Friday, October 3, 2008

Wildfire news, October 3

Corrections officer dies on Arizona fire

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

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

"Officers and inmates alike responded immediately, and emergency medical assistance made every effort to revive Officer Falconer," according to the statement.

Falconer was assigned to the Arizona State Prison Phoenix-Globe inmate wildland fire crew. The crew is stationed at the prison in Globe. Falconer become a state corrections officer in 2004, working with the hotshot crew since July 2007.

On the field, two corrections officers and a sergeant team up to oversee each of the prison system's 15 hotshot crews. The Globe crew was working on a fire line to contain the Sacramento Fire near the California border at the time of Falconer's death.

The crew had responded to seven previous wildfires in the past two seasons, DOC officials said.

Falconer is survived by his wife. Flags at state facilities will be lowered to half-staff the day of Falconer's funeral services, which have not yet been arranged.

Our condolences to the family of Douglas Falconer.

Power company to shut off electricity to lines during extreme fire danger

The San Diego Gas and Electric Company, whose power lines are blamed for starting the 1970 Laguna fire and the 2007 Witch Creek fire, both over 100,000 acres, plans to de-energize some power lines during periods of extreme weather. From the San Diego Union-Tribune:
The proposal was outlined in a letter that the utility plans to send Friday to about 45,000 customers living in the highest fire-risk areas. The letter also outlines other steps the utility, which has 1.4 million customers, has taken to reduce the potential for wildfires.

A report released by Cal Fire in July said that arcing SDG&E lines ignited the Witch Creek, Guejito and Rice Canyon fires, three of the most devastating wildfires that raced across the county last October.

The letter said that five conditions would have to be met before power is turned off, and the utility anticipates that would happen “as infrequently as one time or less per year.” An estimated 1,000 to 10,000 customers would likely be affected at one time, and outages generally would be 12 to 72 hours, although that could be as short as several hours, the letter said.

The five conditions are:
  • The National Weather Service issues a red-flag warning indicating that conditions are highly conducive to wildfires.
  • Sustained winds are greater than 35 mph or wind gusts are greater than 55 mph.
  • Relative humidity is less than 20 percent.
  • The moisture level in “non-living” materials such as sticks, twigs and leaves is less than 6 percent as determined by the National Weather Service.
  • The moisture level in “living” plants and bushes is less than or equal to 75 percent as determined by Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service.
A fire already burning would not be a condition for activating the shut-down program, the utility said.

SDG&E said it would attempt to contact customers before shutting down power, but that in some cases there might not be time to do so. Customers also could be notified by the county's Office of Emergency Services reverse 9-1-1 system. Customers can register for reverse 9-1-1 system online at ReadySanDiego.org.

The utility said other steps it has taken to reduce the potential for wildfires include replacing more than 300 wood poles with steel poles; using heavier wire in some rural areas; expanding aerial inspections of transmission lines; and adding new high-resolution cameras to inspect lines.

75 years ago today, 29 firefighters were killed on the Griffith Park fire near Los Angeles.

This was the deadliest fire for wildland firefighters in American history.
The Griffith Park Fire occurred at 2:26 p.m. October 3, 1933 in Block 36, Dam Canyon in the Mineral Wells Canyon area near the old Los Angeles Zoo. A group of 3,780 men were employed clearing brush as part of the Los Angeles County welfare relief program. A small fire had started at the bottom of a slope and a number of men were ordered or volunteered to fight the fire. A sudden wind change sent a shaft of flame up the slopes of Dam Canyon killing 29 workers of thermal burns and injuring more than 150 others. Engine 56, Hose 27 along with 50 Mountain Patrolmen responded and contained the fire to 46.83 acres.
From the IAWF Wildland Fire Event Calendar

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