Fire along the water

Every one or two years firefighters in Hot Springs, South Dakota treat a portion of the banks along the Fall River with prescribed fire. This reduces the woody vegetation that could otherwise build up to the point where it would impede the flow of water during a flooding event.

These photos were taken today by Bill Gabbert.

Previous times we have covered this project along the river.

Fall River prescribed fire

Fall River prescribed fire

Fall River prescribed fire

Learning from the past to fight future wildfires

The Spring edition of Fire Chief magazine is devoted to the
history, current trends and future of the wildland/urban interface fire threat. An article on pages 14 through 17 by Sarah Calams is titled, “Learn from past wildfires to fight future blazes: Understanding the scope and costs of historic and recent wildfires is necessary to plan for future fire suppression efforts”.

Below is an excerpt from the article, reprinted with their permission:

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Fire Chief Article“…In the relatively modern-day United States, the first wildfire was recorded by Lewis and Clark in North Dakota in 1804. A prairie was set on fire and resulted in two deaths and three injuries.

In 1845, 1.5 million acres burned during the Great Fire in Oregon. In 1871, the worst recorded forest fire in North American history occurred in Wisconsin. The Peshtigo Fire burned over 1.2 million acres and killed an estimated 2,200 people. Coincidentally, the Great Chicago Fire occurred on the same day.

Fast-forward to the present and consider the number of major wildfires in the past decade. One of the largest fires in Oregon’s history occurred in 2012, and 19 firefighters were killed during the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. The Rim Fire, one of the largest fires in California’s history, also happened in 2013.

While the number of acres destroyed has increased over the decades, the number of fires has decreased. Nonetheless, U.S. firefighting suppression costs are expected to rise.

In 1990, those suppression costs were almost $400 million, while in 2000 costs were a little under $1.5 billion. Likewise, in 2016 costs reached almost $2 billion, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

More than 10 million acres were scorched in 2015, while a little over 4 million acres were destroyed in 1990. As more acres burn and more human building reaches deeper into forested areas, the WUI threat rises.

Environmental factors

Bill Gabbert, who worked as a wildland firefighter in Southern California for 20 years and currently owns and manages WildfireToday.com, said one reason for the growth of wildfires is due to the more frequent occurrences of extreme weather.

According to Gabbert, extreme weather conditions, including drought and higher temperatures, can result in lower moisture content in vegetation. “Firefighters call this ‘fuel moisture,’” he said. “The less moisture there is in the live and dead fuel, the easier it is for fires to ignite and spread.”

That ignition, according to the National Park Service, is almost always caused by humans. The agency says that humans have a hand in starting 90 percent of wildland fires in the United States.

Human-caused fires can result from campfires left unattended, negligently discarded cigarettes and acts of arson, the NPS reports.

As a result, Gabbert said he’s skeptical of just naming weather as the main responsible factor in the number of fires and acres burned over the years.

“It is very difficult to say that one factor caused fire occurrence to change,” he said.

Other factors to consider, Gabbert said, include the capacity to suppress wildfires, the fact that more people are living and reconstructing in the wildland/urban interface, changes in vegetation and how timber is managed, fuel treatments, and changes in wildfire management policy…”

Man burning books ignites 696 acres and 2 homes

Above: The Garfield Road Fire in Florida, March 23, 2017. Florida Forest Service photo.

A Nassau County, Florida man intended to burn paperback books but the fire in his backyard escaped and blackened 696 acres and destroyed 2 homes. Approximately 19 outbuildings and 6 homes were damaged in the community 20 miles west of Jacksonville.

Annaleasa Winter of the Florida Forest Service said it was an illegal burn, and that it’s against the law to burn trash in Florida.

Red Flag Warnings, March 24, 2017

The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag Warnings for areas in Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas for strong winds and low humidity.

The map was current as of 10:10 a.m. MST on Friday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts.

Parliament Fire burns 11,000 acres in Florida

Above: In the map above the purple area was the location of the Parliament Fire Tuesday evening, March 21, 2017.

(Originally published at 4:40 p.m. EDT March 22, 2017)

The Parliament Fire has burned over 11,000 acres in Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida. The fire is just north of US 41, also known at the Tamiami Trail.

The National Park Service is not aggressively suppressing it, but the fire is being “managed” using monitor, confine, and contain strategies implemented by a Type 3 Incident Management Team led by Incident Commander Ledbetter.

The Park released the following information on March 21:

The incident command has dispatched aviation, ground resources, and crews to secure private structures, protect high value resources, and implement various containment strategies. The fire is currently 15% contained. Containment efforts will continue using established trails, natural barriers, and previously prescribed fire areas.

The fire is not a result of planned prescribed fire activities. The source and origins of the fire are still under active investigation.

The fire started on March 18 and is threatening 67 structures. Yesterday’s report showed 37 personnel, one hand crew, one engine, and one Type 3 helicopter assigned. On Wednesday an additional ~50 personnel and one helicopter were added to the mix.

The park does a great deal of prescribed burning. For example, in January they conducted the 30,000-acre Airplane Prescribed Fire.

Parliament Fire map
The red and yellow dots represent heat detected by a satellite over the Parliament Fire, March 22, 2017. The red dots are the most recent. Naples is on the left and Miami is on the right.

Fire photographer @SLOStringer killed in vehicle accident

An emergency services photographer well known on the Central California coast was killed early Tuesday morning when his vehicle crashed as he was en route to a two alarm structure fire. Known on Twitter as @SLOStringer, Matthew Frank was dedicated to covering wildland and structure fires in California.

Most people did not know his name and referred to him only by his Twitter handle or his first name, Matt. The accident happened hours before he was scheduled to speak at a firefighter recognition banquet in San Luis Obispo Tuesday night.

Matthew Frank
Matthew Frank (Facebook)

It was raining at 4 a.m. when Mr. Frank’s 2009 Chevy Tahoe went off Highway 101, rolled, hit a tree, and caught fire. The 30-year old photographer was killed at the scene.

I have been an admirer of his work and on several occasions asked and received permission from him to use his photos on Wildfire Today, for example, when he covered the Valley and Butte Fires.

Below is an excerpt from an article published March 21, 2017 at The Tribune in which his father, Steven Frank, was talking about when his son covered the Chimney Fire last August near the Hearst Castle in central California.

…The highlight of Matthew’s life, his father said, was covering the Chimney Fire last summer.

During the fire, Matthew heard from people who had been evacuated and had left things like their pets or prescription medications behind. Matthew, his father said, would use his credentials to get to those people’s houses and bring them their medication and take care of their pets.

“He was working 18 hours a day between Hearst Castle and what was going on at Nacimiento, but for two weeks he was in his heyday,” Steven Frank said.

Mr. Frank died doing what he loved. Our sincere condolences go out to his family, friends, and co-workers.