Monday, July 16, 2012

Calf Fire Blow-Up

This morning I was at my home in Paso Robles suffering from a post-Gem Faire hangover and existentialist crisis when my phone rang. My mother told me there was a fire down somewhere south of her location in Atascadero and she wanted me to put my scanner on and also check the Wildlandfiredotcom Hotlist for details. Sure enough both sources immediately indicated there was a major wildland fire not 30 miles from my own house named the Calf Incident and it was already 10 acres with a moderate rate of spread and structure protection in place and lots of resources en route. I immediately got dressed for the occasion and grabbed my camera and went out west of Paso Robles and picked up my dog from the doggy-sitter. I then proceeded to the fire by way of Highway 101 south to Highway 58 and through Santa Margarita and out to the intersection of Highway 58 (Calf Canyon Highway) and Pozo Road. In and around that location I spent the afternoon with my mother photographically chronicling the unfolding event.

I felt chastened that I did not have my own scanners charged and ready to go. I did not feel that a fire of note would occur on this atypically cold and moist day of strong onshore marine influence which saw the fire experience a 70° high temperature and 40% dew point. However, the downshot was that the fire started and burned through monstrously heavy fuels that had avoided the 1985 Las Pilitas Fire, 1989 Chispa Fire, 1994 Highway 41 Fire, 1996 Highway 58 Fire, and the Parkhill Fire and Highway 58 Fire of the early 2000's that were much smaller but were serious and burned nearby. Added to that the terrain made access challenging and due to all the small spur ridges in that country no fire has to back down a hill very long before it is running up the next ridge and spotting all over the place. Finally, the wind despite being cool and moist was still wind and that helped spread the fire.

Note: This fire was misnamed based upon the usual etymology of incidents in the Incident Command System (ICS) as typically an incident is named for the road or other geographical feature that is most easily identifiable with that incident. Hence, a Calf Incident would be expected to have started or be burning adjacent to Calf Canyon Highway (Highway 58) whereas this fire began well south of that road in open country near the Salinas River near as I can determine at this time. Note: the following images are shown in the order I captured them. Final note: this fire ultimately charred 640 acres but no structures were lost and no serious injuries resulted. It was started by a local resident mowing invasive star thistle (a plant I have learned to hate) whose blade struck a rock creating a spark.

View from Highway 101 just north of Santa Margarita.
View from Santa Margarita Elementary School.
View from Highway 58 just west of the Pozo Road intersection.
A Cal Fire S-2T Tanker banking over the fire at right.
The same Cal Fire S-2T banking past the fire while a much closer raptor falsely appears nearly as large.
At this point the fire's dimensions are becoming significantly broader prior to the big blow-up.
Staging area in field directly east of the Highway 58-Pozo Road intersection.
Not long after this image was taken this homemade sign was flagged for incoming units.
As in any war... hurry up and wait.
This part of San Luis Obispo County is famous for fire.
A Cal Fire S-2T banking over the fire.
Intersection of Highway 58 and Pozo Road.
A reprise of my ironic image from this same intersection during another fire in this area about a decade ago.
At this point things began to really pick up with the fire.
SLO Co. FD Water Tender 21 from South County turning onto Highway 58 en route to the incident.
Last image before the blow-up.
Start of the blow-up. Note the Cal Fire S-2T seen near the top of the header.
Nature providing its own fireworks.
Evacuating equestrians.
Note the air attack (Cal Fire spotter plane) passing in front of the left part of the smoke.
Note the air attack passing by the header and looking pitifully small.
At this point the fire was totally out of hand and looking very ominous.
At this point we heard radio communications from the air attack stating the fire was experiencing extreme behavior including fire whirls.
Note the twisting convection column.
It felt almost surreal to be here with almost nobody around at times but that would soon change.
The smoke showing the "barber pole" twisting look.
Note the broadness of the base of the smoke column.
A private dozer transport tractor leaving the scene after delivering a dozer to the fire.
This smoke column was quite visible downtown San Luis Obispo according to one local bystander.
On this day nature ignored Mankind's mandates.
Note the two-tiered smoke bank.
Whispy end to the trailing smoke bank.
Over time the traffic picked up.
Note the two sheriff's vehicles just past the tree to the right of the road ahead.
I kept waiting for this thing to produce pyrocumulus clouds but it never happened.
Between organizing my storage unit or watching this spectacle guess which one I found more interesting?
More "barber poling" (upward twisting) of the convection column.
Had this fire burned during last week's heat  it would have been no different than dropping a nuclear bomb out here.
Note the spur ridges covered in chaparral and digger pines in the distance at left: that's what this was burning.
Can you spot the Cal Fire S-2T passing in front of the smoke cloud?
Perhaps the best example of convection column "barber poling" seen all day on this fire.
The sky was unusually blue for a large fire day in the North County: dull blue or light yellowish are more typical.
A Cal Fire strike team of Gabilan Crews from San Benito-Monterey Unit (BEU) pulling into staging.
Soft closure of Highway 58 (only residents allowed through) with BEU Engine 4693 pulling through the road block.
All photos by Kim Patrick Noyes (all rights reserved).


  1. kim thank you for taking the time to shoot these pictures for us.. nice to see whats going on. Joann

  2. And nicely narrated as well. You've been around fire in the past, yes?

  3. Joann, thank you for taking the time to check it out... see you on California Disasters Group on Yahoo!

    Anonymous #2, Thanks and yes, as a Native Californian and third-generation fire chaser and second-generation scanner listener I suppose you could say I have been around a lot of fire in the past but not in a hands-on sense as would be the case with a firefighter.

  4. Thank you. My son and his roommate lives on Parkhill Road. He had sent a picture of the fire in his backyard on the other side of the hill. I don't live near there so your photos helped me to see what was happening. Thank you so much for taking the time to take and post them.

  5. Thank you so much for the photos and commentary. My son is a firefighter on the scene of this Calf Fire.

    1. Tell him thank you for me. I honk and wave at every fighter I see. They completely saved my house. The fire was right on top of us.

  6. I used to live out at seven oaks ranch off of parkhill road in 2010. Thankfully we never had a fire. However I did survive the highway 58 fire in 98 that burned 166, 000 out to no man's land. Hopefully with the cooler air they can get a handle on this before it really takes off. Temps are suppose to rise by the end of the week. Hope none of neighbors lose any of their livestock or homes. Awesome pixs. Thanks for sharing to everyone and those of us that did once live out there! Blessings to the folks out there and the firefighters too!

  7. Nice pics and blog posts Kim. Never knew all the different behaviors of wildfire smoke clouds.

  8. I friend fb me your site. Great pictures. Most of the pictures were taken at our drive way. The picture of the truck and goose neck, was my cousin evacuatingour horses. We never left property but had trucks loaded. Your pictures reallyput it into perspective. Thank you again, it was a very frightening situation.

  9. really appreciate the pics! My Mother-in-Law lives on Parkhill.

  10. Thank you for all the photos. It is good to be able to see more than what was just on the news. Really you need to post this as a link in the comment sections of the local news sites.
    These photos add so much more than just listening to the scanner and the few photos on news sites. I have lived in the area for almost 60 years and what happens close to home is important.
    It also is nice that I not have to log in or sign up to comment on your site.

  11. I thank you all for your kind comments and for taking the time to not only look at my photographs but also taking the time to comment here. Congratulations to all the residents in the area of this fire who now have a wonderful fire break/fuel reduction accomplishment without having to loose your homes and/or other property. For those of you adjacent to the burn area you are now safer from fire for a good number of subsequent fire seasons but I caution you to start making preparations for this coming rainy season which is shaping up to be a moderate El Nino Winter/Spring for 2012-2013.

  12. Is there really even a need for fire protection in toronto? Its super cold.