Lilac Fire, December 7, 2017
Report from: Randy Jones KD6UAK (ARES/ACS)
(Fallbrook Amateur Radio Emergency Coordinator)
On Thursday morning, December 7 at 1115 hours Ron Patten KG6HSQ (ARES/ACS) heard a Cal Fire callout for a vegetation fire located west of I-15 southbound lanes at Dulin Road. He immediately called Randy Olms KJ6AEU (ARES) to be a spotter as his QTH was near that location. Randy said that it appeared to be a car fire because of its location. The actual cause of the fire is still under investigation. Randy reported that in about 5 minutes the fire had burned west from I-15, had jumped Old 395, and was beginning rapidly up the hill which would threaten Rancho Monserate mobile home park.
At 1200 Ron put the Fallbrook Repeater under “net control”. At 1203 Bill Parkinson KI6KVD called in to say that the park was evacuating. Bill was instrumental in getting the park to do mock evacuation drills over the years. We learned later that the entire park was evacuated in a little over 10 minutes. 64 homes were destroyed. Bill’s was saved.
AT 1222 Captain Delgado of the North County Fire Protection District asked that the Fallbrook Amateur Radio Club open the Dewey Communications Center at the EOC in Fallbrook. After the 2007 fires North County fire asked the Fallbrook Club to fully equip the EOC with amateur radio. All Equipment VHF, UHF, and HF plus antennas were provided at North County Fire’s expense. The communications room was named in honor of Bill Dewey WD6AHW (SK) who was the first ARES EC in Fallbrook.
Our most experienced net control operator, Ken Dickson W6MF arrived at the EOC at 1235 and began operating as N6FQ, the club’s call-sign. Because of the severity of the winds, he dispatched Jim Eyerman KI6OHO (ARES/ACS) as a rover to give us reports on the ever-expanding fire. Jim is a land surveyor with intimate knowledge of the topography of the area. He was giving us excellent descriptions of the fire’s movements and resultant road closures. Shortly thereafter, Stephen Spencer KC6MIE (ARES/ACS) arrived at the EOC to assist Ken. They began disseminating road closures and mandatory evacuation orders that were being given. Within thirty minutes North County fire requested that we send an operator to the fire department’s administration headquarters. Stephen left the EOC for that assignment and remained until 0230 the next morning. He was subsequently replaced at the EOC by Brent Dussia KJ6UMY (ARES/ACS) and who remained there until 0200 in the morning. At 1300 Cal Fire reported that over 500 acres had burned. Andrew Weldy KG6YWB went to the Fallbrook Airpark as a spotter.
By 1400 Cal Fire was reporting wind gusts to 35 miles per hour and 3000 acres had burned. Evacuation orders were increasing rapidly. However, there were discrepancies among the media, 911 reverse calls, and rumors. We were disseminating only information which could be verified by North County Fire Administration. At 1430 Jim Eyerman reported a new spot fire which was threatening 20 horses trapped in a corral. This information was relayed to North County fire with exacting coordinates provided by Jim. A fixed wing aircraft was able to lay down a retardant barrier which saved the horses. Other hams in the area were reporting power outages, and cable outages which were disrupting computers, tv’s and phone systems. We logged over 95 amateur radio operators giving contributing reports or requesting information the first day, and many more throughout this ordeal.
Ultimately the fire consumed 4100 acres, 157 homes/structures were destroyed and another 64 homes and structures were damaged. San Luis Rey Downs lost 46 horses. Over 860 people including hams were listening to the streaming internet audio coverage of our repeater, and many others were listening on scanners. We have received many e-mails and letters thanking us for our communications regarding the fire.
See forwarded e-mail from Steve Abbott, Chief North County Fire Protection District.
Submitted by Randy Jones KD6UAK (ARES/ACS)
A Message From, Chief Abbott
Members of the Fallbrook Amateur Radio Club;
On behalf of the North County Fire Protection District, I would like to take this opportunity to express our most sincere gratitude for your invaluable service provided during the Lilac Fire. As with many other campaign fires over the last decade (Gavilan, Tomahawk, Highway, Rice), FARC has once again served an integral part in relaying important information to and from the community, which greatly assists all stakeholders in making informed decisions.
I have received several notes of thanks for your efforts, and what you were able to provide to all would not be possible without our continued relationship. I wish to commend your members for their tireless hours of work during the Lilac fire, particularly while many of them or their friends and families were directly impacted by the fire. Please let us know if we may ever be of any assistance in supporting FARC in the years to come.
May you all have a blessed holiday season!
Stephen Abbott, MPA, CFO, EFO
North County Fire Protection District
Report from: Jim Eyerman, KI6OHO
Field Recon/Intel to Net Control
Date Hours: 12/7/17 9.0, 12/8/17 2.0, 12/9/17 2.0
Monitoring Net Control and Repeater
Approx. 12 hours per day for three days
I will pass along two events during the fire that stand out in my mind.
The first event was shortly after I was deployed. The fire had jumped about 5 miles to the west from its point of origin. My location was on the highest point I could find North of Highway 76 and East of Mission road. This position was accessed through private property. This location is a few hundred feet Northeast of the River Village Shopping Center just North of the Cal Trans yard. This position had a view of the valley East past Gird Road and West to Olive Hill Road.
The helicopters were getting water from the ponds in the pastures on the North side of Vessels Ranch (Old Dulin Ranch) just South of San Luis Rey River. They were doing a good job at knocking down the fire that was approaching homes along Lilac Road. In the pastures there was an area between the fences that separated the pastures that was a wooded and appeared to be a drainage course. A spot fire started and as I was observing its growth I noticed about 25 horses in one of the pastures and some cows in the other. The horses were in a heard running in circles due to the fire. I call in a report to Ken to see if he could get in contact with the owners of the horse ranch. Steve was at the Fire Department at this time and he said he was going to update the Fire Chief. Within a couple of minutes there were large fixed wing aircraft dropping retardant on the flames eliminating the threat to the horses. Cal Fire has lots of aircraft and personnel in the area that may have also alerted the agencies of the situation but I like to think that our team was a part of helping those horses.
The second event was later in the day when the Fire was approaching the South side of Highway 76 and there were concerns that it may jump the road and threaten the residences. I had four to five locations from Mission Road to Via Monserrate that I could check the progress of the fire and was rotating between them giving reports to Net Control. Those positions were the location a few hundred feet Northeast of the River Village shopping center, the South end of Palomar Drive, the South end of Fallsbrae Road, The South end of Ramona Drive, the South end of Orange Hill and the South end of Via Monserate. The fire was getting very close to the South edge of Highway 76 and into the thick growth which had many large trees. The valley sounded like fireworks were going off and the thick growth had created convection columns that had the burning embers going at least 100 feet into the air. I was positioned at the South end of Orange Hill drive were there were several residents watching the progress of the fire both on foot and in their cars. I had just made a report to Net Control regarding the high flying embers. The wind had been consistently coming from the East and traveling West at 10 to 15 MPH with gusts to over 25 MPH from my locations. In an instant the wind changed direction and was coming out of the South. We were being showered with burning embers. Everyone either went back to their residences or evacuated the scene in their cars. From that location I headed West to the South end of Fallsbrae where one home on Ramona was on fire. The fire had jumped Highway 76 and was starting to burn homes.
Throughout my time in the field I witnessed several acts by the firefighters and aircraft that made me confident that we were in the best hands possible during this firestorm.
Report from: Ron Patten, KG6HSQ
We had 95 different radio operators supplying or getting information on 12/7/2017 day 1 of the fire, many more listening, listed are the ones that stand out.
A lot of our members live in South Fallbrook were not available because, they evacuated or need to stay home, and also not chance getting road blocked out.
Most of listed, but not all, are members of FARC.
Randy Olms, KJ6AEU First with eyes on fire, spotter, reported on traffic and road blocks.
Ron Patten, KG6HSQ Net control, scanner, audio stream.
Andrew Weldy, KG6YWB Spotter, info from internet.
Bill Parkinson, KI6KVD Gave reports from Rancho Monserate Park, while evacuating.
Ken Dickson, W6MF Net control.
Jim Eyerman, KI6OHO Ace Spotter, got out of sick bed, a Fallbrook native, and works as a Surveyor.
Stephen Spencer, KC6MIE At FD Office.
Hayden Perrine, KG6YVD Spotter, scanner, report on traffic and weather.
Brent Dussia, KJ6UMY Net control.
Rich Lippucci, NI6H Info from phone & internet.
Charles Stubbs, KK6OBH Traffic.
Doug Rehder, KK6MXZ Spotter, lives in Bonsall.
Bob Gonsett, W6VR Spotter.
Christopher Baldwin, KF6AJM Spotter.
Cheryl Lindberg, KM6CXY Net control.
Jon Bart, K6QVA Spotter, traffic.
On Internet streaming audio, we had maximum of 868 listeners at one time, a bit before internet was lost.
Was able to get audio stream back up for next morning using a hot spot
Excellent Village News coverage (December 14, 2017 edition) of the Lilac Fire.
Ham radio was mentioned briefly on page A-5, second column, second full paragraph.
Some Fire Videos And Reports
From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilac_Fire
The Lilac Fire was a fire that burned in northern San Diego County, California, United States, and was one of multiple wildfires that erupted in Southern California in December 2017. The fire was first reported on December 7, 2017, burned 4,100 acres (1,659 ha), and destroyed 157 structures, before it was fully contained on December 16. The fire threatened the communities of Bonsall, California, Fallbrook, California and Oceanside, California. During the fire, an estimated 10,000 residents were forced to evacuate, while a total of over 100,000 residents were forced to or advised to evacuate. On December 7, the Lilac Fire also cut the power to 20,000 people.
The Lilac Fire was reported on December 7, 2017, at 11:15 AM PST, as a small brush fire, just off Interstate 15. The fire was spotted near Old Highway 395 and Dulin Road, near the intersection between State Route 76 and Interstate 15, in Bonsall, San Diego County, California. Fanned by unusually powerful Santa Ana winds, with gusts reaching 66 mph (106 km/h), the wildfire quickly grew in size; within minutes, the wildfire grew to 50 acres. By 11:35 AM PST, the Lilac Fire had reached 500 acres (200 ha). The winds pushed the fire west towards Oceanside and Vista. During that afternoon, the Lilac Fire left nearly 20,000 San Diego Gas & Electric customers without power. The Lilac Fire expanded to 4,100 acres (1,659 ha) by the evening, with 0% containment. Around that time, there were concerns that the Lilac Fire could burn all the way to the Pacific Ocean, near Camp Pendleton.
On the day the fire was reported, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for San Diego County, due to the fire, stating, “The fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we’ll continue to attack it with all we’ve got. It’s crucial residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so.”
Cal State San Marcos, Palomar College, and MiraCosta College canceled classes and closed for the rest of the week. Mandatory evacuations were issued for areas of Bonsall and Oceanside, California. Cal Fire reports that “the fire is growing at a dangerous rate of spread with structures threatened.” Three people were injured, including two horse handlers who suffered burns and a deputy from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department who was injured while directing traffic. The fire burned the San Luis Rey Training Center, destroying eight barns and killing 46 horses.
On the morning of December 8, the fire remained at 4,100 acres (1,700 ha) and 0% containment, and 105 buildings had been destroyed. One more civilian and a firefighter were hospitalized due to smoke inhalation, and another firefighter was treated for a dislocated shoulder. Later that evening, a shift in the wind direction and an increase in humidity allowed firefighters to make progress on the fire, increasing containment of the fire to 15%. During the evening, the Santa Ana winds returned to the region. During the afternoon of December 9, a woman was arrested for looting a home in Bonsall, within the mandatory evacuation zone.
On December 10, the Lilac Fire’s burn area remained at 4,100 acres (1,659 ha), with containment increasing to 75%. Assessments revealed that the fire had destroyed 151 buildings, while damaging 56 others. Despite strong Santa Ana winds picking up again across Southern California and near the Lilac Fire, the winds failed to materialize around the Lilac Fire’s burn area, which allowed firefighters to make significant progress on containing the fire. Firefighters strengthened containment lines with the help of good weather. Due to the increase in fire containment, and the waning Santa Ana winds, all evacuation orders and road closures for the Lilac Fire were lifted at about 4:00 PM PST on December 10. On December 11, the Lilac Fire was 90% contained, with no further increases in size.
On December 14, containment of the Lilac Fire had increased to 98%. During the early afternoon of Friday, December 15, smoke was spotted near the location where the Lilac Fire had started, under a bridge on Interstate 15. However, by 1:22 PM PST on the same day, CalFire reported that the situation had been brought under control.
Early on December 16, it was reported that the Lilac Fire has been fully contained, with the final burn area remaining at a size of 4,100 acres (1,700 ha).
During the Lilac Fire, mandatory evacuations were issued for the following areas. All of the evacuation orders were lifted by 4:00 PM PST on December 10.
W. Lilac Rd. & Sullivan Middle School South of Burma Rd. East of Wilshire North of N. River Rd. West of S. Mission Ave. South of Reche Rd. West of Interstate 15 East of Green Canyon Rd. and S. Mission Rd. North of Highway 76
North of Bobier Dr., east of Melrose Dr. north of Santa Fe Ave., and east of College Blvd. South of N. River Rd., north of Bobier Dr., East of Melrose Dr. and N. Santa Fe Ave., West of E. Vista Way Areas east of Douglas Dr. and north of N. River Rd. West of Wilshire Rd., north of River Rd., east of Douglas Dr., and south of the Camp Pendleton fence line
Evacuation warnings were issued for areas North of Pala Rd., South of Reche Rd., West of Interstate 15 east of Green Canyon Rd. & W. Mission Rd.
Evacuation centers included: Pala Casino Resort and Spa, Great Oak High School, Fallbrook High School, East Valley Community Center in Escondido, Bostonia Park and Recreation Center in El Cajon, Oceanside High School, Palomar College, and Stagecoach Community Park in Carlsbad. The Del Mar Fairgrounds and the San Diego Polo Club opened to large animal evacuations.
Until December 10, the following road closures were in effect:
S. Mission Rd. at Winterhaven Rd. to southbound traffic Gopher Canyon Rd. from E. Vista Way to Little Gopher Canyon Rd. State Road 76 from Old Hwy 395 to Via Monserate W. Lilac Rd. from Old Hwy 395 to Camino Del Rey Camino Del Ray at State Road 76 to Old Hwy 395 Old River Rd. at Little Gopher Canyon Rd. through Golf Club Dr. Olive Hill Road from Burma to State Route 76
After the Lilac Fire had started, authorities began investigating the source of the fire. Soon after the Lilac Fire had ignited, multiple motorists reported spotting a thin line of fire off Interstate 15, with the flames about 1 foot high and no longer than “a double-wide bed.” Although investigators managed to narrow the origin point of the Lilac Fire down to a 1-square-foot area, they were unable to find anything that they could use to determine the fire’s cause. Despite the many reports they received from motorists near the start of the fire, investigators were still unable to find a solid lead on the fire’s cause. Investigators stated that the cause of the Lilac Fire may never be known without more tips from the public, but also stated that whoever started the fire may have done so unknowingly; a truck that was generating sparks from dragging a metal chain is a possible cause.