Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wildfire news, September 30

Think tank: reducing bureaucracy could reduce fire risk

From npca.org
Federal mismanagement of U.S. forests has increased the number, size and cost of wildfires over the past decade. Overcrowding has left 60 percent of national forest land facing abnormal fire hazards. The culprit: bureaucratic paralysis -- due in part to judges or politicians beholden to environmental lobbyists overriding the decisions of professional foresters, says the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

For instance:

  • When a wildfire struck Storrie, Calif., in August 2000, more than 55,000 acres burned, including 28,000 acres in the Plumas National Forest, 27,000 acres in the Lassen National Forest and 3,200 acres of private forestland.
  • Following the fire, only 181 of more than 28,000 acres in the Plumas National Forest were replanted; in the Lassen National Forest, only 1,206 acres were cleared and 230 acres replanted.
  • By contrast, on the privately owned land, forest managers reduced wildfire by removing 30,633 tons of dry material, enough to fuel 3,600 homes for a year.
  • They harvested enough larger dead trees to build 4,300 homes.
  • They spent millions of dollars to reforest burned land and increase the number of different tree species.

Even though federal legislation has specifically allowed the forest service to log to reduce fire risk, environmentalists' lawsuits have delayed those plans. Instead, the government should introduce market competition in the management of the nation's forests, concludes NCPA.

Private forest owners and managers would have the incentive to minimize wildfires and improve forest health. Unhindered by bureaucratic federal rules, they would be better able to prevent and treat infestations that kill forests, says the NCPA

Oregon: Inquiry into escaped prescribed fire

From the Bend Bulletin:
U.S. Forest Service officials from Oregon and the regional office will begin investigating today why a prescribed fire outside of Camp Sherman burned out of control, jumping from a 31-acre planned burn Wednesday to the now-1,150-acre Wizard Fire.

“It’s obvious that things did not go as planned, so we’ll be conducting a review,” said Bill Anthony, district ranger for the Sisters Ranger District.

No one wants controlled burns to escape, he said, and fire managers with the Forest Service are concerned when one does.

“We’re going to step back and take a good, hard look at why this fire escaped our control,” Anthony said, “and come to an understanding about what procedures we need to change and fix.”

Agency officials said the problem didn’t stem from the burn itself, but from the monitoring period after the prescribed fire had burned down a bit.

“The first day after the burn the winds picked up, and we didn’t pick (the new fire) up during our patrol procedures, and it escaped,” Anthony said.

After controlled burns, staff are supposed to patrol or monitor the areas by walking or driving the perimeter of a fire.

“They survey the perimeter of the fire, look into it to make sure nothing is jeopardizing the ability to keep the burn within its perimeter,” Anthony said. “Something did not happen (after last week’s fire), and we have to figure out why.”

He said that he did not yet have the whole story about what had occurred during the patrol period, and would wait for the review, which will be conducted by people from the Forest Service’s Region 6 district office, which includes Washington and Oregon, other national forests in Oregon as well as local agency staffers, to discuss what did or didn’t happen and how to fix it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

AD Firefighter Association to shut down

After having been virtually invisible for the last year or two, the AD Firefighter Association will cease to exist after September 30, 2009, according to their web site:

The ADFA Board held its annual meeting on August 24, 2008 in Boise, ID and all members present agreed to implement the course of action as outlined below:


One of ADFA's original goals was to insure ADs received equal pay for equal work as compared to Agency employees and contractors. Although good work has been done in the past and overall rates of pay have increased, the inequity still exists given there is no overtime pay and there is no hazard pay those who qualify for it.

Another goal was for ADs to be able to pay into social security, thereby receiving credit for the appropriate amount of "quarters" during the work periods each year.

It is clear to the board that these are legal issues and require addressing by Congress to either modify the AD enabling legislation or to replace it and to allow social security credit or not. ADFA does not have the financial resources to hire the proper legal counsel and/or lobbyists to further our cause in these endeavors.

The Board further recognizes that for whatever reason the Forest Service leadership is unwilling and or unable to address these issues either by management or through their legislative affairs staff. It is not in their best interest to pay fairly when they can continue the current "cost-cutting" strategy of paying AD's poorly! Present AD employees are not willing to not step up to the plate and make it difficult for the Forest Service by not staffing unable to fill positions.

There is an increasing number of crews, single resources, equipment, and other personnel hired each year under contract, through states or municipal fire agencies at higher rates of pay, or through the DOI as a rehired annuitant when PL-4 is reached. It is also quite evident that the Forest Service lacks the initiative or desire to implement Emergency Annuitant Rehire authority. They have elected to continue to pay substandard AD rates.

Finally, we have new members signing up but not paying dues, we have old members who pay dues but would rather not participate in ADFA management or issues, and we have members who are getting older and are not taking AD assignments. A majority of complaints received by board members are coming from those at the AD-K and above level rather than from the "ground pounder level."

Board Decision

For all the reasons mentioned above in the background information, the Board has decided:
  • No membership or renewal dues will be accepted after October 1, 2008
  • The website will be shut down effective April 1, 2009
  • All financial activities will be wrapped up on or before September 30, 2009
  • After discussion with our legal counsel, the AD Firefighter Organization will sunset on September 30, 2009.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

San Diego County at-risk areas

San Diego County is pretty good at identifying areas that are most at risk from wildland fire. Maybe one day the county will be better prepared to handle a fire after it breaks out. They are very lucky to have access to the resources of the Cleveland National Forest and CalFire.

An excerpt from the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Last year, a fire task force created maps that pinpointed the areas of the county most vulnerable to infernos. Not long after, two of the October firestorm's largest blazes – Witch Creek and Harris – burned in those exact areas.

Now the task force has updated its maps to show three regions where the next massive blazes are most likely to hit.

The projections aren't meant to scare residents or suggest imminent danger, but rather to identify areas where federal and state money should be spent on protective projects such as forest thinning and building new firebreaks.

The bottom line is that although it seems San Diego County has burned and burned this decade, there are major swaths of land that haven't been touched in decades – in some cases more than 50 years.

The three regions identified on the updated maps are:

A 170,000-acre area stretching west from Mount Laguna to the outskirts of Spring Valley and El Cajon. The path of a fire there could mirror the Laguna fire of 1970, which at 180,000 acres stood as the second-largest ever to hit the state until 2003's Cedar fire.

A 124,000-acre area stretching from the south side of Palomar Mountain toward Valley Center, Rainbow and Bonsall.

A 32,000-acre area encompassing Rancho Santa Fe and touching parts of such communities as Rancho Peñasquitos, Fairbanks Ranch, Olivenhain, Del Dios and 4S Ranch.

Other areas of concern are the east and north sides of Palomar Mountain, the greater Julian area and 214,000 acres in the sparsely populated southeastern part of the county that includes the communities of Jacumba, Boulevard and Buckman Springs.

The Cedar fire destroyed hundreds of homes south of Julian, but the focus now is on a 6,000-acre area mainly to the north and east of the town.

The projections are based primarily on the age and density of brush in an area, as well as geographic characteristics and proximity to population centers. They assume Santa Ana wind conditions similar to those that existed in October 2003 and 2007.

The mapping is done by the Forest Area Safety Task Force, a collection of more than 80 federal, state and local agencies created in 2002 whose responsibility is making the county safer from wildfires.

Three MTDC publications

There are three fairly new Missoula Technology and Development Center publications that could be of interest to wildland firefighters:

1. Evaluation of Affordable Battery-Operated Weather Stations for Remote Sites.

The Missoula Technology and Development Center evaluated three battery-operated weather stations costing from $985 to $1,775. The stations were the HOBO Micro Station (Model No. H21-002), the WatchDog 700, and the Vantage Pro (Model No. 6150). Data could be downloaded from the HOBO Micro Station and the WatchDog 700 using hand-held devices such as a Palm personal digital assistant. The Vantage Pro's external wireless console can be located in a building that allows data to be viewed and downloaded. These are convenient features when stations are in remote locations.

2. Felling Hazard Trees With Explosives.

This tech tip describes how to use explosives to fell trees that are too hazardous to be felled with saws. Trees felled with explosives have jagged stumps rather than the artificially flat stumps left by a saw. Jagged stumps have a more natural appearance, which can be an advantage in wilderness settings. In the Forest Service, blasters not only need to be certified to work with explosives, but they must have a “Hazard Trees” endorsement to fell trees with explosives.

3. Hydration Strategies for Firefighters.

This tech tip discusses the importance of firefighters drinking 1quart of water per hour to stay hydrated during hard work. Recent research has shown that firefighters stayed hydrated and worked effectively whether they used water bottles or the newer sipping hydration systems with reservoirs and drinking tubes. Both water bottles and sipping hydration systems require periodic cleaning to remove microbial films. About one-third to half of the fluids firefighters drink each day should be carbohydrate/electrolyte sports drinks. These flavored drinks help firefighters consume enough fluid to stay hydrated and replace electrolytes lost in sweat and urine. Sports drinks are best stored in water bottles that are easier to clean regularly than the sipping hydration systems.

If you need a user name and password, look HERE. Don't ask me why they require them, but post them on a public web page.

Thanks, Dick, for the tip.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wildfire news, September 27

California reorganizes state emergency services

According to the AP:

A new law will combine two California emergency response offices into one cabinet-level agency to deal with wildfires, earthquakes, floods and other disasters that annually test the state.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Saturday that merging the Governor's Office of Emergency Services and the Office of Homeland Security will improve the state's ability to respond to emergencies and natural disasters.

He said the new California Emergency Management Agency will be more streamlined and efficient. But legislative analysts say it isn't likely to save much money immediately because administrative savings will be offset by merger costs.

Fire budget bill sent to President

The bill that includes an additional $910 million in emergency federal funding for wildland fire has been approved by both the house and the senate and has been sent to the President.

According to a press release from Senator Dianne Feinstein from California:
The fire budget bill sent to President Bush includes $610 million for fighting fires the rest of the year, $175 million to reduce fire fuels by clearing dead forest growth, and $100 million for lands restoration.

Feinstein said the bill includes mandates for the federal government to fully staff all firefighting jobs in California, where 8.5 percent of those 4,432 positions are currently vacant.

The bill would also require the Defense Department to restore two C-130H fire tankers to the duty roster at the Naval Air Station at Point Mugu, so they can be used to fight fires quickly. Existing planes stationed there have inoperative fire equipment, and Feinstein says the federal government has been too slow to replace them.
California: Fire damages arboretum in Redding

Redding has certainly had their share of fires, both in and around the city this summer. From redding.com:
Leaves are brown, bark is black and dirt is sooty or ashen-gray. Those aren't the typical fall colors found at McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Gardens in Redding, but they're part of the picture this year.

A wildfire sprang to life Aug. 26 on Sulphur Creek Hill, hopped over North Market Street and raced through part of the arboretum at Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Some plants were incinerated, others scorched and a few squashed by fire-fighting equipment.

Wind pushed the 130-acre fire, which came within 20 yards of the Sundial Bridge, onto the northwest side of the arboretum. Firefighters responded quickly and most of the arboretum didn't burn. Turtle Bay officials say 20 percent of the developed gardens were damaged and approximately a third of the arboretum's natural oak woodland burned.

"It could have been so much worse," said Lisa Endicott, horticulture manager at Turtle Bay. "It could have taken the whole savannah. It could have taken all of the gardens."

The 200-acre arboretum is a natural area along the Sacramento River filled with oaks, cottonwoods, manzanita and other native plants. Fenced within the arboretum are the botanical gardens, which require admission to view. They include California natives; hardy plants from Chile, Australia, South Africa and other countries; and other plants in display gardens.

Oregon: Update on Wizard escaped fire

An excerpt from kohd.com
...The fire is estimated at 200 to 250 acres, but it's difficult for fire crews to get an exact size because of all the smoke in the air. In the campgrounds campers didn't notice any air quality changes until 24 hours after the fire broke out. "We thought the fire was out, it was such a nice morning everything was clear," said Brick.

By Friday afternoon the US Forest Service says the fire is about 15 percent contained. Some are wondering why a controlled burn would be scheduled during fire season. The Forest Service says it does controlled burns in the fall in areas already treated. This particular fire started in an area treated three times before in the past 20 years. it was considered a managable risk. "From a technical standpoint it was not a very complex burn and the perscribed burn on it actually got pulled off very successfully on Wednesday afternoon. The escape happened the next day when it was really in patrol status when it escpaed," said Anthony.

The Forest Service says it'll do a thorough review to prevent another controlled burn from jumping again.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The fires next time

From New West

Wildland Fire Conference
The Fires Next Time

By Scott McMillion, 9-26-08

Think about wildfire in the West and it’s hard to picture a rosy future, except for the sunsets bleeding through the smoke.

Climate change is creating longer, hotter, more explosive burning seasons, while more and more homes sprout on flammable ground. Meanwhile, the pool of firefighting talent keeps getting smaller: there are fewer trained crews, air tankers and helicopters available than there were 20 years ago. Complicated and sometimes contradictory federal policies make it difficult for the next generation of firefighters to get the training and experience they need.

And for those who do meet the requirements for this dirty and dangerous work, there’s a new specter searing the mind of fire bosses: criminal prosecution if something goes wrong and firefighters are hurt or killed.

While fire is increasingly – and properly – understood as a necessary part of many functioning ecosystems, controlled burning is a complicated and sometimes dangerous process. Fire managers often are reluctant to start fires or let natural fires burn, because an escape could leave their careers in ashes, or at least well toasted.

Those were some of the topics outlined this week at a four-day conference in Jackson, Wyoming, sponsored by the International Association of Wildland Fire and the National Park Service, an event that drew about 400 firefighters, scientists and officials from land management agencies. While most are from the United States, some came from as far as Australia, Japan and Portugal.

The focus of the conference was the 20th anniversary of the 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park, which many described as the onset of a new era in firefighting and fire management.

“Nature is not always a gentle hostess,” recalled Bob Barbee, the park’s superintendent at the time. He called the fires of that summer “unpredictable, unpreventable, uncontrollable and finally unimaginable.”

Fires that year scorched 1.4 million acres in and around the park, while torching another million acres in other places around the West.“It was the first time in my career I saw the world’s best firefighters get their butts kicked,” said Rex Mann, a planner in the Yellowstone firefighting efforts. The fires “were beasts the like of which we’d never seen before.”

But the beasts still roar. Fires of similar intensity have erupted across the West over the past two decades, from Colorado to California, from Arizona to Montana. Today’s rookie firefighters are seeing things that veterans of previous generations thought they’d never encounter. And the monsters could grow even bigger.

“We continue to exceed our previous standards, in terms of unbelievability, in fire behavior,” said Steve Frye, a former commander of an elite Type I firefighting team.

If the climate scientists are right – there were a number of them here, and they all had a similar message – future firefighting will require two times the muscle and machinery just to wrestle fires down to current levels, Frye said. If the tools and people materialize, they won’t be cheap. Firefighting has often cost the U.S. Forest Service more than $1 billion a season in recent years, draining money from other programs.

And some fires will escape no matter what people throw at them. It is “reasonable to consider” fires of three million acres to nine million acres in the northern Rockies if the right conditions arise, according to George Weldon, deputy regional director for fire for region one of the Forest Service, headquartered in Missoula.

He called for agencies and the public to learn to live with fire. “The fires are not the problem,” he said. “The problem is the effect of the fires on the people.” Those effects can include sick-making smoke, travel restrictions, lost property, injury and, occasionally, death.

So, what can be done?

Weldon predicted that land managers will rely increasingly on planned or “prescribed” fire as a tool that can sap the punch from inevitable wildfire. Chainsaws won’t do the trick, at least not everywhere. “The Forest Service will not log our way out of the issue we’re in,” he said. “Our primary tool is going to be fire.”

But using fire, instead of fighting it, won’t be easy, especially if the woods become even more flammable. There is resistance both from the public and from people inside government. This year, the federal government oversaw 211,000 acres of prescribed burns, according to Tom Nichols, chief of fire and aviation for the National Park Service. But there were 4.6 million acres of wildfires.

Aside from the technical challenges, there is even disagreement over what to label a fire you aren’t trying to put out. The “let burn” label still rankles many in the Park Service. A “wildland fire use fire” is unwieldy and confuses the public. And a new term, “appropriate management response,” while it has the support of some scientists and green groups, sounds even more bureaucratic.

At the simplest level, the latter term means officials will look a fire over, then decide whether to fight it or monitor it, relying on a set of preset parameters. The response will depend on circumstances like topography, weather and potential threats. But even that process can suffer from political interference.

This year, when thousands of fires erupted in California, “prescribed fire was out the window,” Nichols said.

Other areas of government harbor inconsistencies as well. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) interprets the law to mean everybody is warranted a safe workplace, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney and former firefighter Mike Johns. Yet the Forest Service grants firefighters hazard pay, which implies acceptance of danger.

Even the Department of Justice is divided. Lawyers working on civil cases see firefighting safety rules as “guidelines” while criminal lawyers cited those same rules when they filed manslaughter charges in the wake of the 2001 Thirtymile Fire in Washington. “There’s a huge disconnect in the legal environment we’re currently dealing with,” Johns said. The Thirtymile charges were later reduced to misdemeanors, but the incident cast a pall over the fire community.

“Firefighters are starting to wonder if their agencies are willing to back them up if something goes wrong,” Johns said.

Dick Mangan, past president of the wildland fire association and a firefighter for more than 30 years, said one third of that group’s members said they would be reluctant to take on some supervisory roles in the wake of the criminal charges.

“We’re having a hard time getting people to take crews out,” he said. “We’re on a dangerous path here. I don’t like the future, guys. I don’t think it’s that bright right now.”

Wildfire news, September 26

Oregon: escaped prescribed fire

Wizard fire

About 20 miles northwest of Bend, Oregon, a prescribed fire that escaped on the Deschutes National Forest, now known as the Wizard fire, is challenging firefighters. The prescribed fire was 30 acres when it moved beyond the control lines, and late on Thursday it was 200 acres. Here is an excerpt from an article at ktvz.com:
...But winds kicked up shortly before 1 p.m. Thursday and a lookout atop Black Butte reported increased fire activity as gusty winds pushed the flames beyond the perimeter of the burn, north and east up Green Ridge.

The Wizard Fire was moving north, away from Camp Sherman but close to the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery and Green Ridge fire lookout, which is unoccupied. It was just 5 percent contained by nightfall Thursday, with more than 100 firefighters already on the blaze and 200 more due Friday from several agencies, along with contract personnel.

The fire initially was battled by 10 engine crews and several retardant-dropping air tankers, when smoke conditions allowed, along with a five-person hand crew and helicopter. Crews from the Forest Service, Oregon Department of Forestry and Sisters-Camp Sherman Rural Fire District were on the blaze.

Air tankers were being called up, but at first, the smoke was too thick to fly them in, so water-dropping helicopters were working the initial attack, dispatchers told KBND radio.
HERE is a link to a video report about the fire.

Cities at risk from natural disasters

An organization called SustainLane examined the 50 largest US cities to assess the risk from natural disasters. They looked at hurricanes, major flooding, catastrophic hail, tornado super-outbreaks, and earthquakes, taking into consideration potential frequency of disaster as well as the extent of damage.

The cities least at risk:

1. Mesa, AZ
2. Milwaukee, WI
3. Cleveland, OH
4. Phoenix, AZ
5. Tucson, AZ
6. El Paso, TX
7. Colorado Springs, CO
8. Philadelphia, PA
9. Minneapolis, MN
10. Detroit, MI

Of the 50 largest cities, the most at risk:

41. Oklahoma City, OK
42. Long Beach, CA
43. Los Angeles, CA
44. Houston, TX
45. San Jose, CA
46. Honolulu, HI
47. San Francisco, CA
48. Oakland, CA
49. New Orleans, LA
50. Miami, FL

Video about lesson learned from fire entrapment

The Lessons Learned site has a 12-minute video that:
...explains much of what happened to the engine crews entrapped on the Madison Arm Fire. Its "A Story of Survival Inside the Transition From Initial to Extended Attack."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Researchers: Expect more fires

From the Billings Gazette:

JACKSON, WYOMING - Now might be a good time to get into the firefighting business.

If science and history are a guide, the world and particularly the Rocky Mountain West are poised on the cusp of a dangerous increase in the size and frequency of large fires, caused by a warming climate.

"By the end of this century we're expecting the area in Canada that burns to double," said Mike Flannigan, a research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service. "Others say it will be a change of three to five times. It looks pretty gloomy."

An increasing risk of large fires may not be news to landowners and homeowners who have been scorched by recent blazes. But speakers at a conference here Wednesday put a finer point on the idea, backing it up with reams of charts and boat loads of scientific research outlined in PowerPoint presentations.

El Cariso Hot Shots catch their breath after being chased out of a fire on the San Bernardino National Forest, 1972. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Flannigan is one of many researchers who spoke Wednesday at a weeklong conference titled "The '88 Fires, Yellowstone and Beyond," co-sponsored by the National Park Service and the International Association of Wildland Fire. Many of Wednesday's talks focused on climate change and its effects on wildfires.


Based on data already compiled, the West is on the front of a rising curve for more large fires. Research by Anthony Westerling, of the University of California-Merced, showed that fires more than 500 acres in size have increased by 300 percent since 1985 on National Park Service, Forest Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs lands.

Westerling examined how rising temperatures have affected earlier spring runoffs and in many cases led to warmer, drier summers. His studies showed that between 1970 and 2008, there has been a 78-day increase in the fire season. The average burn time for fires has risen from one week to five weeks.

Projecting his data into the future, Westerling sees the average fire year between 2072 and 2099 looking similar in moisture deficit to Yellowstone National Park in 1988, when 794,000 acres burned.

"This is assuming we keep producing as much CO2," he said. "I can't get a sense of how you would manage yourself out of this change."

Fire managers note that they're already seeing unusual fire behavior.

Steve Frye, of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said, "We are experiencing extreme, aggressive fire behavior in places where we haven't in the past," including fires at elevations and in fuel types where fires didn't used to burn.

Fighting such fires has become more complicated, he said, thanks in large part to the construction of houses near forests, which he called "the single largest challenge and change for fire managers in the last 20 years."

Meanwhile, firefighting agencies have had to deal with a decline in the number of firefighters and equipment used to battle blazes. Agencies would need twice the resources they now have to keep fires at current levels, something that's not going to happen. So fire managers have had to adapt.

"We are making better decisions in how we assign our resources," Frye said. "But we're also assigning units to protection that could be used elsewhere."

Flannigan, the Canadian researcher, said the situation north of the border could well apply to the Western United States.

"It's almost a given that we'll see more fire activity, more ignitions," he said. "This is a global problem, and it's going to require global solutions."

Wildfire news, September 25

"Pyro diversity"?

We have worked with 'ologists of all types while managing fire programs and writing Environmental Assessments, Fire Management Plans, and Prescribed fire plans. And we have been in discussions about plant diversity, uneven-aged stands, and burn mosaics. But the term "pyro diversity" is new to us.

From necn.com, in an article about some prescribed fires being planned by The Nature Conservancy in Maine:
Fire scientists have a saying: Pyro diversity is bio-diversity, which means they want different levels of fire to create different habitats for plants and animals.
The concept is familiar, but apparently "fire scientists" have coined a new term to be added to the lengthly list of wildland fire jargon.

Tenth Wildland Fire Safety Summit

The International Association of Wildland Fire is planning another in its series of Wildland Fire Safety Summits. The last one was in Pasadena in 2006 and this next one will be in Phoenix April 28-30, 2009. A major emphasis of the conference will be "10 Years after the TriData Study: What is Different?" Other topics include:
  • Aviation safety on wildfire operations
  • Issues in wildfire safety around the world
  • Safety in the Wildland-Urban Interface
  • Advances in wildland firefighter safety research, practices, training, and equipment
  • Case studies and lessons learned
  • Firefighter liability
  • Human factors in the fire organization
  • Firefighter health and fitness
  • New approaches to investigation and learning from close calls
  • Policy, practices, and procedures
More information, including a call for papers, can be found on the IAWF web site.

History of the Wildland Fire Safety Summit

2006 9th Wildland Fire Safety Summit™
Pasadena, California, USA
2005 8th Wildland Fire Safety Summit™
Missoula, Montana, USA

2003 7th Wildland Fire Safety Summit™
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
2002 6th Wildland Fire Safety Summit™
Luso, Portugal
2001 5th Wildland Fire Safety Summit™
Missoula, Montana, USA
2000 4th Wildland Fire Safety Summit™
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
1999 3rd Wildland Fire Safety Summit™
Sydney, Australia
1998 2nd Wildland Fire Safety Summit™
Winthrop, Washington, USA
1997 1st Wildland Fire Safety Summit™
Rossland, British Columbia, Canada

More details about fire funding

The $910 million in federal fire funding approved by the House of Representatives that we reported on Wednesday would replenish the budgets of the U.S. Department of Interior agencies and the Forest Service for this fire season. It still must be approved by the Senate and signed by the President, but it would include:
  • $610 million for wildfire suppression;
  • $125 million for State and private lands fuels reduction;
  • $100 million for rehabilitation;
  • $50 million for Federal lands fuels reduction; and
  • $25 million for firefighter recruitment and retention in high-risk areas.
Some of the federal agencies exhausted their fire funds this summer and had to shut down non-fire projects, such as construction, fuels reduction, and recreation related activities.

On a related topic....

Senator Diane Feinstein of California issued a press release saying that she has called for:
  • The U.S. Forest Service to bring its California firefighting corps to full staffing. Before the fires began, the Forest Service had 380 vacancies out of a total force that should be 4,432 - a vacancy rate of 8.5 percent. Senator Feinstein is urging that all firefighter vacancies be filled, and that Forest Service firefighter pay and retention issues be resolved.
  • The permanent stationing of two military C-130H tankers at Point Mugu. Earlier this year, Senator Feinstein asked the President and Secretary of Defense to station these tankers at the California air base so they can attack new fires early.
Photos of Truckee Marsh fire

It was stopped at only 1.5 acres, but the fire in the Lake Tahoe area looks larger than that in the excellent photos captured by Dan Thrift of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Here is one, but check out the slide show at the bottom of the article.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wildfire news, September 24

House approves $900 million for firefighting

The Associated Press
Article Launched: 09/24/2008 03:01:46 PM PDT

WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives has approved over $900 million for firefighting measures nationwide as part of a massive year-end budget bill.

Included is $610 million for fighting fires, $175 million to get rid of dry brush and other fire fuels, $100 million for rehabilitation and $25 million for firefighter recruitment and retention.

The money was sought by Senator Dianne Feinstein in the wake of lightning-sparked fires in Northern California this summer that charred thousands of acres across the region.

The money is part a $630 billion-plus spending bill. It still must pass the Senate.

Yellowstone Conference

The IAWF/NPS conference, "The '88 Fires: Yellowstone and Beyond", started Tuesday in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Hampered at the last minute by a ban on travel by the U.S. Forest Service, they expect to have 400-500 people there to talk about those fires 20 years ago, and where we go from here.

Rocky Barker, a reporter with the Idaho Statesman and author of "Scorched Earth: How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America", is one of the speakers and has an article in the Wednesday edition of his paper. You should read the whole article, but here is an excerpt:
....Today, when a new fire is reported, a ranger decides either to put it out as fast as possible or, if it was started by lightning, he could declare it a "fire-use fire," such as the South Barker fire near Featherville. There, firefighters act like peacekeepers, monitoring the fire so that it reduces fuels, improves habitat but doesn't destroy homes, historic cabins or key wildlife features.

But managers want a clear system that allows them to use many different strategies on fires, even if they were started by people. Explaining this new policy and building public support is the key, said Tom Nichols, the National Park Service director of fire and aviation at the National Interagency Fire Center.

So is planning, so managers know before a fire strikes what they want to accomplish across the landscape.

"If we are going to put firefighters in harm's way, we are going to optimize what we put them there to do," Nichols said.

Yellowstone officials did not expect the low humidity, the hot weather and most of all the repeated windy days that made the 1988 fires so fierce. They only stopped Sept. 10 when rain and snow finally came.

Politicians and local officials called for the firing of both Daniels and Barbee in 1988. But they both survived and thrived as the public began to recognize the fires were renewing the lodgepole pine forests that burned.


One after another, fire bosses from the 1988 fires told of how their own views were changed by the size, scale and scope of the 1988 fires. Most of all they spoke with humility.

"Eighty-eight was the first time I saw the world's best firefighters get their butts kicked," said Rex Mann, who was an area commander over dozens of fire crews during the Yellowstone fires.

He and others spoke of how they first saw the extreme fire behavior we now take for granted. But eight of the last 10 years have been worse fire years than that seminal year - despite firefighting agencies spending billions of dollars a year and extinguishing 98 percent of all fires.
California: Serial arsonist in Murrieta

An arsonist set six vegetation fires in Murrieta within a 24-hour period, according to spokespersons from the police and fire departments. The largest was 10 acres.

Fire management at Lake Tahoe

Wildland fire at Lake Tahoe, on the California/Nevada border, has been a hot topic for the last few years. They have had their share of fires, smoke is always an issue, and many of the residents are hesitant to create a fire safe barrier around their house or vacation retreat by cutting down a tree or two.

Terri Marceron, the forest supervisor of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U. S. Forest Service, wrote a very clear and lucid article for the Tahoe Daily Tribune that explains the current fire management issues and practices.

More agency administrators should do this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wildland fires are getting larger

We have been tracking the fire occurrence stats provided by the National Interagency Fire Center for several years. It is clear that the average size of fires has been increasing since 1970 while the average number of fires is decreasing.

We are having fewer, but larger fires. While the population in the country continues to grow, a person might think that the number of fires would increase. But some of the other factors that come into play are fire prevention programs and better technology for preventing fires.

There will be debate about why fires are larger. Climate change will be first on many people's minds, but we must also consider the build-up of fuels as a result of fire suppression over the last 100 years. The chickens are coming home to roost.

This increase in fire size comes in spite of better management and technology in reporting fires, communications, water handling, incident management, and dispatching.

But better technology and management have their limits when it comes to putting out a massive fire. Large wind or fuel driven fires can only be followed by firefighters. We can chip away at the flanks or suppress the heel, but we can't stop the forward progress of a raging fire until something changes.... the weather or the fuel. Or, as proven by Bill Molumby's incident management team on the Indians fire east of Big Sur this summer, you have the luxury of time, distance, and very little private land, and you can backfire or burnout miles ahead of the fire.

The glamorous toys that politicians and extremist talk radio hosts clamor for (I'm talking to YOU, Roger Hedgecock and San Diego) such as water-scooping air tankers and night flying helicopters have their use, but they are totally ineffective in strong winds, when we are most likely to be losing homes and citizens. It can be too dangerous for pilots to fly under those conditions, and the retardant and water that is dropped is completely dispersed before it hits the ground.

Wildfire news, September 23

Montana county initiates new emergency information website

On September 10 we wrote on Wildfire Today, in part:
Making real time information about the fire's location available, interpreting that data to decide what areas should evacuate and which areas are safe, then providing this data to the public in near-real-time is not a small task. But it could be argued that this should be the most important objective of fire managers, above and beyond the boiler-plate written into every Incident Action Plan of "provide for the safety of the public and firefighters".
In that post we further explained how this could be done, using the Internet and various sources of information.

We don't know if the Madison County Commissioners were aware of that post, but they recently....
....gave speedy and unanimous approval to develop a county sponsored “emergency information” web-site. The site (madison.homestead.com) was up and running the next day.

The new web-site will be maintained by the County Communications Department. The site is intended to allow county residents extremely fast (nearly instant) access to information related to significant county emergencies and urgent county related information.

The County Commissioners all agreed that since Madison County has no local television or radio stations, there is no reliable way to allow residents immediate access to developing or changing information. Particularly, information related to significant, long duration county emergencies – as evidenced during the Labor Day Hebgen Dam incident.

Even though early in the incident, designated Public Information Officers tried desperately to alert the media in Bozeman about the situation at Hebgen, the television coverage of the incident was weak at best.

During the Hebgen event, local residents were generally aware that there was an emergency of some sort, but had difficulty accessing timely and rapidly changing facts of the incident. Consequently, due to an information vacuum, the rumor mill took over – and many residents understandably reacted to inaccurate information.

From The Latest.
And they had the web site "up and running the next day"! Congratulations to the forward-thinking County Commissioners of Madison County, Montana!

Climate and fires

Fire in Wyoming, Sept. 4, 2007 by Bill Gabbert

From the LA Times:
The biggest overall influence on global wildfire activity in the last 2,000 years has been climate, according to a new study that also shows humans have played a significant role in fire levels in recent centuries.

Researchers looked at charcoal levels in hundreds of corings of ancient lake sediments and peat from around the world.

What they found is that until about 1750, there was a long-term decline in burning, reflecting a global cooling trend. Then, as global settlement expanded and the Industrial Revolution took hold, wildfires increased, peaking around 1870. Farmers used fire to clear the land. Increased fossil-fuel use contributed to rising levels of carbon dioxide that sped plant growth and created more to burn. More people meant more fires started by humans.

But starting in the late 19th century, settlement had the opposite effect, particularly in western North America, the tropics and Asia.

Livestock ate the native grasses that had helped fuel frequent, low-intensity fires in the West. Wildlands were replaced by farms. During the 20th century, fire suppression became the norm in many parts of the world.

The result was an abrupt drop in fires, despite a warming climate.

The paper, "Climate and Human Influences on Global Biomass Burning over the Past Two Millennia," was published online Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience and was written by a nine-member team from the U.S., Europe and Great Britain.

It did not take into account recent decades, when wildfires in the U.S. have been on the rise.

Patrick Bartlein, a University of Oregon geography professor and one of the study authors, said climate is regaining the upper hand as the dominant force.

"All signs point to the idea that with continued global climate change ... we'll see more and bigger” fires.

How Dan Packer was found

Dan Packer

When Dan Packer was entrapped on the Panther fire on the Klamath National Forest in northern California on July 26 it was not known exactly what happened to him. The incident management team knew approximately where he had gone while scouting the fire, but he was listed as "missing" for about 24 hours.

Stockton, California Fire Department Battalion Chief Kim Olson was working on another fire nearby but went to his supervisor, Mike Dietrich, and volunteered to search for Packer. Here is an excerpt from an article in the Record:
Olson and Safety Officer Jim Walker took three engines and a team of timber fellers into the Klamath. They drove 2-1/2 hours from base camp to a place called Drop Point 16. The fire roared all around them but couldn't be seen through the smoke.

So Olson and Walker decided to go on alone, on foot. After about an hour's hike, they found pieces of Packer's gear, which he had shed as he fled the fire, and then his body, inside the remnants of his shelter. The fire around them began to surge again.

"You could hear it and feel it," Olson said.

From the sky above, an air attack supervisor warned Olson that he and Walker were nearly surrounded by flames. Concerned that the fire's movement would close off his escape route, Olson called in a helicopter to make targeted water drops but eventually was told it couldn't hold off the fire's advance.

"OK, see you tomorrow," Olson replied, settling in for an overnight stay inside a 250-acre wildfire.

But a reprieve came in the late afternoon, when the fire broke long enough for Olson and Walker to be retrieved, along with Packer's body. Olson said he was just doing what he had to do.

"We don't leave firefighters," he said. "We don't leave anybody behind."

Monday, September 22, 2008

International Bushfire Research Conference

The following came in through FireNet:

Fellow FireNetters,

I have posted this for the interest of anyone outside Australia who might be interested in following the developments reported during the International Bushfire Research Conference titled "Fire, Environment and Society - >From research into Practice" which is being conducted in Adelaide, South Australia from 1-3 September 2008.

The Conference incorporated the 15th annual conference of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) which draws its membership from state and national fire, emergency service and land management agencies across Australia and New Zealand; and the Bushfire Cooperative Research centre which is coordinating cutting edge research into bushfire / wildfire related topics.

The message below is adapted from material supplied by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which is generally comparable to the US National Public Radio.

Best wishes to all,

Tony Blanks

Manager, Fire Management Branch
Forestry Tasmania
Hobart Tas 7001

Attend the International Bushfire Research Conference with ABC Local Radio.

ABC Local Radio is continuing its commitment to helping the community understand more about bushfires and other hazards in Australia, with coverage of the International Bushfire Research Conference held in Adelaide South Australia earlier this month by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council and the Bushfire CRC.

Two ABC broadcasters, Emma Lee Pedlar and Tim Gerritsen, attended the conference and uploaded items from the event as well as interviews with the guests. There is an opportunity for all people in the emergency field to comment about guest presentations and interviews on the site.

The chairman of the conference, Euan Ferguson from the Country Fire Service of SA wrote a daily blog highlighting the issues he found particularly interesting during the conference.

We would encourage you to keep in touch with the site and engage in the debates and issues. Use the message board for this purpose.

This is an ABC Local Radio site and will be governed by the ABC Editorial Guidelines in the same way as all ABC output. We are grateful to the organisers of the conference who have allowed us to broadcast this event in this way.

The URL for the ABC conference site is here at: www.abc.net.au/bushfireconference

Please make the ABC conference site work by forwarding this email to all your colleagues and friends.

The Conference website: www.fire2008.org
The AFAC Website: www.afac.com.au
The Bushfire CRC website: www.bushfirecrc.com

Wildfire news, September 22

San Diego helicopters cleared for night flying

From the La Jolla Light:
Cal Fire and the city of San Diego inked an agreement today clearing the city's two emergency-services helicopters to fight fires at night in the 1.1 million local acres served by the state agency.

The agreement, signed by Cal Fire Chief Howard Windsor and San Diego Fire Chief Tracy Jarman at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, exempts the SDFRD aircraft - Copter 1 and Copter 2 - from a regulation that had prohibited their use in firefighting operations on land under state jurisdiction.

City air crews have been taking part for years in fire-suppression and search-and-rescue efforts across the county, often after dark. Under the new agreement, they will be available to do the same in Cal Fire's service areas, which encompass much of eastern San Diego County, from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Riverside County line, according to Cal Fire Capt. Nick Schuler.

The locales in question include such wildfire-vulnerable communities as Julian, Ramona, Santa Ysabel, Warner Springs and Valley Center. The vast expanses of Cleveland National Forest, however, remain off-limits for the municipal helicopters, Schuler said.

The city air crews are able to fight fires at night through the use of state-of-the-art night-vision equipment that requires special training and certification, SDFRD spokesman Maurice Luque said. The same kind of technology allows military pilots to fly sorties after dark in war zones, he said.

The new city-state arrangement is "just another option, another tool to be used in the event of fires breaking or night or at dusk,'' Luque said.
HERE is a link to a video about night flying.

Mobile dip tanks for helicopters and engines

A company in California has developed mobile water tanks that can be used to refill helicopters buckets or helicopters with snorkle-filled tanks. Large dip tanks have been around for a while, but most of them use plastic or fabric to hold the water, and they can take a while to set up, take down, or transport. These tanks are mounted on wheels and can be operational in minutes.

The 7,500 gallon "mobile reservoir" can be elevated about 20 feet with the push of a button so that it can gravity-flow water into engines. The "heli-troff" can hold 6,400 gallons and has a swimming pool light inside to make it more convenient for night flying helicopters.

The tanks have been on contract with Cal Fire since 2005, but oddly have not been used at all this year, in spite of the Siege of '08. The company's web site is HERE, but be warned, you'll need eye protection to view it. It's a little overwhelming and cluttered.

Ikhana Resumes Fire Mission Flights

NASA's Autonomous Modular Scanner mounted on the Ikhana remotely piloted aircraft captured this thermal-infrared imagery during two passes over the Hidden wildfire during a flight over the southern Sierras about 30 miles northeast of Visalia in Central California on Sept. 19, 2008. This false-color, three-dimensional image shows unburned vegetation in green, smoke and bare areas in bluish-white and fire hot spots in yellow and red, overlaid on a Google Earth Digital Globe terrain image.

Click on the photo above to see a larger version.

From NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center

Wildfire Today covered the Ikhana previously HERE.

Wireless sensor network to use electricity from trees to detect fires

Researchers at MIT will soon test a network of sensors in a forest that will detect temperature, humidity, and the presence of a fire. Ultimately four sensors per acre would be installed. These sensor networks have been proposed before, including one that involves mobile firefighting robots, but the difficult part is replacing batteries in remote locations. The MIT researchers claim they have developed a method for harvesting electricity from trees, yes, from trees, enough to keep batteries charged.

The system produces enough electricity to allow the temperature and humidity sensors to wirelessly transmit signals four times a day, or immediately if there's a fire. Each signal hops from one sensor to another, until it reaches an existing weather station that beams the data by satellite to a forestry command center in Boise, Idaho.

Colorado: lawmakers consider requiring counties to have wildfire preparedness plans
A committee of state legislators studying the wildfire threat in Colorado is proposing a requirement that all counties have wildfire preparedness plans and is looking to put $50 million over five years into wildfire mitigation efforts.

The money would be used to reduce forest fire risk not only on state and private land but also on federal land, an arrangement that state Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, called "unprecedented."

"We will really be able to make significant dents into the problem that exists and the public safety challenges that exist," Kopp said.

The committee, which wrapped up its work this month, also is proposing bills providing incentives for people to become volunteer firefighters and for businesses to harvest trees killed by bark beetles. The panel plans to introduce the bills early next year when the legislature starts its work again.

However, the committee declined to give its support to a proposal that would have created special building code requirements for homes and subdivisions being built in the "wildland-urban interface" zone, the area most at risk for a catastrophic wildfire and where more than 300,000 homes already exist in Colorado.

A number of mountain communities already have wildfire plans, said Andy Karsian, a legislative liaison with Colorado Counties Inc. The bill that the committee is proposing not only would provide standards and guidelines for those plans, but it also would ensure those local plans are coordinated.

"This is a good opportunity to solidify all those plans under one umbrella on the county level," Karsian said.

Terry McCann, a regional spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said the agency also supports the committee's efforts.

Demonstration of fire clearance, using matches

Everybody at some point has played with matches. Mike Dannenberg of the Bureau of Land Management, a fire suppression supervisor in Montana and the Dakotas, puts on a presentation about residential fire preparedness that involves hundreds of them. The article at wvmetronews.com has more deatails as well as a series of photos. Here is an excerpt.
"I liken it to building in a flood plane," said Dannenberg. "If you thin around your house, if you reduce the fuel load, if you build out of materials that are not combustible a lot of times it will protect your home."


Dannenberg has created a demonstration model to show the intensity of a canopy fire. He loads a pegboard with hundreds of match sticks. Each match represents a highly combustible evergreen tree. A road snakes through the middle of the model forest. The upper corner of the board features a homestead with a house, garage, and various outbuildings. The scene is created to the specs recommended by the BLM. Each building is covered with a metal roof and the yard space has only sparse and wide spaced trees.

Dannenberg tilts the board to replicate the speed of a fire moving up the slope of a hill or mountain. He lights a single match at the far end of the pegboard and at the foot of the simulated hill. The fire spreads rapidly, but stops short of the home--leaving it untouched. It's an effective demonstration that Dannenberg says plays itself out every summer in the western United States.

Professor Awarded NSF Grant to Study Global Warming Effects
The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant of $378,616 to Eastern Kentucky University to examine the potential impact of climate change on fires and the ecology of forests in northwestern Asia and compare that to recent research suggesting climate change has altered fire regimes in the western U.S.

“Collaborative Research: Fire, Climate and Forest History in Mongolia,” is directed by Dr. Neil Pederson, assistant professor in EKU’s Department of Biological Sciences, in collaboration with Dr. Amy Hessl of West Virginia University, Dr. Peter Brown of Rocky Mountain Tree Ring Research in Fort Collins, Colo., and Dr. Baatarbileg Nachin, head of the Department of Forestry at the National University of Mongolia. An additional $191,138 was awarded to WVU on behalf of Hessl, bringing the NSF grant total for the project to $569,754.

“This project will examine relationships between wildfire and climate over the past four-plus centuries, from the steppes of the Gobi to the taiga forests of northern Mongolia,” said Pederson. “Mongolia’s landscape, land-use history and recent history of rapid climate change make it an ideal test case for an examination of the relationship between wildfire and climate.”

The study will increase understanding of how wildfires affect forests within the context of climate change, past, present and future. It will also complement a growing global-scale database on fire, climate, and forest histories that will assess the potential impacts of climate change on wildfires.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Former San Diego Chief: We're not ready for the next fire

After devasting fires in 2003 and 2007, the San Diego City and County fire departments are struggling to build their wildland fire preparedness up to an adequate level. It is difficult to fathom how this situation could exist in one of the most heavily populated and wealthiest areas in North America. Here is an excerpt from an article in the North County Times:
The county government has spent millions to clear dead, dying and diseased trees in the forest, required fireproof building materials and automatic fire sprinklers in new backcountry homes, and urged homeowners to clear flammable brush around homes, said county Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents Ramona and East County.

But other measures, such as building a regional fire department and assembling a fleet of firefighting aircraft, will take time and require area residents to raise their taxes ---- something that, until now, they have been unwilling to do.

Following the recommendation of a regional panel, the county Board of Supervisors recently decided to place a $52 annual parcel tax on the November ballot. That ballot measure, which requires two-thirds voter approval, would raise $25 million for aircraft and fire engines for the fledgling regional department, and another $25 million for existing departments to spend how they see fit.

Given that there is so much more to do, though, another wildfire would overwhelm the region as badly as the last two, said former San Diego fire Chief Jeff Bowman, an Escondido resident.

Even if voters do approve the parcel tax, it won't provide money to hire regional firefighters, Bowman said.

"They have not done anything about boots on the ground, which is the No. 1 problem that firefighters face ---- that they get outmanned every time," he said.

Noting the breadth of the backcountry, where most wildfires start, county Supervisor Bill Horn defended the measure's focus on equipment.

"The area between Sunshine Summit and Fallbrook is massive," Horn said. "That's why we need air power."

In any event, Bowman was adamant.

"We're still not ready (for the next wildfire)," Bowman said. "We're not even close."


In the fall of 2003, raging wind-driven wildfires torched three-quarters of a million acres across six Southern California counties, killing 24 people and destroying more than 3,600 homes.

More than half that acreage, and about two-thirds of the deaths and damage, was in San Diego County.

Last October, another wave of wildfires swept across a half-million acres in four Southern California counties. Once again, San Diego County was hit hardest, with 368,000 acres burned. The county lost 1,750 homes and 10 lives.

A blistering county grand jury report blamed the magnitude of local damage in part on the region's refusal to create a regional firefighting force, something every other large Southern California county has.

Jury members said the region's stubborn reliance on a backcountry volunteer fire protection system, which they likened to something out of "the Old West, when people banded together and formed groups to protect themselves," left San Diego County "woefully unprepared."

In their May 29 report, jury members detailed what happened in the two rounds of fires, and what experts said was necessary to better prepare for the next one ---- such as forming a regional agency and spending more money on aircraft and firefighters.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wildfire news, September 19

Suit Claims Negligence In Firefighter Helicopter Deaths
The family of one of the firefighters killed in the helicopter crash in Northern California last month has filed suit.

The family of 25-year-old Scott Charlson is suing Carson Helicopters, Sikorsky, which built the helicopter, and General Electric, which made the engine.

The helicopter was transporting crews from a wildfire in a rugged area of the Siskiyou-Trinity national forest when it crash on Aug 5. Nine people were killed, including seven local wildland firefighters, a Carson pilot, and a U.S. Forest Service employee.

A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board says the helicopter's main rotor lost power during takeoff.

The suit claims negligence in the design and manufacture of the helicopter, and the maintainence and operation by Carson. Carson helicopters says it hasn't seen the suit yet. The suit asks for a to-be-determined amount for wrongful death and other claims, and the family's lawyers have asked for a jury trial.

Utah: Dixie NF has four fire use fires
The Dixie National Forest is managing four fires for resource benefit: Forsyth Ridge (on the Pine Valley Ranger District), Fife Ridge (on the Cedar City Ranger District), Straight Canyon (on the Powell Ranger District), and Pine (on the Escalante Ranger District).
All four fires are being managed as wildland fire use (WFU). WFU are naturally occurring fires (e.g., lightning strike) that are managed for resource benefit.
The Forsyth Ridge WFU is located in the Pine Valley Wilderness area about 2 miles south from Pine Valley. It is about 209 acres in size and has been burning since Aug. 19. It is is burning in mixed conifer and aspen with dead understory and likely will result in regeneration of some aspen.
The Fife Ridge WFU has been burning since Aug. 30. It is about 704 acres. It is most visible from the Zion Overlook on Highway 14. It is burning in steep terrain, within aspen and conifer stands. Firefighters have taken management actions on the south and east portions of the fire to stop the spread in those directions.
The Straight WFU is 211 acres. It is located on the Powell Ranger District on the south half of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The fire is burning in aspen areas providing additional resource benefit.
The Pine WFU is burning on the Escalante Ranger District 20 miles north of Escalante and 20 miles northwest of Boulder. As of Sept. 15 it is 200 acres in size and has experienced minimal growth in the last couple of days.

Insurance company says homes may be treated with "fire retardant"

Farmers Insurance company has notified some homeowners in southern California that their homes may be sprayed with "fire retardant" before or during a wildland fire. We are assuming that they will actually use wildland foam or gel, rather than the retardant used in air tankers. This is a pilot program that will be free to policy holders. More information is HERE.

Wildfire plays role in movie

Samuel L. Jackson and a wildland fire play leading roles in the movie "Lakeview Terrace" that opens today. It is about a couple that live next door to a cop, Jackson, who begins to harass and then terrorize them.

During much of the movie a fire is slowly approaching the neighborhood, creating tension and a metaphor. The fire is completely CGI, computer generated imagery. The movie was filmed in Walnut, California in a cul-de-sac that was completely taken over by the film crew.

About the location, the director, Neil LaBute, said he "...wanted something that felt very suburban but would afford a believable backdrop for fires..."

If you see this movie, let us know how realistic the fires were.

California: wildire smoke may have tainted wine grapes

Some wineries were affected by the smoke from the Siege of '08 and others were not, but experts say they can filter out the taste if necessary.

An excerpt from pressdemocrat.com
Three months after smoke from wildfires carpeted California’s vineyards, some winemakers in the thick of harvest are reporting grapes giving off unusual odors that may be signs of smoke taint. While it’s too early to generalize about the scope of the potential problem, some troubling reports are filtering in from Mendocino County, which earlier this summer endured some of the fiercest wildfires and worst air quality in memory.

“Winemakers are saying that they think stuff is smelling funny to them, and they want to know what’s going on,” said Glenn McGourty, viticulture adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Mendocino. While worrisome for winemakers, consumers may not need to worry about tasting smoke instead of oak in their favorite chardonnay because winemakers have sophisticated filtration tools to remove offending flavors.

Wildfire news, September 20

Croatia: fires force evacuations
Croatian authorities ordered the evacuation of parts of the southern Adriatic resort of Makarska on Saturday because of advancing forest fires, state radio reported. The blaze near Makarska, 440 km (275 miles) south of Zagreb, started on Friday evening and has been fanned by a northerly wind reaching up to 150 kph (95 mph).

Croatia's Adriatic coast is often hit by fires during the summer months.

Some 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of pine forests have been burnt and several hundred firefighters were tackling the blaze. Several nearby villages were without electricity. 
From Reuters

View Larger Map

Fewer Indian fire crews available
Wildfire fighting officials say the number of Indian firefighting crews has dwindled in recent years.

Darryl Wallace is a fire prevention crew boss for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs Zuni Agency. He fondly reminisces about his crews from the Zuni Pueblo of New Mexico, praising their work ethic and dedication to the job.

He says that 20 years ago, the Zuni Pueblo tribe would routinely have as many as 14 20-person crews ready for the summer fire season. But he says now he's hard-pressed to recruit crew members, and the tribe was able to field only six crews this year.

Lyle Carlile is a Cherokee and director of the fire management branch at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. He says that generally the number of Indian crews has dropped by half.
From AP

Historic structures survive Gnarl Ridge fire

On Sept. 18 Wildfire Today told you about the fire on Mt. Hood in Oregon that came back to life after sleeping for weeks.  At that time it was unknown if some of the structures survived.
The historic Cloud Cap Inn and structures at the Tilly Jane Compound, which had been threatened by wildfire on the flanks of Mount Hood, are safe, the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center said Friday.

Crews weren't able to check on the buildings as the Gnarl Ridge fire, which kicked up earlier this week and advanced to within a quarter-mile of the Cooper Spur Ski Area, blocked access. The smoke also obscured their aerial view of the buildings, said Jeree Mills, spokeswoman for the coordination center.

But by late Thursday, they confirmed that all the buildings were intact, she said. Firefighters plan to lay down sprinklers when they can get to the areas, she said. Another 100 firefighters from the Southwest were flown in to help combat the fire.

Firefighter describes hurricane aftermath

An engineer from a Nevada fire department describes his experiences while being assigned to the hurricane response.
"You saw most of the devastation because it was out in the open," said Mark LePino, 47, a Clark County Fire Department engineer, describing Galveston and other hurricane-ravaged cities.

By contrast, Katrina's destruction was hidden beneath floodwaters while he was there in 2005, LePino said. LePino was one of 34 local government workers who spent almost three weeks in the Gulf Coast, helping with search-and-rescue efforts after hurricanes Gustav and Ike hurled a brutal one-two punch on the region.

The workers were part of Nevada Taskforce-1, a team designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help out after natural disasters. Workers returned home Thursday and Friday.

There are 28 such teams across the country put on regular rotation, said Alan Osborne, the county's deputy fire chief.

Of the 34 team members who went to the Gulf Coast, 24 are firefighters from Clark County, Henderson and North Las Vegas, he said. The team deployed three weeks ago to help with search efforts in Louisiana after Gustav's siege. Then workers were sent to Houston, where they were housed in Reliant Stadium until Ike passed before helping to find survivors of that storm.

Sam Fowler, 39, a county fire-prevention officer, told of how displaced families approached him, saying they were hungry, thirsty and in need of medication.

"When you see kids, that kind of gets to you," Fowler said. "They talk to you about not having food and water."

Fowler said the hurricane damage far surpassed wildfire destruction he had seen in California. Houses were torn from their foundations, he said. Boats were strewn across the freeway. LePino recalled seeing floodwater lines etched 35 feet high across apartment buildings. His job was to find survivors inside dwellings, using four Labradors trained to sniff out humans and dangerous carbon monoxide gases, he said.

That was different from when he was part of a helicopter crew that pulled Katrina victims from the rooftops of houses surrounded in water.
There's more at lvrj.com

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wildfire news, September 18

FCC fines TV station over wildfire coverage

The Federal Communications Commission upheld a $25,000 fine against KUSI-TV San Diego for failing to provide adequate visual warnings to hearing-impaired viewers during its coverage of California wildfires.

It was running up against a five-year statute of limitations since the incident occurred in October 2003.

In response to a complaint and subsequent investigation, the FCC initially proposed the fines in 2005, but the station challenged it.

"I think the FCC has gone crazy with fines thinking this is their sole purpose in life," station owner Michael McKinnon told B&C at the time, arguing that the station had been understaffed as it was, with one-half of the employees at home trying to save their property, including the general manager, who was on his roof with a hose. "This was a disaster, not an inconvenience.”

"People with hearing disabilities have a right to the same timely emergency information as stations provide to their hearing audiences," then-FCC chairman Michael Powell said at the time. "The commission remains committed to strong enforcement in this critical area.” The Kevin Martin commission agreed.

In releasing the final order for the fine Thursday, the FCC said it was not persuaded by various arguments, including that the station was exercising editorial judgment about what of the emergency information was sufficiently crucial and credible to make visually available given that visuals had more impact and authority than words.

The fine could have been much more. The FCC pointed out that it found 22 separate violations, each potentially warranting an $8,000 base fine, which would have added up to $176,000.

"We determined, however, that a strict application of $8,000 for each of the 22 apparent violations would result in a total proposed forfeiture that is excessive in light of the circumstances presented," the commission's Enforcement Bureau said in the order. "Furthermore, in determining the total number of apparent violations, we took into consideration the circumstances facing KUSI in providing emergency coverage during the wildfires."

McKinnon had not returned a call at press time for his response to the finding.

Oregon: Fire on Mt. Hood comes back to life.

The resources on the Gnarl Ridge fire were downsized to a "smaller Type 3 incident management team" on August 23 after the fire had been knocked down at 516 acres. The August 23 InciWeb update, the last update until Sept. 17, included this:
Recent rains have definitely dampened fire intensity, but down logs and snags continue to hold heat. In the event of an extended drying period, the fire may come back to life.
It did.

The Sept. 17 update:
The Gnarl Ridge Fire was started by lightning on Thursday night, August 7, 2008 and is currently burning on the north flank of Mt. Hood. An incident management team was assigned to the fire and contained the fire to an area within the Mt. Hood Wilderness last August. However, fire officials outlined the need for a fire season ending event of precipitation to totally extinguish the fire.

Three inches of rain, and daily monitoring has occurred since release of the incident management team until 9/16, when unusually hot and dry conditions coupled with a persistent thermal belt during the night caused the fire to make a major run in the early hours of 9/17 shortly after midnight. The fire has threatened Cloud Cap Inn and Tilly Jane. Cloud Cap Inn remains intact. Due to heavy smoke, the condition of structures at Tilly Jane is unknown.

The fire is currently estimated at 2,000 acres. It is burning in mixed conifer stands with significant amounts of dead lodgepole pine and subalpine fir.

Effective at 6 a.m. on Thursday, September 18, the Northwest Oregon Interagency Incident Management team will assume managment of the fire. An Incident Command Post is being established the Hood River County Fairgrounds at Odell, Oregon.
More information from NWCN.com
Crews evacuated people on Mount Hood Wednesday after a fire broke out near Cooper Spur ski area.

An evacuation order was issued for the Gnarl Ridge fire, including the Cooper Spur Ski area and about 60 homes. The fire was also threatening historic buildings at Tilly Jane and Cloud Cap.

Mt. Hood National Forest spokesman Rick Acosta said the fire crossed over Polallie Creek and Elliot Creek, moving North to Northwest. A shelter was set up at the Mt. Hood Town Hall on Highway 35.

Fire coordinators said that blaze made a big run after midnight because of the unusually warm and dry conditions, growing to about 200 acres.

Helicopters and planes were called in, but the planes couldn’t get close enough to do an effective job of dropping retardant.
Photo courtesy of NWCN.com

San Diego City helicopters to fight fire at night for Cal Fire

Leading up to this fire season, the "Superscoopers" are in place, Navy and Marine helicopters are now on board and air tankers are stationed. If all goes according to plan, San Diego County firefighters will have the ability to fight fires from the air at night from virtually anywhere.

Copter One arrived after the Cedar Fire in 2003. Copter Two was a result of the 2007 wildfires.
But within a week or two, there will be a monumental change as to how both could be used.

"This is huge. This is history; this is literally history," said Deputy Chief Brian Fennessy.

San Diego Fire-Rescue crews have been training with night-vision capability for years. What will be history is an agreement that would allow aerial firefighting at night in Cal Fire's jurisdiction.

"This is really setting up a model for the rest of the state. This partnership we have with Cal Fire extends well beyond this agreement. It's a result of the fires we've had over the last five years," said Fennessy.

During the 2007 wildfires, Copter One made water drops day and night, but only within city limits. The agreement changes that, and much more.

"Absolutely; having the ability to stop the threat before it comes into the city is a huge advantage," said pilot Chris Harnett.

While the goggles allow pilots to fly at night, conditions will dictate whether they could drop water.

"Once the 375 gallons is released from the helicopter, the wind will blow it away and it will not hit the target," said Harnett.

Flying lower in high winds raises the risk for aircraft and crew. However, the new agreement at least allows for the possibility. The agreement is scheduled to be signed Monday and go into effect Oct. 1.

The Sheriff's helicopter program is working on procedures to be allowed to do the same thing.