The California Nurse Fire Incident
The Nurse Fire Incident refers to the blaze that broke out on the same date as the Butte County Camp Fire, November 8, 2018. On that Thursday at around 12 pm in Solano County, CA, a brush fire would erupt into a deadly blaze.
This brush fire got its name from the location of its starting point, which witnesses said was near Nurse Slough, east of Saisun City. While the blaze never threatened the city, its severity reached multiple-alarm levels as it blazed through Rio Vista, south of Travis Air Force Base. Firefighters were able to achieve 90% containment by the following day even though it took 33 days for them to extinguish Nurse Fire completely.
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How it Started
Much like the Potter Valley Fire, the Nurse Fire was an accident of circumstance. Solano County Sheriff’s Office reports that Nurse Fire was sparked when a commercial trailer caught fire as it was plying State Route 12 near Nurse Slough past 12 noon. Within an hour, the wind had already blown the flames into nearby fields. Solano County Firefighters were immediately dispatched to the area.
The Solano County Office of Emergency Services said that upon reaching the area, the crews immediately worked to redirect the fire into the burn scar of the earlier Branscombe Fire. This decision was made to ensure that there were no fuels to keep the brush fire going. By 3:30 in the afternoon, the firefighters were still directing the blaze away from Highway 12 and toward to Grizzly Island Road. Officials from the Saisun Fire Protection District estimated the level of containment at around 60 percent at that point.
Extent of Damage and Aftermath
Nurse Fire prompted a large response in Solano County, with the Saisun City Fire Protection Unit heading the firefighting efforts. By 3 pm the following day, the fire dispatchers report that an 8th alarm was sounded. However, it was clear by that time that the brush fire was already under control and 90% contained. The brush fire backed up traffic into Saisun City while it was raging. CHP officials momentarily blocked access to eastbound highway lanes along Walters Road and the westbound lanes along Denverton Road in the county.
Initial estimates by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection or CAL FIRE places the acres burned by Nurse Fire at 2,500. Later investigations revealed, however, that the acres burned was a relatively smaller area of 1,500. Although the fire reached the 8th alarm, there were no evacuation orders, no infrastructure came under threat and there were no report of injuries. The California fire agency did not commit any resources to fighting Nurse Fire, despite its size because it occurred on county land. CAL FIRE is responsible for protecting State Responsibility Areas of the state, which covers more than 30 million acres.
Due to its climate and geographical features, California can produce small to highly destructive wildfires. The state has a year-round dry, hot and windy climate that runs from spring to late autumn. A small camp or brush fire during these months can easily escalate and become huge wildfires as dry winds, which are also known as Diablo winds fan and further spread the blaze.
At the same time that Nurse Fire was raging, another exponentially larger firestorm was also raging in Northern California. The Butte County Camp Fire became the largest, deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the history of California scorching more than 150,000 acres of land, killing 85 people and leaving $16 billion in damages in its wake.