Behind the scenes at “The Big Burn”

The Big Burn

Actors simulate taking refuge in Pulaski’s cave, during the filming of “The Fire that Changed Everything – The Big Burn”. Screen shot from the video below.

After the confusion about when “The Fire that Changed Everything – The Big Burn” would be aired, it now appears certain that it will be on PBS February 3. As you probably know, the fires of 1910 affected wildland fire management for the next 100 years.

Below is a “behind the scenes” video showing some of the filming as it occurred, and candid shots of the actors between shots.

It took 3 days to build Pulaski’s “cave” on the set. An excerpt from Timothy Egan’s best-selling book, “The Big Burn”, about which the film is based, describes what happened that day in 1910:

Pulaski led his men through the inferno, until, at last, he came to one of the old mining shafts along the creek. “In here,” he ordered, his hand on his sidearm, “everyone inside the tunnel.” After an agonizing moment of indecision, forty-four men rushed into the opening and threw themselves on the ground.

The Big Burn

An actor breaks for lunch at the filming of “The Fire that Changed Everything – The Big Burn”. Screen shot from the video above.

On January 25 we posted a 30-second video “tease” about the film. Back in September we first wrote about the film when it was scheduled to air on September 9. The videos still say “coming this fall on PBS”.

filming the big burn

Generating smoke for the filming of “The Fire that Changed Everything – The Big Burn”. Photo by Insignia Films.

Rob Chaney wrote an interesting article about the film for yesterday’s edition of the Missoulian. Below is an excerpt:

…The filmmakers scoured old archives of early fires and firefighters, and combined them with black-and-white versions of modern wildfire behavior. They also used animation techniques to make still photos of places like Wallace appear threatened by moving flames and smoke.

Explanations come from Egan, along with Montana writer John Maclean, fire ecologist Steve Pyne and environmental historian Char Miller. Buffalo Soldiers National Museum chief docent Charles Williams adds some fascinating details about the seven companies of black soldiers who played crucial roles in defending the mountain communities.

The story of a fire that burned more than 3 million acres in 36 hours would be compelling in itself.

But Egan’s research revealed how it happened just when the U.S. government was defining its role as a public lands manager. President Theodore Roosevelt and his champion of forest policy, Gifford Pinchot, were reining in the free-for-all logging and mining that threatened to shred the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains. And a large part of their strategy was the claim that forests could be cultivated and protected like farms.

Share

Five fires started from escaped burn piles near Eldorado National Forest

Eldorado National Forest fireOn Saturday, January 24, five fires were ignited by burn piles that escaped on private timber lands near the Eldorado National Forest in northeast California. Two of the fires burned 33 acres each. The piles were originally ignited in December. Judging from the photos and reports from firefighters, the fire behavior was impressive for January.

In 2014 the El Dorado NF only had one fire that required a Type 3 Incident Commander. That was the King Fire fire east of Placerville, California where 12 firefighters deployed their fire shelters in front of advancing flames and were directed to safety by a helicopter pilot.

These excellent photos were taken by Michael Loeffler, an Engine Captain on the Eldorado NF.

Eldorado National Forest fire Eldorado National Forest fire

Eldorado National Forest map

Share

Norbeck prescribed fire — three months later

With the temperature approaching 70 degrees Tuesday afternoon I could not resist the urge to blow some cobwebs off my motorcycle. I cruised into Wind Cave National Park and took some photos with portions of the Norbeck Prescribed Fire in the background. The first and third photos were taken last fall on October 20 and 21, while the second and fourth were shot today, January 27, 2015.

The first and second, and the third and fourth photos show approximately the same areas.

Norbeck prescribed fire

Norbeck Prescribed Fire, October 21, 2014, across the highway from the lookout tower in Wind Cave National Park. This location is similar to the one in the photo below.

Norbeck prescribed fire

Site of the Norbeck Prescribed Fire, January 27, 2015, across the highway from the lookout tower in Wind Cave National Park. This location is similar to the one in the photo above.

Norbeck prescribed fire

Norbeck Prescribed Fire, October 20, 2014, near the boundary between Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. This location is similar to the one in the photo below.

Bike and burned hill near St Pk bdy

Site of the Norbeck Prescribed Fire, January 27, 2015 near the boundary between Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. This location is similar to the one in the photo above.

Other articles on Wildfire Today tagged Norbeck Prescribed Fire.

All photos were taken by Bill Gabbert.

Share

Six alarm vegetation fire causes evacuations south of San Francisco

Pacifica fire
An early morning vegetation fire forced the evacuation of 80 homes and condos in the Pacifica area south of San Francisco Monday morning. It was reported at about 3:35 a.m. near Fassler Avenue at Highway 1 and was contained around 8 a.m., after which the evacuation was lifted. Pushed by a 15 mph wind, the fire burned about five acres in a heavily wooded area.

Pacifica fire

Share

The role of vapor pressure deficit in wildland fire

“Fire science is not rocket science—it’s way more complicated.”
Research ecologist Matt Dickinson of the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station.

A paper has been written recently that sheds light on the role of vapor pressure deficit (VPD) in wildland fire behavior and forest mortality in the Southwest. Most firefighters have not spent much time studying VPD. Typically they are taught that temperature, relative humidity, and wind are important weather variables to monitor, and sometimes dew point comes into the discussion. But this research indicates that VPD is a very important factor that influences fire behavior.

Below are some excerpts from the paper titled “Climatology, variability and trends in United States. Vapor pressure deficit, an important fire-related meteorological quantity”, by Richard Seager, Allison Hooks, A. Park Williams, and Benjamin Cook.

****

Unlike the commonly used relative humidity, vapor pressure deficit (V P D), is an absolute measure of the difference between the water vapor content of the air and its saturation value and an accurate metric of the ability of the atmosphere to extract moisture from the land surface.

[…]

To our knowledge this is the first comprehensive study of vapor pressure deficit (VPD) which was recommended by Anderson (1936) as a more useful measure of the moisture state of the atmosphere than relative humidity (RH). Unlike RH, for which the same value  can be associated with very different moisture conditions depending on the air temperature, VPD is an absolute measure of the moisture deficit of the atmosphere. Hence, VPD, is  more closely related to the water stress on vegetation. Indeed, prior work has shown the relationship between VPD variability and burned forest area in the southwest U.S (Williams et al. 2014b).

[…]

A case study of conditions in advance of the June 2002 Rodeo-Chediski and Hayman fires in Arizona and Colorado, respectively, shows very high VPD that was caused by precipitation drops, an increase in Bowen ratio and anomalous subsidence in the preceding months. This reveals the complexity of meteorological processes that can increase drying of the land surface and vegetation and set the stage for serious fires.

[…]

Since 1961 VPD has increased notably across the western U.S. with the strongest increases in the southwest. These trends have been primarily driven by warming that increases the saturation vapor pressure but have also been contributed to by a decrease in actual vapor pressure. Actual vapor pressure has increased elsewhere in the U.S. such that VPD has declined in the northern Plains and midwest.

Share