Thursday, January 1, 2009

Top Wildland Fire News Stories: Sept-Dec, 2008

On December 30 and 31, after combing through the 800+ posts on Wildfire Today during 2008, we posted the top wildland fire news stories of January-April, and May-August. On December 29 we posted a list of fatalities on wildland fires.

Today, January 1, we have the top stories for September-December, 2008. Posted below are excerpts from the articles. To read the full text in the original articles, click on the links.

September 1
Montana: Dunn Mountain fire: contained at 102,383 acres

This huge fire 30 miles northeast of Billings received some rain late on Sunday. The precipitation and cooler temperatures enabled firefighters to make good progress Sunday and Monday, resulting in the fire being 100% contained today. Here is a photo from a couple of days ago:

John N. Maclean on the Thirtymile Fire sentencing

As many wildland firefighters know, John N. Maclean is the author of three books about wildland fire. Having known John for a while, we contacted him after Ellreese Daniels was sentenced for Daniels' actions on the Thirtymile fire. We asked him for his reaction to the sentence and discovered that he was writing an article on the subject for Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. We received permission from John and High Country News to publish the article. Wildfire Today thanks them both for their generosity. The article is included in its entirety HERE.

September 4
San Diego's new helicopter

The City of San Diego introduced their new firefighting helicopter to the public yesterday. Copter 2, a Bell 412, is the city's second helicopter. From the San Diego Union-Tribune:
The city is paying for the nearly $11 million helicopter with a 15-year lease-purchase agreement, financed by Koch Financial Corp., said Deputy Fire Chief Brian Fennessy. The helicopter will cost $15.9 million over the term of the lease.

The Bell 412 is quieter, carries more weight, and is faster than Copter 1, the city's Bell 212, Fennessy said. He said Copter 2 can be flown with instruments in zero visibility, while Copter 1 requires some visibility to be operated.

According to the city, Copter 2 can drop 375 gallons of water. While hovering over a lake, a pilot can refill its drop tank in 17 seconds.
File photo of an LA County Bell 412

September 6

Allstate insurance in response to the massive fires in recent years in southern California is no longer selling new homeowner policies in the state. Some companies that are still selling new policies are requiring massive clearances around structures.

September 8
Cancer risk for firefighters

We are not aware of any specific study that has been completed on the occurrence of cancer among wildland firefighters, but there is enough data out there about structural firefighters that make this a major concern. Wildfire Today has covered this before, but the Spokane Spokesman-Review has a new disturbing article about a local cancer cluster. Here is an excerpt.
Doug Bacon missed the funeral of a fellow Spokane firefighter because the 59-year-old was in treatment for throat cancer – the same illness that had just killed his friend and co-worker.

A third Spokane firefighter who joined the department with Bacon in the 1970s also has been diagnosed with throat cancer.

"It's to the point we're trying to figure out which fire we were all on together," said Bacon, who survived his cancer and returned to the job in mid-2006. "I've got attitude. I fought it."

Firefighters are at least twice as likely to get cancer as the average person because of exposure to toxins emitted in fires, such as benzene, asbestos and cyanide, studies say. More firefighters have been diagnosed with cancer in the past two years than in the previous 10 years, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and recent studies.

September 11
Wildland Firefighter Foundation recognized by CNN

Vicki, Burke, and Melissa have been doing wonderful things at the WFF for a number of years. It's great that CNN is recognizing them. Here is an excerpt from the CNN article, but if you go to the original HERE, you will be able to view some videos featuring Vicki and the work the WFF is doing.
BOISE, Idaho (CNN) -- Firefighter Jonathan Frohreich had never heard of The Wildland Firefighter Foundation, much less its founder, until recovering from severe work-related injuries last month.

Vicki Minor's Wildland Firefighter Foundation has granted more than $1.5 million in aid to more than 500 families.

As he lay in his hospital bed in Sacramento, California, Vicki Minor put her hand on his shoulder.

"She introduced herself and told me that she was there to help," recalls Frohreich, who had been in a helicopter crash that killed nine of his colleagues. "She just said, 'Anything.' She was there to do anything for me."

Since 1999, Minor has dedicated herself to providing emergency assistance and ongoing support to injured and fallen wildfire fighters and their families nationwide through her Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Wildland firefighters are called into action when the United States' vast natural resources are threatened by fire.
September 16
Tanker 09's last drop

Here is a photo of Tanker 09's last drop before they went back to Reno to refill and then crashed on take off September 1.

Photo by Robert Mesa of Santa Clara, California.

September 17
San Diego County contracts for Superscoopers

San Diego County is gradually taking steps to increase their fire preparedness after being criticized in reports following their massive fires of 2003 and 2007. The City of San Diego recently purchased their second helicopter, and the County is contracting for two Bombardier CL-415 Superscooper air tankers and a lead plane for three months.

HERE is a link to a page with a video from San Diego 6 that shows a demonstration of the aircraft in action Tuesday.

September 18
USFS cuts fine for congressman involved in escaped fire

Wildfire Today first covered this on June 4, but now there are new developments.

From The State.com
By JAMES ROSEN - jrosen@mcclatchydc.com

WASHINGTON — A senior federal official, fearful of incurring a congressman’s wrath, sent subordinates on a mad dash earlier this year to retrieve a certified letter demanding payment of $5,773 for starting a fire that burned 20 acres of a national forest.

U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, R-SC

Mark Rey, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources, said he didn’t want U.S. Rep. Henry Brown to receive the March 12 letter before he testified before a U.S. House committee on which the South Carolina Republican sits.

“I’d just as soon have him not take a chunk of hide out of me,” Rey said Wednesday.

Rey confirmed the actions of Forest Service collections agents as outlined in internal agency documents McClatchy (newspapers) obtained.

September 21
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.

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.

September 29
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.

October 3
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.
October 6
NASA Partners With Forest Service On Air Tanker Safety Study

EDWARDS, Calif. — NASA is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service on a project to examine the mission suitability of Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10 fire retardant delivery aircraft. The aircraft under study are a DC-10 belonging to 10 Tanker Air Carrier LLC and a 747 owned by Evergreen International Aviation, Inc. The DC-10 tanker has already been successfully employed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in past wildfire suppression missions.

October 11
NTSB releases report on DC-10 air tanker tree-strike

The National Transportation Safety Board has released their official report on the DC-10 air tanker tree-strike incident that occurred in June of 2007. This was a closer call than we realized. The aircraft struck 13 trees, one of which was only 45-feet tall. This may explain some of the reluctance of the U.S. Forest Service to award a contract to Evergreen's 747 air tanker.

October 13
Angel Island fire

This fire on an island in San Francisco bay that Wildfire Today told you about yesterday, is now 250 acres. The local ABC TV station has some excellent photos. HERE is a web cam view of the fire.

October 22
Fire in New Jersey burns 1,200 acres

The fire burns near Atsion Lake in Shamong Township in New Jersey on Tuesday. Photo by Curt Hudson.

Update @ 9:13 p.m. ET

By 4:30 p.m. the fire had burned a total of 1,800 acres and was 40% contained. No homes are immediately threatened, a spokesman said.


A fire 10 miles southeast of the Philadelphia suburbs has forced the evacuation of several homes and has burned 1,200 acres as of Wednesday morning. The fire is burning in the New Jersey Pine Barrens in the Wharton State Forest and a portion of it has burned into an area that burned last year.

October 31
California: Power company shelves plans to cut power during high fire danger

San Diego Gas and Electric, a company whose power lines are blamed for starting multiple very large wildland fires, has postponed until next year plans to turn off the power to large sections of San Diego County during periods of high fire danger. Wildfire Today covered this story earlier HERE.

This week the Commission announced that no rules exist to prevent the utility from shutting off the electricity. But they said they want to review the plan which would shut off power to 45,000 citizens. SDG&E still hopes to be able to turn off the power as they wish next year.

November 3
Comic book salutes military firefighters

Marvel Comics has created a number of comic books in tribute to our military. Their latest, released free to the military in July, features military personnel, several super heros, MAFFS air tankers, the Ikhana unmanned aerial vehicle (for mapping fires), and a fire which is threatening San Diego.

Above is one page out of the book. The entire 1.5 MB 5-page book, a .pdf document, can be downloaded HERE from Sagacity Wildfire Services.

The author of the comic book, Stuart Moore, blogged about his creation HERE.

November 5
Barack Obama's position on wildland fire

Now that he is the President-Elect, how will wildland fire be affected? Of course campaign promises don't always materialize, but Obama has an official two-page position paper on wildland fire. We don't recall any Presidential candidate having a specific, written position on wildland fire before this election.

November 13
BDF Engine 56 crash

From FirefighterCloseCalls:
On October 3rd, 2008, at approximately 1940 hrs., a Strike Team made up of 4 BDF (San Bernardino National Forest in southern California) engines and 1 BLM (Bureau of Land Management) engine were traveling from the ICP to their night shift assignment. While in a curve, the right rear wheels of Engine #56 ran off the roadway and caught a four to six inch drop between the asphalt and shoulder.

The driver attempted to correct the situation, resulting in the engine veering across the road, hitting a dirt embankment and rolling over on the left hand side of the road. The engine landed on the passenger side.

The five crew members were treated on scene and transported by ground ambulance to Mee Memorial Hospital in King City, CA. All crew members were treated and released with minor injuries. There were no other vehicles involved. The road was paved, dry, and clear.

California: dozens of homes burn in Tea fire

The Tea fire started at 6 p.m. Thursday and has burned dozens of homes south of Santa Barbara near the community of Montecito, according to Fox Channel 11. Spokesperson Michelel Mickiewicz of Santa Barbara County said at 10:15 p.m. PT that 1,000 acres have burned and 125 engines have been ordered. At least one night-flying water-dropping helicopter has also been ordered but the winds have made it difficult to use aircraft. The crew from the Channel 2 helicopter was able to count at least 50 homes that had burned as of 11 p.m PT, and that was in the dark.

Fox is reporting that the library, the physics building, and some dorms at Westmont College have burned. About 800 students are being sheltered in the gymnasium while structures on their campus burn.

October and November
Sayre, Sesnon, Marek fires

The Sayer fire of November burned into October's Sesnon fire north of Los Angeles. The official size of the Sayer fire is 9,500 acres and it is 30% contained. The Marek fire burned at the same time the Sesnon fire was burning (see map below).

Search and rescue teams with cadaver dogs will be combing through the Oak Ridge mobile home park where 500 mobile homes were lost. They will be looking for the remains of anyone who was not able to evacuate. Even though some people are not accounted for, hopefully they are safe and no remains will be found.

November 17
Freeway Complex fire

This fire near Corona and Yorba Linda, California is still active on the northwest side in the Diamond Bar and Tonner Canyon areas. It has burned 28,889 acres and is 40% contained. At least 120 homes have burned.

November 19
600 people evacuate from fire in Hawaii; some by boat

A vegetation fire on the island of Lanai caused 600 people to evacuate from a hotel and begin to flee the island by boats. The 300 acre fire, pushed by 40 mph winds, threatened the Four Seasons Resort and other areas on the island.

At least four boats loaded with evacuees left the island headed for Maui and Lahaina, but the fire situation eased and the boats were later recalled.

The five firefighters on Lanai had their hands full with this fire. They were eventually joined by 16 firefighters from other islands.

November 22
USFS employee investigated for arson in Esperanza fire area

The Press-Enterprise has a stunning article about a southern California U. S. Forest Service Fire Prevention Technician (FPT), Michael Karl McNeil, 35, who was investigated for arson at several places where he has worked.

The newspaper obtained a copy of a confidential July 2008 report that formed the basis for their lengthy, carefully worded article which says four of the fires for which the FPT was investigated were the same fires that match the dates and circumstances of fires that are associated with Raymond Lee Oyler, who has been charged with setting the 2006 Esperanza fire that resulted in the deaths of five firefighters on Engine 57 of the San Bernardino National Forest. However, investigators determined that McNeil was not responsible for the Esperanza fire.

It appears that two arsonists may have been working in the same general area in 2006, the Banning Pass area.

November 24
"Firefighter instructor" indicted for forging documents

On November 17 Wildfire Today covered the conviction of a Bitterroot Valley, Montana resident, Jay M. Gasvoda, for making false statements to a federal agency. He is a fire contractor who lied about the results of the physical fitness test (pack test).

Now there is news about David Monington of Miles City, Montana being...
...indicted last week in federal court in Rapid City, SD on two counts of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud.

The indictment alleges he forged about 14 signatures of South Dakota firefighting officials in an attempt to gain certification from the National Wildfire Suppression Association. The documents fraudulently attest to his training and experience as a firefighter.
November 27
Firefighters prepare Thanksgiving meal for fire victims

We love stories like this.

Firefighters of the Los Angeles Fire Department will be preparing Thanksgiving meals for some of the victims of the recent Sayer fire where about 500 mobile homes burned. The Fire Department has contacted residents of the mobile home park and thanks to members of Fire Station #27 some of them will be eating a warm meal today. Many residents have accepted the offer and up to 50 of them will be shuttled to the station from the Oakridge Mobile Home Park in Sylmar.

December 2
Tina Hunt on firefighter liability


The following was written yesterday, December 2, by Tina Hunt, the attorney who represented Ellreese Daniels in the Thirtymile fire case. It is reprinted here with her permission.
"I feel that firefighters should still remain concerned that criminal charges could be brought based upon statements they make during investigations of burnover and fatality investigations. Felony false statement charges can be very difficult to win, and that was certainly my concern in the Thirty Mile case.

While there were others who gave statements which may have been construed as false, only Ellreese was charged, and I felt as if they charged him only because they could hold the hammer of the manslaughter charges over him.

The prosecution in the 30 Mile case was ridiculous; I will always feel that way, and I would NEVER EVER EVER allow a firefighter to make statements during any investigation if I represented them.

Because there is no check on the power of the government to bring these kinds of charges, I believe that the agencies should get together, along with the AG (Attorney General), to ensure that the goals of a burnover/fatality investigation are not chilled by the threat of prosecution."
The sad truth is, if a firefighter is involved in a serious accident, they need to Lawyer Up, and keep their mouths shut.

December 4
Oregon: report issued about escaped Rx fire

In September Wildfire Today reported on the escaped prescribed fire on the Deschutes National Forest near Sisters, Oregon. The U.S. Forest Service investigated the incident and on December 3 issued their report. Wildfire Today reviewed it and here is a brief summary.

December 12
Life magazine fire photos

From the LIFE magazine archive: "Senator Richard M. Nixon on roof of his home in Los Angeles, putting out fires caused by brush blaze."

Google, in an effort to "organize all the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" is digitizing and putting online never-before-seen images from the LIFE magazine photo archive. So far they have put about 20% of the 10,000,000 photos online.

Kent Maxwell, via FireNet, called this to our attention and pointed out that many of the photos are dated August 8, 1949 with the citation Helena, Montana. The Mann Gulch fire, in which 13 smoke jumpers died, started on August 5, 1949 in the Helena National Forest. One of the photos shows 10-12 boxes about the size of caskets.

To search in the photo archive, go to Google and enter: (your search terms) source:life

HERE are the results, showing 200 images, of a search for: forest fire source:life

December 16
Man accused of starting 75,000 a. fire kills himself

Stephen Posniak, accused of starting the Gunflint Trail Fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area that burned 75,000 acres in Minnesota and Canada in 2007, committed suicide.

December 19
Witnesses hard to find for Esperanza fire trial

The trial for the person accused of starting the Esperanza fire, where five U.S. Forest Service firefighters died, is scheduled to begin January 12.

From the Press-Enterprise:
The defense attorney for the man charged in the 2006 Esperanza Fire said in court Friday he is having trouble getting U.S. Forest Service witnesses to cooperate with his efforts to subpoena them.

Raymond Lee Oyler, 38, faces the death penalty if convicted of murder in the deaths of five U.S. Forest Service firefighters who were killed when the fire swept over them as they protected a home.
December 22
747 Supertanker update, December 22, 2008

Wildfire Today has learned Evergreen's 747 "Supertanker" still does not have an air tanker contract with any wildland fire agency. The aircraft is sitting at Marana, Arizona after undergoing some modifications and tests. One change they recently made was to replace the internal retardant tanks, requiring additional testing. The new retardant tanks hold 20,500 gallons.


Evergreen now has three important approvals which are necessary in order to seek a contract so the 747 can be used on fires: FAA's Supplemental Type Certificate, Interagency Tanker Board approval, and an FAA Operating Certificate.

The aircraft will go through more drop testing with the U.S. Forest Service in late February or March. There is still a chance that it could be signed up with either the USFS or CalFire in time to be used on fires in the summer of 2009.

December 30
NTSB report on Colorado SEAT crash

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

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

The National Transportation Safety Board has released their "factual report" about the SEAT crash.

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