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.

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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.

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Fire weather outlook, August 29 through September 2

An upper level trough will cross the northwest Pacific states Fri/Sat and eject into the central Plains on Sun. This will bring periodic windy conditions across the western US and cooler weather for the northwest. No critical widespread critical fire weather is expected, although some areas will have enhanced conditions that will aid in fire spread, especially with drought conditions across the west. Continued heat is expected for the southwest with dry conditions prevailing.

The primary fire threat across the US will focus on warm temperatures and low RHs in the western Great Basin Fri and Sat. Breezy westerly winds are expected Fri/Sat especially across much of NV due to the approaching upper level trough. As the trough shifts eastward, wind conditions will move across northern UT and southern WY/northern CO into Sun/Mon. Dry conditions over much of WY/CO will provide an increased fire risk with these strong westerly winds.

The southwestern US will remain dry and hot through the period. Portions of central/eastern CA/NV/AZ will have poor RH recovery overnight. Though no windy conditions are expected across this region, above average temps and below average precipitation will lead to conditions conducive to human caused fire starts and challenges for suppression

A cold front crossing WA/OR will bring breezy conditions Fri, however, temperatures are expected to remain cool and RH is expected to remain above critical levels. A lack of upper level moisture will prevent any thunderstorm development, however some light rains are possible along western slopes. A stable post-frontal air mass will provide quiet conditions for the Pacific Northwest and eastward with the front’s advancement through the weekend. Cooler weather is expected to continue through the period for WA/northern OR/MT/northern ID with warming conditions likely Tues in advance of the next system.

Long term into mid-week, a summer type pattern looks to return for the central US with another trough pushing into the west. This may develop enhanced fire weather conditions across the western US mid-week and central Rockies mid-to-late week and should be monitored.

Five-day precipitation outlook

Five-day precipitation outlook, issued August 29, 2014.

Weather Highlights:

Eastern CA/NV: Breezy westerly winds Fri/Sat with low RH and warm temperatures. Locally critical fire weather is possible, otherwise generally enhanced fire weather is expected across the region. Winds will be decreasing Sun.

WA/OR: Breezy conditions are likely today across central portions of OR/WA on the eastern sides of the Cascades. Moderate temperatures and RH should prevent any increased fire risks. Warming with decreasing RH across southern OR late weekend and moving northward into next week.

Southern WY/northern CO/northern UT/southern ID: Developing strong westerly winds Sun/Mon. Combined with warm and dry conditions, this will lead to an enhanced fire threat continuing into mid-week.

Southern/central CA/AZ: Continued warm and dry with poor RH recovery. Some breezy winds Fri in eastern CA, otherwise no significant winds/thunderstorms.

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California: Happy Camp Complex of fires

(UPDATED at 11:08 a.m. MDT, August 30, 2014)

Pyrocumulus cloud over the Happy Camp Complex of fires, August 28, 2014

Pyrocumulus cloud over the Happy Camp Complex of fires, August 28, 2014. Photo by Kari Greer.

The growth of the Happy Camp Complex Fire on Friday was similar to the day before. Continued spread to the northeast added another 13,000 acres and brought the 57,722-acre fire to the banks of the Klamath River at the community of Seiad Valley. Exhibiting intense fire behavior it traveled north approximately three quarters of a mile up the Grider Creek drainage below a pyrocumulus cloud that formed above the large column of smoke.

The mandatory evacuations from Friday remain in effect. Communities that are threatened by the fire include Happy Camp, Elk Creek, Seiad Valley, Hamburg, Kelsey Creek and Scott Bar. Structure protection groups are placed in strategic locations to assist in protecting homes and property should the fire move into these areas.

Click on the maps of the Happy Camp Complex below to see slightly larger versions.

Map Happy Camp Cmplx

Map of the Happy Camp Complex of fires at 12:05 a.m. MDT, 8-30-2014.

3-D Map Happy Camp Cmplx

3-D Map of the Happy Camp Complex of fires at 12:05 a.m. MDT, 8-30-2014.

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(Originally published at 10:06 a.m. MDT, August 29, 2014)

An MD-87 drops on the Happy Camp Complex

An MD-87 drops on the Happy Camp Complex. InciWeb photo.

The Happy Camp Complex of fires grew by 12,000 acres on Thursday, requiring additional mandatory evacuations in the Seiad Valley area, including:

  • Scott Valley Road from Bridge Flat to the intersection of Hwy. 96.
  • All areas south of Hwy. 96 between Scott River Road and Grider Creek.
  • All areas south of Hwy. 96 from Seiad Valley down river to Kade Summit.

Other areas are under an evacuation advisory.

On Thursday the two largest and most active fires in the Complex, the Faulkstein and Frying Pan Fires, spread rapidly on the east side aided by long-range spotting. The fires grew together when an inversion broke, followed by a west wind that pushed the fire to the northeast. Burning embers were carried a mile and a half in front of the fire.

As you can see on the maps below, the fire is 38 miles southwest of Medford, Oregon and less than two miles from Seiad Valley, California on Highway 96.
Continue reading

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Wildfire near Weaverville slowed by prescribed fire

Oregon Fire

The spread of a fire with an odd name, the Oregon Fire at Weaverville, California, was slowed with the help of a prescribed fire completed eight months earlier. The fire, 30 miles west of Redding, was aggressively attacked soon after it was reported at 4:53 p.m. PDT on August 24 with 16 engines, 9 hand crews, 5 helicopters, 3 dozers, and 9 air tankers, including both DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers, each carrying 11,900 gallons of fire retardant.

The combination of these suppression forces and the fact that the head of the fire burned up against the Five Cent prescribed fire from November, 2013 kept the number of structures burned to only one, even though it was burning in the wildland-urban interface of Weaverville. The fire spotted across the prescribed fire, burning an additional 18 acres before it was stopped.

As of August 28, the fire is listed at 580 acres with 95 percent containment.

Tim Ritchely contributed the above map (we added the text in white and yellow as well as the arrows). He told us:

Flame lengths were observed at 6+ feet in the oak woodland as the fire approached the Five Cent Rx with a rate of spread exceeding 20 chains per hour and then dropped immediately to the ground upon entering the treated areas and basically halted in its tracks… The DC-10s and BA-146 were both used effectively at keeping the fire north of the structures from the ignition point. Helicopters were used east of Weaver Bally road in conjunction with dozers and crews working above the residences until dark.

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Throwback Thursday

Between August 24 and 30, 2008, these were some of the topics we covered on Wildfire Today:

Redding fire

An air tanker drops on a fire in Redding, California near the Sacramento River

A vegetation fire in Redding, California burned 130 acres and caused evacuations near the Sacramento River.

–In advance of the approaching Hurricane Gustav, predicted to hit land near New Orleans, three National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) teams and one National Park Service All Hazard team were prepositioned in Dallas, Atlanta, and Jacksonville.

–The San Francisco Fire Department used jet skis to transport hose from their fire boat to Yerba Buena Island where a fire was burning in an area with difficult access. Yerba Buena Island is in San Francisco Bay near the Bay Bridge.

–A Single Engine Air Tanker crashed in northwest Colorado 20 miles northwest of Meeker. The pilot walked away with minor injuries.

–You might be in a redneck volunteer fire department if…

  • Your department has ever had two emergency vehicles pulled over for drag racing on the way to the scene.
  • You have naked lady mud flaps on your pumper.
  • Your firehouse has wheels.
  • You’ve ever gotten back and found out you locked yourselves out of the firehouse.
  • You’ve ever been toned out on an outhouse fire.
  • That outhouse fire was with entrapment.
  • You’ve ever let a person’s house burn down because they wouldn’t let you hunt on their land.
  • At least one vehicle in the firehouse still has decorations on it from the Halloween Parade and it’s January.
  • Your personal vehicle has more lights on it than your house has lights in it.
  • You don’t own a Dalmation, but you do have a coon dog named Sparky.
  • You’ve ever walked through a christmas display and came up with more than 3 new ideas for a light scheme for your truck.
  • Your rescue truck can smoke the tires.
  • Your department’s name is misspelled on the equipment.
  • Your engine had to be towed in the last Christmas Parade.
  • Dispatch can’t mention your name without laughing.
  • The local news crew won’t put your department on TV because you embarassed them last time.
  • You’ve ever referred to a light bar as sexy.
  • Your defib consists of a pair of jumper cables, a marine battery, and a fish finder.
  • You’ve ever taken a girl on a date in a pumper.
  • Your pumper has been on fire more times than it has been to a fire.
  • Your pumper smokes more than the house fire.
  • The only time the trucks leave the station is on bingo night.
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