Tuesday, May 30, 2023

High Winds Drove the Flames of the Owens Fire—CALFIRE Mendocino Chief Reflects on County’s First Major Wildfire of 2022

[Photograph provided by Sheriff Matt Kendall]

As of this morning, the Mendocino Coast’s Owens Fire stands at 80% containment and fire personnel are patrolling the burn area mitigating hazard trees and suppressing any hotspots until full containment.

We spoke with CALFIRE Mendocino Unit Chief Luke Kendall about the Owens Fire, the conditions that led to its 36-acre spread, and the quick work of multiple fire agencies that suppressed the wildfire before it grew larger.

Cheif Kendall told us the Owens Fire follows a pattern typical of the Mendocino Coast where spring and autumn are the seasons most common for wildfires. This is due to there being less fog during these seasons, unlike the summer months where high temperatures inland correlate with a foggy coast. The lack of fog leads to dried vegetation conducive to wildfires. 

This photography was sent to us by coastal resident David Bradbrook. Bradbrook told us he took these photographs of the Owens Fire from the lookout below the Schooner Gulch.

The Owens Fire fits all the characteristics of a wind-driven fire, Chief Kendall explained. Its burn area is narrow and long, which is a shape often seen in wildfires driven by windy conditions. CALFIRE investigators are still working to identify the cause of the fire, Chief Kendall said.

A large swath of California’s interior was in the midst of a Red Flag Warning when the Owens Fire lit up on Friday afternoon, but not the Mendocino Coast region. The National Weather Service issued the Red Flag Warning for the areas of northeastern Mendocino County stretching all the way to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Even though the National Weather Service did not include the Mendocino Coast in the Red Flag Warning Area, Chief Kendall said CALFIRE’s perception of affected areas is often more expansive than those identified by the National Weather Service.

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Chief Kendall praised CALFIRE personnel for their immediate response to the fire. CALFIRE personnel were actually one of the initial reporting parties for the fire. “One of our CALFIRE engines was getting prepared to staff our coast station when they saw smoke and found a ¼ acre fire.”

[Photograph provided by Sheriff Matt Kendall]

The Owens Fire prompted mandatory evacuations for the first time this fire season requiring a total of twelve homes to evacuate and twenty total people, Chief Kendall said. Power was out in those homes for approximately 24 hours.

Chief Kendall told us at the height of the Owens Fire, over 175 firefighters were working the incident staffing nineteen fire engines, four water tenders, four hand crews, and multiple aircraft including helicopters and air tankers.

[Photograph from the Twitter account of 5th District Supervisor Ted Williams]

Multiple agencies converged on the Owens Fire including the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol, Pacific Gas & Electric, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the California National Guard, California State Parks, CalTrans, South Coast Fire Protection District, Redwood Coast Fire Department, and the Sea Ranch Fire Department.

Looking toward the future, Chief Kendall asks that all Mendocino County residents remember the importance of defensible space in both protecting homes but also help mitigate the spread of wildfires.

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a reporter for the Average Joe. Journalism has become a craft defined largely by city dwellers on America's coasts. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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