Wednesday, April 30, 2008

US Attorney issues press release about Ellreese Daniels' plea

The press release about the events on the Thirtymile fire can be found HERE (pdf document).

Minn.: Firefighter dies on the way to a grass fire

PINE CITY, Minn. -- Pine City firefighter Jeremy Jylka, 34, died Tuesday afternoon en route to a grass fire.

According to the Pine City Sheriff’s Office, Jylka collapsed while riding in the fire truck on the way to a fire between Hinckley and Pine City. Jylka stopped breathing and another firefighter started to perform CPR.

Jylka, 34, was pronounced dead at Kanabec Hospital. He joined the fire department in 2007 and is survived by his wife, Kelly and their 4-year-old daughter, Anica.

From MyFox Twin Cities

Fires in CA and AZ

Santa Anita fire near Sierra Madre, California:
It is now 584 acres and is 88% contained. All of the mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted. Here is an interesting quote from the Sierra Madre mayor:
"Early this morning the flames had raced to within a couple feet of our homes in the canyon and those brave firefighters ... formed a perimeter with their bodies and their fire engines. It was a barricade of steel and water and human flesh and blood and they stopped the fire dead in its tracks."
Just to be clear, there has been very little, if any, blood shed on the fire. They are reporting four minor injuries.

X fire:
This fire is just south of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. It started at noon yesterday, Tuesday, and quickly grew to 2,000 acres. The name of the fire came from the nearby Ten-X campground. The name alone makes this fire interesting.

Local media is reporting that it started from a campfire and that two individuals are being questioned. There is a red flag warning today for winds at 15-20 with gusts up to 40, and an 8% relative humidity. These southwest winds could push the fire into the national park. Reinarz's Type 2 Incident Management Team should arrive today.

Click on the map of the X fire below to see a larger version. The map shows heat detected last night (the red and orange areas) by satellites. The green area on the map is the Kaibab National Forest, and the gray area north of the fire is Grand Canyon National Park.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

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.

Sentencing was set for July 23 August 18. Yesterday in an email, Daniels' attorney, Tina Hunt, said she expected there to be a "contested sentencing hearing".

I have mixed feelings about the plea agreement. The procedure today means that Daniels will not have to serve lengthy jail time for the felony charges, he will not have a felony conviction on his record, he probably will not lose his job with the US Forest Service, and he will not lose his retirement.

His attorney said that the defense had a strong case. This is also indicated by the fact that the federal prosecutors dropped all of the felony charges and five of the seven misdemeanor charges in return for the guilty pleas on the two misdemeanors.

If I had been in Daniels' shoes, I may have done the same thing. I can't imagine what it must have felt like to be facing those four felony charges, serious prison time, and the loss of the job and his retirement.

Looking at the larger picture, and from a selfish perspective, this is a mixed blessing for the fire community. It would have been better for firefighters if all of the charges had been dropped, or if they had been thrown out or defeated in court.

But perhaps the next over-zealous prosecutor seeking to to beef up their resume will be less inclined to throw around ridiculous felony charges when someone makes an honest mistake on a fire.

The International Association of Wildland Fire documented with their survey the fact that many firefighters were very concerned about the harmful effects these charges would have on the fire community. In the survey, 36% said they would make themselves less available for fire assignments because of the charges that were filed against Daniels.

Making an honest mistake on a fire should not have the potential to ruin your life and the life of your family.

Photo of Ellreese Daniels courtesy of the Spokesman-Review

Monday, April 28, 2008

Santa Anita fire at Sierra Madre, California; update and map

Update: Tuesday, April 29, 9:37 AM MT-
As of this morning the fire is 538 acres and is 57% contained. Most of the contained fireline is in the eastern areas near the Sierra Madre residences. Southern California Interagency Incident Management Team 3 assumed command of the fire at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. Approximately 150 homes and 400 people remain evacuated.

Live video from a news helicopter this morning showed no visible smoke, but this was from several thousand feet above the fire.

Monday, April 28
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.

The evacuation boundary now extends west to Michillinda Avenue in Sierra Madre. The southern boundary of the current evacuation zone from west to east, is Fairview Avenue to Grove, north along Grove to Carter Avenue, east along Carter Avenue to Baldwin Avenue.

As of 8:00 p.m. Monday April 28, evacuations will be lifted for homes east of Baldwin Avenue.

Click on the map to see a larger version.

Map of the Santa Anita fire near Sierra Madre, produced by the incident at 3:00 PM local time, April 28, 2008.

The LA Times has a map of neighborhoods that have been evacuated.

Map and details about the fire from Inciweb. Photo from Pasadena Star News.

A new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for fires?

I want one of these.

I'll find a use for it, I swear!....if I can ever take my eyes off it it. It's amazing what the Germans can do with a little helium, a lithium-ion battery, and an electric motor.

Rocket war in Greece

This is one of the craziest things I have ever seen. To celebrate Easter, two churches in Vrontados, Chios, Greece, shoot thousands of home made rockets at each other. This 1 min. 23 sec. video from Easter 2007 is worth viewing, if you've never seen a friendly rocket war involving 50,000 rockets made in people's basements.

Ellreese Daniels' plea hearing April 29

An email message from Tina Hunt, Ellreese's attorney dated today, April 28:
Hi All,

As some of you know, I believe we have finally reached a compromise with the government in this case. In exchange for dismissing all 11 felony counts, the government will agree to offer a plea to 2 misdemeanor counts of making a false statement in an official writing. I will be recommending to the court that Ellreese should receive no time, the government may recommend a sentence of jail time. I strongly feel that this is a case that does not merit a jail sentence, so I am comfortable with the plea to the misdemeanors.

As you all know, this is a case which I have felt very passionately about. I am more convinced than ever of Ellreese's innocence on ALL of the counts, however, there remains a risk that if we proceed to trial, he could be found guilty of at least one felony. There comes a time and place to put some closure on this matter, and Ellreese is comfortable with this resolution. I hope that the witnesses and families may also find some peace now.

I anticipate that we will still have a contested sentencing hearing in late summer.

We currently have a tentative change of plea set for tomorrow (April 29) at 11:00 a.m. in Spokane before Judge Van Sickle. The address of the courthouse is: 920 W. Riverside Avenue, Spokane, WA. It is open to the public, and I'm sure that if you can be present, Ellreese and I would appreciate it greatly.

We covered this earlier, here.

How the media covers wildland fires

The media usually has a tough time reporting on wildland fires. Unlike a structure fire confined to a relatively small geographic area, a vegetation fire can be spread out over many square miles. It can be difficult for even the Incident Commander to maintain situational awareness.

Pity the poor, inexperienced cub reporter who arrives at a rapidly expanding urban interface fire and is expected to size up the whole incident within minutes, usually from standing in one spot at a distance from the fire.

It can take years for a professional firefighter to learn the jargon. We still have reporters calling air tankers "Borate bombers". Borate has not been used in air tankers since it was briefly tested on fires in southern California in 1956 and found to be a soil sterilant.

Today I was amused at two examples of how the media covers wildland firefighting.

1. A news anchor on CNN was talking live via satellite with a reporter at the Santa Anita fire in southern California. In asking her a question about the 490-acre urban interface fire, the anchor said:
".... I know these things have a tendency to spread..... "
Well thanks, CNN, for the fire behavior lesson. Glaciers have a "tendency to spread".

2. In today's edition of the Rapid City Journal the newspaper had a front page story about volunteer fire departments. The story included three pictures on the front page of volunteers engaged in wildland fire training. (It must have been a slow news day in the Black Hills.) The captions of two of the pictures had these phrases:
"Crews practiced digging and clearing forest ground cover to create breaks where hoses can be run."
"...a volunteer firefighter in Johnson Siding works with a ground crew practicing clearing forest ground cover to make a path for hoses."
Well.....rarely do firefighters have to cut a path in order to put in a hose lay. I have only had to do it a few times in extremely dense chaparral. If you can crawl through the vegetation, you can put in a hose lay. Often a hose lay or a "wet line" is put in instead of constructing or digging a hand line.

In the grand scheme of things, these little errors in the newspaper don't make a lot of difference to the average reader, but to the knowledgeable, it would make you wonder about the accuracy of the rest of the article.

In some areas of the country wildland fire agencies put on a 1-day training class for reporters who cover fire. It covers topics like, safety for reporters, jargon, where a reporter can go and where they can't go, a little about fire behavior, descriptions of firefighting resources, fire organization, and sometimes even how to use a fire shelter.

If your agency puts on training like this for reporters, leave a comment with a few details.

Santa Anita fire near Sierra Madre, California

The news is full of coverage of the 490-acre fire in southern California near the city of Sierra Madre. About half of the acres are in the city, and the other half are in the Angeles National Forest. Approximately 1,000 people have been evacuated from Sierra Madre residences.

The fire made a run in the early morning hours, crossing some fire lines, coming within a few yards of houses, and sending an ember shower onto the roofs of some homes. This reduced the containment from 30% to 23% as of 9 AM local time today.

HERE is a link to a live web camera on Mount Wilson above the fire.

Photo courtesy of CNN; map produced by the incident, 4/27/2008 @ 2000.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Aerial firefighting in Chile

Here is a video of some excellent single engine air tanker work in Chile. The pilots appear to be very skilled, making very accurate drops. Almost all of the video was taken from the air. The sound track, all music, is very loud.

I used Babel Fish to translate the description... it's pretty rough:
"Forest fire video in Chile this I complete veranno of the 2008, from its base in aerodromo of Litral in Quillon these airships salian day to day to fight fires next to the terrestrial brigades and firemen with the support of conaf."

How to use a hard hat

Here is a 46-second video of an engine company arriving at the scene of a vegetation fire. Observe the use of the hard hat.

Massachusetts: Dog reports fire, saves house

Robert Lane and his dog, Max

In Ipswich, Massachusetts yesterday, a dog escaped from his leash, discovered a fire, then like Lassie, barked at his 13-year old master and led him to the fire.

Like a scene out of "Lassie," Robert Lane, 13, followed his barking dog yesterday to a brush fire burning in the woods behind the family's home, then ran to a vernal pool to soak his T-shirt in water to try to put out the 10-foot circle of flames.

"I just wanted to get it out as fast as possible," Robert said.

Discovering the fire was bigger than he thought, Robert ran home to tell his mother, who called the Fire Department at 12:30 p.m. If not detected early by Robert and the family dog, Max, who had escaped its leash, the brush fire could have easily spread and damaged the home and construction business located on their property at 285 High St., David Lane said.

"It could've been 10 times worse," David Lane said by phone last night. "If it wasn't for the dog getting off the leash, we wouldn't have a house."

Firefighters from six communities were able to contain the fire to a 400-by-800 foot area of woods, about three-quarters of an acre, on property across from the Dow Brook Reservoir, said Ipswich firefighter Lee Prentiss. Lane's antique horse-drawn manure spreader was destroyed, but an estimated 30 to 40 pieces of his equipment were not damaged.

From the Salem News. Photo courtesy of the Daily News.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

CO: Details about SEAT crash

More information has been released about the single engine air tanker that crashed on April 15 near Fort Carson in Colorado.
Gert Marais reported a mayday and said, "I'm going down," just before his single-engine air tanker crashed while fighting the 9,800-acre Fort Carson fire last week, the National Transportation Safety Board reports.

But the preliminary report from the NTSB does not identify a crash cause.

Marais, 42, of Fort Benton, Mont., (see photo below) was a pilot and mechanic and worked as a contractor for Aero Applicators of Sterling.

The Colorado State Forest Service had called the company to help fight the fire.

Two planes left Sterling at 5 p.m. with full fuel tanks, 500 gallons of water and Class A foam, the report said. Marais was flying an Air Tractor AT-602.

When the planes arrived at the site, a U.S. Forest Service agent on the ground maderadio contact to give the pilots directions.

The agent worked with Marais to do a practice run over the drop site, a line of pine trees to the north of a gravel road bordering the wildfire. The goal was to douse the trees in case the fire jumped the road.

Marais flew over the site, the NTSB report said, with the other plane about 500 feet overhead as a spotter.

Then Marais made the real drop. He flew over the top of a tall pine tree and released his load 500 feet west of the target, right on top of the U.S. Forest Service agent and his car.

A second or two later, the agent told investigators he heard Marais report a series of maydays and say, "I'm going down."

The agent watched the plane's right wing hit the ground on a grassy hill just off Colorado 115. The time was 6:10 p.m.

The tanker landed upright, with the right wing and fuselage crushed. The U.S. Forest Service agent told investigators that wind gusts at the time were 30 to 40 knots.

Fire investigators with the U.S. Army and the El Paso County Sheriff's Office have yet to release the cause and specific point of origin of the fire on the base, which was declared fully contained Wednesday.

A funeral for Marais, who was a native of South Africa, will be Friday in Montana.

His wife, Esme, and the couple's children had planned to move to Sterling this summer.

The couple were married 10 years ago this month. He was already caring for three of his children from a previous marriage, ages 19, 17 and 12, and together he and Esme had a 5-year-old.
Photos and excerpt courtesy of the Denver Post.

New Mexico: Trigo Fire

A news release from the Trigo fire on the Cibola National Forest southeast of Albuquerque at 8:00 AM today:

The Trigo Fire refuses to lay down. Firefighters on the swing shift stayed out much of the night fighting active fire behavior on the north side, below Capilla Peak. Crews managed to catch a couple of small slopovers and a few spot fires that tried to escape during the night. Fire management officials say firefighters on the ground and in the air have done an excellent job, but they can’t let up yet.

Today will be a critical day in maintaining control of the Trigo Fire. Extreme wind conditions are expected between 11:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., with gusts up to 40 miles per hour.

The east and west extremities of the fire have cooled down and rehabilitation efforts are underway in those areas. The area below Capilla Peak however, continues to provide resistance.

Aircraft will fly today as wind conditions permit, monitoring fire lines. Air tankers and helicopters will drop retardant and water as needed.

Fire Facts:

Containment: 46% Acres: 4,600

Fire Personnel: 506

Hot Shot Crews: 6

Type II Crews: 11

Engines: 18

Aircraft Available: 5 helicopters, 4 air tankers, 1 lead plane

Cost to date: $3,800,000

EPA's Whitman not liable for statements about 9/11 air quality

A federal appeals court has dismissed a suit against the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, ruling that Christie Whitman can not be held liable for giving the false information that the air was safe to breathe following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Many firefighters, including those working on the Incident Management Teams at the scene, were affected by the contaminated air while working on the recovery and clean-up in New York City.

More information from the New York Times:

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that Mrs. Whitman, a former governor of New Jersey, was forced to balance competing interests after the attack. The court found that complying with instructions from the White House to hasten the return of financial workers to Wall Street as soon as possible after the World Trade Center was destroyed conflicted with Mrs. Whitman’s obligation to highlight the health risks facing people who lived, worked or went to school in Lower Manhattan.

“Whether or not Whitman’s resolution of such competing considerations was wise,” the court said, “she has not engaged in conduct that ‘shocks the conscience’ in the sense necessary to create constitutional liability for damages to thousands of people.”

In February 2006, Judge Deborah A. Batts of Federal District Court in Manhattan refused to dismiss a range of charges brought by residents against Mrs. Whitman in 2004. Judge Batts found that Mrs. Whitman made statements about safety that were so misleading that they were “conscience-shocking.”

The plaintiffs alleged that Mrs. Whitman and the environmental agency she led had deliberately misrepresented the health risks of the dust from the collapsed trade towers that clouded the air in Lower Manhattan.

In their lawsuit, they argued that Mrs. Whitman should have been obligated to pay for the cleanup of homes, schools and offices in Lower Manhattan.

In her defense, Mrs. Whitman argued that as a public official she was entitled to immunity because her conduct had not violated anyone’s constitutional rights.

Vegetation fire in the UK destroys 5,000.....

I was reading a story online about a vegetation fire in Scotland that destroyed 5,000... and I was thinking... ACRES? In Scotland? But no, it destroyed 5,000 small trees on 10 acres. The fire occurred a year ago on land managed by the Woodland Trust, the story said, but recently six small fires have been started intentionally in the Carnmoney Hill area northeast of Belfast.
“No doubt those starting the fires consider it some sort of joke. The grim reality is that they’re actually putting people’s lives, including their own, at risk,” said Gregor Fulton, Woodland Officer with the Trust.

“A forest fire can cause total devastation to nature, resulting in the loss of trees, plants and animals. We’re appealing to those responsible to stop and think about the consequences of their actions,” he added.

Photo and quote courtesy of the Newton Abbey Times.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ellreese Daniel's trial schedule

Ellreese Daniels was the Crew Boss and Type 3 Incident Commander on the Thirtymile Fire near Winthrop, Washington in 2001 on which four members of his crew were overrun by fire and died. On January 30, 2007 the U.S. Attorney in Spokane, Washington charged him with four counts of involuntary manslaughter and seven counts of making false statements.

Now the trial schedule has been established by the court:
THIS MATTER is scheduled for trial beginning May 5, 2008 and ending July 2, 2008. Counsel shall meet with the Court in chambers at 8:30 a.m. on the first day of trial. Jury Selection will begin at 10:00 a.m. Trial will be held each day from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. excluding the following days: May 9, May 16, May 22, May 23, May 26, June 5, June 6, June 20, and June 23 -27.
I hope that there will be some people attending the trial as spectators who will be recognizable as firefighters. But since it appears that the trial could go on for 2 months, that's going to be difficult to do on a continuing basis.

We covered this issue earlier, here, here, and here.

Firefighter safety bill introduced in Senate

From FireChief.com:

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced legislation that would promote compliance with consensus safety standards to reduce the number of firefighter fatalities. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is the bill's cosponsor.

While the National Fire Protection Association and other groups have developed industry safety standards, they are voluntary and often ignored by fire departments, Brown said. Brown’s bill would encourage the adoption of national consensus firefighter-safety standards and promote fire department compliance with such standards.

“We shouldn’t have to think twice about bolstering the safety of our firefighters,” Brown said. “Our first responders put their lives at risk daily. We should take this opportunity to prevent fire fighter injury and death.”

Brown’s legislation, the Firefighter Fatality Reduction Act, would require the Department of Homeland Security to determine the rate of fire department compliance with standards for safe operations, staffing, training and fitness among career, volunteer and combination fire departments. It would create a task force to explore the adoption of safety standards by fire departments and provide recommendations to Congress, states, and localities on how to increase fire department compliance with safety standards. This bill would not mandate federal oversight of local fire departments, but instead would explore how the federal government could best promote firefighter-safety standards and assist fire departments with compliance.

Brown also is the sponsor of the Fire Fighter Higher Education Incentive Act of 2007 which would help federal, state, city, and county fire districts recruit highly educated fire fighters by forgiving student loans taken out by firefighters under the federal Perkins Loan program. All employees in fire protection would be eligible for the benefit, including fire fighters, paramedics, EMTs, rescue workers, ambulance personnel, and hazardous materials workers. Under current law, Perkins debt for teachers, nurses, military and law enforcement officers can be forgiven.

“Loan forgiveness is both well deserved and an effective recruitment tool,” Brown said.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Funeral arrangements for Gert "Jerry" Marais

Earlier we posted information (including a map) about the funeral arrangements for Gert "Jerry" Marais who was the pilot of the air tanker that crashed on the fire near Fort Carson in Colorado on April 15. Any fire personnel that wish to officially participate or who will have apparatus at the funeral should contact Fort Benton, Montana Fire Chief Pat Hultin at 622-5822 (work) or 788-0721 (cell).

Condolences can be sent to Mrs. Esme Marais, PO Box 1291, Fort Benton, MT 59422.

Photo of single engine air tanker on the Alabaugh fire, South Dakota, July 7, 2007 by Bill Gabbert.

Ventura, Calif: $99 brush clearance inspection fee

The city of Ventura, California, recently sent 1,252 homeowners who live near brush-covered areas bills for $99 . The fee, which is not a tax, city officials claim, is to cover the cost of inspections to ensure they are in compliance with weed-abatement laws. The fire marshal said this is an attempt to recover the cost of hundreds of person-hours to do the inspections.

This is the first I have heard of fees to do weed-abatement inspections.

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.

Roundup of Fire News, April 22, 2008

Firefighter burned on wildland fire in North Dakota

From MSNBC today:
Burke County, North Dakota, authorities say a firefighter has been flown to a Minnesota burn center with injuries after battling a blaze that burned nearly 1,500 acres near Columbus.

The sheriff's office says 28-year-old Mitchell Strom of Columbus suffered burns to his face and other extremities. Sheriff Barry Jager says the fire started Saturday afternoon when a man used a torch to cut a swather to fit on a trailer.

Thirty-three-year-old Cory Klitzke of Stanley was cited for violating Burke County's burn ban. The violation carries a $500 fine. A barn and a garage were destroyed but the house on the farm was saved.
Firefighter entrapped and burned in Virginia

A firefighter with the Virginia Department of Forestry was badly burned on Saturday when he was overrun by a fire while operating a dozer. Steve Morris has third-degree burns and is being treated at the University of Virginia Medical Center. Two other firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation injuries.

New Mexico and Arizona wildland fires

The 4,130 acre Trigo fire, on the Cibola National Forest southeast of Albuquerque, has burned nine homes, nine outbuildings and two recreational vehicles. Evacuations have occurred around the towns of Manzano and Torreon. Containment is reported to be 27%.

The Alamo fire, 13 miles west of Nogales, Arizona, has burned 5,072 acres in the United States and Mexico; 300 acres are on the Mexico side of the border. According to a report on InciWeb:
Mexican bomberos (firefighters) from the national commission of forestry, as well as the chief of civil protection for the City of Nogales, Sonora, are working closely with an Arizona incident management team and interpreters. Officials from both countries have established a unified operations effort, which entails a joint planning process.
California teenagers plead guilty to starting wildland fire

Two teenagers from Julian, CA yesterday plead guilty of starting a campfire that escaped and ignited the 850-acre Angel fire in September. The fire destroyed one house and part of a church retreat. From the San Diego Union:
Francisco Javier Abarca, 19, and Mario J.W. DeLuca, 18, pleaded guilty in El Cajon Superior Court to one misdemeanor count of letting a fire escape, Deputy District Attorney Gordon Paul Davis said.

In addition, DeLuca pleaded guilty to an unrelated residential burglary charge, Davis said.

Judge Peter C. Deddeh sentenced DeLuca to three years' probation on the fire charge, and he faces up to six years in prison on the burglary charge at a hearing May 19, Davis said.

Judge DeAnn M. Salcido placed Abarca on three years' probation and fined him $500, Davis said.

The two also may face a $3 million bill at the May 19 hearing from Cal Fire for the costs of battling the blaze, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jim Garrett said.

North Carolina wildland fire

An 800-acre fire in the Pisgah National Forest north of Marion in western North Carolina is 50% contained. A backfire or burnout planned could increase the size to 2,000 acres. Resources from Idaho, Arkansas, and Oklahoma are assisting on the fire.

Monday, April 21, 2008

NY: Minnewaska state park fire update

The fire activity on the 3,000 acre fire in Minnewaska state park 40 miles northwest of New York City has decreased significantly over the last two days. Cooler temperatures, higher humidities, and fog have worked in favor of the firefighters.

They have the use of four water-dropping helicopters--two from the NY National Guard and two from the state police, each carrying 100-500 gallons. Personnel and equipment from 30 fire agencies have been assigned to the fire which is 75-80% contained.
The map shows heat sources as detected by satellites within the last 24 hours. This shows much less heat than the map 24 hours earlier.

UPDATE: April 22
The fire acreage has increased to 3,500, primarily due to a 400-acre burnout the firefighters conducted. But other than the burnout, the fire is not increasing in size. They are putting in dozer lines, sometimes up to 100 feet wide on the west side. Today firefighters are calling the fire 100% contained.

Colorado TA-25 fire; funeral for pilot

The funeral services for Gert (Jerry) Marais, the pilot who died when his single engine air tanker crashed April 15 on the TA-25 fire near Fort Carson, Colorado, will be in Fort Benton, Montana, on April 25th at 11:00 AM. The service will be at the Montana Agricultural Center, 1205 20th Street.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

NY: Minnewaska state park

Two days ago a 30-acre fire about 40 miles northwest of New York City was reported to be under control, but today it spread to over 3,000 acres. Most of the fire is in Minnewaska state park. This is the largest fire in the state park in the last 50 years. Approximately 250 firefighters from 27 local and volunteer departments are working on the fire.

More information from the Daily Freeman:

The 20,000-acre park and part of U.S. Route 44/state Route 55 have remained closed, and over 245 personnel from various state and local agencies were on the scene Saturday, trying to beat back the blaze.

The forest fire is almost entirely contained within the boundaries of the park, but residents of the small Kerhonkson Heights community, which has about 40 homes, were told to prepare for evacuation if necessary, according to Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Yancey Roy. Although no evacuation order has been issued, firefighters are taking precautions to protect residents.

"We have virtually a fire truck in every driveway," Roy said.

The fire began Thursday afternoon, and was reportedly contained at about 30 acres that night. But the flames continued to spread, reaching 200 acres Friday afternoon, 1,000 acres Friday night, and 2,300 acres by Saturday morning, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The map shows heat sources as detected by thermal satellites.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Cancer cluster among firefighters

The Firegeezer blog, which always has excellent information about the broad topic of firefighting, had a recent post about a cancer cluster in Queensland, Australia. In part:
" [...] Firefighters assigned to the station have a 62% higher rate of brain cancer than the rest of the state."
Coincidentally, two days ago there was a news story containing preliminary research findings that linked brain cancer with polluted air, and specifically diesel exhaust. Firefighters have a hard time avoiding both.

Here is an excerpt of the story:

Dr. Julia Ljubimova found something disturbing when she probed the brains of rats exposed to air pollution: The dirty air appeared to trigger changes indicating the earliest stage of brain tumors.

Ljubimova, an oncologist and researcher at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, stressed that she is not ready to say air pollution is a cause of brain cancer.

"I don't want to scare anyone, because this is preliminary data," she said. "But we found something very important."

Her work suggests that fine particles like those found in diesel soot can switch on the tumor genes that many people inherit, jump-starting the disease process that results in brain tumors.

Hundreds of studies have linked air pollution to early deaths, heart attacks, reduced lung function, lung cancer and various other health problems. Ljubimova is among a handful of scientists who are focused on finding out what air pollution does to people's brains.

Photos by Bill Gabbert

Colorado firefighters memorial service

Information about the final services for the two firefighters who died at the fire near Ordway, Colorado on April 15 is now available.

A joint memorial service for John Schwartz, 38, and Terry DeVore, 30, will be held at Crowley County High School on Saturday, at 602 Main Street in Ordway at 10:00 a.m. (See the map below.)

DeVore and Schwartz were volunteer members of the Olney Springs Volunteer Fire Department.

Anyone planning to attend the joint service should arrive at least one hour before it starts. The road damage on Highway 96 has been temporarily repaired, but an alternate route is strongly recommended.

The officers died when their engine crashed on a collapsed bridge on Highway 96 while responding to the fire near Ordway. Two other vehicles also crashed at the same location but their occupants were able to walk away.

As far as we know, information about the services for Gert Marais of Fort Benton, Montana, the pilot of the single engine air tanker who died when his air tanker crashed on the TA25 fire in Colorado on April 15, have not been released. We will post the information here when it becomes available.

The map below shows the location of the joint memorial service for the firefighters from the Olney Springs Volunteer Fire Department:

View Larger Map

Thursday, April 17, 2008

CO: LODD--Ordway fire followup

The Denver Post has more information about the deaths of the two firefighters on the fire near Ordway, Colorado April 15. An excerpt:

Wildfires: Duty's fatal call
Lives of 2 fast-responding firefighters cut short at burned-out bridge
By Erin Emery and Tom McGhee
The Denver Post
Article Last Updated: 04/17/2008 06:03:41 AM MDT

ORDWAY — Olney Springs Fire Chief Terry DeVore and firefighter John Schwartz heard the distress call Tuesday afternoon from their neighbors in Ordway and didn't hesitate. They suited up and zoomed east on Colorado 96.

Right behind them was DeVore's father, Bruce, a fire department volunteer for 36 years. The fire was bearing down on Ordway, 11 miles away. People were in serious danger. Structures were on fire. The town of 1,200 people was under orders to evacuate.

"We were moving hard," Bruce DeVore said Wednesday. "Like everybody says, we had the hammer down and we were blowing it by."

In the dense smoke, he and the firefighters in his truck could barely see the taillights of the firetruck up ahead, but as they approached the intersection with Lane 15, Bruce DeVore told his driver to slow down. They couldn't see. The taillights ahead had vanished.

"They went out of sight," Bruce DeVore said. "We hit the heavy smoke. I told Johnny we got to slow this thing down. I don't feel right."

Johnny stopped the truck. Only 15 feet ahead, a stretch of Colorado 96 was gone. The bridge over a drainage ditch — an asphalt roadway held up by wooden railroad ties — had collapsed. Terry Devore and John Schwartz were gone, having fallen 15 feet into in a raging inferno.

Bruce DeVore joined his buddies in fighting the fire, pumping everything on board onto the flames. But he knew it was hopeless.

"It was such an inferno," he said. "It was just a ball of fire. The truck and everything was a ball of fire."

For the next four hours or so, Bruce DeVore stayed with the fire and prayed that the Lord had taken his son quickly.

"I know he did," he said. "I know the good Lord was looking over him. No pain. He was gone on impact."

Crowley County Coroner Karen Tomky said Wednesday that DeVore, 30, and Schwartz, 38, died instantly.

Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson Stacey Stegman said the bridge that collapsed was a 40-foot-long, two- lane timber structure built in 1937.

"The bridge was structurally sound," she said. "It was a wooden bridge that burned."

The fire burned the bridge from underneath, and a pickup fell into the ravine. That driver escaped.

The Olney Springs Volunteer Fire Department truck carrying Terry DeVore and Schwartz was right behind the pickup.

Photo courtesy of the Pueblo Chieftan. "Workers begin the task of repairing a bridge on Colorado 96 west of Ordway, which collapsed during a massive grass fire Tuesday."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

CO: firefighter fatalities, info from CSFCA

This information was just distributed over FireNet. It was released by the Colorado State Fire Chief's Association today:
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.

Both Chief DeVore, 30, and firefighter Schwartz, 38, were volunteers with Olney Springs and worked full-time as correctional officers for the Colorado Department of Corrections at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility.

Chief DeVore is survived by his wife Jennifer and four children, ages 10 to 4. Chief DeVore's father, Bruce, is also a volunteer firefighter with Olney Springs and was also involved in fighting the Ordway fire. Firefighter Schwartz is the father of four boys, ages 4 to 16.

The Local Assistance State Team (LAST) has been dispatched to Ordway to assist the local fire department. A separate team has been made available to Aero Applicators and the U.S. Forest Service.

On behalf of Chief Douglas Forsman, President of the Colorado State Fire Chiefs' Association, we wish to offer our deepest condolences to the families of Fire Chief Terry DeVore and firefighter John Schwartz, Jr., the members of the Olney Springs Volunteer Fire Department, and the Colorado Department of Corrections. Our deepest condolences are also extended to the family of pilot Gert Marais and the employees of Aero Applicators.

Colorado State Fire Chiefs' Association
Paul L. Cooke, Executive Director

The spot weather forecast for the TA25 fire, on which the SEAT crashed, predicts rain later this afternoon and 2-4 inches of heavy wet snow tonight.

This site has photographs of the two firefighters killed in the engine accident.

UPDATE, December 30, 2008
The NTSB has released their report about the air tanker crash. More information is HERE.

CO: More details: 3 firefighters dead

More details are emerging about the three fatalities on wildland fires in Colorado.

Crowley County Coroner Karen Tomky confirmed that the two fatalities on the fire near Ordway, CO were volunteer firefighters Terry Devore, 30, and John Schwartz, 38. Tomky said the two firefighters were in a fire truck "attempting to cross a bridge that had collapsed". A map of the Ordway area is in our previous post.

The third firefighter was killed in the Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) that crashed near Fort Carson along Colorado 115. The pilot was the only person on board. The SEAT, owned by Aero Applicators, was based out of Sterling, CO and was contracted by the state. The county sheriff was quoted as saying:
"He dumped his slurry and they say after that it looked like it pulled up and then it just nosedived into the ground,"
Our thoughts and condolences are with the families and co-workers of these firefighters.

Here is a map of the general area of the fire near Fort Carson, the fire on which the SEAT crashed. The location was determined from the spot weather forecast. They are calling it the TA25 fire.

View Larger Map

More information about the fires from the Rocky Mountain News:

The devastating grass fire in and around Ordway in southeastern Colorado has burned 8,900 acres, or some 14 square miles, but the blaze now is 60 percent contained, a spokesman for Crowley County Fire said this morning.

Firefighters from 35 agencies continue to battle the fire that erupted Tuesday and that has been linked to three deaths.

Winds blowing at 20 mph and gusting much higher than that could be a great help if they blow back on the grassy areas already burned, creating their own natural firebreak, said Crowley County Fire spokesman Chris Sorensen.

However, the winds are swirling right now, and it’s not clear which direction they’re going to settle on. If they continue to blow out of the north and northeast, as they did Tuesday, they could spread the fire even farther.

Firefighters also are hoping that the 40 percent chance of thunderstorms this afternoon will come to fruition and that the rains will help douse the fire.

“We will certainly take any cooperation the weather will provide,” Sorensen said. The National Weather Service says Ordway has a slight chance of showers between noon and 2 p.m. today then an chance of showers and thunderstorms after 3 p.m. The high temperature should be about 61, some 20 degrees warmer than Tuesday’s high.

Rain is likely again overnight, then snow likely after 4 a.m. Thursday, with a total chance of precipitation at 70 percent.

The fire has burned mostly short-grass prairie, plus some crop lands both east and west of Ordway.

Within the city limits of Ordway, four structures have burned, but fire officials don’t know the extent of their damage, and say the city itself is not a major worry.

The evacuation order for all 1,100 Ordway residents remains in effect, “for their safety and for the safety of the firefighting effort,” Sorenson said.


The fire at Fort Carson had forced some evacuations late Tuesday and a shelter was set up at a special events center on base, Capt. Gregory Dorman said. The fire had burned about 9,000 acres by late Tuesday and was about 50 percent contained, officials said.

On Tuesday, much of the state was under a National Weather Service red flag warning, signifying high fire danger. Gov. Bill Ritter declared a state of emergency, freeing up state resources to help fight the fire. The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday night Humidity was low in Ordway on Tuesday and temperatures were in the 80s.

CO: 3 dead on 2 fires; SEAT crashes

From the Rocky Mountain News:

Originally published 09:24 p.m., April 15, 2008
Updated 12:43 a.m., April 16, 2008

Wildfires in warm, windy weather burned into the southeast Colorado town of Ordway and on an Army post Tuesday. A firefighting pilot and two other people died.

All 1,100 residents of Ordway were told to leave, and authorities were not allowing anyone into to the city, said Chris Sorensen, acting spokesman for the Crowley County fire department.

Sorensen said the county coroner confirmed two of the deaths but did not provide any details as to how the people died or where they were found. KRDO Channel 13 in Colorado Springs reported that the two were firefighters and said they were crossing a bridge while riding in a firetruck. The bridge collapsed, trapping the two men underneath. Sorensen said he could not confirm that early this morning.

The pilot died when a crop-duster-type tanker crashed about 6:20 p.m. along Colorado 115 at mile marker 34 near Fort Carson, said Michael Fergus, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration's northwest region.

No passenger was aboard the plane. The downed aircraft and a second plane involved in the firefighting efforts flew from a base in Sterling, Fergus said.

The FAA believes that the plane was a contract service aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service, Fergus said. But a Forest Service spokesperson could not be reached late Tuesday to confirm it. Fergus said the second plane returned safely to the Sterling base.

The fire at Fort Carson had forced some evacuations late Tuesday and a shelter was set up at a special events center on base, Capt. Gregory Dorman said. The fire had burned about 9,000 acres by late Tuesday and was about 50 percent contained, officials said.

Much of the state was under a National Weather Service red flag warning, signifying high fire danger. Gov. Bill Ritter declared a state of emergency, freeing up state resources to help fight the fire. The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday night authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs.

Weather an obstacle

On the southeastern plains near Ordway, winds were gusting to 50 mph, humidity was low and temperatures reached into the 80s. Dry conditions on the plains and in some mountain valleys contrasted with deep snow at higher elevations.

Ordway, Colorado is 46 miles East of Pueblo, Colorado and 76 miles southeast of Colorado Springs.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ellreese Daniel's trial begins May 5

Posted on Wildlandfire.com was this letter from the Forest Supervisor of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest about the upcoming trial:
Okanogan-Wenatchee Employees:

The trial of our employee Ellreese Daniels is scheduled to begin May 5. He was indicted by a grand jury on four counts of involuntary manslaughter and seven counts of making false statements based on actions in his role as crew boss during the Thirtymile tragedy in 2001. I struggle with the reality of criminal charges against one of our own employees. I was not here in 2001, but today I feel the anxiety and fears of the firefighting community. I am also deeply saddened at the loss families experienced. Yet, in the midst of this swirl of strong emotion, we must go on.

I intend to support Ellreese by ensuring I do not interfere with a fair and speedy trial. All we can do for the families, employees and the American public is cooperate with the defense and prosecution by providing knowledgeable witnesses to testify honestly and truthfully. Then, let the justice system work based on the facts of the case. In the end, the judge and jury will decide the outcome of the trial.

This case will likely generate national media interest. If you want to speak with the media, then it is critical that you emphasize to them that you are speaking for yourself, as an individual, on you own time, not for the Forest Service or in any official capacity. It is your choice as an individual, representing your personal views to speak to a reporter. I offer this thought though. Ask yourself, “How will my comments influence the ability of the court to provide a fair and speedy trial”? If you are asked to comment as a Forest Service employee, please refer that request to Glen Sachet (503-808-2790) in the Regional Office.

Some of you will testify as witnesses for the defense or prosecution, or you will know someone who is testifying. The emotions of the tragedy may return. Don’t hesitate to talk with your line or staff officer, union representative, or contact the Employee Assistance Program for help.

I plan on attending as much of the trial as possible. When I’m not there, my representative will be. I will wear my uniform proudly in support of all employees and the Agency. I have identified a few employees that will serve a variety of roles in an official capacity at the trial, including keeping you informed of the proceedings. Others interested in attending can do so on their own time, not in an official capacity, with the use of leave pre-approved by their supervisor.

Maureen Hanson, Bobbie Scopa and I will be holding meetings at HQ and the Districts next week to discuss the upcoming trial and answer employee questions.

Finally, this has been and will continue to be a very emotional time. Please be sensitive and understanding of the feelings of others around you, and take extra care of yourselves.



Fire in Connecticut

You don't often hear about wildland fires in Connecticut, and you would not have heard about this one-acre fire near Wilton, except the report I saw included a photo of a fire boat. OK, most people would not call this a boat.... it's an amphibious ATV outfitted with a pump and hose.

These amphibious ATVs can be useful for suppressing fires in cattails. Cattails grow in water, and when they are cured out, burn like brush. It's next to impossible to stop a cattail fire when it's moving above the water... unless you can get out ahead of it with a boat or ATV like this and drive back and forth knocking down the cattails so they are mostly underwater. Cattails don't spot very often, so a fairly narrow line can stop the fire.

The tricky part is being out in front of a fast-moving fire in a boat, pushing through cattails and hoping the motor does not stall or you get stuck.

Fire Near Albuquerque

KOB.com has some information about a new fire southeast of Albuquerque, and east of Belen. It is the Trigo fire, and is reported to be about 100 acres; normally not national news, but it's slow this week and the fire is well documented with a live camera, video footage, and still photos.

The above image is from a "live" camera at the Albuquerque airport. It normally is pointed to the west, but I think they turned it to the east to capture images from this fire. This should be a live feed from the camera's site, showing the latest image when you refresh this page.

Check out the video footage and the other photos at the KOB.com site.

From KOB.com:
"A wildfire that began Tuesday morning on the western slope of the Manzano Mountains east of Belen had jumped from about 10 acres at noon to roughly 100 acres by 2:00.

Arlene Perea of the Mountainair Ranger District says the biggest problem facing firefighters is the strong wind, which is whipping the flames and has grounded air tankers that were dropping fire retardant on the fire.

Perea says that four hotshot crews are en route to the so-called trigo Fire and two more have been ordered. An inmate work crew and two fire engines also are being marshaled.

Dan Ware of the state forestry division says the Trigo Fire is burning near Capilla Peak. He says that no structures are currently threatened but there are communications towers in the area.

Ware says that the fire is burning in rugged terrain about eight or nine miles north of where the Ojo Peak Fire consumed nearly 7,000 acres last November."

Monday, April 14, 2008

San Bernardino NF: Lone Pine Rx Fire

Earlier we covered the fact that the San Bernardino National Forest in California is blogging about their Lone Pine prescribed fire project. Usually the blog posts are written by the District Ranger and the Deputy District Ranger.

They had some unexpected developments recently, but during a lull in the action, they posted some very cool photos taken in 2006 of a helitorch in action. These photos are served up by their blog. Click on them to view them larger.

Injured firefighters become teachers

An excerpt from the Bismark Tribune, North Dakota
"Apr 13, 2008
Associated Press Writer

As if the scarred flesh over a third of his body weren't enough, Mark Keller got a tattoo to mark the day he and two other volunteer firefighters were burned while battling a grass fire in central North Dakota.

"It's just a reminder to myself that I made it out alive," said Keller, who is marking the third anniversary of the blaze that also injured firefighters Geremy Olson and James Meyer near Wilton, north of Bismarck.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, spokeswoman Jennifer Smith says 111 firefighters have died battling wildfires between 2003 and 2006, the most recent numbers available. The group does not keep injury statistics.

Those who survived the blazes, like Keller, Olson and Meyer, use their scars to teach others.

Keller's tattoo above his right ankle depicts a fire department logo capped with flames, along with his name and those of his burned buddies. The tattoo, like his surgeries, is unfinished.

"I'll add smoke to it later," said Keller, 36, who also is a Burleigh County deputy.

The 2005 grass fire that injured Keller blackened a 6-mile-long swath near Wilton. It was traced to a pile of trees that had been smoldering undetected for nearly a month.

Meyer had been hired to burn the tree piles on his neighbor's farm. He said he torched the dozen or so massive tree piles when the ground was covered with snow in March. When the ground dried out a month later, embers from the still-burning woodpile ignited grass, and the fire spread, he said.

The firefighters were hurt after the wind-driven fire engulfed them and the heat from the blaze sucked oxygen out of the air, killing the engine in the fire truck in which they were riding.

"I tried starting it three or four times and it wouldn't kick over," Keller recalled. "From there, it just got hotter and hotter and hotter. My brain told me to flee."

Fire officials estimated that heat from the blaze topped 2,000 degrees - near the melting point of steel.

Keller was on fire when other firefighters rescued him, dousing him with water. He was the only one of the three who was not wearing full bunker gear - and he was the most seriously injured, suffering second- and third-degree burns to about 30 percent of his body."
Additional details:

Facing very large medical bills, Mark Keller sued the owner of the land where the fire started from the brush piles. After investigations, consulting with a wildland fire expert in a neighboring state, and negotiations, the lawsuit was settled out of court on January 18, 2007.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

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.)

This is quite different from last year when most of the west was below normal.

But, as in an earlier post, I still believe the severity of the fire season is mostly determined by the weather in the fire season, and less so by the amount of precipitation during the winter.

Here is what the director of the Colorado State Forest Service said about the snowpack and the fire season. From the Durango Herald.
March 27, 2008
By Joe Hanel | Herald Denver Bureau

DENVER - Even though the snow is still deep in the mountains, above-average temperatures could set the stage for a bad fire season, Colorado's top forester said Wednesday.

Temperatures in Southwest Colorado are predicted to be significantly above average, and drought is likely, especially in the southeast, said Jeff Jahnke, director of the Colorado State Forest Service, during a meeting of the Legislature's two agriculture committees.

"All those things mean the potential for a significant fire season is there," Jahnke said.

Rep. Kathleen Curry interrupted him.

"The potential is there even though we have a record snowpack?" asked Curry, D-Gunnison.

Yes, Jahnke said.

"Once the snow's gone, it takes only a couple weeks of very dry, very hot weather to create the potential" for wildfires, Jahnke said.

However, Jahnke says he never makes predictions for how the fire season actually will play out. He was only saying the potential for big fires exists.

The deep snow means the fire season probably will start later than usual. And as long as the fall monsoon arrives on time, the fire season will be compressed, Jahnke said.

The Front Range has seen three fires in the last week that totaled 600 acres, he said.

Trees are still drier than normal after the drought years earlier this decade, Jahnke said.

Friday, April 11, 2008

El Cariso Hot Shots, Photography, and Sadowski

The El Cariso Hot Shots are having a reunion today and tomorrow. I wish I could be there--I wish them well and congratulate them on a great history.

I recently re-established contact with another El Cariso veteran, Tom Sadowski, from the early 1970's. We worked on the crew for 2 or 3 years together. A few weeks ago I started a project to digitize some of the thousands of slides I began taking a long time ago. I took the photo below of Tom in 1975 at Mt. Laguna, California.Tom (we sometimes called him Ski) is alive and well and living in Maine. He recently designed the commemorative logo (at the top of this post) for the crew. Tom taught me a lot about photography.

He was always interested in heavy-duty machinery. We were on a fire in Wyoming back then, and Tom had climbed on top of an old, beat-up water tender to check it out. I was taking a picture of him with my old beat-up Argus 35mm camera. When I pressed the shutter, I could hear and feel the guts of the camera come apart. I shook it and it rattled--never a good sign. I blamed Tom then for breaking my camera. I still do. I took a picture of him and he literally broke the damn camera.

Since then I have gone through many cameras. Minolta, Nikon, Canon, Nikon, Canon, Canon, Canon, and Canon. I'm planning on sticking with Canon, in case you didn't guess. These days I'm using a Canon EOS-20D. I like it a lot, but it's big and heavy as hell, at least with the EFS 17-85 lens that I usually have on it.

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.

The Democratic National Convention will be in Denver this summer, and no doubt he will be involved in some of the planning for that event.

After his position with the IAFC, on March 13, 2007 Briese began working for ICF International as a vice president for emergency management and homeland security. According to their web site:
"ICF International (Nasdaq: ICFI) partners with government and commercial clients to deliver consulting services and technology solutions in the energy, environment, transportation, social programs, defense, and homeland security markets."
A blog called Disaster Zone, written by Eric Holdeman, a "principal" with ICF, said
"....Briese will be appointed to lead the (FEMA) region for the remainder of this administration."
On September 27, 2007, Briese was appointed a Board member of the newly formed International Fire Service Research Center and Policy Institute which was established by the IAFC.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Western Governors advise Congress about fire funding

From the Western Governors Association today:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gov. Janet Napolitano told the U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee today that federal funding to fight catastrophic wildland fires must not come at the expense of fire prevention programs.

The governor, testifying on behalf of the Western Governors’ Association, said the proposed Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act (FLAME Act) would help relieve the burden on the U.S. Forest Service’s already tight budget and the drain on wildfire prevention funding by creating a permanent fund for fighting the most catastrophic blazes.

“Large fires that used to burn hundreds of acres have been supplanted with mega-fires that burn tens of thousands of acres – sometimes in a single afternoon,” Napolitano said. “It is time to face reality and address the funding requirements to suppress these catastrophic fires."

The governor said forests throughout the West are now in the midst of a “perfect storm” and there is “no time to waste” in addressing ever worsening catastrophic wildland fire activity.

“Decades of fuel accumulations and acres of beetle-killed timber, the rapid expansion of wildland/urban interface, and the overarching presence of drought and climate change have now combined to dramatically increase the numbers and size of mega-fires,” Napolitano said. Passage of the FLAME Act, she added, would “ensure that funding is not swept from vital restoration and prevention activities.”

The Governor noted that in the 1990s, wildfire suppression costs comprised 20 percent of the overall Forest Service budget. Today, with more catastrophic wildfires, suppression efforts consume more than half of the Forest Service budget. Recent fire seasons have cost upwards of one billion dollars, compared to $200 million a season in the ‘90s.

A copy of the Governor’s testimony is available on the WGA Web site at www.westgov.org.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Drought in Spain: more fires

From France 24:
Fires destroyed more than twice as much land in drought-hit Spain during the first three months of 2008 as over the corresponding period last year, the government said Tuesday.

17,364 acres (6,945 hectares) of land were lost between January and March as Spain endured its worst drought in decades, figures from the environment ministry showed.

However, the area of forest, scrub and pasture ravaged by flames during the first quarter was about 20 percent less than the average recorded over the past decade during the same period.

About 80 percent of land lost to fires was located in the northern regions of Asturias, Cantabria, Galicia, Leon, Zamora and the Basque Country.

Spain's water reserves are at 47.6 percent capacity due to a lack of rainfall, the ministry added.

The drought has hurt crops and hydroelectric power production with the northeastern region of Catalonia especially hard hit.

The environment ministry has been trying to reduce the number of forest fires that affect Spain each year through preventative measures such as banning barbecues in the countryside in dry regions, and more effective campaigns to clear roadside garbage and forests of fallen leaves and branches.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Alabaugh Fire Staff Ride

It was a little surreal today standing in the snow trying to picture what a very intense fire was doing in that very spot 9 months ago. The 40 of us participating in a "Staff Ride" for the July, 2007, Alabaugh fire near Hot Springs, South Dakota, were recreating in our minds what two people entrapped by the fire were going through last summer.

(As usual, click on the photos to see larger versions.)

Alabaugh Fire, July 7, 2008. Photo by Bill Gabbert

The all-day experience began with a couple of hours of classroom time, where we got some information about staff rides in general, and some basic information about the Alabaugh fire, including a portion of the video segment about the fire that is in this year's wildland fire refresher. We wrote about this year's refresher training HERE on March 23 where I modestly mentioned that some of my photos of the fire are being used in the training.

Then we spent most of the rest of the day in the field, walking in the very footsteps of the people who on July 7, 2007, were fighting a very complex, rapidly developing, wildland-urban interface fire. Many of those firefighters were with us out there today, telling us what they saw, what they were thinking, and giving us the opportunity to experience the fire through their perceptions--but while standing in 2" of snow, rather than 100+ degree temperatures, 7% relative humidity, and strong shifting winds gusting out of thunderstorm cells.
Al Stover, Initial Attack Incident Commander, showing us the point of origin. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Jim Cook, Staff Ride Facilitator. Photo by Bill Gabbert

At the entrapment site. Photo by Bill Gabbert

Two firefighters had to share one fire shelter, since one of them forgot his line gear, leaving it in his vehicle while he got out to direct a structure protection operation. Then he became engaged in the some firing, got entrapped, and lived to tell about it.

This hard hat was blown off the head of one of the persons entrapped. It was left on the ground while he was sharing a fire shelter with another firefighter. Photo by Bill Gabbert

An interesting facet of the staff ride was that it served as the 8-hour annual wildland fire refresher that is now required by many agencies. And yes, we practiced getting into a fire shelter in 30 seconds..... with a twist. We all shared a shelter with one other person! WHAT? Yes, it's true!

Monday, April 7, 2008

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.

Maybe those firefighters among us who are usually encumbered by long sleeves, Nomex, and hard hats have been doing it wrong.
The web site says:
"More than 75 students worked at the (7 acre) burn, clearing tree limbs from the prairie and from trails through the extensive forest at Green Oaks."

Historic wooden bridge burns in wildland fire near Moab, UT

From the Aspen Times Weekly:
Ace Stryker
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
April 7, 2008

MOAB, Utah — A 92-year-old wooden suspension bridge across the Colorado River near Moab was destroyed by a fire that began with a boy playing with matches.

"It's too bad. It was really kind of a historical marker for this area," Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland said. "People are pretty upset because the bridge was still in pretty good shape."

Dewey Bridge, about 30 miles northeast of Moab, was in the path of a fire that crawled up the riverbank Sunday from a campground about a quarter-mile away, Nyland said.

A 7-year-old boy camping with his parents had gone down to the river and started a brush fire with matches, the sheriff said.

A strong breeze spread the flames over 10 acres, igniting the old bridge, searing the underside of a concrete bridge and blackening more than a half-mile of riverbed. Campers were evacuated but no one was injured.

"It threatened one home at one point, but (firefighters) were able to keep it from that," said Lynn Jackson, associate field director at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's office in Moab.

Built in 1916, Dewey Bridge had not been used for cars for years. But it was a well-known foot bridge and part of the 140-mile Kokopelli Trail bike route from Moab to Loma, Colo.

It recently got a new paint job by the same community members who helped get the bridge on the National Register of Historic Places, Nyland said.

All that remained Monday were charred scraps of wood and steel cables dragging in the current. A boat traveling down the Colorado had to be turned away because the debris made the river impassable.

"It created quite a public-safety hazard," Jackson said.

County and federal authorities were investigating the fire for possible charges. The family is from Grand Junction, Colo. No names were released.

Loss of the bridge caused a stir in the area, about 250 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.

"There aren't many bridges out in this part of the country like that," Jackson said.