Time lapse pyrocumulus for the LA "station" wildfire

Like volcanic eruptions, some fires grow large enough to make their own weather with the heat being released acting like convection. Witness this neat time lapse in HD showing the “Station” fire in the Angeles National Forest.

pyrocumulus_LA_fire

click for time lapse video

This video was made by photographer Brandon Riza on August 30th, 2009. It is quite well done and quite visually stunning. The station fire is also visible from space, and shows up in the AIRS satellite image shown below from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

AIRS_stationfire

Click for a larger image

It is also visible by conventional satellite imagery.

Satimage_smoke_from_station_fire

The station fire in La Canada/Flintridge. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL, MISR Team - Click for a larger image

For those interested, here is more information about pyrocumulus clouds.

h/t to “jeez” for the time lapse video

pyrocumulus—A pyrocumulus or fire cloud is a dense cumuliform cloud associated with fire or volcanic activity.

A pyrocumulus cloud is produced by the intense heating of the air from the surface. The intense heat induces convection which causes the air mass to rise to a point of stability, usually in the presence of moisture. Phenomena such as volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and occasionally industrial activities can induce formation of this cloud. The detonation of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere will also produce a pyrocumulus in the form of a mushroom cloud which is made by the same mechanism. The presence of a low level jet stream can enhance its formation. Condensation of ambient moisture (moisture already present in the atmosphere) as well as moisture evaporated from burnt vegetation or volcanic outgassing occurs readily on particles of ash.

A pyrocumulus cloud from the August 2009 Station fire in southern California.

A pyrocumulus cloud from the August 2009 Station fire in southern California

Pyrocumulus cloud viewed from above.

Pyrocumulus cloud viewed from above

Pyrocumuli contain severe turbulence which also results in strong gusts at the surface which can exacerbate a large conflagration. A large pyrocumulus, particularly one associated with a volcanic eruption, may also produce lightning. This is a process not fully understood as of yet, but is probably in some way associated with charge separation induced by severe turbulence, and perhaps, by the nature of the particles of ash in the cloud. Large pyrocumuli can contain temperatures well below freezing, and the electrostatic properties of any ice that forms may also play a role. A pyrocumulus which produces lightning is actually a type of cumulonimbus, a thundercloud and is called pyrocumulonimbus.

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44 thoughts on “Time lapse pyrocumulus for the LA "station" wildfire

  1. They are very turbulent. I was flying to Canberra from Melbourne in January 2004 and followed a great wall of fire and descended to Canberra AP through the PC top and it was a very rough ride. The PC is deceiving as looks like it contains rain, but during these events the humidity drops to alarmingly low levels, in fact very low humidity is a good indicator of trouble ahead.
    The next day the fires moved into western Canberra and 500 homes and many lives were lost.
    Athens has had its fires,California with all its surveillance equipment was not able to spot these outbreaks early enough to stop them. Our turn will come again this summer with arson a likely cause in all three countries.
    Why not really detect these events early say with infra red detectors, get in quickly with water bombers,stop the spread,treat it like a war on arson and contain it early.
    Letting them burn only gives pleasure to those who started them and makes the first world countries look impotent.

  2. I fly for a large airline and on August 25 I was flying a turn from KLAS to KSNA. We crossed over Big Bear and flying directly to Homeland, a military base in the LAX area. I looked to the right of the aircraft and noticed a small puff of smoke eminating from the ridge on the northern side of the LA Basin. I didn’t pay much attention until we began our arrival into KSNA. The elasped time was approximately 2 minutes. When I looked at that area again, I was surprised to see how large the fire had become. I reported the fire to the local controller. He acknowledge he was not aware of any fire in that location. We arrived at KSNA and left approximately one hour later. As we began our trip back to KLAS, I was shocked to see how large the fire had gotten. I knew this was going to be a huge fire but I had no idea that it would be this devastating. In my career, I have seen several large forest fires from the air. My deepest condolences go to the families of the lost fire fighters. This fire is one for the record books. However, it did have to be this way. Although this is my opinion, proper forest management practices or the lack thereof created this devastating fire in the Los Angeles and surronding areas The residents of this area sould demand an answer from their congressmen.
    Yous,
    Capt Bill

  3. A little correction in my last post.
    It should read,
    However, it did not have to be this way.
    Yours,
    Capt. Bill

  4. I still remember the “old days” when there were regular fire breaks bulldozed into the mountain brush. That was before thev dark green times.

  5. I suppose even things of violent destruction can have their own beauty.
    I also note that arson has been intimated as a cause for these fires. My own H.O. would not place these actions beyond those extreme deviants within the AGW camp, thus providing physical evidence to all of the hot, dry AGW conditions being caused. I also note that from a previous post, Australia’s hot temps were NOT caused by AGW/CC. However, it is reassuring to note that they are wrong, from this morning’s BBC Radio 2 news broadcast @ 06:00 hrs it was caused by AGW/CC. It is nice to know that in times of change some things remain consistant! I advise that over here in Disneyland, human induced CC is mentioned somewhere on the BBC almost daily. All it will need, is for something dramatic to occur with respect to the Sun & its (non) relationship with Earth, eg for a bitterly cold winter, for the indepentent broadcasters to pick it up & run with it, then the BBC will have to say something about it.

  6. “Alan the Brit (01:59:11) :
    I also note that from a previous post, Australia’s hot temps were NOT caused by AGW/CC. ”
    The problem is the title of the report, “Climate records broken”, will be highlighted by the media, in a frenzy in AGW dogma, while the underlying fact, “The outlook for the coming spring suggests that above average temperatures are likely across the whole of Australia. This is a result of recent warm conditions in the Indian Ocean as well as warming in the Pacific.”, will be lost unfortunately.
    “Flanagan (02:45:22) :
    These firefighters are heroes…”
    And those promoting AGW, carbon offsets, taxes, the IPCC, media alarmism (The media have been “preaching” climatic doom since the late 19th century btw) are criminals and should be placed in gaol.

  7. I was ~12 miles down wind of the Pinitubo eruption and spent the entire eruption outside in rescue efforts. The lightning strikes were frequent and came about every 5 minutes at the height of the ash fall. The lightning was a bright red. Most violent display of nature I have ever seen.
    The eruption took place during a major storm. It totally displaced the rain clouds for the duration of the eruption.

  8. Flanagan (02:45:22) :
    These firefighters are heroes…

    Oh, yes indeed. Risking their lives to save property belonging to others. A task which (sometimes) is an exercise in both futility and thanklessness. Our firefighters (in Autralia and elsewhere) deserve the utmost respect and support.
    But in Australia, I treasure most the civilian volunteer forces, the people who just get things done.
    True heroes.

  9. Firestorms have been discussed since WWII, particularly following the fire bombing of Tokyo and the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The surface winds are ferocious.
    I don’t remember if Dresden produced one or not.

  10. Correct me I’m wrong – I spend alot of time there on various issues. Alot of these Enviro-Nuts that STILL believe that CO2 will cause the end of the World and cover the land in Ocean are members of other Enviro-Nut groups like the Sierra Club that forbit removing downed trees, branches and other fodder to preserve the natural ecosystem. Others in the failing (bankrupt) CA government system that want to promote “Green Technologies” could bolster employment, tax receipts and fight unemployment by allowing this fire fodder removal efforts. If it wasn’t outlawed, private groups would probably jump in and find economic uses for the wood.
    Therefore the only question that can be raised is: Does the Sierra Club and CA Government ever accept or claim any partial responsibility when CA Wildfires burn out of control? I have a strong feeling they are nowhere to be found as the loss of life and property would be a HUGE liability that is currently foisted (sp?) off on EVIL Insurance companies. Furthermore, it can be conveniently blamed on EVIL CO2 Emitting Business that cause global warming, that makes the sun shine, that makes the forests dry – it’s not our fault for poor land management, right?
    Again, that’s just what popped up when I saw all that smoke arising. Damned Eco-Nuts screwed us again. There should be a responsible Environmental Movement that requires IQ’s above 80 in it’s memberships that spouts out sensible conservation, management and (gasp) positions that would help sustain the Planet and denounces all the current ECo-Nuts – does anyone know if such?

  11. Why not really detect these events early say with infra red detectors, get in quickly with water bombers,stop the spread,treat it like a war on arson and contain it early.

    The technology already exists (and has for decades) the issue is one of the administrative overhead to run such a system. I worked for the Office of Emergency Management in Colorado for 14 years. Occasionally we would get a call from the folks at NORAD advising us that there systems had detected a large fire.
    In one case it was a burning barn!
    The missile launch detection systems the military use include detection of the infrared signature of the motor burn on launch. We assumed that that is the means they were referring to when they detected a large fire, although obviously no one would confirm exactly how they knew.
    In any case such a system would have to sort out an enormous amount of thermal noise signitures from benign activities such as fire department training burns, crash rescue training burns, permitted fires for brush control and wild land management, not to mention hundreds of large structure fires every day across the country.
    In most cases by the time such information works its way down the notification tree to the state level the locals were already working the fire, because the smoke plume gave it away.
    The problem with wild land fire response is frequently a problem of logistics not detection. You can get phone in reports of a wild fire within minutes of ignition, but it might take 30 min to 2 hours to get a warm body on scene to evaluate and begin suppression simply due to the travel times. Even when the air tankers are under hot standby during severe fire danger their flight time, might make the fire uncontrollable by the time they can put the first slurry drop on the fire front.
    Many people forget about the distances involved in these activities. During our extreme fire season a few years ago, I lived right on the flight path of the slurry bombers as they cycled from the fire areas to the Jeffco slurry facility where they refilled the planes with slurry for the drops. I could set my watch by the cycle of the bombers. One of them the PB4Y ( http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4191/is_20020720/ai_n10006430/ ) the pilot would literally fly directly over my house on each run as he used North Table Mountain near my home as a landmark. On the way out I would hear him clawing for altitude and speed with a full load of slurry as he came over the house, then about 20 minutes later he would roar over the house running hot and empty going back for a refill.
    Larry
    Larry

  12. A fleet of these would reduce wildfires to manageble levels.
    http://telstarlogistics.typepad.com/telstarlogistics/2007/10/dc-10-water-bom.html
    Worse, the US Forest Service’s jitters and red tape have effectively killed an even bigger firefighting aircraft, a Boeing 747 Supertanker that was converted into a water-bomber capable of dropping 24,000 gallons of retardant — twice as much as even Tanker 910. Here’s a video of the 747 Supertanker making a test drop:
    LINK
    After the feds declined to sign on as a customer for the 747, Evergreen effectively shut down the Supertanker program earlier this year. So while Southern California burns, the most powerful firefighting tool in the world may be gathering dust just a few hundred miles away. CORRECTION: The Evergreen 747 Supertanker has been converted back for use as a freighter — but it retains its firefighting paint job. Here’s how the Supertanker looked on September 1, 2007 while hauling freight in Ireland:
    When the flames are finally out in Southern California, Telstar Logistics hopes there will be a lot of tough questions asked about how well the federal government’s policy toward Tanker 910 and the 747 Supertanker serves the interests of California’s citizens. The mainstream media has taken notice before. Will they do so again?

  13. Dave D (06:54:01) : So there are too many “eco-nuts” over there?. However they have not succeeded in reestablishing real ecology (the equilibrium of all local species) as to, for example, have enough pumas near their houses to feed on the excess of these “eco-nuts”. You should encourage the massive reproduction of pumas in special “farms” and then, after having the appropiate quantity of these, to liberate them in selected eco-friends neighbourhoods.

  14. Very sorry to be off topic but I can’t post where this one belongs.
    They are discussing the surface station project over at Skeptical Science
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/
    This is a very pro AGW site but the tone is not bad and the folks their are not dishonest like you see at a certain well known site. However, there is an almost willful lack of understanding with regard to what the project shows and I thought perhaps some here would like to comment.
    They are not skeptical about any catastrophic global warming view but other than that it is worth a look and a comment.

  15. Roger Derby (05:26:04) :
    Firestorms have been discussed since WWII, particularly following the fire bombing of Tokyo and the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The surface winds are ferocious.
    I don’t remember if Dresden produced one or not.
    Dresden did indeed produce a firestorm. Due to the influx of refugees, the total dead will never be known, but some German sources place the dead at over 300,000. Way more than is commonly cited.

  16. Really glad someone got some time-lapsed video of this. We’ve spent the past week on the north side of this fire under that cloud. Scary stuff.

  17. At the time of the last “good” war, World War II, 12,000 men refused induction into the military,, were classified IV-E (conscientious Objectors), and assigned to Civilian Public Service for “work of national importance under civilian direction.\” Of that tiny minority (less than 1 percent of those drafted), nearly 40 percent were Mennonites, 11 percent Brethren, 7 percent Friends, 6 percent Methodists, and the rest represented more than 200 sects or denominations.
    Most of todays objectors really don’t want to serve the country.

  18. I live in the right hand side of the satellite photo. We have a picture perfect view of the San Bernadino mountains. It’s been a wild week up there.
    My property burned in the year 2000 Pechanga Fire, before I developed it. It was a blessing, actually. After the fires of two years ago, which were driven by Santa Ana winds, I’ve gotten serious about fire abatement. ( We had $1200 dollars worth of damage done to our tile roof in that wind event.) My house is on a knoll and I’ve got a fire break road around it and have been culling out the chamise brush within the firebreak. I’ve also surrounded it with drystack stone walls and a lot of large rocks that were dislodged during grading. Fire abatement is a lot of work, especially when you’ve got four acres to care for. (We are zoned for four acre limited agriculture.) You leave the manzanita, toyon, scrub oaks, laurel sumac, sage and other plants that grow in the chaparral, but remove the chamise, which is a small piny bush.
    We have a gated community of mostly small ranches. Maybe 65 homes. The people who own large properties that they had once hoped to develop are not now able to subdivide because we only have one ingress/egress route and the closest fire department is 15 miles away. It’s a dead end development, in an unincorporated area, although I can get out in two other directions with a four wheel drive. Fire regulation, environmental regulation, and the generally outrageous expense of building has combined with a dip in property values to put a near halt to new construction around here, which is in the northernmost part of San Diego County. Only a small portion of my development burned in the 2000, which means the majority of it hasn’t burned in 60 years. It’s going to be hell when it happens, since there is a lot of rough terrain.

  19. The Number of Airtankers available to the Feds were reduced due to the Hawkins and Powers fiasco of afew years ago the old C-130s and PB4Ys were grounded,that H&P
    operated due to wing faliure.But they Grounded all “old’ Airtankers to Fed fires and CDF went along.Proper maintenance like Spar xrays were not even considered.So
    all the Four Engine Douglases, and the C130’s were done.Oregon still operates DC6’s and 7’s on contract.Nothing is out there except the DC10 and 747,the Feds really want is:C-130H’s in numerical order lined up on the Ramp at Missoula, working 0730 to 1830 monday thru friday.Private contractors(like my former employer-Butler Aircraft) have played by the rules for years, and in some cases gave it all to fight fire,have been shunted aside.Yet California called the Martin Mars from Canada,and Conair from Canada-Flying DC6’S!!!The Mars is a good airplane but, it was built in 1943! the Conair 6’s were 1948-53. Indeed something is wrong
    with this picture.

  20. Nogw (07:55:24) : I actually live in TN, but your comments are right on the mark! I’ve borrowed Eco-Nuts or Enviro-Nuts from the “Land of Fruits and Nuts” nomenclature sometimes reserved for the “Left Coast” or specifically CA. Your insight reminds me of the Ice Cutter that was rented by a bunch Environmentalists to “document” the NW passage clearing in the shrinking Arctic a few years back and got stuck in and then, on the ice for several days. I think it was like a Mega Cutter, too, one of the 3 largest in existence! The only way the real storie could have been more ironic is if some enterprising local (do people live there???) had stampeded a “herd” of Polar Bears onto the ship. What with their disappearing food sources and the Environmentalist’s guilt for their shrinking population, this would have allowed these “environmentalists” to contribute directly to “solving the problem”!

  21. With regards to prevention:
    As mentioned, the technology does exist to detect and manage such things, but the overhead is huge. It’s a particularly irksome project for those in control of the budget which funds such projects. The more effective the project, the less need for such a project (irony: if there are no forest fires, why do we need a forest fire prevention system?)
    Highly visible and political projects get priority over any other budgetary consideration (e.g. welfare systems, educational systems, pet projects). The less effective these projects are, the more money they consume – that money takes away from very necessary systems, and even exceeds the available funds.
    The result will be a knee-jerk reaction to put a fire prevention scheme in place with a rather large budget that the state cannot afford. In several months, when people have forgotten about this tragedy, the funding will gradually be reduced and filtered towards the existing status quo projects as previously mentioned. Because, why do you need to fund a forest fire prevention system when there are people out of work, right?
    Additional irony is that any such system is always never 100% effective – there *will* be another fire, and now we have a whole department to blame. That department then becomes highly politicized (which, by definition, consumes even more funding) into a CYA structure, reducing the funding for the people, equipment and procedures which actually do the job of detecting and preventing fires.

  22. Further to my previous post, maybe O/T and shamelessly stolen from http://www.grouchyoldcripple.com/archives/006998.html (Note, has some NSFW material). This is how the funding goes for anything useful, and beneficial to the people:
    ———————————
    Once upon a time the government had a vast scrap yard in the middle of A desert. Congress said, “someone may steal from it at night..” So they created a night watchman position and hired a person for the job..
    Then Congress said, “How does the watchman do his job without
    instruction?” So they created a planning department and hired two
    people, one person to write the instructions, and one person to do time
    studies.
    Then Congress said, “How will we know the night watchman is doing
    The tasks correctly?” So they created a Quality Control department and
    hired two people. One to do the studies and one to write the reports.
    Then Congress said, “How are these people going to get paid?” So
    They created the following positions, a time keeper, and a payroll officer,
    Then hired two people.
    Then Congress said, “Who will be accountable for all of these
    people?” So they created an administrative section and hired three people, an Administrative Officer, Assistant Administrative Officer, and a Legal Secretary.
    Then Congress said, “We have had this command in operation for one
    Year and we are $18,000 over budget, we must cutback overall cost.”
    So they laid off the night watchman.
    ———————————

  23. “Steve S. (07:33:22) :
    A fleet of these would reduce wildfires to manageble levels.”
    I live in the Sacramento area, and one of the 747’s is based here at McClellan field. They were on the news this morning warming it up. It was fully outfitted with full tanks getting ready to take off to the fire.
    Too bad they couldn’t get it down there earlier.
    Paul

  24. From my experience:
    I do live in a fire-prone area in SoCal. My community is located in the middle of a National Forest. The fire authorities and insurance company requires (otherwise we will be fined) to clear the brush around our properties to 30 ft.
    However, if we do that, the forestry department (greens) will fine us because this is supposed to be undisturbed wilderness and you should not even move a leaf. After all, clearing the brush might interrupt the mating dance of the slightly spotted dung moskito or something like that.

  25. One of the considerations that worry me about the DC-10 and 747 super tankers is FOD damage to the jet engines when flying in a fire environment.
    A couple years ago there was a B-17 out here at RMR airport (then called Jeffco). It was the “sentimental journey”. During the discussion someone asked what the history of the airframe was and they mentioned it has served in a fire fighting roll but never in combat, then they pointed to the leading edges of the wings to draw everyone’s attention to the dozens of small dings on the leading edges.
    Those dings were due to airborne cinder impacts when flying through the air column over the fires. Rather large cinders get carried aloft by the updrafts and at air speeds over 100 mph made some very evident impact dings on the leading edge.
    I am not sure the jet engines in the super tankers would like a steady diet of that sort of fire debris, and if they did not fail outright due to an impact the service expenses to keep the engines healthy would be significant.
    The old prop and turbo-prop aircraft still have their place in fire fighting if someone would just fund a proper refit program and select a reliable airframe like the C-130 to do the job.
    In really rough country the ability to get down in the weeds with the slower planes can sometimes be very useful. That of course is why they also fly the smaller airdrop planes which are about the size of a crop dusting aircraft for close in work or spot fire control.
    Larry

  26. KLA (10:34:30) :
    From my experience:
    I do live in a fire-prone area in SoCal. My community is located in the middle of a National Forest. The fire authorities and insurance company requires (otherwise we will be fined) to clear the brush around our properties to 30 ft.
    However, if we do that, the forestry department (greens) will fine us because this is supposed to be undisturbed wilderness and you should not even move a leaf. After all, clearing the brush might interrupt the mating dance of the slightly spotted dung moskito or something like that.

    That is where creative design of the home comes in. Build a really large patio on the most exposed (usually down hill side) and set up your driveway so that it is a circular drive that goes all the way around the house.
    Then you put in a small pond (the fire fighters will see this as a fire engine magnet and draft water from your pond). Make sure the drive is big enough that they can easily turn their big engines around and you can turn your home into the one they choose to defend when they have to make tough choices about where to send their crews.
    As mentioned above, sidewalks and low rock walls also make good defensible lines for fire fighters to fall back to if they have a blow up and have to go to a defensive position.
    I think a class action suit needs to be filed by someone that the regulations and laws are inconsistent and it is physically impossible for the home owner to be in compliance with both sets of rules.
    Larry

  27. This from the official web page for the Angeles National Forest:
    » Fuels Reduction — Sunland area
    The Los Angeles River Ranger District (LARRD) of the Angeles National Forest (ANF) is conducting an environmental analysis under the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to evaluate a fuels reduction project north of the City of Sunland, in the ANF. We are soliciting public input of the issues to be addressed in the environmental analysis. Initiation of this fuels reduction project is proposed to begin in FY2011 and involves vegetation treatments on 500 acres.
    Comments should be submitted in writing and will be accepted until September 29, 2009. Issues and concerns should be addressed to:
    Mike McIntyre, District Ranger
    Los Angeles River Ranger District
    12371 N Little Tujunga Canyon Road
    San Fernando, CA 91342
    Comments may also be submitted via FAX to (818) 8896-6727 or electronically to mmcintyre@fs.fed.us

  28. Wow !! They can get to it in 2011; almost as soon as I can get a hernia operation under Obamacare.
    Yes the President said that private companies can compete with government monopolies; citing how UPS and FedEx successfully compet with the US government run Post Office; so that is the standard to compoare your health care program with.
    So that’s another whole fire season, till they get their stuff in gear.

  29. From the San Gabriel paper two days ago:
    “”The fire has burned much of Big Tujunga Canyon Road in the mountains, and the canyon opens into the Sunland neighborhood.”
    Perhap the fuel reduction has been accomplished for the 500 acres…as it has with about 145,000 additional acres…for the next 15 years or so.

  30. British Columbia in western Canada has suffered through a very volatile forest fire season, especially in the Okanagan Valley. Government forestry policy has allowed the undergrowth to build up, creating the perfect conditions for forest fires. Some tree species need a fire to reproduced. So I figure nature will take care of that need, along with clearing the undergrowth despite human intervention.

  31. segraves (10:57:14) – I can do that environmental assessment. By burning twenty reams of paper on the 500 acres rather than writing them full of environmental jargon, and just burning off the damn weeds instead of studying them.

  32. Look – negative feedback!
    More CO2 results in more growth.
    More growth results in more fire.
    More fire results in more smoke.
    More smoke results in cooling.

  33. Keith Minto (20:13:38) :
    Much of Mt Palomar burned in the 2003 fire– the name of which I forget– although I can’t tell you exactly how much of the mountain was burned. I remember going up to a high point in in my community perhaps 15 miles to the north east and watching the mountain burn. Luckily the observatory, which I had visted previous to the fires, was not impacted. 2003 was, if I recall correctly, the most destructive fire year in Southern California history.

  34. So we have pyro-cumulus.
    Can I suggest that the eruption of Mt. Tambora 1815 was a pyro-tornado 27 miles high (sea-level 12ft above high tide 25 miles away, what was the central pressure??, good description in wiki).
    Can I also suggest that the 100s miles of lava flows seen in flood basalt events would have set off a pyro-hurricane of Red Spot scale.
    Hollywood at its most extravagant could not do justice to the energies unleashed in these events.

  35. A car accident in Pallas Verdes caused a new fire, but being near the shore, the super scooper planes were able to douse it rather quickly with rapid turnarounds between scoops.

  36. There are people who have tried to link AGW/CC to Wildfire/Bushfire and Firestorm events, in order to batter us with Fear, Control and Taxes. This analysis published by ‘The Age’ of Melbourne suggests they should not be connected:
    http://www.theage.com.au/national/anatomy-of-a-firestorm-20090225-8hvi.html
    It seems to me that if people live in bush areas they should be protected by a clear area around the habitation and that the powers-that-be should do proper fuel-reduction burns too.

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