Wildfire briefing, March 11, 2015

Lava from Hawaii volcano continues to spread

Hawaii volcano
Lava flow from the Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii. Photo by Hawaii County Civil Defense.

Lava from the Kīlauea volcano above Pahoa in Hawaii continues to spread, occasionally igniting the vegetation. The latest breakout is about 0.7 miles upslope of Highway 130, officials from the Hawaii County Civil Defense said after a helicopter flight Tuesday morning. Over the last four days the lava has advanced about 240 yards.

Three additional deceased hotshots to qualify for benefits

Decisions by the City of Prescott, the courts, and the Prescott Public Safety Retirement Board have resulted in the families of three additional members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots being approved to receive public safety survivor benefits. In 2013, 19 members of the crew were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire south of Prescott, Arizona. Initially only six of the men were classified as full-time, permanent employees and deemed eligible for full benefits. More information is at AZcentral.

Group opposes FEMA’s plan to reduce hazardous fuel near Oakland, California

The Hills Conservation Network has sued several organizations in an attempt to halt a project that would reduce the hazardous fuels over 2,059 acres in the East Bay area. Below is an excerpt from Courthouse News Service:

“(C)lear-cutting and chipping of eucalyptus will not achieve the most effective reduction of fire risks in the project areas and instead increases fire risks by disposing of wood chips in layers up to two-feet deep over extensive areas of the project sites,” the complaint states.

But FEMA’s environmental impact statement, which justifies depositing up to 24 inches of mulch from eucalyptus trees, “fails to acknowledge research that highlights the high potential for spontaneous combustion in deeper accumulations of mulch, the difficulty of fire suppression in such fuels, the severe long-term damage to soils by the intense heating in mulch and wood chip fires, and the documented spotting danger posed by mulch and other forms of masticated fuels,” the group says.

“The net effect is essentially trading one fire hazard for another.”

Eucalyptus trees actually help reduce fire hazard by breaking up strong winds and reducing hazard from flying embers, and the complete removal of the eucalyptus forest would constitute a “catastrophic site disturbance” that would open up the ecosystem to invasive species, according to the lawsuit.

Last year we wrote this about eucalyptus trees:

Wildland firefighters in Australia and in some areas of California are very familiar with eucalyptus trees. They are native and very common in Australia and are planted as ornamentals in the United States. The leaves produce a volatile highly combustible oil, and the ground beneath the trees is covered with large amounts of litter which is high in phenolics, preventing its breakdown by fungi. Wildfires burn rapidly under them and through the tree crowns. It has been estimated that other than the 3,000+ homes that burned in the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire in California, about 70 percent of the energy released was through the combustion of eucalyptus.

Florida wildland firefighters concerned about their pay

Below is an excerpt from NBC 2:

Firefighters with the Florida Forest Service are fired up over small wages. They’re making a plea to state leaders to correct what they describe as being “grossly underpaid.”

[…]

Experience – now one the areas of concern being pointed out by a local union representing some of the firefighters with the Florida Forest Service.

“We do see a fairly high rate of turnover because of that,” said Chris Schmiege, Lee County Forest Area Supervisor.

“That”- being low salaries- in a job wage survey conducted by the union- it states Wildland firefighters receive a starting wage of a little more than twenty-four thousand a year for full-time work.

An amount comparable to a cafeteria worker or plumbers assistant which is considerably less than the average for firefighters at the county and local level, amounts ranging from thirty-nine to sixty thousand a year.

Forest Service officials are now calling on help from state leaders.

“We can definitely use the help, but at the same time we’re doing what we’re doing,” said Schmiege.

Which according to Schmiege also includes going out West to work for other federal fire agencies to stay afloat financially. Right now officials say it’s really almost a labor of love.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills. Google+

5 thoughts on “Wildfire briefing, March 11, 2015”

  1. I am a survivor of the 1991 Oakland/Berkeley Hills fire. All of the vegetation that was in the path of that wind-driven fire burned, as did all of the structures. Eucalyptus trees were primarily in forests not in the area that burned. A Grand Jury investigation after the fire concluded that no one species of tree was more responsible for the fire than any other, although eucalyptus trees were scapegoated for the fire, especially by the Oakland Fire Department, which had not been trained to deal with wildland fire, and the Claremont Canyon Conservancy, an organization that saw the fire as an opportunity to rid the hills of a non-native species. The 1991 fire started when sparks from a previous day’s fire ignited dry brush; the fire, driven by gusts of hot wind, quickly spread to wooden houses, and other structures with wood-shingled roofs. After the first 2 hours, there was no water to fight the fire. I do no love eucalyptus trees because they tend to be messy; they, as well as other tall trees such as redwoods, should not be planted close to houses. Eucalyptus trees, however, play an important role in providing habitat for many animals, and their shade canopy prevents the growth of flammable weeds and brush under them. They also store carbon, thus helping to prevent global warming. Even though eucalyptus trees are not native, healthy trees should not be removed in places where they have been thriving for more than 100 years. They should be thinned, and the bark litter under them should be removed. Most fires in California are brush fires. Dry grass and chaparral brush are more easily ignited and burn more quickly than tall trees. The emphasis in fire prevention should be on creating and maintaining defensible space around houses, not on removing non-native trees simply because they are not native.

    1. What Madeline said is completely wrong. She repeatably repeats her misinformation even though she has been told many times of the facts. I was trapped in that fire. I watched as a large grove of Eucalyptus exploded in flames. I was in a car and our vehicle drove through the flames of burning eucalyptus trees. The car behind me which contained a policeman and five other passengers was hit by a burning eucalyptus tree. Everyone died in that car. On that day eucalyptus killed so many people near my house.

  2. Eucalyptus trees do not play an important role in providing wildlife habitat for any native species compared to native vegetation (i.e., oak woodland vs. Eucalyptus, there’s no comparison). Not to mention, oaks do not represent near the fire hazard that Eucalyptus do. One could restore the Oakland Hills to oak woodlands (wouldn’t that make sense, since it’s called “Oakland” and all). The group suing FEMA has no concern for ecosystem integrity or fire danger, the wood chips are a red herring. The rate of spread and fireline intensity of a wood chip fire would be really low compared to a Eucalyptus fire and the solution to stop a wood chip fire is to dig a trench. This is not the type of fire that’s going to burn down 3,000 homes in a few hours. Not to mention, the wood chips are going to be focused over a relatively small area, primarily at the landings. Yes, most fires in CA are brush fires, but most fires in CA are human caused and most humans live in brush dominated area so such a statement is pretty meaningless. Redwoods are actually relatively fire resilient and if you space them right and maintain greater than 50 percent canopy and keep the ladder fuels at bay, they can act as a shaded fuel break, plus they are native to the Oakland Hills. People must be aware that they live in an ecosystem where fires are fuel dependent, not climate dependent and natural fire return intervals are often between 5 to 15 years, except in chaparral, where natural return intervals are more like 25 to 60+. Steep hillsides dominated by fire-prone non-native trees that accumulate massive amounts of oily surface and ladder fuels that don’t readily decompose due to their chemical properties is not a good idea from a fire and fuels perspective. Not to mention, CalFire needs to start enforcing the defensible space ordinance in the urban interface of the Oakland Hills.

  3. Ben your opening statement is not true. Unfortunately. Here in Santa Cruz eucalyptus are protected because they provide habitat for the Monarch butterfly. I live in a area considered to be an over-winter location for these butterflies. There is talk at the city level of “old growth” eucalyptus. Crazy? Yes, certainly but if you come here and cut a “huge” eucalyptus, like 12″ dbh, just wait to see the fines you will be paying and if you are the landowner you will be forced to sign over your fourth amendment rights.

  4. My first statement is not true for oak, but when available, monarchs prefer redwoods (a native tree) to Eucalyptus. When Eucalyptus is the only tree available, yes, monarchs use them, but monarch populations are not doing well, so lets not assume Eucalyptus is great habitat, it could be a sink. Slowly converting from Eucalyptus to redwood on moist sites might be the best management decision for monarchs.

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