Aerial photo of wildfire near Smith, Alberta

In this photo of a fire near Smith, Alberta, Canada the use of aerial retardant is evident.

Fire officials are calling the fire “held”, which means it will not grow under the current weather conditions and firefighting actions that have been taken on the fire.

It has been mapped at 139 hectares (343 acres). Still assigned to the fire are 40 firefighters and six helicopters.

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Pot grower responsible for Nicholls Fire in California sentenced

From KBAK/KBFX:

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“A man was sentenced Tuesday to nearly seven years in federal prison for his involvement in a large-scale marijuana cultivation operation on federal land in Kern County and for his role in starting the Nicolls Fire.

Edgardo Fournier, 46, of Perris, was also ordered to pay restitution of more than $6.5 million to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Nicolls Fire burned more than 1,500 acres in July 2014 in the Onyx Peak area. The fire was so remote that it didn’t threaten structures of force road closures.

More than 2,000 marijuana plants were seized by Forest Service agents, along with ammunition.”

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Related story on Wildfire Today:

Suspected California pot-grower charged with starting Nicolls Fire (July 25, 2014)

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Errors in a review of a book about the Yarnell Hill Fire

The article below was written by John N. Maclean and Holly Neill.

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The Wall Street Journal and Fire

By John Maclean and Holly Neill

Kyle Dickman’s new book, On the Burning Edge, about hotshot culture and the Yarnell Hill Fire, has been reviewed in the Saturday, May 23, edition of the Wall Street Journal by Mark Yost, who is identified as a firefighter and paramedic from Highwood, Illinois. The review makes a number of errors and misleading assertions about fire policy and the Yarnell Hill Fire independent of the material in Dickman’s book. Journal reviews receive respectful attention, but the review is wrong on so many points that it should be answered in a timely fashion–Maclean is preparing a review of Dickman’s book for the Journal of Forestry, but that won’t appear for several months.

Yost writes: “The policy of letting low burns do their work was in place until the 1980s, when environmentalists began lobbying for letting underbrush and tracts of forest go uncut, unmanaged and uncleared by small fires. The result was denser forests and forest beds of virtual kindling.”

Response: As every student of wildfire knows, after the Big Burn of 1910 the Forest Service developed a policy, in force for many decades, to put out all fires by 10 AM the morning after they were spotted.

Yost writes: “The Yarnell assignment came on a Sunday, normally a day off for the crew. The fire, started by lightning the day before…”

Response: The fire was started Friday, June 28, 2013, two days before the fatalities occurred on Sunday.

Yost writes: “When the Granite Mountain crew arrived, the flames were closing in on the small town of Yarnell.”

Response: When the Granite Mountain crew arrived on Sunday morning, the flames, which were far from Yarnell, were headed north and away from the town, toward Peeples Valley.

Yost writes that the lookout, Brendan McDonough, was in his fourth season.

Response: McDonough was in the beginning of his third season.

Yost writes that when the fire turned toward Yarnell, in the afternoon, McDonough “was no longer in a position to see what was going on and warn his crewmates.”

Response: McDonough reported to Jesse Steed, acting Granite Mountain Superintendent (normally assistant superintendent) that he could see that the fire had reached his trigger point and he was departing, which he did. At that point, photo and other evidence proves that Steed and the other hotshots could see exactly what the fire was doing.

Yost writes that Eric Marsh, (normally the superintendent of the Granite Mountain Hotshots), was “attached to the command staff on the day of the Yarnell fire, he was at first stationed in a makeshift outpost along a highway.”

Response: Marsh was never stationed at a makeshift outpost. He led the crew to the fire by scouting ahead and flagging an upward route. As far as being “attached to the command staff,” Marsh was made division Alpha supervisor and performed that duty in the field.

Yost writes: “The Granite Mountain crew had left the black and were working on the side of a hill, a dangerous position, Mr. Dickman explains, because it put them in danger of the fire coming down on top of them.

Response: The hotshots were digging direct handline, with one foot in the black, on the side of the hill. There was risk of the fire coming up to them from below, not coming down on top of them from the black above.

Yost writes: “Some investigators have speculated that, when the wind reversed, sending flames speeding toward the firefighters, they made a desperate attempt to get to a nearby horse farm and just didn’t make it.”

Response: No serious investigator has made that charge. It is agreed, and supported by photo and recorded radio exchanges as well as interview accounts, that the hotshots deliberately left their position and headed toward the ranch, which was identified as a safety zone. The ranch is not a horse farm: it is owned by Lee and DJ Helm who keep pets, including miniature horses, donkeys and shelter animals.

Yost writes about the fatalities, “In the event, the fire moved so fast that rescuers were able to get to the team within minutes—but too late.”

Response: Firefighters work as crews, not as teams. It took an hour and 43 minutes, or 103 minutes, from the time Eric Marsh said over the radio that the crew was deploying until a medic reached the deployment site, according to official investigation records.

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The book review in the Wall Street Journal can be seen HERE, but you generally have to be a paid subscriber to view it. However, mobile phone users can sometimes read it without a subscription.

John N. Maclean has written several books about wildland fire, including “Fire on the Mountain”, “Fire and Ashes”, and “The Thirtymile Fire”. His most recent book, “The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder and the Agony of Engine 57″, is slated to be made into a movie. Currently he is working on a book about the Yarnell Hill Fire.

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Firefighter interviews at Mud Lake Complex of fires

On May 23 we posted a video interview with Byron Hart, the Assistant Fire Management Officer (Fuels) at Big Cypress National Preserve. It was shot at the Mud Lake Complex of fires in the south Florida Preserve by Joshua Manley, the Fire Communication and Education Specialist for the three National Park Service Regions on the East Coast. After receiving favorable reviews, Mr. Manley produced two more videos, below.

The first one features Oscar Montijo, Superintendent of the Augusta Interagency Hotshot Crew, in which he discusses strategic firing operations around private inholdings in front of a fire at the Mud Lake Complex within Big Cypress National Preserve.

The next is with Matt Heinz, a Forestry Technician at Big Cypress National Preserve. Mr. Heinz discusses the challenges of operating a swamp buggy on the Mud Lake Complex.

As we said on May 23, interviewing firefighters in the field and posting the videos on YouTube is a great idea. It can really give the viewers a glimpse into the life of a firefighter. Incident Management Teams should do this more often. Congrats to Joshua Manley for making these three videos.

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Honoring our veterans and military personnel today

Veterans Cemetery memorial day Hot Springs

Veterans Cemetery at Hot Springs, South Dakota. Memorial Day, 2015.

Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. The holiday, which is observed every year on the last Monday of May, originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans — established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.

Photo by Bill Gabbert. Text from Wikipedia.

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Mud Lake Complex of fires

Mud Lake Complex

Mud Lake Complex (no date provided). NPS photo by Cory Dutton.

The Mud Lake Complex of fires in Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve continues to grow in the two weeks since it started on May 8, and has now been mapped at 35,274 acres. The Complex is comprised of approximately seven fires that are being managed by Mike Dueitt’s Type 1 Incident Management Team.

We are not certain when it was written (possibly Friday May 22) but the description below from InciWeb is a good summary of the activity on the fires:

The Ellison fire continues to back, flank and make short runs in pine stands and grass prairies, with flame lengths of 8-12 feet in palmetto. Crews continued to work on slopovers outside the MMA. The Square fire continues to show active fire behavior with backing, flanking,and short runs with flame lengths of 6 feet in short grass fuels and 8-12 feet in palmetto. Smoldering behavior was observed in cypress stringers. Tactical firing on the northwest side of the Baker cabin was planned for today. Thunderstorms over both fires caused erratic fire behavior and caused the Square fire to make a run to the northwest near the north boundary of the preserve. Both fires received measurable rain today. There was a new start (the Sanctuary fire) in the northeast part of the preserve today. Precipitation occurred in the area. Aviation resources were used today to support ground operations until thunderstorm activity entered the fire area.

In the video below, Byron Hart, the Assistant Fire Management Officer (Fuels) at Big Cypress National Preserve discusses the challenges of the Mud Lake Complex of fires. Making this video of a leader on the fire describing what is going on was an excellent idea. Teams should do this more often.

Two more videos of interviews with firefighters on the Mud Lake Complex can be found here.

Mud Lake Complex

Mud Lake Complex. There is no description or date for this photo on InciWeb, but it appears to be an operational period briefing. NPS photo by K. Corrigan.

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