Recruiting volunteer firefighters — in Colorado and Australia

A fire near Craig, Colorado

A fire near Craig, Colorado in 2000. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Relying on unpaid volunteers to fight wildfires and structure fires is the only feasible way to provide fire protection services in some rural areas. Many of these departments are finding that as residents, especially the younger generation, move into cities, the departments are faced with declining numbers of firefighters.

Below are excerpts from two articles on the issue, from Colorado and South Australia.

From KUNC, Community Radio for Colorado:

Volunteer firefighters protect about half of Colorado’s residents, with solely volunteer departments being responsible for about 70 percent of the state’s land surface.
And they are significantly understaffed.

The Colorado State Fire Chiefs Association estimates that Colorado is short 3,500 volunteers in meeting National Fire Protection Agency standards. That would require an increase of more than 40 percent to the present force.

“Generally, all fire departments that have volunteers need more volunteers,” said Garry Briese, executive director of the fire chiefs association.

“It’s a struggle at times and you just do the best you can do, the best for the community.”

There are 198 all-volunteer departments in Colorado serving more than 450,000 residents, and an additional 137 agencies that are a combination of career and volunteer firefighters. These “hybrid” stations serve 2.2 million residents, and 33 of them have only one or two paid firefighters…

From South Australia’s Messenger:

The Country Fire Service is recording an increase in volunteers for the first time in years on the back of last year’s horror fire season.

Total CFS volunteer numbers have increased from 13,325 to 13,737 over the past six months. The 3 per cent increase bucks a steady downward trend in numbers from the 15,590 volunteers there were in 2004/05. Damaging fires in January and February this year at Eden Valley in the northern Mount Lofty Ranges and at Bangor in the Southern Flinders Ranges appear to have sparked people into action.

Volunteer numbers in CFS Region 4, where the Bangor fire was, are up 6.5 per cent from 1776 to 1891. Similarly, numbers in CFS Region 2, where the Eden Valley fire was, are up 5.8 per cent from 2630 to 2784.

South Australian Fire and Emergency Services Commission Volunteer Services Branch manager Toni Richardson said it was a great sign. “It’s the first time we can actually remember it increasing over an extended period, which is really good,” she said…


Wildfire potential, September through December

The Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center has issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for September through December, 2014.

The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the eleven Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.

If their predictions are accurate, firefighters could be busy in Washington and Oregon through October, and busy in southern California into December. The fall fire season in the southeast looks like it will be normal or slower than normal.


September  wildfire outlook

  • Above normal fire potential will remain across southwestern Oregon through September for lingering dryness and potential dry, east winds.
  • Fire potential will remain elevated across portions of California. Continued dry fuels will couple with potential offshore winds.
  • Below normal fire potential is expected to continue for some portions of the eastern U.S. and the Hawaiian Islands.


October  wildfire outlook

  • Above normal fire potential will persist across California as fuels will remain dry and off shore flow season arrives in earnest. Northern and central California will return to normal potential by the end of the month.
  • Below normal fire potential is expected to continue for some portions of the southern Plains, Florida, and Hawaii.

November and December

(Note: there was a technical problem in getting a good copy of the image below.)

November December wildfire outlook

  • Above normal fire potential will persist across southern California as offshore flow potential continues. Expect a return to normal potential from north to south beginning in late November through December.
  • Below normal fire potential is expected to continue for the Gulf and Southeast Coasts, and Hawaii.

Boeing applies for patent on parachute-delivered fire suppression system

Boeing Patent App

An illustration from Boeing’s patent application #13/776,733

The Boeing Company has applied for a patent on a parachute-based system for applying a suppressant to fires. The devices would be ejected from an aircraft and descend to the fire at 30 to 200 mph. A guidance system would use a glide control structure to fly along a calculated path from the ejection point to the designated location of the fire. The release altitude would be determined by a GPS or a radar altimeter assisted by a fire detection sensor that would increase the accuracy of the flight.

An optional component would be a lighter than air balloon that would inflate and carry the device away from the fire after the suppressant is released. The location of the equipment would be tracked remotely and when over a suitable site the balloon would be deflated so that the unit could be recovered.

The patent lists 15 different possibilities for the suppression agent that would be dispersed over the fire:

suppression agents

This reminds us of the “precision container aerial delivery system” (PCAD) that attempts to re-invent air tankers by dropping 200-gallon plywood/plastic containers of retardant or water, each weighing about 2,000 pounds, from a normally-configured C-130 or C-27. We categorized that as a “lame-ass idea”, primarily because of the danger to anyone on the ground if a chute did not open, the difficulty in providing consistent coverage, and the 100 pounds of plywood, plastic, fabric, and strapping that would be scattered around the landscape. 

Boeing’s idea also has the disadvantage of danger to ground personnel if a chute did not open, but they partially solved the litter problem by guiding the device to a more convenient location where it could be recovered. Consistent coverage would also be an issue. However, we can see a use for Boeing’s system for retarding the spread of small lightning fires at night, when firefighting helicopters and air tankers are grounded. The cargo planes carrying the devices , such as the recently acquired U.S. Forest Service C-130s, could safely fly at night high above the terrain and the fire.

Of course the biggest disadvantage of the Boeing concept is the cost. The high-tech devices will not be inexpensive.

While this may be not practical because of costs and other issues, it is fascinating to hear about outside the box thinking regarding an industry that still uses sharpened pieces of metal attached to the ends of sticks for suppressing fires.

You can read the details about the patent application (1.3 MB file): BoeingPatentApp

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Isaac.


Wildfire briefing, August 31, 2014

Happy Camp Complex InciWeb photo

Happy Camp Complex Fire. InciWeb photo (undated & uncredited).

Happy Camp Complex

The Happy Camp Complex of fires in a remote area of northwestern California continued to chew up additional acres on Saturday, though at a somewhat slower rate than the previous two days. Now mapped at 62,626 acres, a 24-hour increase of 4,904 acres, it has reached Highway 96 near the small community of Seiad Valley. Several areas are under a mandatory evacuation order affecting 250 homes, and approximately 695 homes are threatened. The fire is being fought by 2,116 personnel, 52 crews, 137 engines, 19 helicopters and 18 dozers. The incident management team is calling it 15 percent contained.

The fire is burning in an area infamous for inversions that trap wildfire smoke, at times making it difficult for firefighting aircraft to fly, and firefighters and residents to breathe.

More information about the Happy Camp Complex of fires.

Uncredited photos on InciWeb

It is unfortunate that we don’t know who took the excellent photo posted above. Public Information personnel posting photos on InciWeb REALLY need to provide at least four pieces of information about each photo: 1) photographer’s name, 2) date taken, 3) location, and 4) a description.

Dust from wildfire causes traffic problems

Dust being blown off a recent wildfire close to Interstate 90 near Vantage, Washington resulted in a 20-mile stretch of the highway being closed on Thursday and Friday.

Fifteen cars and nine tractor-trailers collided in the area on Thursday, leaving nearly a dozen people injured and causing a pileup that snarled traffic on the main route across Washington state, authorities said. According to Trooper Darren Wright, it’s not yet known how the pileup started.

A third DC-10 joins the fleet

Tankers 910, 911, 912 at Merced

Tankers 910, 911, and 912 at Castle Airport, August 30, 2014. Photo by 10 Tanker.

A third DC-10 jumbo jet has been converted into an air tanker. 10 Tanker Air Carrier announced Saturday that Tanker 912 has been fully certified and has joined the other two DC-10s temporarily based at Castle Airport near Merced, California.

Report released on CL-415 accident

A report has been released on the CL-415 air tanker accident that occurred on Moosehead Lake in Newfoundland and Labrador July 3, 2013. Details are at Fire Aviation.


Washington Post: Congress should do more to protect the country from wildfires

Eiler Fire, burned structure

A burned structure and another that survived the Eiler Fire 40 miles east of Redding, California. Photo taken August 6, 2014 by by Bill Gabbert.

Below are excerpts from an article in the August 28 edition of the Washington Post, written by Peter Goldmark, the Washington state commissioner of public lands.


Congress should do more to protect the country from wildfires

…By failing to provide an emergency funding source for federal firefighting efforts, Congress has forced the U.S. Forest Service to pay for its firefighting efforts by cannibalizing programs that promote healthy forests and wildfire prevention. A recent report from the agency reveals that its firefighting workforce has more than doubled since 1998 while the number of its land managers has shrunk by 35 percent.

Despite the scale of disasters such as the Carlton Complex, Congress still pays for federal wildland firefighting as though it were lawn mowing or picnic-table painting or any other routine administrative task. Several bipartisan legislative proposals would instead allow the Forest Service to tap into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster fund to fight wildfires, as the federal government does when responding to other natural disasters. Faced with yet another opportunity to fix this situation before adjourning for a five-week recess, Congress failed to act.

According to Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group, twice as many acres burn and three times as many structures are destroyed during each wildlife season as in 1990, and the season now lasts two months longer.

Congress should provide emergency funding to fight wildfires while greatly increasing the budget for stewardship of America’s shamefully neglected national forests. We must fix this broken model before more people, communities and wildlife suffer needless harm.