Monday, March 31, 2008

Robot proposed to put out fires; no need to update your resume yet

A German industrial design studio, apparently with no expertise in wildland fire, has developed a concept for a robot that would be pre-positioned in the wildland. When it's sensors detect a fire from up to 1/2 mile away, it would wake up, extend it's 6 legs, walk to the fire, and put it out using tanks of water and powdered fire-extinguishing agents.

Unless a fire is very small, it can take shit-loads of water to put one out, so unless these robots are going to carry 500-1,000 gallons of water, or unless there are going to be shit-loads of robots, your job is pretty secure. Oh... and the cost of each one is estimated at $125,000-$200,000.

The article at Popsci.com says the weight of the robots will be 150-200 pounds, which means they could hold about 5-15 gallons of water, depending on how much other fire extinguishing agent they carry.

Photo from Popsci.com

BIA cuts hot shot crews

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

European Union considers rapid reaction force

The European Union (EU), comprised of 27 member states, has been considering since April of 2007 the development of a rapid reaction force that could respond quickly to wildland fires, floods, and other emergencies. The parliament even passed a resolution to that effect, but little has taken place to make it happen.

I recently talked with someone in the UK who told me that in the last 2 weeks, due to last summer's fires in Greece, the fire on the Greek island a couple of weeks ago, and the recent flooding in the UK, discussions along these lines have accelerated. In addition to other resources, they are considering a fleet of air tankers that could respond quickly to wildland fires in any of the 27 member states. The resources would be funded by the EU and is being advocated by the Directorate for Civil Protection.

Photo: Athens burning, July, 2007

California: Prescribed Fire Blog

The San Bernardino National Forest is conducting a multiple-day prescribed fire near Lytle Creek, California. What makes this one interesting is that they have an ongoing blog describing the actual daily events, along with lots of photos. One photo shows in the background snow on what I assume is a north-facing slope, while someone is running a drip torch in the foreground. It can be a luxury to do a prescribed fire when certain slopes or areas are unburnable due to differences in fuel moisture or snow cover.

Gabe Garcia, the Cajon District Ranger, and Deputy District Ranger Mary Long are providing the updates. This is the first time I have heard of daily blogging about a prescribed fire event, but I think it's a great idea. It is not on a typical blog site, but is on the Wrightwood, California forum. It is worth a visit.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Firefighters' distrust of digital radio system grows

When fire agencies began moving to trunked 700-800 MHz radio systems in larger numbers 5-7 years ago, I remember reading a study of similar systems used in Australia which concluded that these systems have no business being used for emergency services, and that they should only be used, for example, for garbage pickup.

Mobile Radio Technology (April 1, 2008)

On April 16, 2007, firefighter Kyle Wilson was part of a crew dispatched to fight a residential fire in Woodbridge, Va. He died in the line of duty.

A detailed report on the incident recently released by Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue concluded that problems associated with the use of the county's Motorola digital trunked radio system contributed to the tragedy. Issues reported by other firefighters during that incident, which was further complicated by strong winds, ranged from signal distortion and transmission failure to radios displaying "out of range" signals.

Fire safety advocates now are encouraging fire departments across the country to study the incident in hopes that future tragedies could be avoided. Prince William County's fire department, through further tests, concluded that digital portable radios are "extremely vulnerable to poor environmental conditions and interference of digital noise from ambient sources, which negatively impact the ability of emergency personnel to effectively communicate."

A handful of fire and police departments, fearing the loss of lives, have opted to continue using analog systems even when the rest of their county's emergency personnel are using digital trunking systems.

The common complaint, which most affects fire departments, concerns the digital vocoder's inability to differentiate between a voice transmission and background noise - whether a chain saw, sprayed water or personal alarm. Background noise renders the voice transmission distorted and often unintelligible. Another critical problem is that digital radios lose contact inside buildings. "In most cases, it is a very political and sensitive position to abandon expensive technology and go back to something that is old," said Daryl Jones, owner and president of Telecommunications Engineering Associates, which manages public safety systems throughout the San Mateo area in California. "But many agencies are finding that complaints from line personnel, both in fire and police, are so significant."

The Boise (Idaho) Fire Department spent about $1 million two years ago on mobile and portable radio equipment to join a cutting-edge countywide 700 MHz digital trunking system. While training users on the system, the fire department discovered problems with voice intelligibility when a firefighter's low-air alarm went off. That led the department to investigate the issue further, and it found more instances where alarms interfered with the quality of voice transmissions. Today, the department and other fire departments in the county remain on analog VHF radios while the rest of the county operates on the 700 MHz digital trunking system.

"Right now our dispatch center wants to dump VHF," said Paul Roberts, a captain with the Boise Fire Department, "[and] we are trying to look at alternatives to at least get on a system that will lessen the load on dispatchers having to patch all of this together. ... But until there is a solution to the digital processing of speech when you have competing noises, we have to stay on analog."

The problems associated with digital systems became known in 2006. Since then, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) established a Digital Problem Working Group and appointed Chief Charles Werner of Charlottesville, Va., to serve as its chair. So far, the working group has explored the creation of a best practices solution to work around the problem until a long-term solution can be found. Prince William County's findings have been forwarded to that group for inclusion in the process.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) also is analyzing the problem, as are radio manufacturers such as M/A-COM and Motorola. They are expected to jointly release a formal analysis - in conjunction with the IAFC - that encompasses best practices to help departments to minimize the problems.

"We're running through this scientifically and hope to distribute a wrap-up summary shortly," Werner said.

Roberts, who chairs the IAFC testing group, says the testing - conducted by radio engineers - involves taking words that sound alike and requiring the listener to distinguish which word is being said over the background noise of chainsaws and hose sprays.

Motorola declined to comment, saying it was cooperating with the testing and awaiting the conclusions from NIST and the IAFC.

But Chris Lougee, vice president with LMR vendor Icom America, thinks older technology would help solve these background noise problems. "Everyone knew from the beginning that the P25 vocoder was a half-rate vocoder. As you speak into the microphone, you are converting human voice into a data stream that is reassembled at the end," Lougee said. "TIA ... is encouraging a move to a full-rate vocoder, which we are doing. It vastly improves the amount of audio and quality."

Rapid City Journal: "Keep fire center at airport"

The Rapid City Journal has taken sides in the battle between the Federal Aviation Administration and the wildland fire agencies in the FAA's efforts to evict the Northern Great Plains Interagency Dispatch Center from the Rapid City Regional Airport.

We first reported on this on February 29, but basically the FAA wants to evict the dispatch center, tear down the building, and then allow a private company to use the space to build an aircraft hanger.

An editorial in today's Rapid City Journal calls this "bad fiscal policy and bad firefighting policy". And:
"[...] public safety issues of wildfire suppression should take precedence over the needs of the private sector for bigger and better hangar space."
They are absolutely right. All involved parties agreed to have the dispatch center at the airport. They spent $1.8 million to build it, and to tear it down after just a few years would be an incredible waste of taxpayers' dollars.

CIA pays full cost of liability insurance for employees

The federal land management agencies pay only 50% of the the cost of professional liability insurance for their fire personnel, but the CIA recently decided to pay 100% in a new policy reported on March 17 by the Associated Press. It's good to see that a priority in the CIA is taking care of their own.
"WASHINGTON (AP) — The CIA announced Monday that it will now pay the full cost of legal liability insurance for about two-thirds of the agency workforce.

The insurance costs about $300 a year. Until now the CIA has paid just half of the premium annually. Only about 15 percent of eligible employees actually apply for reimbursement.

One shift is already looming: A change in administrations could make it more likely lawsuits will be filed against CIA interrogators for a controversial program approved by the Bush White House — the use of harsh interrogation techniques and the secret movement of prisoners, known as extraordinary rendition.

The insurance comes from private companies to cover legal expenses that arise out of actions undertaken in the course of a CIA officer's official duties. It is meant to cover potential litigation expenses including damages. It covers legal expenses associated only with those activities undertaken after liability insurance is taken. The reimbursement program began in 2000.

Agency Director Michael Hayden on Monday announced that he had expanded the pool of those eligible to be reimbursed for insurance to include all employees involved in covert activities, not just those involved in counterterrorism and counterproliferation.

Any agency employee who supervises one or more employees is eligible to be reimbursed as will attorneys, grievance officers, equal employment opportunity counselors, auditors, IG inspectors and investigators, polygraph examiners, recruiters or hiring advisers and security officers.

"This benefit will help keep agency employees focused on accomplishing the mission, rather than being concerned about potential litigation costs that might arise as a result of doing their jobs," said CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

VA: St. Mary's fire

The St. Mary's fire on the George Washington National Forest has grown to 4,060 acres. (UPDATE March 30; 4,505 acres) It's interesting the way the media describes the aerial ignition operation. From The News Virginian, an excerpt:
"Instead of rain, a helicopter dropped a hailstorm of ping-pong-ball-sized potassium permanganate – a chemical that, with a delayed reaction of about 10 seconds, started a potent fire – on the east and west slopes of the ridge leading to Route 56. It’s known as a backfire operation, McPhereson said, and it worked to contain the fire.

At the same time that was happening, most of the 121 people involved, from federal and state agencies to local volunteers, were out burning terrain along the road leading away from the bulldozer line, according to Charlie Rudacille, normally with Shenandoah National Park but one of those assisting in controlling the fire.

The helicopter chemical drops, he said, would help prevent big runs with the fires and would lessen their intensity.

In the half-hour it took for the helicopter to drop the many thousands of chemical balls and make its way around both sides of the ridge, visibility was reduced to near-zero as heavy, dark-brown smoke filled the sky and bright orange flames dotted the slopes.

“If it all goes well, in an hour it’ll be boring,” Rudacille said while the helicopter was in the air.

The gusting, 15 to 20 mph winds – blowing the fire northeast, away from the west slope – was a blessing to the firefighters, as were the dry, overcast conditions. But Rudacille was aware of forecasts calling for a chance of thunderstorms later in the day.

“The thunderstorm, and the erratic winds associated with the thunderstorm, would be a problem,” Rudacille said."

InciWeb has more details

The photo of the helitorch (not a "ping pong ball machine") is a Bill Gabbert file photo.

Fire simulator training in Prescott, AZ

Fire simulators can provide a very valuable opportunity to test and improve your firefighting skills. On the Cleveland National Forest we used to use four overhead projectors to produce images of the landscape, smoke, and fire on a rear projection screen, two 4-track reel-to-reel tape recorders and a mixing board for sound effects, and up to 10 people to run the simulation and act as role players. I have not seen the new computer-based simulator that is being used this year, but I hope it is at least as realistic as the earlier systems.

The Daily Courier in Prescot, AZ has a story about firefighters going through an exercise using a simulator and sand table. Here is an excerpt:
"Well aware that numerous agencies often come together suddenly to battle dangerous wildfires, Prescott-area agencies gather each year to brush up their skills before the traditional wildfire season begins.

"We're testing ourselves to a level we've never tested before," Prescott Fire Chief Darrel Willis said as he surveyed more than 50 people in the incident command center room alone. "Look at all the agencies here. There's a comfort level when you see people you know. We know what we can expect from those people."

Such training can save the lives of firefighters as well as citizens who live in wildfire-prone areas of the Prescott region.

"Communications are always going to be difficult," Bentley said, so training helps immensely with smoothing out radio compatibility issues. Firefighters also learned some lessons about setting up an incident command system quickly so the span of control is clear, he said.

The sand tables are literally that - wooden tables covered with sand that firefighters mold to mimic the actual fire terrain. They add miniature trees, homes and fire trucks to the scene. They move red strings and cotton balls forward to represent an advancing wall of fire.

The Forest Service started making its computer simulator widely available just this year, Bentley said.

Fire instructors input U.S. Geological Survey computerized topographical maps into the simulator, then add as many as 20 types of homes along with local vegetation, roads, streams and even propane tanks."
Photo courtesy of The Daily Courier, Les Stukenberg "Firefighters from a variety of agencies look over a sand table model to plan their next action steps for the 1,200 acre fire they were responding to as part of the annual Basin Drill at the Prescott Fire Center."

Friday, March 28, 2008

PLI insurance reimbursement available to federal "temporary fire managers"

On December 26, 2007, President Bush signed Public Law 110-161, the Consolidated Appropriation Act, 2008 which expands coverage for reimbursement of professional liability insurance to “temporary fire line managers.” The US Forest Service sent out three memos that provide more information for their firefighters. In part they say:
To qualify, these “temporary fire line managers” must meet one of the following three criteria:

1. Provide temporary supervision or management of personnel engaged in wildland or managed fire activities,
2. Provide analysis or information that affects a supervisor’s or manager’s decision about a wildland or managed fire, or
3. Direct the deployment of equipment for a wildland or managed fire.
I combined the three memos into one document, available HERE. (134 k Word document)

Santiago fire AAR released

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

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

Some of the recommendations:
  • "...aggressively pursue adoption of Very High, High, and Moderate Fire Severity Zones" on the CalFire maps.
  • Develop a Wildland-Urban Interface Program that includes enforcement provisions, and commit the necessary resources.
  • Accelerate the purchase of new helicopters, and acquire night vision capability.
  • Establish a full-time, year-round hand crew, a 2nd seasonal handcrew, and a seasonal fly crew.
  • Increase staffing on Type 3 wildland engines to include a 4th firefighter.

Take the polls

We have two active polls. One is about the Terry Barton sentence, and the other is about physical fitness programs. Only 2 days remain on the physical fitness poll, and the Barton poll, which we just started, will end in 6 days. Be sure and take them before they end.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Terry Barton re-sentenced today for starting Hayman Fire

Terry Barton was a Fire Prevention Technician for the US Forest Service when she started what became the 137,000-acre Hayman fire on the Pike National Forest in 2002.

Unless there are further legal proceedings, it appears that she will be out of prison in June.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:
"Terry Barton, who set the worst fire in Colorado history, was re-sentenced to 15 years probation and 1,500 hours of community service today by 4th Judicial District Judge Thomas Kennedy.

Her first sentence on a state arson charge - 12 years in prison - was tossed out by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2004 because of issues with the way the original judge handled her case.

Barton is in a prison in Texas, serving out the remainder of a six-year sentence on federal charges for starting the Hayman fire. She's scheduled to be released from prison in June, according to her attorney.

Once she's released, she'll have to check in with 4th Judicial District probation officials. Her new sentence on the state charge will be retroactive to 2003, meaning she'll be on the hook for community service hours and probation check-ins until 2018.

In June 2002, Barton - a U.S. Forest Service employee - reported that a fire started in a campground northwest of Lake George. About a week later, she was arrested after admitting she accidentally started the fire by burning a letter from her estranged husband.

The fire burned 137,000 acres in the Pike National Forest and destroyed 133 homes."

Earlier we covered other developments in this case.

UPDATE: March 28

In yesterdays' court proceedings, district judge Thomas Kennedy ordered Barton to pay restitution — estimated to be at least $30 million — on top of the $14.6 million in restitution that is part of her six-year federal sentence.

More from the Denver Post today:

Barton, who began serving her federal sentence in 2003, is due to be released in June from prison in Texas. She must report to the El Paso County probation office within a week after leaving federal custody.

Barton's 12-year state prison sentence was overturned in 2004 by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The appeals court found the judge failed to disclose that the Hayman fire forced him to evacuate and that he doubled the presumptive range of her sentence inappropriately because only a jury could find aggravating factors.

Prosecutors then argued that Barton's appeal of her sentence violated the terms of the plea agreement, which allowed them to withdraw it.

In January, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled they could not withdraw from the agreement.

It said Barton would face only one count in one county, would serve any state sentence concurrently with the federal sentence, and she could not appeal any state sentence.

Newsome said the amount of restitution must be determined within 90 days, saying, "It will be at least $30 million."

While the DAs understand the amount may never be paid, Newsome said state law requires a judge to impose restitution for actual losses and ensures victims' right to pursue civil judgments.

Farmer dies on a fire in Colorado

From 7 News in Denver, March 26:

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

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

The man, who has not been identified, called for the fire department before his tractor flipped at 2:30 p.m. Deputies believe he was burning brush near the irrigation ditch and it got out of control.

About 100 acres were burned by the brush fire, located northwest of the town of Orchard, Colo

Recreation Fees Rising in Wake of Fires’ Costs

This was published in the NY Times a couple of weeks ago. Here is an excerpt:

HAMILTON, Mont. — Reeling from the high cost of fighting wildfires, federal land agencies have been imposing new fees and increasing existing ones at recreation sites across the West in an effort to raise tens of millions of dollars.

Additionally, hundreds of marginally profitable campsites and other public facilities on federal lands have been closed, and thousands more, from overlooks to picnic tables, are being considered for removal.

"As fire costs increase, I've got less and less money for other programs," said Dave Bull, superintendent of the Bitterroot National Forest here in Hamilton. The charge for access to Lake Como, a popular boating destination in the national forest, will be increased this year to $5 from $2.

Last year, the Forest Service collected $60 million in fees nationwide, nearly double the $32 million in 2000. The Bureau of Land Management, the country's biggest landlord, doubled its revenues over the same period, to more than $14 million from $7 million. The agency projects revenues from the fees will grow an additional $1 million this year.


Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has introduced a bill that would repeal the authority of the Forest Service and other agencies to raise or institute many of the fees.

"The authority given land managers is being abused," Baucus said. "They are using it to pad their budgets at the expense of the public. I think it's just wrong."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fire in North Carolina allowed to burn

In the western US we call this type of fire a "fire use fire". But only if a fire management plan allows for this type of fire, and all of the predetermined conditions are met.

From a story in the Charlotte Observer:

A fire has been burning on an island near marker 10 off Stonemarker Point on Lake Norman since Tuesday evening, officials said.

The fire was reported around 7 p.m. Tuesday to the N.C. Division of Forest Resources district office in Mount Holly.

Brian Haines, a spokesman for NCDFR in Raleigh, said rangers from the division have been allowing the fire to burn on the 18-acre uninhabited island because it doesn't pose a threat to people or properties.

"It's not going to go anywhere," Haines said. "It's surrounded by water so you have a natural fire break there."

The island is located in Lincoln County off McConnell Road, and can also be seen from southern Iredell County at the end of Brawley School Road peninsula in Mooresville.

This morning, two rangers went to the island that's about 500 yards off shore to torch the fire to help it burn faster and reduce the amount of smoke.

Haines said most of the smoke in the area is drifting into the Charlotte area from controlled burning occurring South Carolina and not the island.

"The island is not the major factor of smoke coming into Charlotte, "he said.

The cause of the fire hasn't been determined yet.

"It may have been somebody who camped over the weekend and did not fully extinguished their fire," Haines said.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

B-1 bomber may have started multiple fires

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

This happened about 2 weeks after an Ellsworth B-1 made another emergency landing at Anderson Air Force Base on Guam on March 8. In that incident, after the crew exited the aircraft it rolled into some emergency vehicles, causing major damage to the aircraft and the vehicles. The reports do not say if the crew simply forgot to set the parking brakes. The B-1 was in transit from an air show at Singapore back to Ellsworth when the crew declared an in-flight emergency and landed at Guam.

UPDATE, MARCH 26, 2008

You have to wonder if maintenance issues or the heavy use of our military assets on conflicts and wars has anything to do with these two incidents. Our B-1's have been used fairly heavily since 1998 in Kosovo, Iraq, Afganistan, and again in Iraq. Much of our military equipment has been damaged, destroyed, or just worn out while serving as the World Police. If we ever need the military to actually defend our country, I hope it's ready.

You also might question the wisdom of sending a bomber from South Dakota to Singapore and back to appear in an air show. Do you think the hourly cost of a B-1 is more than a Type 1 helicopter or air tanker?

UPDATE, September 18, 2008

An investigation by the Air Force into the Guam incident determined that a brake valve failure caused the B-1 to collide with the two aircraft rescue firefighting vehicles.  The right side hand-brake metering valve malfunctioned, depleting the brake system's hydraulic pressure, "rendering the aircraft's brake systems inoperative when the engines shut down".

Ellreese Daniel's trial

As you probably know, 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.

On February 20, 2007, the IAWF released a survey of 3,362 firefighters which showed that 36% of the full-time wildland firefighters surveyed will make themselves less available to be assigned to wildland fires as a direct result of these federal charges.

Here is an update from Wildlandfire.com
"I met with Ellreesse's Federal Public Defender Tina Hunt here in Missoula on Thursday: she seems well prepared for the May 5th trial date, and hopes that the Judge will approve a site visit for the jurors. We talked about many of the issues that are well known to all of us, as well as some tactics and qualifications issues. Tina still expects a 6+ week long trial.

There will be lots of witnesses, especially on the Government side, telling their stories about what they saw, heard, were told, experienced. The 10/18 will be an important focus!
Maybe by July 1st, we'll have a clearer picture of the impacts of this attempted mis-carriage of justice. Tina was highly complimentary of many of the R-6 Fire Overhead that she has interviewed.

She encouraged firefighter attendance in support of Ellreese at the trial, yellow Nomex shirts and all!

Keep the Faith!

Dick Mangan"

GAO studies moving USFS to Dept. of Interior

This has been talked about off and on for years, but recently a subcommittee told the Government Accounting Office to study the possibility of moving the US Forest Service from the Dept. of Agriculture to the Dept. of Interior. Just because they are talking about it does not mean it's going to happen, but now the Washington Post has picked up the story:

In Washington, the organizational chart helps bring order to chaos, sorting the many federal agencies of the vast bureaucracy into manageable boxes. Among some lawmakers who hold the purse strings, there is a belief that the U.S. Forest Service is out of place.

The 103-year-old agency, which manages 193 million acres of forests and grasslands, is part of the Department of Agriculture. Its bureaucratic cousins -- the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, which manage 84 million acres, 96 million acres and 258 million acres of public land, respectively -- are in the Interior Department.

The five agencies have overlapping missions that include fire prevention and suppression, natural resource conservation, fostering recreational uses, and regulating commercial activities such as logging, drilling, mining and livestock grazing.

At the request of the House Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies, the Government Accountability Office this month began examining whether it would make sense to move the Forest Service to Interior's purview. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over both agencies.

"The public perceives them as being very similar," said Robin M. Nazzaro, director of the Natural Resources and Environment group at GAO, which is conducting the study. "They've just asked us to look at, could any money be saved, and would it result in a more efficient, effective and coordinated management of federal lands and the natural resources?"

One argument in favor of such a move is that the Forest Service no longer is chiefly devoted to managing the harvesting of timber.

"Today the evolution of our forests has gone away from production and more towards preservation, and it seems to me that the natural move has made it over under the umbrella of the Department of the Interior rather than the Department of Agriculture," Rep. Todd Tiahrt (Kan.), the top Republican on the subcommittee, said at a Feb. 12 hearing on the agency.

Monday, March 24, 2008

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

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

Sunday, March 23, 2008

2008 Annual Wildland Fire Refresher Training

Having returned from Roatan Island, today I had a chance to review this year's Annual Wildland Refresher Training. As usual, it is well done and of high quality. The sections about the fire behavior, the Alabaugh Fire entrapment, and treatment for burn injuries are very interesting. Several interviews contributed a great deal to the DVD, including those of Dr. Bret Butler, Kelly Close, Dr. Ted Putnam, and Tom Boatner. The DVD even includes a copy of the piece that "60 Minutes" did on "Mega Fires" last summer.

Alabaugh Fire

There are quite a few issues related to the entrapment that could be opportunities for learning related to this fire which burned 10,324 acres and 27 homes. One homeowner died when he went back to try to save his belongings. The fire started from a lightning strike on July 7, 2007.

Some of the issues are mentioned only briefly in passing, perhaps to avoid criticizing the personnel who were involved. Some of the firefighters assigned to the fire were kind enough to step forward and discuss on camera their ordeal. They deserve our thanks for helping others to avoid a similar situation down the road. I hope the facilitators putting on the training this spring can allow enough time for some of these issues to be expanded upon.

Treatment for Burn Injuries

One of the units in the video describes the horrific situation that two federal employees faced after being burned on wildland fires.... and unfortunately I am not only referring to their burn injuries. The injuries are of course terrible to have to experience, but what could have made them even worse were the delays in being able to obtain adequate medical care.

Burn injuries are very complex and can't be properly treated by a primary care physician, a trauma center, or an emergency room, even if they have access to a plastic surgeon. Burn injuries require immediate treatment by trained specialists who deal with burns every day. Every day. In many cases, burn injuries will not heal properly or the healing will take much longer if the injuries are not treated quickly by the staff at a "verified burn center". Waiting days or weeks is not acceptable. The American Burn Association has more information about the verification process and also has a list of burn centers that qualify for this status.

In both cases on the video, the federal firefighters received treatment locally at emergency rooms soon after their injuries. After being discharged from the ER, they then, rightfully, tried to get proper treatment in a burn unit, but encountered administrative roadblocks in trying to deal with their agency and the Office of Workers Compensation (OWCP).

Eventually both victims, federal firefighters, received treatment at burn centers, but in one case it was three weeks after the injury.

Some of the following information came from the refresher video, some from my research, and some is just common sense.

What a firefighter should do if they are burned
  • Obtain immediate treatment at an emergency room to stabilize the injuries.
  • Before being discharged from the ER, if the injuries qualify under the criteria below, get a doctor to refer you immediately to a verified burn center. For federal employees, if this is done, the expenses for this further treatment by the burn center will be covered by the initial CA-16 form all the way through to recovery.
  • If this is not done, you will have to then go to a primary care physician and convince them to give you a referral. This will take time.... time that you don't have.
  • If you are having trouble obtaining adequate treatment and your agency will not help, contact the non-profit Wildland Firefighter Foundation at 208-336-2996. They are experienced in these issues and have access to attorneys who can help sort through the roadblocks. They can also provide money for the firefighter and their families if needed for travel or other purposes.
What employers of firefighters need to do

In advance, before anyone is injured, establish these policies
  • Every person with a burn injury that qualifies under the guidelines as one that should be referred to a verified burn center (see below) will be referred to a burn center before they leave the ER. The agency will facilitate this process.
  • Designate a compensation coordinator who knows the agency and OWCP policies, to be the liaison and advocate for the injured firefighter. This person should be in frequent proactive contact with the injured person or their family, especially during the first 2 to 36 hours.

What every firefighter should do
  • If your agency does not have a written policy to ensure that burned firefighters receive proper treatment, ask that they establish one.
  • Donate to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Their only goal as an organization is to help firefighters and their families, and they do a great job.
  • Become familiar with the burn center referral criteria (below).
Burn center referral criteria

The American Burn Association has a link to these criteria developed by the American College of Surgeons' Committee on Trauma, to describe under what conditions a burned person should be referred to a verified burn center:

1. Partial thickness burns greater than 10% total body surface area (TBSA)

2. Burns that involve the face, hands, feet, genitalia, perineum, or major joints

3. Third-degree burns in any age group

4. Electrical burns, including lightning injury

5. Chemical burns

6. Inhalation injury

7. Burn injury in patients with preexisting medical disorders that could complicate management, prolong recovery, or affect mortality

8. Any patients with burns and concomitant trauma (such as fractures) in which the burn injury poses the greatest risk of morbidity or mortality. In such cases, if the trauma poses the greater immediate risk, the patient may be initially stabilized in a trauma center before being transferred to a burn unit. Physician judgment will be necessary in such situations and should be in concert with the regional medical control plan and triage protocols.

9. Burned children in hospitals without qualified personnel or equipment for the care of children

10. Burn injury in patients who will require special social, emotional, or long-term rehabilitative intervention.


Firefighters who are burned on the job deserve the best medical treatment available. Their employers should proactively see that this happens, both by having policies in place, and by having a compensation coordinator work very closely, immediately, with the injured firefighter all the way through to recovery. To do any less, is irresponsible.

And finally, the group that included the segment about burn injuries on the refresher training package should receive a lot of credit. This is important information for firefighters to have.

Click on the little envelope below if you want to email this post to someone else.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lawsuit against Mark Rey and the USFS is dismissed

From a story at Montana's News Station.com

A lawsuit that forced the nation's top forestry official to apologize in a Missoula courtroom is over. The lawsuit by Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics was filed in 2003, and charged the U.S. Forest Service with violating federal law by indiscriminately dropping retardant on forest fires.

Two weeks ago that case reached a climax when Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey appeared before federal judge Donald Molloy, and faced a possible contempt of court citation.

Molloy was angry that the Forest Service missed deadlines for delivering environmental review documents to him, and for generally taking more time than he liked. Ultimately he decided not to find Rey or the Forest Service in contempt, but not before Rey and other agency officials apologized multiple times.

Now, the case is done. Molloy signed an order last Wednesday dismissing the lawsuit. The judge wrote that the Forest Service has complied with the procedures of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, and so there's nothing left to decide.

The sweet smell of smoke

That was the headline above an editorial in the Payson Roundup in Arizona. They are "giddy" about the Forest Service reducing fuels and burning piles.

Here is an excerpt:
It's not quite the bracing smell of "napalm in the morning," but we get positively giddy with the wafting of smoke drifting into town these days from the Forest Service slash piles just over the hill.

This week, the Forest Service concluded the last of its major winter burns to get rid of piles of debris from tree thinning operations on more than 4,300 acres on the outskirts of Payson.

Makes us want to do a little jig -- and throw our arms around the nearest stalwart in Forest Service green and give him a big, wet kiss.

Make no mistake -- that smoke is wafting of Rim Country's biggest problem.

Truth be told, every other problem on the list -- from meth use to propane bills will some day seem like trivial foolishness if the Forest Service doesn't get thin the dangerously overgrown forest before the inevitable disaster overtakes us.

Unfortunately, it falls to today's overburdened and underfunded Forest Service to set right a century of mismanagement.

Once upon a time, fires burned through Rim Country regularly -- thinning the trees and creating a network of meadows, aspen groves and open patches. The forest was largely fire resistant, with the big trees relatively unaffected by the frequent, low-intensity ground fires.

Then we turned the forest into a tree farm and spent a century stomping out every fire we could. Crowds of pine thickets sprang up in the clear cuts and tons of down wood accumulated on every acre.

So a forest that used to have 50 to 300 trees per acre and more grass than pine thickets now has 3,000 spindly, overstressed trees per acre across vast stretches. A timber industry geared to profit from the now scarce big trees has been nearly shut down, just when the Forest Service needs to thin the forest on a massive scale.

Brush fire at Monkey Junction

OK, I admit it. I just wanted to type that headline. But there really was a 3-acre fire at Monkey Junction near Wilmington, NC, according to WWAY News Channel 3.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Update on study about large fires and greenhouse gases

On March 12 we wrote about a study that was recently released which stated that the amount of gases released by four large wildland fires was comparable to the gases released by 7 million cars on the road for 1 year. I found out who the author of the study is. He has a reputation for drawing, uh, interesting conclusions from a limited analysis of facts.

We posted an update to the story here.

New AD pay plans released

The Departments of Interior and Agriculture released their AD (Administratively Determined) pay plans for federal emergency workers. (Click on the links to see the individual plans; both are Word documents.)

The AD Firefighter Association has a summary of the changes since last year:
1. Incorporates the General Schedule increase for the U.S. at 2.99 percent.
2. Clarifies that rates are established at the original point of hire.
3. Clarifies that post incident administration and emergency stablization efforts should not exceed 90 calendar days.
4. Adds that to work under this plan requires a social security number. This applies to US citizens as well as nonresident aliens.
5. Adds Aircraft Dispatcher AD-H; Aircraft Coordinator AD-I; General Support Clerk AD-C; Fire Effects Monitor AD-H; Fire Use Manager T2 AD-J; Removes Lead Plane Coordinator.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Incident Business Mgt. Handbook

A new version of PMS 902 --- Interagency Incident Business Management Handbook
February 2008
(11.12 Mbytes; PDF format) is available.

Oklahoma State Trooper Burned on Grass Fire

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

Monday, March 17, 2008

Intermittent Blogging

Blogging will be intermittent this week while I'm on Roatan Island. Feel free to talk among yourselves.

Photo by Bill Gabbert @ Roatan.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Large fires in southeast NM

The Las Cruces Sun-News has the story about some large fires in southeast NM.

Grass fire burns homes, forces evacuations in southeastern NM
The Associated Press
Article Launched: 03/15/2008 12:36:04 AM MDT

HOBBS, N.M.—Firefighters are bracing for another day of fierce wind as they battle a grass fire that has raced across thousands of acres in southeastern New Mexico, taking with it four homes and forcing residents to evacuate.

The blaze began Friday as two separate fires. The first fire was reported around 3 p.m., a second fire was spotted about an hour later and the flames soon merged. By nightfall, it was 2 miles wide and 20 miles long and had burned across the state line into Texas, said Dan Ware, a spokesman with the State Forestry Division.

"The grass and the brush is still extremely thick and so it keeps adding fuel to this fire," Ware said.

Firefighters were concerned about the rural community of Knowles, just west of the New Mexico-Texas line. They told residents scattered throughout the area to leave and they issued a voluntary evacuation for residents living north of Hobbs between N.M. 18 and N.M. 132. Ware could not say how many homes were in the area.

An evacuation center was set up at Hobbs High School.

More than 100 firefighters were battling the 25,600-acre fire, but gusting winds made the effort difficult, Ware said.

Winds ranging from 30 to 45 mph fed the flames Friday afternoon. The National Weather Service had issued a wind warning for the area but that expired late Friday and the wind speed dropped to under 30 mph overnight.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Fires in South Australia

Our brothers down under have their hands full with several large bush fires. The record heat is not giving the firefighters much of a break.

Here are some links:

CFS monitors bushfires near Adelaide

South Australia Imposes Fire Ban as Record Heatwave Hits State

Australia Bushfire Monitor

Photo, courtesy of ABC.net.au: A house burns during a bushfire near Willunga Hill, south of Adelaide, on March 13, 2008. (ABC TV)

CalFire Sued for Letting Fire Escape

The Sierra Sun has a rambling article about the California Dept. of Forestry, now called CalFire, being sued, according to the suit, for partially demobing a fire before it was 100% contained. Apparently the strategy and tactics that were used on the fire are being questioned in a court of law 4 years after the fact.

If this sets a precedent, holy shit, what's next? Firefighters have enough liability to worry about just fighting fire every day, or heaven forbid, when someone gets injured or killed on a fire.

Is your professional liability insurance paid up?

Here is an excerpt:
"What if the fire department runs out of water while fighting a structure fire or has a flat tire and doesn’t make it to your house? Or what if the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection), now called Calfire, has a brush fire 90 percent contained at 1,200 acres, and begins demobilizing, then the fire burns out of control consuming 64,000 acres? That’s what happened in the Piru Fire in Ventura County.

Piru Fire
On Oct. 23, 2003, a spark from construction equipment operated by the United Water Conservation District started a brush fire near Lake Piru. Within two days, after 1,200 acres had burned, Calfire had the blaze 90 percent contained. They began to demobilize. Ten days later the fire burned itself out after consuming some 64,000 acres of forest land.

Fire liability
Public entities are entitled to be reimbursed for the cost of fighting fires that are negligently set or allowed to escape onto public or private property. Under the Health and Safety Code, fire agencies may recover their reasonable expenses incurred in fighting a fire.

Two years after the Piru fire, Calfire sued United Water Conservation District seeking reimbursement of its fire fighting costs in the amount of $3,871,695.

Calfire at Fault?
Did United Water Conservation District write a check for $3,871,695? Of course not or we wouldn’t be reading this new case. The water district defended the lawsuit claiming Calfire was “comparatively at fault” and “failed to mitigate damages” (legal mumbo jumbo but you get the idea) by failing to properly extinguish the original, smaller fire, thus allowing the larger blaze.

In other words, Calfire’s firefighting costs should be reduced to what it had incurred when the fire was 90 percent contained at 1,200 acres when it “failed to douse the flames completely and instead began to demobilize its fire fighting resources,” as alleged by United Water.

Court ruling
The Court of Appeal agreed with United Water Conservation District that it could question particular Calfire expenses as to whether they were excessive or unrelated to the Piru fire, but it could not question whether Calfire improperly pulled off the fire as decisions regarding sufficient personnel, equipment and fire fighting methods and tactics are all subject to the fire agency immunity statutes. No liability."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New Term for Prescribed Fire?

The Philadelphia Inquirer is using terms that are new to me, calling a planned New Jersey prescribed fire a "preventive burn", and later a "partial burn". This burn project is in the area where an Air Force F-16 dropped some flares last May and started what became a 17,000 acre fire.
"N.J. plans a preventive burn today in Pinelands

The New Jersey Forest Fire Service is scheduled to conduct a partial burn today in the Stafford Forge area near Warren Grove in southern Ocean County.

The burn is to begin about 10 a.m. east of Route 539 near the Warren Grove Gunnery Range, and wind and other conditions will determine its duration, said Jim Petrini, a spokesman for the service.

The service plans to burn as much as 2,200 acres of the Pinelands in the next few weeks in an effort to eliminate dry underbrush and tree debris that accumulate and act as tinder and fuel when a fire ignites.

The prescribed burn is a response to a May 15 wildfire that scorched 17,000 acres near the gunnery range, forced hundreds of residents to evacuate, and destroyed or damaged dozens of homes. "

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fire Captain Dies From Bacteria Possibly Inhaled on Wildland Fire

This is scary as hell. From The Californian:
"MURRIETA -- Murrieta Fire Capt. Matt Moore died Monday night at UCSD Medical Center in San Diego, succumbing to complications from meningitis, fire department officials said.

Moore, 43, a 17-year veteran of the department, had been hospitalized in a coma for the last two weeks.

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

He is survived by wife, Sherry; daughter, Alyssa, 16; sons Trent and Brandon, both 13; brother, Mark Moore, who also is a captain in the city's fire department; sister, Jill; and parents Carol and Phil Moore.

The fire department will hold a procession today to bring Moore's body to England Family Mortuary in Temecula from the medical center in San Diego's Hillcrest community."

Here are more details about the case, published on Feb. 29, before his death.
The Murrieta Firefighters Association has more information about Captain Moore.

Photo courtesy of the Murrieta Firefighters Association.

Study: 4 Large Fires = 7 Million Cars for 1 Year

A non-profit organization called The Forest Foundation has released a study that claims the greenhouse gases released by the 4 large wildland fires that they studied is similar to the gases released by 7 million cars on the road for 1 year.

The Foundation says they studied these 4 California fires:
  • The Angora Fire, which burned more than 3,100 acres near South Lake Tahoe in June and July of 2007.
  • The Fountain Fire, which destroyed nearly 60,000 acres east of Redding in August 1992.
  • The Star Fire, which burned more than 16,000 acres in September 2001 in the Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests.
  • The Moonlight Fire, which burned more than 65,000 acres in September 2007 in and around the Plumas National Forest in the northern Sierra Nevada.
I have never heard of this organization, and have no idea of the credibility of them or the study. But it is certain that information like this, credible or not, is going to have an increasing effect on the management of public and private land.

So, should land management agencies redouble their efforts at preventing and suppressing wildland fires? Or, should there be a greater emphasis on prescribed fire or fuel reduction? Of course, prescribed fire will put greenhouse gases into the air, but will it be less than if when the vegetation burns in an unplanned ignition? You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

Fire Management Plans and Prescribed Fire Plans are going to become more complex, time consuming, and expensive to develop.

Update, March 21, 2008:

I have found out more about the origin this "study". According to an article written by Thomas M. Bonnicksen in the Sacramento Union published yesterday March 20, Bonnicksen claims that he "authored (it) for the Forest Foundation".

Bonnicksen is a "Professor Emeritus" at Texas A&M University. And, according to a Greenpeace web site called Exxon Secrets, he is associated with National Center for Public Policy Research.

In August of 2000 an article he wrote called "The Lesson of Los Alamos" was published on the Heartland Institute web site in which he was extremely critical of the National Park Service (NPS) and prescribed burning in general. In the article, Bonnicksen is not encumbered by facts in reaching his conclusions.

It is true that mistakes were made by the NPS on the prescribed fire at Bandelier National Monument that led to the Cerro Grande fire, and also in 1988 in Yellowstone National Park, but Bonnicksen is only correct in some of his analysis. For example, many of the fires that burned into Yellowstone in 1988 were human-caused and started outside the park.

According to Wikipedia:
Almost 250 different fires started in Yellowstone and the surrounding National Forests between June and August. Seven of them were responsible for 95% of the total burned area.
Yet Bonnicksen said:
Park staff did the same thing in Yellowstone in 1988, when they allowed a natural fire to burn until it became impossible to control. When it was over, the fire had charred nearly one-half of our oldest national park.

The Chapparal Institute has an exhaustive analysis and critique of some of Bonnicksen's attention-grabbing writings. An excerpt:

When someone spends so much effort to promote an idea, especially with such inflammatory language, it is often helpful to consider their motivation and connections. Due to his economic and political interests, it is difficult to view Dr. Bonnicksen as the objective observer and expert that he portrays himself.Dr. Bonnicksen is on the advisory board for the following organizations:

The Forest Foundation, a non-profit organization supported by the California Forest Products Commission. "The Forest Foundation strives to foster public understanding of the role forests play in the environmental and economic health of the state and the necessity of managing a portion of California's private and public forests to provide wood products for a growing population" (from their website).

According to public documents, Dr. Bonnicksen has been paid by the Forest Foundation to write opinion pieces in newspapers and to give presentations to promote land use policies favored by the logging industry. He also offers consulting services regarding timber and vegetation management. Nothing wrong with any of this of course, but it should be taken into consideration when measuring an individual's objectivity.

How Much Should We Fear Mountain Lions, Rattlesnakes, and Wildland Fires?

Burr Williams, of the Midland Reporter-Telegram in Texas, has some interesting thoughts comparing mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and wildland fires. Here is a brief excerpt:
"Mountain lions, grassfires and rattlesnakes are part of our landscape. We cannot prevent all wildfires nor can we kill every mountain lion or rattlesnake. We can learn how to behave if we run into a mountain lion (stand tall, wave your arms and yell). If we run, the lion will think we are food. In mountain lion habitat, we learn not to jog at daybreak or at sundown, because their prey (deer) often feed at that time. To avoid being bitten by a rattlesnake, we can learn to walk through pastures with respect, always putting our feet down where we can see them, and reach to the ground with our hands only after looking first.

During the month of February grassfires burned over a half-million acres of West Texas, prompting evacuations, killing livestock, destroying fencing and destroying buildings. Our semi-arid prairie brushland has adapted to fire over the centuries. Every rainy period will be followed by a dry year, and either lightning or man will sooner or later burn the dried-out litter left after the rainy times. Fire keeps our ecosystem healthy, according to ecologists. We can learn never to toss a cigarette out the window or to weld on a windy day without wetting the ground or to pull onto a grassy shoulder on the highway where a hot catalytic converter can start a fire."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fire Season Moves North; To North Dakota

The recent warm and dry weather in the northern great plains has created conditions favorable for a 2,000 acre grass fire to occur near Flasher, ND. A spokesperson said it originated from a burn barrel.

Man Arrested for Assulting Firefighter With ATV

From the Palestine Herald-Press in Texas:
An elderly Anderson County man was arrested late Saturday afternoon after he allegedly attempted to run over volunteer firefighters who were battling a grass fire on his property.

Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor said deputies arrested John T. Vinson, 73, Saturday on a charge of assaulting a public servant after the man reportedly drove a four-wheeler into a Westside Volunteer Fire Department firefighter and threatened to harm others.

Firefighters from Tucker and Westside Volunteer Fire Departments were called to fight a grass fire on ACR 2134 around 4 p.m., Taylor said, which apparently started when sparks from an earlier fire ignited in Vinson’s pasture and blew across a fence into a wooded area on a neighbor’s property.

When firefighters came onto Vinson’s land to put out the fire on his side of the fence, the man reportedly became upset, Taylor said.

“He came up to one of the firefighters on his four-wheeler and said not to put it out,” Taylor said.

When firefighters continued to try to extinguish the fire, the man drove the four-wheeler at them, striking and injuring a Westside volunteer, Taylor said.

“He purposely ran into the fireman,” he said. “(The firefighter) was transported from the scene with a knee injury.”

Vinson also allegedly threatened to get a gun from his home but was prevented from doing so, said the sheriff, who responded to the call along with deputies and Constable Doug Lightfoot.

Ice Storms in Missouri Increase Fuel by a Factor of Ten

The ice storms that swept through parts of Missouri and Oklahoma this winter damaged trees to the point where now the fallen trees and broken branches have, in some places, increased the fuel load from 3 tons per acre to over 30 tons per acre.

From the Joplin Globe:

....... "That’s because repeated ice storms have put more fuel on the ground in timbered areas than at any time in recent memory, officials say. The ground is crisscrossed with limbs and downed trees that not only provide fuel, but limit access and mobility for firefighters.

Andy Nimmo, chief of the Redings Mill Fire Protection District, experienced what the future could hold on March 2, when a small fire broke out on Reinmiller Road, southeast of Joplin. It became a large wildfire in a matter of seconds.

“We got our first glimpse of the danger then,” Nimmo said. “Fifty mile per hour winds in a heavily timbered area with lots of fuel on the ground made it 10 times more difficult to fight. We had to drop back and punt. We had to go to the nearest road we had access to to stop it.”

Duane Parker, a fire-protection consultant with Southwest Missouri Resource Conservation and Development, said a wooded area normally has 3 tons of fuel from leaves and fallen limbs per acre.

The average now is 30 to 34 tons per acre because of ice storms in 2007, and that does not include “hangers,” those limbs that are broken but still hanging in trees, he said.

Parker predicted the threat of serious fires this spring will be high in Southwest Missouri."

CalFire Proposes to Close 20 Fire Stations

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which now prefers being called CalFire, may have to close 20 fire stations due to a $50 million budget cut for the agency being ordered by the Governator. To help solve the state's budget woes, Governor Schwarzenegger is also pushing a 1.25% surcharge on all residential and commercial insurance premiums.

More information from the Auburn Journal:

Proposed state budget cuts could close 20 Cal Fire stations statewide including Auburn’s Bowman station.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked Cal Fire to cut more than $52 million from its budget, which amounts to about 10 percent of its general fund.

“To do that we are going to have to close a number of our facilities and reduce a number of our positions,” said Daniel Berlant, department information officer for Cal Fire.

He said the positions cut would not be in fire protection but in resource management and at the State Fire Marshal’s office.

He said Auburn’s Cal Fire station is on a list of stations targets for proposed closure.

“There are other stations (in the Auburn area) that can respond in a timely manner if there were to be a wildfire,” Berlant said.

He said if the Auburn station were to close employees would be redistributed to other locations.

“No current employees would lose their jobs,” Berlant said.

The governor has also proposed a wildland firefighting initiative within the budget that would recommend a surcharge to property owners statewide, which would pay for all facilities to remain open, Berlant said.

A 1.25 percent surcharge on residential and commercial insurance, like homeowners insurance, could bring in as much as $120 million to the state fire agency.

“It would increase our funding and we could increase our staffing to respond to wildland fires before they become infernos like the San Diego fires of last October,” Berlant said.

Monday, March 10, 2008

7 Firefighters Die on Forest Fire in Honduras

Damn, here's another one. From a story at eitb in Spain:
"The firefighters, four soldiers and three forestry workers, were part of a 200-strong team been battling to contain the fire on a mountainside close to Tegucigalpa since Friday.

Seven firefighters died in Honduras on Sunday overwhelmed by a raging forest blaze on the outskirts of the capital, the military said.

They were working to put out the fire and suddenly there was a change of wind direction and they were engulfed by flames, Gen. Orlando Vasquez told local radio. Honduras is at the start of its summer and forest fires at common at this time."
I wish there was some better wildland fire news to report, than all these firefighters dieing. We will all morn for our fallen brothers.

Oddly enough, on Saturday I will arrive in Honduras to spend a week on Roatan island. I'll try to get my mind off of all this with some scuba diving, snorkeling on coral reefs, hanging out on the beach, and listening to Jimmy Buffet while sipping a beverage. I might even have a drink with an umbrella in it.

Six People Die in Forest Fire on China

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

The fire broke out on Saturday, trapping more than 200 people in the village of Xitai, Xinhua news agency reported. "The main cause can be attributed to illegal fires set in the forests," Xinhua quoted Hu Changqing, vice head of the Hunan Forestry Department, as saying.

Forest fires had killed 22 people in the mountainous southern province this year and more than 1,500 forest fires had raged in 89 counties since Feb. 6, Xinhua said.

China's most bitter winter in decades had left Hunan's forests vulnerable to fires, Xinhua said, as heavy snowfalls collapsed power lines and tree branches. "The broken tree branches and the heating and lighting facilities left by the snow disaster relief teams in the forest have become very dangerous now and should be cleared as soon as possible," the agency quoted Xu Minghua, Hunan's vice governor, as saying.

Fainting Fireman Sues to Get Job Back

Story in the Associated Press:

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — A firefighter fired for fainting is suing the city of Saratoga Springs. Nathaniel King lost his job with the city fire department in December when he failed to complete newly required paramedic training, according to a lawsuit filed against the city in state Supreme Court in Saratoga County. Now he's suing to get his job back and for back pay.

The problem is, needles are his nemesis. During paramedic training, King fainted dead away every time he had to give an injection or start an intravenous line.

In the lawsuit, King says he successfully completed emergency medical technician training before being hired, but the department later increased job requirements to include paramedic training. That meant he had to use needles.

Assistant Fire Chief John Betor said he couldn't discuss the specifics of King's case, but he was aware of the lawsuit.

In his court filing, King says Betor tried to help him with his needle aversion. He says he even tried hypnotism on Betor's advice, but it didn't help.

Public Safety Commissioner Ronald Kim said he can't discuss pending litigation.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Mark Rey: States Should Pay for Suppression in Roadless Areas

Mark Rey, the ex-timber industry lobbyist who is now the Undersecretary of Agriculture overseeing the US Forest Service, has invited states to give input on where roads should be built in national forests. Now he is saying that if the states do not want roads, the states should have to pay the increased costs for fire suppression.

The state of California recently filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service for adopting a policy that would allow increased road building in the four southern California national forests and drilling for oil in areas of the Los Padres National Forest.

More information can be found at the Modesto Bee.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Patrick Henning, RIP

From Wildlandfire.com:
Patrick Henning, a Fire Apprentice on the Trabuco RD - Cleveland NF, was killed in a single-vehicle accident last Friday evening (Feb. 29) on his way home from work. He was member of the El Cariso Hotshots this past season and currently worked on the district fuels crew. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Patrick's family and friends during this difficult time. He will be missed !!!
He was recognized by emergency workers because of his El Cariso Hot Shot shirt, green nomex pants and whites boots he had on.
ORC T43 responded to and extricated USFS Firefighter Patrick Henning after his unfortunate passing as result of a single vehicle traffic accident. He was treated with the full respect of a fallen brother. The picture included is all that needs to be said.
Services for Pat Henning will be at Ascension Cemetery, 24754 Trabuco Rd., Lake Forest, CA at 1:00 pm Saturday March 8.
More information about his life, his memorial service, and the funeral can be found on the Pat Henning memorial web site.

My condolences to Pat's family, and his extended family. I know the El Cariso Hot Shots must be stunned by this. Some comfort is no doubt obtained by the respectful way the firefighters from the Orange County Fire Authority treated him-- as a fallen brother. I didn't know Pat, but I will never forget the picture of him being carried up the hill through the field of lupine flowers, or him, now. From an El Cariso graduate...Rest In Peace, Pat.

Photo is from the PatrickHenning.com memorial web site.

Aldo Leopold Died Fighting a Vegetation Fire

You learn something new every day. Aldo Leopold, considered to be the father of wildlife management, died from a heart attack while fighting a vegetation fire near his house. There are conflicting reports about when, but it was either 1947 or 1948.

Here is the account, according to the Des Moines Register:
On a warm spring weekend in April of 1947 he wrapped up his Madison business early and went with Estella and his daughter, Estella Jr. to the Shack. After breakfast on April 21, they smelled smoke and realized one wing of a brush fire was headed to the pines. The fire rapidly moved to a nearby marsh. Pleas for help by Estella to the local fire department went unheeded. Aldo, while fighting the grass fire, apparently suffered a massive heart attack. By the time he was found, he was dead.
The rest of the above article is worth reading too. It covers his early career working for the US Forest Service out of Albuquerque, getting lost in a blizzard, becoming a professor of game management, and his work at the Forest Products Laboratory at Madison, Wisconsin.

More about Leopold from Wikipedia:
Aldo Leopold (January 11, 1887 - April 21, 1948) was a United States ecologist, forester, and environmentalist. He was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness preservation. Aldo Leopold is considered to be the father of wildlife management in the United States and was a life-long fisherman and hunter. Leopold died in 1948 from a heart attack, while fighting a brush fire on a neighbor's farm.

Video of Air Tanker Drop

A quick 16-second video. It may have been recorded by a member of the El Cariso Hot Shots.

Bomber Drops Fire Retardant On Firefighters - For more funny videos, click here

Appropriate Management Response in Montana

The Clark Fork Chronicle has a story about a debate going on in Montana about the role of the US Forest Service on interface fires. Here is an excerpt.
U.S. Forest Service officials will not formally respond to recommendations that Montana fire chiefs offered last month to the legislature's interim study committee. But officials emphasized to the Chronicle that the protection of homes and outbuildings--structure protection--remains near the very top of firefighters' priorities.

The top priority, always, is life safety--the safety of firefighters and the public, explained Chuck Stanich, the fire management officer for the Lolo National Forest.

"Life safety we hold in highest regard on every fire, every time, everywhere," Chuck said. "Once we take care of that, then we go to the next priority."

The next priorities are typically protecting the community's "values at risk," which usually include structures, and other cultural and natural resources, such as watersheds.

Those objectives and priorities are established in discussions long before the first start of the fire season, documented in formal plans and agreements, and communicated across a wide range of federal, state, and local firefighting partners, Chuck explained.

Frenchtown Fire's Scott Waldron appeared in Helena earlier this month to present the state fire chiefs' report, and offered his perspective on the Black Cat Fire in response to the committee's questions. He alleged that Forest Service firefighters were not allowed to engage in structure protection, and testified that the agency's policy of "Appropriate Management Response" could endanger communities.

Without directly addressing Waldron's statements, Forest Service officials said they hoped to clear up any possible misconceptions about Forest Service policy.

Scottsdale, 2 Day-Exercise, 25 Fire Agencies

KPHO.com has the story:
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- More than 25 statewide fire agencies, fearing an active wildfire season, are taking part in a major training exercise at McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Scottsdale.

They are learning how to work together to protect the land, homes and lives when the brush fire season starts in mid-April.

Firefighters said they believe that the aggressive growth of desert grasses triggered by soaking winter rains will spell danger once the vegetation dries out in hotter weather.

"We're expecting a pretty active desert fire season," said Mike Guardado, one of the firefighters involving in the training. "We're getting to know each other and getting to know each other's equipment."

Guardado spent four years fighting fires for the U.S. Forest Service. He said he knows the dangers and difficulties when flames meet dry brush.

"It's pretty challenging," he said. "It can be frightening at times, especially working with hand tools when there's no water around."

While crews are training to protect homes and land, they're also learning to protect themselves.

Last year, crews across the state battled 1,926 wildfires devouring 63,908 acres, according to the Arizona State Forestry Division. That was a dramatic decrease from the 3,080 wildfires seen in 2006 that burned more than 152,000 acres.

The two-day training event, which ends Thursday, is an effort by the Scottsdale Fire Department and the Central Arizona Wildland Response Team.

The team is a consortium of approximately 15 fire agencies in central Arizona that participate in state and nationwide wildland fire response.

Frequent Fires Causing Type Conversion

The LA Times has an interesting story about the effects of frequent fires on the vegetation. Here's a key quote:
"Ecosystems forged over time to thrive by being burned every 60 to 100 years are now being scorched every 10 to 15 years -- or even more often."

And a larger excerpt:
As scientists comb through Southern California's burnt landscape, they're finding new evidence that frequent fires are gradually replacing chaparral and sagebrush with highly flammable and prolific nonnative weeds.

Orange County's canyons offer a stark illustration. The 28,400 acres that burned over three weeks are in various stages of recovery. Upper elevations of the Santa Ana Mountains remain a moonscape.

But throughout the foothills, weeds are in full bloom amid blackened native sagebrush and grass.

Known as "type conversion," the landscape change is having a profound effect: extending the region's annual fire season, deepening the threat of mudslides and endangering animal species.

The culprit isn't the size of wildfires, but their frequency. Ecosystems forged over time to thrive by being burned every 60 to 100 years are now being scorched every 10 to 15 years -- or even more often.

Nonnative weeds have been encroaching on Southern California's wild lands for centuries, carried over in the hoofs of Spanish livestock, accidentally spread through contaminated crop seed, intentionally planted along streams to control erosion.

In recent years, scientists have argued that a fire frequency that would benefit a conifer forest through thinning would destroy a coastal ecology by helping to spread invasive species, such as mustard, star thistle and ripgut brome.

Rich Hawkins, a veteran fire chief for the Cleveland National Forest, learned the rule of thumb from an old forest ranger 30 years ago.

"If a site burns three times within 20 years," Hawkins said, "you'll see most of the chaparral lost on that site."

Because of imprecise historical habitat mapping, just how much of Southern California's wild lands have undergone type conversion because of fire is unknown.

"But clearly, a large part of the native landscape has already been lost," Keeley said.

Firefighters hate nonnative weeds as much as biologists do. Mustard, for instance, can quickly grow hip high with winter rains, then dry out just as fast, becoming a field of kindling.

It's one reason the region's fire season is getting longer and more destructive. "It makes it impossible to fight a wind-driven fire," Hawkins said. "That's why thousands of homes burned down in San Diego County."

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Kansas Firefighters Burned Over in Engine

From Salina.com:

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

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

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

The McPherson department was one of six area departments responding Saturday to two separate fires occurring about 12:35 p.m. in southwest McPherson County. The larger fire covered about 700 acres, the smaller blaze spread across about 90 acres, Capt. Neal Schierling with McPherson County Rural Fire District No. 5, said Monday.

Officials think the fires may have been started in ditches from sparks from a pickup truck with a worn wheel bearing, Schierling said. The fires were about a mile apart and were close to the McPherson-Rice county line. They were under control by about 3:30 or 4 p.m., he said.

Stuck in the mud

Willems and Brewer's fire unit became stuck in a mud hole that wasn't visible because of tall grass, Thrower said.

The fire "advanced on them unexpectedly and overtook them so quickly," Thrower said, that they had no chance to use the truck sprayer to keep the flames at bay.

"The vegetation is very dry right now, due to it just coming out of winter," Thrower said.

Afterwards, the two men were able to walk to the road where there were other fire units there to assist. A helicopter flew Brewer to the medical center in Wichita, while Willems was taken there by ambulance. Both are expected to fully recover from their injuries, Thrower said.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Video of Firefighters Falling Trees

I don't visit YouTube very often, but I found this interesting minute-long video of some tree fallers in action.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Alabaugh Fire Staff Ride

The Alabaugh Fire burned 10,324 acres and dozens of structures near Hot Springs, SD in July of 2007. During suppression operations, two firefighters were entrapped and they deployed inside one fire shelter.

There will be staff rides featuring this fire on April 8, 9, and 10 at Hot Springs. One interesting thing about the staff ride is that it will serve as the required 8-hour annual fire refresher.

Photo of Alabaugh Fire by Bill Gabbert