the staging of breathing apparatus inside the structure for usage as a last resort should never replace the removal of personnel and equipment to a safety zone.