The French Fire, which has been raging in the Kern River Valley for over a week, received its name from the French Creek area, where it started according to Dan O’Connor, Fire Behavior Analyst for the California Incident Management Team 12.
Since then, the fire has claimed tens of thousands of acres as of Thursday night, according to the Kern County Fire Department. O’Connor, whose job is to literally predict and assess the fire’s behavior, classified it as “aggressive.”
“This has been, from the start, a very aggressive pushdown, aggressive pushback, said Dan O’Connor, Fire Behavior Analyst for the California Incident Management Team 12.
According to O’Connor, both sides of the Greenhorn Mountains hadn’t seen fires for around 50 years.
“When an area lacks fire, it becomes very dense, very overgrown,” O’Connor said. “Overlay a drought and you have really challenging fire behavior.”
Even with fire behavior this temperamental, there are certain tools that crews can use to predict it, including the terrain itself, according to O'Connor.
“Are there drainages that line up with the wind? We got dense timber up top, schaperel brush, funnel winds,” O’Connor explained. “We consider the fuel type. The tree: is it dense timber? Down below you have grass, so all three of those have the same wind, same temperature, same relative humidity, [have] different spread rates.”
O’Connor added that they have forecasters from the National Weather Service who take a look at weather patterns, which can help them assess which direction the fire is going to spread.
“Lake Isabella has a very complex weather ecosystem,” O’Connor explained. “We have the Mojave Desert not too far away, we have the San Joaquin Valley, different heat sources competing for air. It makes the air very shifty.”
Then, O'Connor said they’ll overlay where the fire has grown in the past 24 hours with infrared data, “and we plug that into our models, and we can tell with probability we can tell if it’ll reach this portion, 60 percent, 20 percent and so that gives us timelines. “
That data comes from IR technology they fly at night.
"They have an entire heat perimeter, all the way around, and then they have intense heat that is a different unit, it shows scattered heat and also spot fires,” O’Connor said.
O'Connor said they’re still pretty well-staffed in the Alta Sierra area. Fire crews are concerned about Wofford Heights and keeping a watch on Kernville, because of strong winds that have the potential to push the fire out of containment lines.