Fire studies at Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks

Above: A bison in Yellowstone National Park, May 25, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Two recent and ongoing studies at the two big “Y” parks are yielding results about fire behavior and the effects of naturally occurring fire. The excerpts below are both from

The first is about allowing wildfires to burn at Yosemite National Park, rather than suppressing them:

An unprecedented 40-year experiment in a 40,000-acre valley of Yosemite National Park strongly supports the idea that managing fire, rather than suppressing it, makes wilderness areas more resilient to fire, with the added benefit of increased water availability and resistance to drought.

After a three-year, on-the-ground assessment of the park’s Illilouette Creek basin, University of California, Berkeley researchers concluded that a strategy dating to 1973 of managing wildfires with minimal suppression and almost no preemptive, so-called prescribed burns has created a landscape more resistant to catastrophic fire, with more diverse vegetation and forest structure and increased water storage, mostly in the form of meadows in areas cleared by fires.

“When fire is not suppressed, you get all these benefits: increased stream flow, increased downstream water availability, increased soil moisture, which improves habitat for the plants within the watershed. And it increases the drought resistance of the remaining trees and also increases the fire resilience because you have created these natural firebreaks,” said Gabrielle Boisramé, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and first author of the study…

The next article covers a study into the fire behavior of this summer’s fires that spread through the footprints of the 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park.

…”Largely up until this point, fire has not necessarily carried well through the ’88 fire scars,” Yellowstone fire ecologist Becky Smith said. “I mean, it definitely has before, but it usually takes very specific conditions, like high winds or a very specific fuel bed. But this year, we’re definitely seeing it burn much more readily in the ’88 fire scars.”

The park has called in a special federal team that studies fire behavior to find out why.

“We’re trying to use it as a good learning opportunity to try and really narrow our focus on how and when the ’88 fire scars will burn,” Smith said. The 1988 wildfires burned 36 percent of the park.

It’s the first time Yellowstone has used the special team’s services, she said.

The 13-member team is studying two fires burning in the 1988 fire scar. It has deployed special heat-resistant equipment with sensors, cameras and other instruments to measure things like temperature and wind where the fires are burning…

Depth of field effect with the new iPhone 7 Plus

In this article we completely depart from the usual theme of wildland fire and dip our toe into photography. So if you have no interest in that topic, scroll down to the next post.

When the new iPhone 7 Plus was introduced about a month ago Apple promised to add functionality to the phone’s camera in October that they called “Portrait Mode”. Yesterday the updated software, iOS 10.1, became available which enabled the feature.

This makes it possible to intentionally blur the background in a photo, leaving the foreground in focus. It changes the depth of field, that is, what is in focus. Photographers call this the “bokeh” effect and can help the viewer of the photo concentrate on the primary object without being distracted by the background. This is usually only possible with digital single lens reflex (SLR or DSLR) cameras.

The photos below that we shot this afternoon are first, the unaltered original, followed by the Portrait Mode effect of the same photo. It’s all done just by taking one photo, but you end up with two.

flower portrait mode

flower portrait mode

Apple does this by having two cameras in the iPhone 7 Plus, each with a different lens, 28mm and 56mm. In Portrait Mode the phone compares images from the lenses, triangulating to determine the distance to various objects. Then it decides to artificially blur the ones that are farther away.

wildfire today mug portrait mode

wildfire today mug portrait mode

This feature is only available in the iPhone 7 Plus, and is not included in the smaller iPhone 7.

Want a mug similar to this?

Spread of the Junkins Fire slows

Above: Junkins Fire. Undated photo by the Incident Management Team.

The Junkins Fire has spread very little over the last two days. Most of the changes to the perimeter have been on the south side east of Highway 165, and on the northeast side south of Greenwood.

The number of personnel assigned has grown to 918. The latest size estimate is 18,132 acres. Evacuation orders are still in effect for County Road 387. Highway 165 and Custer County Road 358 are now open, however some spur roads in the fire area remain closed.

Progression Junkins Fire
Progression map of the Junkins Fire. The large blue area burned 9,442 acres on the first day, October 17. Click HERE to see a higher resolution version.

Firefighters are working on containing the northern flank, progressing east from Highway 165. Indirect dozer and hand line will be constructed along the Hardscrabble Creek drainage in preparation for planned firing operations. The northeast and eastern divisions remain in monitor and patrol status with engines continuing to secure areas around structures.

Along the southern portion of the fire, crews continue burning operations where needed, constructing direct line where possible. Multiple water sources have been established to assist as mop up operations continue.

bobcat Junkins Fire
A bobcat on the Junkins Fire near Highway October 25, 2016. USFS photo by Daryl Bressan.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Junkins Fire”.

Fire in Indian River County, Florida

Above: Aerial photo of the fire in Blue Cypress Conservation Area, October 24, 2016. Florida Forest Service.

(UPDATED at 1:30 p.m. EDT October 25, 2016)

The Florida Forest Service reported today that the wildfire east of Vero Beach, named the Johnny Marsh Fire, self-extinguished when the grass fire reached willow trees. The estimate of 1,000 acres will be updated after an aerial recon Tuesday afternoon.

The photo below is from Monday.


(Originally published at 5:14 p.m. EDT October 24, 2016)

The Florida Forest Service is responding to a wildfire in Indian River County in the Blue Cypress Conservation Area 19 miles west of Vero Beach. At 4 p.m. EDT they reported it was about 1,000 acres, and three miles long (north-south) by 1 miles wide.

The fire was reported Sunday evening and continues to grow on Monday.

map wildfire indian river county florida
Map showing heat detected at a wildfire by a satellite at 12:30 p.m. EDT October 24, 2016.
wildfire indian river county florida
Aerial photo of the fire in Blue Cypress Conservation Area, October 24, 2016. Florida Forest Service.

Thousands of lightning strikes in southern California

(Above: lightning strikes in the 24 hours before 1 p.m. PDT October 24, 2016.)

Thousands of lightning strikes have occurred in southern California between Sunday afternoon and Monday afternoon.

The onerous task of archiving incident records

Above: A scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.

One of the more laborious and least appreciated tasks at a large wildfire or other incident is assembling and storing the paper and electronic records. These official government documents from a fire provide a record of significant events and actions taken, provide information to address payments and claims and must be collected under the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. Some records have permanent value for developing lessons learned and long-term value for managing natural resources. Documentation Unit Leaders are assigned to incidents to be responsible to assemble the files.

As the 38,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire in Colorado and Wyoming was winding down after 97 days, the incident management team (IMT) realized they had filled 26 boxes. And they needed to make copies for all three of the primary agencies that were involved.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group has established very specific, detailed guidelines for maintaining incident records. They have even established a permanent Incident Records Subcommittee.

records archive
Example of archived documents, from Incident Records Training PowerPoint.

The photo above is obviously what the NWCG wants to avoid.

The IMT at the Beaver Fire looked for alternatives to creating scores of boxes of paper that would most likely end up sitting in a dusty warehouse for decades.

Below is an excerpt from a Rapid Lesson Sharing document explaining how they dealt with the task.

…As this incident progressed, the documentation grew and grew. The Documentation Unit Leader (DOCL) was maintaining three sets of documents so that each of the agencies involved would have a set.

In August, the Incident Business Advisor (IBA) assigned to the Beaver Creek Fire recommended that the agencies order an Archivist to scan and catalog all the documents related to the fire. At first, the agencies were hesitant to agree to this request due to a concern that a complete set of these documents could not be provided.

But eventually the agencies did agree and the Archivist (a DOCL) started this work.

The documents are now scanned and named following the established document system. The original set of documents will be stored by the incident agency.

Each agency will now have a complete set of the indexed incident documents for the Beaver Creek Fire available electronically. If a hard copy is needed, it can be printed or obtained from the archived paper files stored at the Forest’s headquarters.

LESSON: Consider utilizing an Archivist to organize incident documents in an electronic format for easy access by multiple entities.

Congrats to the IMT for saving mountains of paper and telling others about their success story. However, a few more details would have fleshed out the lesson they learned. For example, how did they physically scan the documents — what hardware and software did they find useful. And what file formats are the documents in? Would the electronic record they made meet the national guidelines for the one official record that would serve everyone’s needs, including those required by the Freedom of Information Act?

The photos below are from an Incident Records Training PowerPoint presentation, and show how paper documents are stored.

records archive
Example of archived incident documents, from Incident Records Training PowerPoint.
records archive
Example of archived documents, from Incident Records Training PowerPoint.
records archive
Example of archived maps, from Incident Records Training PowerPoint.

Fun fact about the making of the warehouse scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (see photo at the top of our article). The warehouse is a painting, not a real warehouse or a computer generated graphic. A hole was cut in the painting through which the live action was filmed. From VashiVisuals:

Michael Pangrazio created some of the most famous matte paintings in Cinema history. His work in Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Temple of Doom (1984) and 65 other films is some of the most memorable ever. By the 1990’s almost all matte paintings were produced using computer software and the analog method slowly and sadly faded away.

The warehouse in Raiders of the Lost Ark took 3 months to paint onto a sheet of glass. The glass was positioned right in front of the camera and it extended the set deep into the background. This example is often called the most effective and beautiful matte painting ever.

The live action in the scene was shot through a hole in the matte painting.