2014 Fire Season Ignition Statistics
Wildland fire ignition statistics were tracked for the entire year of 2014. In 2014, MEU responded to 152 wildland fires within its Direct Protection Area (DPA) for the year. These fires burned approximately 13,210. This is an increase from 2013, in which 204 wildland fires were responded to. The fire largest fires within the Unit for 2014 were:
- The Lodge Fire at 12,535 acres caused by lightning.
- The Black Fire at 403 acres caused by debris burning.
- The Nelson Fire at 62 acres cause undetermined.
- The Shimmins Fire at 28 acres caused by equipment use.
- The Mina Fires. A series of starts that totaled 22 acres caused by arson.
The following fire cause classes were responsible for the majority of the vegetation fires within the Unit in 2014:
- Debris Burning (41 fires for 27% of the total)
- Undetermined (28 fires for 18% of the total)
- Other/Miscellaneous (28 fires for 18% of the total)
- Vehicle (16 fires for 11% of the total)
5) Electrical Power (11 fires for 7% of the total)
These five fire cause classes accounted for 124 of the 152 (81%) wildland fires that occurred in 2014. These were followed by; Arson (9 fires-6%), Campfire (8 fires- 5%), Equipment (6 fires-
4%), Lightning (2 fires-1%), Playing with fire (1 fires-1%), and Smoking (2 fires-1%).
In 2013, the following fire cause classes were responsible for the majority of the vegetation fires within the Unit:
- Debris Burning (34 fires for 27% of the total)
- Undetermined (19 fires for 15% of the total)
- Electrical Power (17 fires for 13% of the total)
- Arson (15 fires for 12% of the total)
- Campfires (11 fires for 9% of the total)
These five fire cause classes accounted for 96 of the 128 (75%) wildland fires that occurred in 2012. These were followed by; Vehicle (10 fires- 8%), Playing with fire (7 fires-5%), Equipment (7 fires-5%), Lightning (3 fires-2%), Smoking (3 fires-2%), and Other/Miscellaneous (2 fires-2%).
In 2014, three categories increased over the 5 year average. These cause classes were debris burning, vehicle, and other. In 2014 three categories increased over the 10 year average, Debris burning, Vehicle, and Campfire.
- Debris Burning accounted for 41 fires or 27% of the total fires in the Unit. Escaped control burns resulted in 26 acres being burned. This cause classed increased 13% from the 5-year average of 36. The increase can be explained by the Unit’s lack of educational programs, the extended burn season due to California’s ongoing drought conditions, and the lack of inspections/follow up of burn permits for the Unit. This lack of effort has substantially increased the number of these fires over the last five years The causes of escaped control burns was related to a lack of inspection of burn permits issued, instructions on the permits, clearance, winds, unattended control burns, and old control burns re-igniting. All fire departments in Mendocino County would benefit in assisting the Unit in handing out legal notices (LE-100’s) on all control burn caused fires. These legal notices would serve to educate the public and put them on notice that their next escape will result in a citation as well as civil cost recovery. This cooperation would prove to continually keep number and acres lost below the 5 year average.
- Undetermined accounted for 28 fires or 19% of the total ignitions in the Unit. Undetermined caused fires resulted in 101 acres being burned. This category saw a 19% increase of the 5 year average. Continuing education and training in origin and cause investigations such as FI 110 and FI 210 for Unit personnel would assist in determining fire causes which may lead to further fire prevention, education, and/or enforcement if trends are identified by solid origin and cause determination.
- Electrical power accounted for 11 fires or 4% of the total ignitions in the Unit. Electrical power caused fires resulted in 8 acres. Electrical power caused fires decreased 17% from the 5-year average. Electrical fires started as a result of illegal or legal marijuana growing operations have been on the rise within the Unit over the past decade. Due to the secretive nature of these operations and the individuals that conduct them, prevention of these types of fires is difficult. The Unit’s prevention staff has taken an active role in seeking cost recovery from individuals who, as a result of illegal or negligent circumstance, allow for a fire to be started by electrical equipment used in the production or manufacture of marijuana. The majority of the remaining fires started by electrical power are caused by trees, branches or birds into the power lines. This decrease in electrical fires can be attributed to strong public education programs and the prevention bureau taking a more active role in seeking cost recovery.
- Arson accounted for 9 fires or 6% of the total ignitions in the Unit. Arson caused fires resulted in 26 acres burned. Arson caused fires decreased by 46% from the 5-year average. Since 2011, the Unit’s Prevention staff has arrested and successfully prosecuted four serial arsonists in addition to several “one-time” arsonists. The decrease in Arson activity could be a result of the Prevention staffs success in apprehending arsonists with in the Unit. Continued cooperation between all fire and law enforcement agencies hand in hand with strong public education is the key to reducing this ongoing problem.
- Illegal campfires and campfire escapes accounted for 8 fires or 5% of the total ignitions in the Unit. Campfire caused fires resulted in 6 acres being burned. Campfire caused fires decreased by 22% from the 5-year average of average. With severe drought conditions and a longer recreational period the decrease in Campfire caused fires can be tied closely to the Unit’s strong working relationship with Local, State, and Federal cooperators to get fire safety information to the public. Education is necessary to help prevent these fires so that the Unit’s resources are not spent responding to these calls.
- Vehicles accounted for 16 fires or 11% of the total ignitions in the Unit. Vehicle caused fires resulted in 10 acres being burned. This represents a 54% increase from the 5- year average. The majority of these fires occurred along the major traffic corridors of Highway 101, 20, 253, 128, 162, and 175. Catalytic Converter failure, maintenance issues, or dragging of materials remain to be the leading cause of fires caused by vehicles.
- Equipment accounted for 6 fires or 4 % of the total ignitions in the Unit. Equipment caused fires resulted in 437 acres being burned. This represents a 30% decrease from the 5-year average. Historically, this classification has been one of the top causes of wildfire starts in the Unit, however, through continuing displays and education programs fires caused by this cause class continue to decline. One of the main causes for these fires is from mowers. Mowers can start a fire when blades strike rocks and/or friction belts ignite the chaff collected around the belt. Ironically, most of the mower caused fires occurred as a result of residents trying to clear their property for fire safety during the hottest portions of the day.
- Playing with Fire accounted for 1 fire or 1 % of the total ignitions in the Unit. Playing with Fire resulted in 1 acre burned. This was an 82% decrease from the 5-year average. The unit still needs to continue the Juvenile Fire Setter (JFS) programs. With the declined of these programs, it is likely the Unit will continue to see fires caused by juveniles playing with fire.
- Miscellaneous/Other causes accounted for 28 fires or 18% of the total ignitions in the Unit. Miscellaneous caused fires resulted in 39 acres burned. This cause class saw a 146% increase from the 5 year average. This classification includes causes such as spontaneous combustion, fireplace ashes deposited in the wildland, barbequing, and fireworks. Miscellaneous/other caused fires have increased due to the new LE-66 report writing procedures. Once again, continuing education and training in origin and cause investigations for Unit personnel would assist in determining fire causes which may lead to further fire prevention, education, and/or enforcement if trends are identified by solid origin and cause determination.
- Smoking accounted for 2 fires or 1% of the total ignitions in the Unit. Smoking caused fires resulted in 1 acre burned. This cause class saw a 29% decrease from the 5 year average. The majority of these fires were carelessly discarded cigarettes along the roadways of Mendocino County.
- Lightning accounted for 2 fires or 1% of the total ignitions in the Unit. Lightning caused fires resulted in over 12,555 acres burned. Not much can be done to prevent or alter this category.
- Railroad accounted for 0 fires in 2014. Only one active rail line is working in Mendocino County. The rail line supports the Skunk Train which is a fairly significant tourist attraction traveling between the coastal town of Fort Bragg and the inland town of Willits.
The MEU Fire Prevention Bureau continues to actively provide training, primarily in the field, to field personnel to further educate and promote thorough and complete fire origin and cause investigations. As the investigations continue to improve and become more accurate, the Prevention staff will have more reliable data to help pinpoint trends and areas sensitive to wildland fires. As these trends and sensitive areas are identified, the staff will diligently work to minimize or prevent these fire starts through education, engineering, and/or enforcement.