California: French Fire

French Fire

French Fire. Undated photo by Burt Stalter.

A fire that was reported early Monday morning in California had already burned 3,600 acres as of Tuesday night. The French Fire is 15 miles east of Oakhurst, 5 miles west of Huntington Lake, and 36 miles northeast of Fresno. It is just across the drainage from last year’s Aspen Fire that blackened at least 11,000 acres south of Mammoth Pool Reservoir.

Several summer homes and 12 Forest Service and private campgrounds have been evacuated and closed. Structures are being defended in the Hogue Ranch and Kinsman Flat areas.

Map of French Fire, July 29, 2014

Map of the French Fire, July 29, 2014. The red and yellow squares represent heat detected by a satellite on Monday and Tuesday. Their location can be accurate to within a mile. (click to enlarge)

The 2013 Aspen Fire (shown in the map below) was just east of where the French Fire is burning now (seen in the map above). Some of the same firelines that were used last year are being opened up and used again.

Map of Aspen Fire at 1 a.m. PDT, July 30, 2013

Map of Aspen Fire at 1 a.m. PDT, July 30, 2013

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Wildfire briefing, July 29, 2014

Congress fails to act on wildfire funding

Dollar SignCongress still has not taken action on the President’s request for $615 million to be put into a fund to pay for wildfires. Having this money up front could prevent the federal land management agencies from being forced to rob money from unrelated accounts in order to pay firefighting bills. And with their 5-week vacation beginning on July 31, it is unlikely our elected representatives will do anything before the second week in September at the earliest.

Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said, “The [land management] agencies have a big pile of money already. I don’t think there’s an urgency on the money part.”

Looking for information about Washington fires

Greg Baron wrote an interesting piece for Emergency Management about trying to find information for a client who wanted to provide assistance with reconstruction related to the wildfires in Washington. After searching online, here is a portion of his findings. The rest are here:

1. There is no JIC [Joint Information Center]. The Washington fires are involving at least two counties (Okanagan and Chelan) and numerous small towns including Pateros, Carlton, Brewster, Twisp and Winthrop. But there is no one single source of up-to-date and reliable information. Complicating that is there are a couple of different major fires with different names: Carleton Complex (or Carlton Complex as there is no consistency) and Chiwaukum Complex (try and remember that name, let alone how to spell it).

2. The best source was this blog site: http://carltoncomplex.blogspot.com/. But there are some issues: Who is behind it? The information only said that it is published by “Carlton Complex.” How can we know if it is official (as it says) or reliable if you don’t identify yourself? The site itself is very nicely presented and of the many I looked at, easiest to find what you are looking for (except if you are looking to offer services). I really like the listing of other sources with links, the Twitter feed on the front page, the integration with other social media, the map, the rolling updates from news media — there’s lots to like here. I also really like that you can sign up for email updates; I just signed up so can’t say how they are doing with that but I think this is something that is often missed. I also really like the Spanish language emphasis, which is evident in several sites — a reality given the percentage of Hispanic population in this area.

3. InciWeb doesn’t cut it. InciWeb provided by the U.S. Forest Service has been a primary Web tool for the agency for fires, but I always hear of difficulties. I suspect the blog referred to above is run by the U.S. Forest Service and may be to replace InciWeb as there is counter-linking.

Cost of Washington wildfires

Officials in Washington estimate that the cost of suppressing wildfires in their state so far this year as been $50 million. About half of that went to the Carlton Complex fire, at a cost of over $23 million. These figures do not include loss of property or damage to infrastructure. The Carlton Complex burned about 300 homes and heavily damaged the power grid in the Methow Valley.

Public service announcements featuring Disney’s movie, Planes: Fire & Rescue

Planes and Smokey

Disney is joining the Ad Council, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Association of State Foresters  to launch a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs) featuring scenes and characters from Disneytoon Studios’ animated film Planes: Fire & Rescue. The PSAs are an extension of the Wildfire Prevention PSA campaign, featuring the iconic Smokey Bear, who celebrates his 70th birthday this summer. For more information on Smokey Bear and the Wildfire Prevention campaign visit: www.SmokeyBear.com.

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Victims of escaped prescribed fire in Colorado receiving settlement checks

Ann Appel

Ann Appel, killed in her home during the Lower North Fork Fire. Photo courtesy of the Appel family.

More than two years after the Lower North Fork prescribed fire escaped southwest of Denver and destroyed 22 homes, burned 4,140 acres, and killed three local residents at their homes, compensation payments have been mailed to the people impacted by the disaster. After it was revealed that Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources violated their own policies while conducting the prescribed fire, state lawmakers changed the immunity law which had capped their liability at $600,000. According to Denver’s Channel 7:

The largest settlement, $4,779,480, went to Scott Appel and the estate of his wife, Ann Appel [who was killed in the fire]. She told her husband she was ready to leave, but the Appel household never got a reverse notification about evacuations and neighbors told Scott Appel that by the time the call went out, they believe the Appel property was on fire. The family of Sam and Linda Lucas [who were also killed] were allotted $1,306,895.

The total compensation for all of the people affected by the fire was $18.1 million.

We covered the release of the report about the disaster in April of 2012.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Ryan.

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New $24.6 million GPS radio system to make Victoria’s firefighters safer

The following information was provided by the office of the Premier of Victoria, Australia last year.

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Minister for Environment and Climate Change Ryan Smith today announced work has begun to install 6,000 new communications radios in firefighting vehicles, aircraft, incident control centres, fire towers and work centres throughout Victoria.Mr Smith said the $24.6 million project would see the current 19 year-old radio fleet replaced with a state-of-the-art system to better protect emergency services personnel and Victorian communities.

“This program will see vital new communications radios, which are digital-capable, installed in firefighting vehicles and aircraft throughout Victoria,” Mr Smith said.

“New handheld radios will also be provided for use by operational staff.

“Communications are a crucial part of effective bushfire response. Upgrading communications infrastructure enhances the capability of our emergency services to protect communities and firefighting personnel from bushfire.”

Mr Smith said the radio replacement project would be led by the Department of Primary Industries and Environment (DEPI).

“Each radio unit will be equipped with a GPS tracking system enabling incident managers to track the location of vehicles and firefighters in real time – improving fire ground operations, logistics and firefighter safety,” Mr Smith said.

“The new radios are also compatible with CFA systems along with those of the SES and our neighbouring states, which will simplify communications between the firefighting agencies when they are working together on the fireground.”

Two thousand radios are expected to be installed during the next six months, with the remainder scheduled for installation ahead of the 2014/15 fire season.

Mr Smith said the replacement of the radios addressed, in part, recommendation 22 from the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission. The recommendation calls for standardisation of information and communications systems within DEPI and the Country Fire Authority (CFA).

“I’m proud of the progress the Coalition Government has made in preparing the state for bushfires. There has been a lot of hard work done in response to the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, including projects such as this,” Mr Smith said.

“We’re committed to reducing the risk of bushfires and making Victorians safer. ”

Mr Smith said the Coalition Government had budgeted to spend $338.7 million on land and fire management in the 2013-14 financial year. This includes an extra $9 million to expand the planned burning program.

The Coalition Government’s planned burning program hit a 30 year high this year with 253,000 hectares of planned burning undertaken.

A Telstra consortium has been awarded the radio replacement contract.

The consortium consists of Telstra, Tait Communications (NZ)) and AA Radio Communications (Australia).

About the new radios:
  • DEPI manages the Network Emergency Organisations (NEO) radio terminal fleet comprising DEPI, Parks Victoria, VicForests and Melbourne Water.
  • After a public expression of interest and selective tender process, a consortium comprising Telstra, Tait Communications (a New Zealand design and manufacturing company) and AA Radio Communications (a local radio installation and service provider) won the contract
  • The new radios are compatible with the existing DEPI / CFA communications infrastructure, the State Mobile Radio Trunked Network and DEPI / CFA Incident Channel Networks and fire ground communications.
  • Interoperability with SES and bordering states’ communications systems has been incorporated.
  • The new radios allow for an easy transition to the new digital P25 emergency service standards and planned digital future for Victorian communications networks.
  • Global Positioning System (GPS) displays enable users of in-vehicle and hand held radio units to use multiple mapping formats to provide enhanced interoperability.
  • Where a network exists, the GPS information is sent back to the DEPI tracking system and displayed on FireMap for vehicle tracking, allowing commanders to see the location of resources.
  • Enhanced battery life, increasing reliability when long operations shifts are required.

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Thanks and a hat tip go out to Cameron.

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Cell phone company offers vehicle tracking service

We have been advocating what we call the Holy Grail of Firefighter Safety — a system that can provide two things in real time:

  1. The location of a wildfire, and,
  2. The location of ground-based firefighting resources, including engines, water tenders, overhead personnel, dozers, and dismounted (walking) firefighters.

We are convinced that the lives of 24 firefighters could have been saved in the last eight years if a system like this had been available which can provide a “common operational picture” (COP), a standard process in the military.

Many companies offer solutions to provide the location of personnel and equipment. To illustrate how mainstream these services have become, below is a video that describes a vehicle tracking service from a cell phone company which can collect location data via cell phone networks or through satellites, so presumably it would work in very remote locations. This may or may not be feasible for tracking wildland fire vehicles, and apparently it is not for individuals, but it is an example of some of the technology that is available right now. Off the shelf. This afternoon. The U.S. Forest Service has begun a 2-year study to make a recommendation on how to proceed toward either acquiring, or doing nothing about obtaining Holy Grail capability.

The wildland fire agencies will be negligent if they do not provide this in the near future.

Other similar systems include the Blue Sky Network, the  military C4ISR system now known as the Department of Defense Architecture Framework (DoDAF), and many other fleet tracking solutions.

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