Wildfire smoke and Red Flag Warnings, September 2, 2015

Wildfire smoke

Wildfire smoke, morning of September 2, 2015. The brown icons represent the locations of active wildfires. AirNow.

Red Flag Warnings September 2, 2015The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag Warnings or Fire Weather Watches for areas in California, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.

Conveniently, the weather and fuel conditions in some areas are behaving themselves and honoring state boundaries.

The map was current as of 10:25 a.m. MDT on Wednesday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts and maps. For the most current data visit this NWS site or this NWS site.


Researchers attempt to quantify how climate change will affect wildfire seasons

Future Very Large Fires wildfires

The projected percentage increase in the number of “very large fire weeks”—weeks in which conditions are favorable to the occurrence of very large fires—by mid-century (2041-2070) compared to the recent past (1971-2000). (NOAA)

Researchers are predicting that beginning 26 years from now the number of weeks in which very large fires could occur will increase by 400 to 600 percent in portions of the northern great plains and the Northwest. Many other areas in the West will see a 50 to 400 percent increase.

If they are correct, the effects of climate change are not generations away. Firefighters starting out today will be dealing with this on a large scale during their careers.

Warming due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions will likely increase the potential for ‘very large fires’—the top 10 percent of fires, which account for a majority of burned areas in many regions of the United States. Climate change is expected to both intensify fire-friendly weather conditions, as well as lengthen the season during which very large fires tend to spread.

The potential for very large fire events is also expected to increase along the southern coastline and in the forests around the Great Lakes, although the number of events along the northern tier of the country should only increase moderately given the historically low potential for these events.

For this study, researchers considered the average results of 17 climate model simulations to examine how the potential for very large fires is expected to change. Future projections* were based on a higher-emissions scenario called RCP 8.5, which assumes continued increases in carbon dioxide emissions.

Along with the elevated potential for very large fires across the western US in future decades, other climate modeling studies have projected increases in fire danger and temperature, and decreased precipitation and relative humidity during the fire season. The increased potential for these extreme events is also consistent with an observed increase in the number of very large fires in recent decades.

In addition, scientists have detected trends toward overall warming, more frequent heat waves, and diminished soil moisture during the dry season. The combination of these climate conditions and historic fire suppression practices that have led to the build-up of flammable debris have likely led to more frequent large fire events.

At this very moment, more than 56 large wildfires are burning uncontained throughout the West, putting homes, lives, and livelihoods at risk. The smoke created by these fires exacerbates chronic heart and lung diseases while also degrading visibility and altering snowmelt, precipitation patterns, water quality, and soil properties. In addition to public health impacts, projected trends in extreme fire events have important implications for terrestrial carbon emissions and ecosystems.

The authors of the study also note that these findings could place a burden on national and regional resources for fighting fires. Fire suppression costs in the U.S. have more than doubled in recent decades, exceeding $1 billion per year since the year 2000, the National Interagency Fire Center reports. The vast majority of that money is spent on large incidents.

climate change predicted fire seasons

The research was conducted by government employees at taxpayer expense, funded by NOAA, the U.S. Forest Service, and two universities. The authors were: Barbero, R.; Abatzoglou, J.T.; Larkin, N.K.; Kolden, C.A.; and Stocks, B. The title: “Climate change presents increased potential for very large fires in the contiguous United States”. It was published in Australia in the International Journal of Wildland Fire (copies available for $25).

We checked with Frames.gov which posts copies of government-funded research, and were told by Michael Tjoelker, “Unfortunately, due to copyright issues we are not able to distribute full text versions of Journal articles.” However, Renaud Barbero, one of the authors, sent us a copy.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bill.


Bitter Creek Fire south of Hot Springs, SD

Originally published at 2:38 p.m. MT, September 1, 2015  A fire started Monday afternoon south of Hot Springs, South Dakota off Highway 71 southeast of the intersection of Maitland and Ash Creek Roads. As of 2:30 p.m. MT firefighters have a handle on approximately one half of the perimeter.

(UPDATED at 3 p.m. MT, September 1, 2015)

The photo below, from a different angle, was shot at about 3 PM.   We will update this later with more photos and information.

(UPDATED at 7:25 p.m. MT, September 1, 2015)

The firefighters from Cascade, Hot Springs, and South Dakota State stopped the spread at about 87 acres and named it the Bitter Creek Fire. A load of retardant from a Dromader Single Engine Air Tanker based in Hot Springs enabled the firefighters on the ground to tie in the last piece of open fireline. Tanker 455 put one 550-gallon load on the fire, split into two drops.

The initial text in this article and the first two photos were published from my iPhone at the fire scene. After returning from the fire, the photos below (from two real cameras) were uploaded.

A couple of hours after he dropped retardant on the fire, we caught up with the pilot, Jim Fournier, and interviewed him on video — you can see it at Fire Aviation.

All photos are by Bill Gabbert.


Overview of the Bitter Creek Fire.

Bitter Creek Fire

The right flank of the Bitter Creek Fire.

Bitter Creek Fire

Tanker 455 orbits, sizing up the fire.

Tanker 455

Tanker 455 descending to make a drop.

Tanker 455

Tanker 455 completing a drop.

Bitter Creek Fire

A rural South Dakota version of a Type 1 Water Tender.


Outlook for wildfire potential, September through December, 2015

The Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center has issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for September through December, 2015. The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the ten Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.

If their forecasts are accurate, above normal wildfire potential will continue in the Northwest and southern California through September, but beginning in October it will exist only in southern California, and temporarily in a portion of central Texas.

Here are the highlights from their outlook.


September wildfire outlook

  • Significant fire potential will remain above normal across much of Washington, northeastern Oregon, northern Idaho and northwestern Montana.
  • Above normal significant fire potential will continue across the mountains of southern California.
  • Below normal fire potential will occur over the Mid-Mississippi and Ohio Valleys and most of Florida.


Ocdtober wildfire outlook

  • The southern California coastal region will remain in above normal fire potential while the central coast and the Sierras return to normal fire potential.
  • Below normal fire potential will spread across the Ohio, Tennessee and Mid-Mississippi Valleys.

November through December

November wildfire outlook

  • Southern California will return to normal in November.
  • Below normal fire potential will spread over the coastal states from Texas to North Carolina.

Rain slows fires in northwest Montana

Significant quantities of rain have slowed some of the fires in northwest Montana. Below is an excerpt from an article in the Daily Interlake:

Substantial rainfall — at least by parched Northwest Montana standards — has dampened area wildfire activity. The changing weather and slowing fire activity have allowed evacuation orders to be lifted in the Essex, Noxon and Libby areas.

On the 6,810-acre Northeast Kootenai Complex, which is almost entirely composed of the 6,700-acre Marston Fire east of Fortine, opportunistic firefighters were leaping at the chance to corral the blaze. Fire spokesman Tom Rhode said firefighters were drawing a line in the dirt while they could. “It wasn’t very active yesterday,” he said Monday. “The west side has line on it, that’s the 15 percent containment, about nine miles. Crews are now working around the south and north sides of the fire. It comes creeping down to our lines, but we stop it. It hasn’t moved.”

The Northeast Kootenai Complex received a tenth of an inch of precipitation. More rain — .67 inches — fell on the massive fires burning in the Spotted Bear Ranger District of the Flathead National Forest. Ema Braunberger, Flathead National Forest fire information officer, said the effect of the “deluge” was a welcome one.

“We got a lot of rain and it really slowed things down here,” she said. “We’re in hazard tree removal and are creating that shaded fuel break along the road. It’s kind of nice, like a little park area.”


Unidentified smiling firefighter, identified

Nickie Cronauer

Nickie Cronauer, on the Idaho Magazine Facebook page. US Forest Service Photo. (click to see a larger version)

This photo was posted on the Idaho Magazine’s Facebook page on August 31, and on September 1 Nickie Cronauer identified herself. Another post where the photo appears has received almost 2,000 likes.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Barbara.