Wednesday, December 31, 2008

MT legislator wants to "pick fight" with USFS

From Montana's News Station:
Wildfires were still burning in Montana in August of 2007 when Governor Brian Schweitzer called in the state legislature to put more money into fire fighting.

Lawmakers also created a special committee on fire suppression, and that group spent a year studying the subject. Among its recommendations is one designed to pick a fight with the U.S. Forest Service.

"We could have another 1910 fire kind of a situation develop and we have to try and get the ability to go in and take care of this," said Montana state Senator, Dave Lewis. "It's too dangerous to ignore."

Now, Lewis wants to put hazardous forest fuels in the same category as junk cars or trash piles. In legal terms, as a source of community decay. He also wants to give county governments the ability to deal with the problem directly.

"It basically says that counties can go onto federal land and determine that it's a risk to the community and go in and clean up the fire hazard," Lewis said.

Lewis recognizes that if his bill becomes law, it would almost guarantee a challenge in federal court, and he's fine with that.

"I think we've got a pretty good case. I mean we're saying when we can't go in and stop and remove a hazard that might lead to loss of life or property for private citizens in the state, there's something wrong with that. We need to have a chance to go in and correct the problem."

Lewis is not the only lawmaker to put wildfire-related bills into the hopper for 2009. As of Tuesday, 27 other bills have been introduced, and another 16 have been submitted to legislative services, including one to set up a pilot program to reduce fuels on state land in the so-called wildland-urban interface.

And another to counties to assess property taxes, or create special improvement districts specifically for fuel reduction projects.

The Fire Suppression Committee also wants lawmakers to tell the federal government to do more regarding forest fuels. One resolution asks Congress to give the governor the power to declare a fuel crisis on federal lands, and then require federal agencies to respond.

HERE is a link to an article on the Earth Island Institute site about the role of fire in the ecosystem and how landowners should be managing fire.

Thanks, Dick, for the tip.

How to prevent thefts of Smokey Bear signs

Teresa Stepzinski/The Times-Union

In the story from jacksonville.com below, Fire Chief Michael Carver of the Hortense Volunteer Fire Department in Georgia laments the fact that thieves keep keep stealing their Smokey Bear images and the adjectives (Low, Moderate, etc.) from their fire danger sign. When I worked as a Fire Prevention Technician on the Cleveland National forest one of my jobs was to install and maintain signs like Chief Carver's above.

We quickly learned that to prevent the thefts of the Smokey image (which was on a sheet of aluminum or steel), we secured it with tamper-resistant bolts like the one on the right. The slide-in fire danger adjective signs were locked in with a steel bar that went all the way through both sides of the large sign and through both of the adjectives (one on each side, mounted on plywood). A padlock held the bar in place.

I also maintained 17" x 44" fire prevention signs along forest roads and highways. Cardboard posters, some with pictures of Smokey, were periodically stapled onto the signs, changing with the season. I had to pre-vandalize the Smokey posters so they would not be stolen. After stapling the poster to the plywood sign backing, I would take my Buck knife and slice the poster into pieces, making sure that there were enough staples to hold it all in place. From a distance you could not see that the sign was cut up, but none of the pre-vandalized signs were ever stolen.

From the article:
"Smokey the Bear is missing. He's gone, and we would love to have him back home where he belongs," Carver told the Times-Union on Tuesday.

Last Friday night, someone stole the handcrafted, 6-foot tall wooden Smokey Bear cut-out that was bolted to a 7-foot wide wildfire danger sign outside their fire station, Carver said. It was the latest in a series of Smokey-snatchings in Brantley County, said Chief Ranger Barry Rowell of the Georgia Forestry Commission unit in the county.

Rowell said another Smokey Bear was stolen earlier this year from its fire danger post at the Waynesville Volunteer Fire Department.

"We used to have one outside our office here, but it was stolen so many times that we finally gave up and stopped replacing it," Rowell said. "We just couldn't afford to do it."

Four of the unit's bears were stolen in as many years. Only one was recovered, but "it was all tore up," Rowell said.

The Brantley bear heists began a couple of years ago, after the forest rangers made the signs for fire departments in the county, he said.

"I really don't understand why someone is taking them, unless it's just for mischief," Rowell said.

Signs bearing the wildfire prevention icon have been targeted at forestry commission offices in neighboring counties, rangers said.

"It's aggravating because these are very hard to come by," said Chief Ranger Mark McClellan of the commission's Glynn County unit based near Sterling.

Until Smokey was moved inside a barbed wire-topped chain link fence at the unit about 2-1/2 years ago, thieves ripped off its attachable signs stating "high" and "very high," which are used to describe the daily fire danger, McClellan said.

California spent $1 billion on fires in 2008

The 30,000 acre Freeway Complex fire near Corona, California, Nov, 2008; Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times

Half of the $1.4 billion that the U.S. Forest Service spent on wildfires in 2008 was spent in California. From the Los Angeles Times:
Wildfire spending in California continued its upward climb this year, driven by one of the worst fire seasons in the state's history.

Almost a quarter of all the wild land that burned across the country in 2008 was in California -- roughly 1.4 million acres.

The fires, fought at a huge cost to taxpayers, failed to translate into any meaningful reforms at the state or federal level despite efforts in Sacramento and Washington.

Lawmakers introduced a number of measures dealing with land use, fire prevention and protection. But the proposals stalled, or in the case of one major state bill, were vetoed.

In fiscal 2008, half of the $1.4 billion that the U.S. Forest Service spent nationally on wildfire suppression was spent in California alone. State fire expenditures topped $1 billion.

"I think we've seen unprecedented fires," said Ruben Grijalva, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Much of the California acreage burned in early summer, when an unusually fierce dry-lightning storm sparked more than 2,000 wildfires from Monterey County to the Oregon border. The biggest blaze scorched the mountainous Big Sur coast, forcing evacuations and closing California 1.

Top Wildland Fire News Stories: May-Aug., 2008

We have been busy with end-of-the-year wrap-ups.

On Monday we posted a list of fatalities on wildland fires. After combing through the 800+ posts on Wildfire Today during 2008, on Tuesday, December 30, we listed the top stories for January-April. Today we'll cover May-August, and on January 1, September-December.

Posted below are excerpts from the articles. To read the entire articles, click on the links.

May 10
California: Schwarzenegger's fire preparedness

The California governor seems to be concerned about the wildfire potential this summer. In a press conference he was talking about the fire hazards around his home:
"I was not aware of it until an expert from the fire department told me that, 'This is terrible. This is a fire hazard all around your house -- you are living in the middle of it, get rid of this grass, get rid of these shrubs or you are going to be in trouble.'
He issued a lengthy Executive Order that detailed numerous policies that will affect CalFire this year. Here are some of the highlights:Staff additional fire crews, fire engines, helitack crews, fire bulldozers, equipment and aviation resources as warranted based on fire threat conditions.

May 12
"Wildland Firefighter" demobilizes

Wildland Firefighter magazine just announced in it's May issue that it is ceasing publication. It will no longer exist as a stand-alone publication dedicated to wildland fire. In a publisher's note, Jeff Berend, the Vice President and Publisher said:
"Beginning in June, we will be merging Wildland Firefighter into a new Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI) section in FireRescue magazine.....

But from a business perspective, we simply have not been able to grow the readership or advertising beyond that loyal core. At the same time, publishing costs have risen at unprecedented levels."
Wildland Firefighter and FireRescue are both published by Elsevier Public Safety. Wildland Firefighter became the "official publication of the International Association of Fire Chiefs" a couple of years ago after the IAFC severed their relationship with Fire Chief magazine.

This leaves Wildfire magazine, an "official publication of the International Association of Wildland Fire" as the only remaining magazine-type publication dedicated solely to wildland fire.

May 28
Increased risk of bladder cancer for firefighters

It seems like there are more and more chronic diseases that firefighters are predisposed to get. Now you can add bladder cancer to the list.

ScienceDaily (May 15, 2008) — A new study presented at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA) suggests that firefighters may be at an increased risk of developing transitional cell carcinoma (TCC, or bladder cancer) and should be considered for routine annual screening. Currently, no guidelines exist for regular TCC screening.

May 29
Montana: two firefighters struck by lightning

Two firefighters working on a prescribed fire on the Flathead National Forest were struck by lightning Thursday. They were on on the Tally Lake Ranger District when lighting struck some trees near where they were working. The firefighters, a 25-year old woman and a 29-year old man are members of a Hot Shot crew. Both were both transported to hospitals, the woman by helicopter and the man by ambulance. They are listed in stable condition.

May 30
San Diego Grand jury issues scathing report about fire preparedness

The Grand Jury of San Diego County investigated the response to the Witch Creek and Guejito fires of last fall that burned 368,340 acres, destroyed 2,653 structures, and claimed the lives of 10 citizens . They just issued their report and it pulls no punches.

June 2
Terry Barton released from prison

Terry Barton, convicted of starting the 138,000 acre Hayman fire in 2003, was released from prison this morning. She started the fire while she worked as a Fire Prevention Technician on the Pike National Forest in Colorado.

The fire burned 133 homes and forced 8,000 people to evacuate, including the judge who presided over one of the proceedings related to the case. She served six years in a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

Wildfire Today covered other aspects of this story HERE.

The picture is from 2002 when she appeared in court, courtesy of the Denver Post.

June 3
Fire season outlook for Washington

The Wenatchee World web site has an interesting story about the outlook for fire activity in north central Washington state this year.
Officials say other than a late start to the season, there are no strong indicators for predicting this year's season.

"We're always going to have a fire season. And it's always going to depend on how receptive (fuels) are to ignition, and then, do we get ignition," said Bobbie Scopa, fire management officer for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests.

Scopa said the season will partly depend on June rains, although lots of rain can mean high grasses, which dry out quickly in hot weather and allow for a fast-spreading fire. Mostly, she said, it will depend on the number of fires started by lightning storms, escaped campfires or vehicles and equipment without spark arresters.

Scopa said snowpack may help determine when the fire season will start but isn't always an indicator of the severity of the season. She pointed to 2005, one of the driest winters on record, when North Central Washington saw little fire activity. That was followed by 2006, when a winter with heavy snowpack melted into a summer with the 175,000-acre Tripod Fire — the largest wildfire in the region's history.

"It's pretty tough to make too big a prediction," she said.
However, Rick Ochoa, a meteorologist working at NICC in Boise, said:
"...the cooler spring weather and heavy snowpack do mean that overall there's a slimmer chance that the Northwest will have numerous large fires."
Ochoa further goes out on a limb to predict:
"...the Northwest will see 473 fires, burning 17,873 acres by the end of June. That's compared with an average for June 30 of 605 fires burning 24,508 acres."
UPDATE, December 29, 2008
For the 12-year period, 1985-2006, in the Northwest Geographic Area, there were an average of 6,774 fires per year for a total average acreage of 627,884. The average size of the fires was 93 acres.

In 2008, through October 7, there were 3,927 fires for a total acreage of 289,853. The average size of the fires was 73 acres.

June 4
Fire in North Carolina makes 5-mile run

The Evans Road fire in North Carolina last night jumped containment lines and "made a 5-mile run" according to the NC Division of Forest Resources. The fire which tripled in size yesterday has now burned 10,000 acres in Hyde and Washington counties, and has spread onto the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

UPDATE, December 29, 2008
The fire eventually burned over 40,000 acres. The last update on Inciweb on August 5 showed that it was 90% contained at 40,704 acres.

June 11
Ophir Fire
2 miles south of Oroville, California, 1,600 acres, 21 residences and 28 outbuildings lost. The spread of this fire has been stopped for now.

The photo of the Ophir fire below is courtesy of the Enterprise-Record.

June 12
California: Staffing shortages in USFS

An excerpt from a lengthy article in the Press-Enterprise:
Washington Bureau

Roughly a third of California's fleet of federal fire engines is currently unavailable due to staffing shortages, according to figures supplied by a group that represents U.S. Forest Service crews.

Statewide, only 186 of the agency's 276 engines were ready to respond to fires as of Friday, according to a report created by fire officials and released by the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association.

June 14
California: Indians and Humbolt fires

On Wednesday a U.S. Forest Service engine from the Los Padres NF was burned over while they were attacking a spot fire on the Indians fire. From a news release by the USFS:
Narrative: At approximately 1615 hours while supporting a firing operation, Engine-71 was involved in a localized fire blow-up. A cyclonic fire wind event caused four members of Engine-71 to be overcome by the fire. The crew was suppressing spot fires near the roads edge when they experienced extreme fire and wind behavior.

Winds were estimated to be 60 – 70 mph. Limbs from large oak trees were blown out of trees and small, golf ball size rocks, were thrown into the air. The radiant heat caused the burns to the fire fighters. Initially, the firefighters were treated at the ICP medical unit, two were sent to a local hospital for further treatment and the most serious burn victim was flown to Valley Burn Center in Santa Clara. A fourth firefighter did not initially seek treatment. After further consideration, the 4th firefighter chose to see a physician. The three firefighters have been referred to the Fresno Burn Center for further examination.
June 16
Engine burnover near Lincoln, California

Another engine burnover--this time it was two Placer County Fire Department brush engines on the Nicolaus fire near Lincoln, CA on June 11. Here is an excerpt from CalFire's "24-hour report" recently released:
....Approximately seven minutes into the fire, E70 (IC) reported that units were being burned over. Appropriate EMS was requested.

The volunteer firefighter from BR 75 sought refuge on the leeward side of the apparatus. The fire intensity continued to increase and he retreated to safety, crossing a barbed wire fence, into a stubble field immediately to the east of the dirt road. He was met by apparatus and personnel from Lincoln Fire Department and escorted to ambulance personnel.

The CAL FIRE Firefighters from BR 73 tried to seek refuge in the cab, but were quickly overrun. They retreated through the flame front to the west, into the burn. Both of the firefighters walked north through the burn and exited where E70 was parked on Nicolaus Road.

All firefighters were treated and transported to UC Davis Medical Center. The volunteer firefighter from BR 75 received burns to the nose, was treated and released. The firefighters from BR 73 remain in the Burn Unit in stable condition with burns to the face and hands. They are expected to remain at UC Davis Medical Center for 7 to 10 days.
June 19
Firefighters' dirty drinking water, and "shift food"

The Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) just published the 12th edition of the "Wildland Firefighter Health and Safety Report" written by Brian Sharkey (if you don't have the user name and password, go HERE):

Water bottles are filthy
Researchers found loads of nasty stuff in the water bottles and drinking systems of firefighters. They tested the bottles or systems of 15 firefighters and found that several of them had high concentrations of molds and yeasts. Legionella-like bacteria, which causes Legionnaires' disease, were detected in one water bottle and in one drinking tube.

June 21
National Geographic article about wildland fire

On May 16 Wildfire Today gave you a heads up about an article on wildland fire that would appear in the July issue of National Geographic. It should be arriving in mailboxes right now, but their web site has on online version of the article and some amazing pictures of fires. No one takes pictures like the NG photographers, and they did not disappoint this time. Here is an example (click on it to see a larger version):

Photographer Mark Thiessen took most, if not all, of the photos--some of which can be found HERE. The online version of the article is here. It's lengthy, on ten web pages.

Be sure to read the interview with Thiessen about how he got the photos. One thing that helped....he has a red card and has shot photos of fires for 10 years.

June 21
More about Northern California lightning bust

From the reports I have seen, there are at least 300-400 fires that were started by the lightning that moved across the northern part of California from west to east during the last 24 hours. As this is written, lightning is still occurring in northeastern California.

Most of the fires are very small, their growth muted for a while by the overcast skies that brought the thunderstorms. But as the skies clear, smoke from a few large ones northwest of Redding and west of Ukiah is becoming visible in satellite photos. Only a small percentage of the fires are staffed and many new ones are being discovered every hour.

This situation is going to become dire unless the northern half of the state receives a great deal of rain in the next day or two. The weather forecast for the next several days at Redding shows temps in the low to mid 90's, moderate winds, minimum RH's in the high teens, and very little chance of rain.

It is starting to look like it could become another summer like the "Siege of 1987" when lightning in late August started 1,600 fires in northern California and southern Oregon that burned 650,000 acres. Some of the fires burned into October.

UPDATE, December 29, 2008
The 25,000 lightning strikes in northern California on June 20-21 started over 1,700 fires and as of July 4 had burned 520,831 acres.

The smoke generated by the fires in California had a profound effect on residents in the northern part of the state for weeks. It also affected other portions of the country. Here is an example of a map showing smoke dispersal on July 3. The red dots are heat sources detected by satellites.

June 23
Fire near Big Sur closed coast highway

The Gallery fire, now part of the Basin Complex burning south of Big Sur in California, is now reported to be 2,000 acres. Judging from the satellite map below it is at least that big. The coast highway, Highway 1, had been closed by the fire. Now it is closed by a landslide.

The Indians fire, also shown on the map, is 56,044 acres. Yesterday firefighters did some burning out and according to a spokesperson "We had a really good day today". The heat shown on the map may be their burnout operations. It looks like there is a chance that Bill Molumby and his team may even catch this fire and it won't be another Los Padres wilderness fire that burns all summer.

UPDATE, December 29
The Indians fire eventually burned 76,554 acres after a large burnout operation along the Arroyo Seco river on the north side stopped the spread. The Basin Complex, which consumed 162,818 acres, burned into the Indians fire.

June 23
Clover fire, while still a WFU

I came across a map, above, of the Clover fire on the Sequoia National Forest, while it was still a Wildland Fire Use (WFU) fire on June 18. On the north and west sides, it was mostly hemmed in by previous fires that burned 2-4 years previously. On the east and southeast sides was an old 64-year old burn, and there was no fire history on the southwest side. The black line east of the fire is the Kern River.

Yesterday the fire crossed the Kern River, crested the Sierras, and burned east toward Hwy. 395

June 29
U.S. Forest Service's "Key Messages"

The U. S. Forest Service in California is aggressively trying to get certain messages out about the fire situation in northern California by issuing a laundry list containing 10 "Key Messages". They took the extraordinary step of having them inserted into the Northern California Geographic Area Coordination Center's "News and Notes", which usually contains just the bare facts and numbers about initial attacks and ongoing fires.

This may be in response to allegations by some that the USFS is losing many key firefighters to agencies that have much better pay and benefits packages, leaving the agency in California with too many unfilled positions and unstaffed engines.

Martin Mars lands at Lake Shasta

The third time proved to be the charm for the Canada-based Martin Mars air tanker. After having engine problems on Friday and Saturday, it successfully completed it's 4-hour trip to Lake Shasta north of Redding, California this morning. It will stage there until it receives an assignment, which will likely occur today, visibility permitting. On each mission it can drop 7,200 gallons of water, Thermogel, or water mixed with foam concentrate on a fire and then will refill it's tank by scooping water from a lake.

Wildfire Today covered the saga of this aircraft earlier, here and here.

The Martin Mars anchored on Lake Shasta, June 29. It has already been outfitted with an American flag and a USFS decal. Click on the photo to see a larger version. Photo courtesy of ShastaLake.com.

July 1
N.C.-- Eight firefighters struck by lightning

From WCNC.com--

LENOIR, N.C. -- Five firefighters are still in a hospital after being struck by lighting while battling a forest fire.

A total of eight firefighters with the North Carolina Forest Service were trying to contain the blaze Saturday, which was sparked by lighting the day before. The strike happened at 4:48 p.m.

Forestry officials believe the lightning bolt hit a tree; the energy radiated underground, where the firefighters were taking a break. They say the sky was clear blue at the time.

Initially, all eight firefighters were hospitalized. Doctors are treating the remaining five firefighters at Caldwell Memorial Hospital. Four of the eight are inmates who assist the forest service though a work release program.

(More information was posted later HERE.)

July 3
California: Two dozer rollovers

Two dozer operators rolled their dozers on Tuesday. One was wearing a seat belt and one was not.
A private contractor assigned to the Cold fire in Plumas County suffered a fractured skull, a dislocated shoulder and injuries to one ear when the bulldozer he was operating rolled over, said Dave Olson, a fire information officer for the Canyon Complex of fires on Plumas National Forest.

The employee of Oilar Agricultural Services, based in MacArthur, was flown to Enloe Medical Facility in Chico, where he was in stable condition Wednesday with no life-threatening injuries, Olson said.

In Siskiyou County, a contract operator was digging a fire line between the Alps Complex fire and the Ironside fire when his bulldozer rolled 80 feet down an embankment, said Alexis West, a fire information officer on the complex of fires burning on Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

The operator was wearing a seat belt, which probably saved his life, West said. He was taken to a Redding hospital, where he was treated for arm and shoulder injuries.

He was conscious and alert in Mercy Medical Center on Wednesday morning, West said.
July 5
Martin Mars reloads

I wonder what kind of wake the Martin Mars creates when it skims along a 3-mile stretch of Lake Shasta filling its 7,200 gallon tank at 80 miles per hour? It probably makes the lake a little choppy for the water skiers for a few minutes.

July 10
44 Australia and New Zealand firefighters coming to help the U.S.

On Saturday, U.S. time, 44 Australian and New Zealand firefighters will depart for the United States to assist with the wildland fires in California. The contingent will travel to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho for a briefing and to be issued equipment.

July 11
Basin fire burns around Tassajara

The Basin fire, east of Big Sur, made huge runs yesterday, burning completely around the Zen Center at Tassajara. It is now 108,026 acres and is 41% contained, adding about 18,000 acres over the last 24 hours.

July 17
Four men trapped, three burned on Motion fire

Four men wearing camouflage clothing were found in the Motion fire on the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in northern California after one of them made a call in Spanish to 911. The area was burning vigorously and several strike teams of engines, hand crews, and dozers were staged along roads preparing for a burning operation.

Of the four Hispanic males, three of them had burn injuries. Jose Alcazar Fernandez, 25, was flown to Mercy Medical Center with third degree burns and was later transferred to the UC Davis burn unit. A second adult and a juvenile were transferred by ground ambulance, then treated for first and second degree burns and smoke inhalation and released. The juvenile male was treated and released for minor burns. The treated adult and a fourth adult male were arrested on federal charges of being present in a closed area.

Law enforcement officers determined that the men were Mexican nationals unlawfully present in the United States. They claimed to have been hunting in the park but refused to say where their weapons were. A marijuana cultivation site had been under investigation nearby and fire overhead and suppression personnel had repeatedly been briefed over the previous few days as to the specific location of the site and the probability of armed suspects in the area.

Firefighter rescues bear cub in fire, then begins treatment for rabies

Yesterday Wildfire Today brought you the story of the horse that was rescued by a crew on the Mill fire on the Mendocino National Forest. Now it's a bear.... a story not unlike the original Smokey Bear.

A Cal Fire Field Observer on the Moon fire in northern California, Adam Deem, found a bear cub while he was scouting the fire. The bear had some burns on his paws and was having difficulty walking. Deem looked for the cub's mother but could not find her, so he caught the bear and wrapped him in his brush jacket. In grabbing the cub, Deem received some scratches on his hands which required that he receive treatment for rabies.

Deem cradled the bear in his arms as he drove his pickup to a staging area. From there he and the cub were driven to the Incident Command Post in Anderson. Deem said on the way to the ICP he comforted, petted and sweet-talked the little cub.

At the ICP the Medical Unit treated the bear for dehydration and let him lick a lollipop before a state Fish & Game wildlife biologist picked it up for the trip to the Sacramento area rescue shelter.

UPDATE December 29, 2008
The bear, dubbed Li'l Smokey, is recovering well at the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care center. He has his own blog and sometimes a live web cam that works occasionally. The Center expects to release him into the wild this winter.

July 26
Gunbarrel fire; largest Fire Use fire ever?
The Gunbarrel fire, east of Yellowstone National Park and west of Cody, Wyoming, started on July 26. For many weeks it was managed as a fire use fire, becoming one of the largest fire use fires ever. On August 24 it was converted to a suppression fire after it had burned 53,000 acres. The last reported size on Inciweb was 67,141 acres.

July 29
New Smokey Bear ad cancelled

On June 3 Wildfire Today told you about the new Smokey Bear public service announcements. An off road vehicle group complained that one of the ads seemed to imply that the legal use of an ATV could cause forest fires. Don Amador, the Western representative of the BlueRibbon Coalition in Idaho, said the ad:
"...incorrectly conveyed to the ATV rider that the best way for them to prevent wildfires was to stay at home. Instead, the ad should have encouraged the use of Forest Service-approved spark arresters and limiting travel to approved routes and areas."
The Forest Service has requested that TV stations discontinue using the ad.

July 31
Cascade fire update, Red Lodge, MT

The Cascade fire, pushed by strong winds, grew substantially towards the east in the last 24 hours, from 5,936 to 9,411 acres. Late on Wednesday it was about a mile from the Red Lodge Mountain ski area and three miles west of Red Lodge, Montana. The Billings Gazette has an interesting article about the fire.

There is another article about Tom Moore, who lost a cabin in the Cascade fire and two years ago lost his house in a fire in Idaho.

The map was created at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

HERE is the Inciweb page about the fire.

August 5

Firefighter "roughed up" by grizzly bear
The firefighter that was roughed up by the grizzly bear while working on the LeHardy fire in Yellowstone National Park is back at work.
Tony Allabastro, a member of the Lewis and Clark Forest Service hotshot crew based in Great Falls, reportedly saw the bear over his shoulder, coming from where his crew had been doing controlled burns, Sandy Hare, public information officer for the LeHardy fire, said Monday.

Before he had a chance to get his bear spray, the grizzly pounced on him and “roughed him up,” Hare said. The bear was “acting instinctually.”

“(The bear) just wanted out,” Hare said. “There was something in its way, and it happened to be a human.”

Allabastro got away with minimal injuries. He was treated at the Yellowstone Clinic in Lake, Wyo., for scratches and bruises Sunday and released.
Allabastro, who has fought wildfire for three seasons and served on a hotshot crew for one, was tackled by the grizzly while working on a burnout near Fishing Bridge.

To be continued-
The final installment, stories from September through December, will be in an article on January 1.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The "Stupid Zone"

An essay by Ed Quillen in the High Country News has two themes. One is to combine the federal land management agencies into one--a concept that has been tossed around for decades.

The other is to designate "Stupid Zones". Here is an excerpt from the article:
A Stupid Zone is an area that is stupid to build in, on account of predictable dangers -- avalanches, forest fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslides, floods, etc. While zoning is primarily a local responsibility, the federal government should quit encouraging construction in Stupid Zones.

As it is, national flood insurance is subsidized by the federal government, so a property owner can be reimbursed for his folly in building next to a river known to overflow its banks -- a risk no private insurer would take. There are proposals to expand this to cover coastal erosion -- a subsidy for millionaires who want to build palaces on beachfront property.

Here in the Interior West, nearly half the U.S. Forest Service budget already goes to firefighting, and one reason, according to the agency, is the "expansion of residences in the wildland urban interface." It's one thing if a wildfire burns some beetle-killed lodgepole in the middle of nowhere; cut a firebreak and let it burn itself out.

But it's quite another if it threatens a 4,000-square-foot amenity-laden mountain getaway. Then the fire must be suppressed at whatever cost -- sometimes the lives of the firefighters. The blue-collar kids on the fire crews end up being sacrificed to protect the estates of the upper crust.

Why not let the private sector do this kind of work? In the late summer of 2007, wildfire threatened mansions along the Big Wood River in Idaho near the resort towns of Sun Valley, Hailey and Ketchum. These folks had good (and expensive, at about $10,000 a year) fire insurance. Their carrier sent private crews in to pump flame retardant over their mansions.

If people can afford to build in Stupid Zones, let them. But let them cover their own risks. Keep the public's firefighting dollars for protecting the public's property.

Thanks, Dick, for the tip.

NTSB report on Colorado SEAT crash

On April 15, 2008, a Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) crashed while making a drop on the Training Area 25 (TA25) fire on the Fort Carson military reservation near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Pilot Gert Marais died in the crash.

This was the same day that two firefighters died while responding to another wildland fire about 60 miles to the southeast near Ordway. Wildfire Today covered both accidents HERE.

The National Transportation Safety Board has released their "factual report" about the SEAT crash. It includes the information that a type 1 military helicopter, an Army CH-47, had been used on the fire but was removed due to strong winds. At the time of the crash, a U.S. Forest Service person on the ground who was directing the SEAT estimated that at the time of the crash the wind was out of the southwest at 30-40 knots. Winds at the Fort Carson airfield, 5 miles from the crash site, were between 20 and 40 knots from 1300 to the time of the accident at 1815.

From the NTSB report, here is the statement of the pilot of the second SEAT from the same company.
According to the pilot of the other Aero-Applicators, Inc. airplane, the company received a phone call from the Colorado State Forest Service, Fort Collins, Colorado, dispatch facility, inquiring whether they could assist in fire fighting efforts at the TA25 wildfire near Fort Carson (approximately 130 nautical miles (nm) southwest of Sterling). The company administrative assistant passed the phone call to the accident pilot, who was at another location at the time of the original call (the accident pilot was the one who was to make the decision because he was the lead air tanker pilot for Aero-Applicators, Inc.). Approximately 15 minutes after the original call was received, the accident pilot arrived at the company location.

The accident pilot informed the second pilot that Fort Collins dispatch contacted him regarding the request, and he was going to check the weather because they were aware of high winds in the Fort Carson area. The accident pilot stated that anything over 20 knots, they were not going. After checking the weather via the internet, he decided that support to Fort Carson was not an option due to the high winds. The accident pilot called back to Fort Collins dispatch and told them they could not go to Fort Carson. Fort Collins then asked them if they could go assist in fire fighting efforts at a wildfire that was near Ordway, Colorado (approximately 140 nm south of Sterling, approximately 55 nm southeast of Fort Carson). The accident pilot decided that they would give that location a try because it was in the plains/flat area, and the winds were probably not as high.

Approximately 1645, the two airplanes (both AT-602s) were loaded full of fuel and 500 gallons of water and Class A foam, and they departed 3CO2 for Ordway. While en route, they still had not received the latitude/longitude coordinates for the Ordway fire from Fort Collins dispatch, so the accident pilot contacted them via radio. Fort Collins dispatch then told them to change their plans and go to the TA25 wildfire instead. The two pilots decided that since they were already halfway to Fort Carson or Ordway, and they would at least check out the flight conditions at the TA25 wildfire before they cancelled the mission. Fort Collins dispatch gave the pilots the coordinates for the TA25 wildfire, and the two airplanes diverted to that location.

When the two airplanes arrived, the incident commander (IC) gave them instructions on what they wanted them to do. The IC asked the accident pilot to plan a drop at the head of the fire. The accident pilot performed a dry run over the area and then told the IC that the winds and turbulence were too strong to do a drop. During the dry run, the second pilot tried to stay above and behind the accident pilot in order to provide observation support. The IC then requested a different droplocation along the road, which was an east/west road located north of one end of the wildfire and adjacent to Highway 115. Prior to the drop, the IC informed the accident pilot about gusty winds and power line hazards.

The accident pilot made his drop, east to west, approximately 50 feet agl, where the IC told him to drop. The second pilot thought the drop looked good. After checking his position, the second pilot looked down at the accident pilots airplane and observed the accident airplane in a 180-degree vertical going down. The airplane impacted the terrain at a 45-degree nose-down angle, and then the airplane's tail came down. The second pilot immediately turned his airplane and flew to the southwest, and milked out his load over sections of the fire. The second pilot called the IC and asked about the accident pilots condition. After hearing about the accident pilot, he then turned the east/northeast and headed back to Sterling. The second airplane landed at Sterling approximately 1900.

The second pilot estimated the winds at the time of the accident to be at least 30 knots and gusting. He stated it was difficult to hold altitude and airspeed while maneuvering during the accident airplanes drop, and he rolled in flaps at various times because his airspeed was getting slow once in awhile.
Here is an excerpt from a witness statement of El Paso County Sheriffs Office personnel:
The airplane flew directly in front of them. One witness reported, It flew straight up, but not completely vertical, and then dipped both its wings slightlythe plane then crashed onto a hill on the west side of Highway 115. Another witness reported, Once the discharge of slurry ceased, the plane took an almost completely vertical pitch and then dipped its left wing slightly, and then the nose of the aircraft turned north as it somewhat leveled out, and then the plane hit the ground and landed on its underside.

Thanks, Dick, for the tip.

Top Wildland Fire News Stories: January-April, 2008

2008 was a busy year in wildland fire. Yesterday we posted a list of fatalities on wildland fires. Our next project was combing through the stories on Wildfire Today to sort out some of those that are the most interesting and important.

Today, December 30, we have the top stories for January-April; on December 31 we'll cover May-August, and on January 1, September-December. Posted below are excerpts from the articles. To read the entire articles, click on the links.

January 8
Smoke From Escaped Rx Fire and/or Fog Contribute to 3 Deaths & 50-Car Pileup

According to reports, smoke from an escaped prescribed fire combined with fog contributed to a 50-car pileup and three deaths on Interstate 4 in Florida between Orlando and Tampa.

(Update: a 4th person later died as a result of this incident.)

January 16
Major Die-Off of Lodgepoles in WY and CO

The Rocky Mountain News reported this week that every large, mature forest of lodgepole pines in Colorado and southern Wyoming will be dead in three to five years.

January 19
U. S. Wildland Fire Fatality Report--2007

The Safety and Health Working Team, part of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, on January 15 released a "Safety Gram" listing the wildland fire related fatalities in 2007.

"Nine fatalities occurred in 2007 when employees were performing wildland fire management activities. This is a substantial decrease from the 24 fatalities that were reported in 2006. Also noteworthy is the absence of any entrapment or burnover related fatalities.

January 26
Another "Blue Ribbon Task Force" Makes Recommendations in California

The second Blue Ribbon Commission Task Force in California since the fires of 2003 presented it's report yesterday about how to deal with large wildland fires in the state. The recommendations include more engines, more aircraft, more firefighters, fire safe construction, and better systems for real time communications and intelligence. Many of these were in the report following the 2003 fires but were not implemented because of the state's fiscal problems.

January 28
Marc Mullenix passed away on January 28.

Last year Mark was a Type 1 Incident Commander trainee on Kim Martin's Incident Management Team in the Rocky Mountain Geographic Area. Some of his past jobs included Wildland Fire Division Chief for the Boulder Fire Department, Fire Management Officer for Mesa Verde National Park, and Fairmont Fire Protection District, all in Colorado.

February 14
Report Released on 2007 Southern California Fires

The Lessons Learned Center organized a group of five people to analyze the fires in the fall of 2007 in Southern California to determine the potential for lessons learned. They just released their 44-page report. It is very interesting reading.

February 28
Mark Rey; Not Going To Jail
The U.S. District Court Judge cleared Mark Rey of the contempt charges yesterday. From the Missoulian:

"U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey walked out of federal court a free man Wednesday in Missoula, wearing not an orange inmate's jumpsuit but the gray business suit with American flag lapel pin he had donned for his contempt hearing.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy cleared Rey, the Bush administration's top forest official, and the Forest Service of contempt and withdrew his threat to jail Rey or ground all fire retardant air tankers until the agency evaluated the environmental impact of the chemical slurry."

March 5
Kansas Firefighters Burned Over in Engine

From Salina.com:

Two McPherson firefighters are recovering after being burned when their firefighting brush truck was swept over by a grass fire Saturday southwest of McPherson.

Lt. Randall Willems and firefighter Josh Brewer were treated at the burn unit of Via Christi St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Wichita.

Brewer was treated for burns to his hand and face, and smoke inhalation. He was released from the hospital Sunday. Willems was treated for burns to his hands, arms and face and was released Monday morning, McPherson Fire Chief Dennis Thrower said.

March 6
Patrick Henning, RIP

From Wildlandfire.com:
Patrick Henning, a Fire Apprentice on the Trabuco RD - Cleveland NF, was killed in a single-vehicle accident last Friday evening (Feb. 29) on his way home from work. He was member of the El Cariso Hotshots this past season and currently worked on the district fuels crew. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Patrick's family and friends during this difficult time. He will be missed !!!

March 10
Six People Die in Forest Fire on China

This initially was reported on March 3 by Reuters:
BEIJING, March 3 (Reuters) - Six villagers died in central China's Hunan province as they tried to battle a forest fire in an area ravaged by severe winter storms, state media said on Monday.

March 11
CalFire Proposes to Close 20 Fire Stations

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which now prefers being called CalFire, may have to close 20 fire stations due to a $50 million budget cut for the agency being ordered by the Governator.

March 18
Oklahoma State Trooper Burned on Grass Fire

Trooper Josh Tinsler, 23, was severely burned Friday while checking to see if there was anyone at home in a house that was threatened by a grass fire near Hollis, OK. While handling evacuation on the fire, the second-year trooper's car became stuck while turning around and the car was overrun by the fire. His injuries included second- and third-degree burns on his face, chest, back and arms, including most of the right side of his body.

March 24
Poway, Calif., FF’s Were Ordered To Not Fight Fires

Firegeezer has a story about how during the large fires last October in southern California, Poway firefighters were ordered to withdraw from an area and then waited for 7 hours in a staging area while 23 homes in that community burned.

March 25
B-1 bomber may have started multiple fires

A B-1 bomber based at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, South Dakota, apparently started seven vegetation fires last Thursday. The flight crew declared an in-flight emergency and made an emergency landing at Ellsworth. Construction workers in the area reported seeing smoke and flames coming from the aircraft. The B-1 landed safely while Air Force and Box Elder fire departments put out the fires.

March 26
Farmer dies on a fire in Colorado

From 7 News in Denver, March 26:

ORCHARD, Colo. -- A farmer trying to control a fire on his property died Wednesday afternoon when the tractor he was driving flipped into an irrigation ditch.

Morgan County Sheriff Jim Crone said the man was driving his tractor on top of a ditch to get ahead of the fire when the ground shifted or partially collapsed, causing the tractor to flip and roll on top of the farmer. The farmer was killed instantly.

March 28
Santiago fire AAR released

The Orange County Fire Authority has released their after action review on the October, 2007 Santiago fire, southeast of Los Angeles. The document is 138 pages long and 7.3 Mb. The fire burned 28,517 acres and destroyed 42 structures, including 14 homes, 4 commercial buildings, and 24 out buildings.

On a quick review, I did not see any earth-shaking revelations. There were some challenges with communications (i.e. 800 Mh vs. VHF systems) but have you ever seen an AAR for a large incident that did not mention problems with communications?

March 31

BIA cuts hot shot crews

Due to budget reductions within the 2008 Interior Appropriations budget, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is reducing their hot shot crews from nine to seven. Effective immediately, according to a memo dated March 19, the Mescalero Hot Shots of their Southwest Region, and the Bear Paw Hot Shots of their Rocky Mountain Region, are disbanded. A Reduction-in-Force, which means employees may be fired, is to begin within 10 days.

April 7
Illinois: prescribed fire training

I ran across a photo essay about what is apparently a rather informal prescribed fire by students at Knox College. Knox is in Galesburg, IL.

There are 11 photos on the web page that would be interesting to those who are used to having to follow certain, uh, policies, about safety and personal protective equipment. Here are a couple of the photos. You gotta love those safety glasses.
April 11
Garry Briese, new Regional Admin. for FEMA

Garry Briese was the Executive Director for the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) for 20 years until he resigned in February, 2007. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced this week that Briese has accepted a position as Regional Administrator for FEMA Region 8, which includes the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

April 12
Snowpack in western United States

The snowpack in most of the western United States is average to much above average. The exceptions are southern Arizona and New Mexico. In the map below, the green, blue and purple colors are 90% to more than 180% of normal, while the orange and red colors are 69% to less than 25% of normal. (Click on the map to see an enlarged version.)

UPDATE, December 30
If you click on the map to enlarge it, you will see that most of the mountain areas in California had close to normal snow pack on April 1, 2008, with the exception of the central Sierras which was at 70-89% of normal. Just imagine what those thousands of dry lightning strikes on June 21-22 would have done if they had just experienced a dry winter.

April 22
Court of Appeals: backfire was "discretionary function"

On the Spade fire in 2000 in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula, Montana, firefighters ignited a backfire in order to keep the fire from jumping a highway and possibly entrapping firefighters on other fires and threatening other homes and property. In 2002, 114 families filed a $54 million lawsuit against the federal government claiming that the backfire burned their property and homes.

In a very important decision that will affect wildland firefighters, a Court of Appeals just affirmed a District Court judge's opinion that the actions of the firefighters was within their "discretionary function". More information is at The Missoulian.

April 28
Fire near Santa Anita, California
Today the Santa Anita fire near Sierra Madre, California, made some upslope runs and also spread to the southwest. As of 8:00 PM today (Monday) it was 538 acres and 21% contained.

April 29
Ellreese Daniels pleads guilty to two misdemeanors

At the federal district court today in Spokane, Washington, Ellreese Daniels plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of making false statements to investigators. The federal prosecutors dropped the four federal felony charges of involuntary manslaughter related to the deaths of the four firefighters on the Thirtymile fire near Winthrop, Washington in 2001.

In addition to the four involuntary manslaughter charges, Daniels had been charged with seven counts of making false statements to investigators, a federal misdemeanor.

Daniels could have faced as much as six years in prison for each of the four manslaughter charges. Now he faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for each of the two remaining misdemeanors, although the standard range is much less.

To be continued-
May through August stories will be in an article on December 31. The final installment of September through December stories will be posted on January 1.

Monday, December 29, 2008

NIMS is revised

In December the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a revised National Incident Management System (NIMS) which supercedes the 2004 version of NIMS. It appears that there are no major changes that would greatly affect the management of wildland fires. Some of the changes they made were in the following sections: Preparedness, Communications & Information Management, Resource Management, and Command and Management.

In the latter category, the changes included:
  • Renamed Intelligence/Information function. The function was renamed the Intelligence/Investigations function in order to clarify the difference between general and specialized information. The mission of the Intelligence/Investigations function is to ensure that all intelligence and investigative operations, functions, and activities within emergency management and incident response are properly managed, coordinated, and directed.
  • Added a new section describing the Incident Complex, which is a mechanism to organize multiple incidents within a close proximity.
  • Clarified the purpose of Area Command and how it fits into ICS.
  • Expanded the Multiagency Coordination System (MACS) section to better define the process of Multiagency Coordination and the elements that make up the System.
  • Replaced the term MAC Entities with MAC Groups. Major system elements within MACS now include Emergency Operation Centers (EOCs) and communications/dispatch centers.
  • Refined the Public Information Section to more clearly discuss the processes, procedures, and systems to communicate timely, accurate, and accessible information on the incident to stakeholders.
  • Expanded the Public Information Section to include a new portion on the four step process of providing information to the public and stakeholders during an incident.
The document explaining the changes can be found HERE.

Year in Review: Wildland fire fatalities in 2008

We all know that wildland firefighting can be a dangerous occupation, and 2008 was no exception. From posts on Wildfire Today, we have assembled a list of wildland firefighters who died in the line of duty, primarily in the United States, along with some of the civilians who perished in wildland fires. This is probably not a complete list and if you know of any we missed, please let us know. We grieve for all of the families of those who passed away this year.

Only excerpts of the articles are posted below. For more details, click on the links.

On December 30, 31, and January 1 we will have a summary of the top wildland fire stories of 2008.

March 9
7 Firefighters Die on Forest Fire in Honduras
From a story at eitb in Spain:

The firefighters, four soldiers and three forestry workers, were part of a 200-strong team battling to contain the fire on a mountainside close to Tegucigalpa since Friday. Seven firefighters died in Honduras on Sunday overwhelmed by a raging forest blaze on the outskirts of the capital, the military said. They were working to put out the fire and suddenly there was a change of wind direction and they were engulfed by flames, Gen. Orlando Vasquez told local radio. Honduras is at the start of its summer and forest fires at common at this time."

March 10
Fire Captain dies from parasite inhaled while fighting fire.
MURRIETA, California -- Murrieta Fire Capt. Matt Moore died Monday night at UCSD Medical Center in San Diego, succumbing to complications from meningitis, fire department officials said. Moore, 43, a 17-year veteran of the department, had been hospitalized in a coma for the last two weeks.

He had been in various hospitals since November battling an aggressive form of meningitis. It is believed Moore inhaled a parasite while fighting the region's wildfires late last year. The parasite reportedly caused swelling in his brain.

April 15
Three deaths in Colorado on same day.
From the Colorado State Fire Chief's Association:
"It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to you to inform you of the line-of-duty death of three firefighting personnel while serving and protecting the citizens of Colorado.

Fire Chief Terry DeVore and firefighter John Schwartz, Jr. of the Olney Springs Volunteer Fire Department were killed late yesterday afternoon while fighting the Ordway wildland fire. Chief DeVore and firefighter Schwartz were killed in their fire apparatus while trying to cross a bridge over a drainage ditch about a mile west of Ordway. Due to heavy smoke conditions they were apparently unaware that the fire had already damaged or collapsed the bridge.

Gert Marais, 42, of Fort Benton, Montana, a U.S. Forest Service contract pilot was killed when his Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) crashed while fighting the wildland fire at Fort Carson. Pilot Marais crashed about 6:20 yesterday evening along Colorado 115 at mile marker 34 near Fort Carson. Marais worked for Aero Applicators, a Sterling company that contracts aerial firefighting services to the U.S. Forest Service."
UPDATE, December 30, 2008
The NTSB has released their report about the air tanker crash. More information is HERE.

June 29
Two helicopters collide, one firefighter killed.
Two medical helicopters collided in Flagstaff, Arizona on Sunday while trying to land at the same hospital, killing six. One of them was a wildland firefighter that had been working on a fire in Grand Canyon National Park.

From the National Park Service Morning Report:
Firefighter Michael MacDonald was tragically killed in a private medical helicopter collision while being transported from the Grand Canyon to a northern Arizona hospital for a medical condition not directly related to firefighting on Sunday, June 29th. Six people, including MacDonald, were killed in the collision of two medical helicopters near Flagstaff Medical Center.

MacDonald, 26, was a member of the Chief Mountain Hot Shots, an elite Bureau of Indian Affairs-funded Native American firefighting crew based on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana. The crew was assigned to the Walla Valley Fire on the North Rim. The Chief Mountain Hot Shot crew will be released from the incident today to travel home.
July 3
California volunteer firefighter dies
UKIAH, Calif.—A volunteer firefighter has died after collapsing while battling a blaze in Mendocino County. The Anderson Valley Fire Department says 63-year-old Robert Roland died at the Ukiah Valley Medical Center on Thursday morning. The cause of death has not yet been determined, but department volunteer Dawn Ballantine says Roland's death was likely heart-related.

July 11
Body found in burned house in Butte County, CA
A burned body was found in the remains of a house that burned in the BTU (or Butte County) complex in an evacuated section of Concow, California. According to a press release issued by the Butte County Sheriff's office, a deputy sheriff found the body at 10 a.m. on Friday while doing a search of the structures that had burned. The house had been the residence of someone named in a missing person report. The Sheriffs office said 40 homes were destroyed in the neighborhood where the body was found. An autopsy will be conducted this weekend to attempt to identify the body using DNA or fingerprints.

(Wildfire Today was unable to determine the results of the autopsy or the name of the victim.)

July 25
NPS firefighter killed by falling tree
Andrew Palmer, a National Park Service firefighter, was killed Friday when he was struck by a falling tree while fighting a fire on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and co-workers.
REDDING, Calif. -- A Port Angeles, Wash., firefighter was killed Friday afternoon fighting a fire in northern California. Andrew Palmer, 18, was an Olympic National Park Service firefighter assigned to the Iron Complex of fires on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Mike Odle, of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, said Palmer "suffered injuries from what sounds like an incident with a tree." Investigators are looking into the circumstances surrounding Palmer's death.
(Wildfire Today has learned that as of December, 2008, the investigation is still going on, and it includes the participation of law enforcement officers. We may be hearing quite a bit more about this.)

July 26
Firefighter entrapped and killed on Panther fire.
Daniel Bruce Packer, 49, of Lake Tapps, Wash., died while working on the Panther fire about 15 miles south of Happy Camp in southwestern Siskiyou County. The U.S. Forest Service reported the death Saturday, but the fire’s intensity and limited visibility kept crews from recovering or positively identifying Packer’s body until Sunday, sheriff’s dispatcher Dennis Moser said today.

A Forest Service ground team lead by a Siskiyou County sheriff’s deputy was able to reach the site by 6 p.m. Sunday, sheriff’s spokeswoman Susan Gravenkamp said that evening. A ground team was expected to carry Packer’s body from the fire area to the nearest road, a job estimated to take three hours, she said Sunday.

August 8
Helicopter crash kills nine.
Nine firefighters and pilots were killed when a helicopter crashed while attempting to take off from a helispot on the Buckhorn fire in northern California. Killed were:

Shawn Blazer, 30, Medford, Ore.
Scott Charleson, 25, Phoenix, Ore.
Matthew Hammer, 23, Grants Pass, Ore.
Edrik Gomez, 19, Ashland, Ore.
Bryan Rich, 29, Medford, Ore.
David Steele, 19, Ashland, Ore.
Roark Schwanenberg, 54, Carson pilot, Lostine, Ore.
Jim Ramage, 64, USFS Check Pilot, Redding, CA
Stephen Renno, 21, Cave Junction

August 21
North Carolina: firefighter dies in fall from cliff
A North Carolina Forest Service firefighter who fell off a cliff at Big Bradley Falls and died has been identified as Curtis Jessen, the division’s assistant district forester in Asheville. Jessen suffered critical injuries after falling from the Big Bradley Falls near Saluda. Medical personnel pronounced Jessen dead a short time later.

August 26
Resident dies in home during fire in Boise
The Oregon Trail fire in Boise killed Mary Ellen Ryder and destroyed 10 houses. Ryder's body was found in the remains of her burned home.

September 1
Air tanker crashes, crew of three dies.
Air Tanker 09, operated by Neptune Aviation Services, crashed shortly after taking off at Stead, Nevada. Killed were the three crew members, Gene Wahlstrom, Greg Gonsioroski, and Zachary Vander Griend.

September 17
Contract firefighter dies following road grader accident
A 77-year-old Happy Camp man has died from injuries suffered while serving as a contract firefighter in Siskiyou County, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman said Tuesday.

Hillman, a member of the Karuk tribe, was operating a grader to improve road conditions and access for firefighters. They were working the Siskiyou and Blue 2 Complex of fires when Hillman was injured Aug. 25, public information officer Mike Ferris said.

Oct. 1
Corrections officer dies on Arizona fire
From the Arizona Capitol Times:
A corrections officer working with an inmate hotshot crew died Oct. 1, shortly after the crew began working to contain a fire near Lake Havasu City, according the Arizona Department of Corrections.

The officer, Douglas Falconer, 46, apparently died of natural causes, the agency said in a statement released Oct. 2. No more details were available.

October 26
Aussie firefighter killed by falling tree.
The New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service has released information about a firefighter fatality. Bryce Laut died while fighting a fire in Kumbatine National Park near Kempsey. According to a release from the agency, he was killed when a " burnt-out tree fell directly onto Bryce".

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wildfire news, December 28

Three days after Christmas, there are two stories in the news about families and wildfires. One is about a woman who was marking trees in New Mexico for a timber sale in an area that had recently burned. She describes how animals come into burns to curiously look around at the changed landscape. Her 7-year old twins were with her but out of sight--they communicated with whistles. When she heard a three-whistle emergency call from them she ran to where they were, and found the twins between a bear and a bear cub.

The other story is about the Rainbow inmate camp north of San Diego. There are many inmate camps in California that have prisoners trained as wildland firefighters, but the Rainbow camp is different--all of the inmates are female. I remember when they converted this camp from male to female in the early 1980's. Legendary CalFire Chief Bill Clayton was chosen to run the camp.

People scoffed and said that all-women hand crews would never work out; they would never be effective at fighting fires; they will be too concerned about their hair and makeup. It is now about 25 years later and the Rainbow inmates have been and still are a well-respected firefighting organization.

Part of the story about the Rainbow camp tells how some of the women recorded DVD's of them sitting in their orange jump suits in front of a Christmas tree reading to their children. The DVD's are then mailed to the kids. There is a video on the site that shows several of them making the recordings for their children.