About Bill Gabbert

Wildland fire has been a major part of Bill Gabbert’s life for several decades. After growing up in the south, he migrated to southern California where he lived for 20 years, working as a wildland firefighter. Later he took his affinity for firefighting to Indiana and eventually the Black Hills of South Dakota where he was the Fire Management Officer for a group of seven national parks. Today he is the creator and owner of WildfireToday.com and Sagacity Wildfire Services and serves as an expert witness in wildland fire. If you are interested in wildland fire, welcome… grab a cup of coffee and put your feet up. Google+

New USFS firefighter recruitment video

On September 23 The U.S. Forest uploaded to YouTube this video that appears to be a new firefighter recruitment tool. Like any advertising campaign asking people to apply for jobs, it certainly glamorizes what firefighters do.

One person is even shown saying:

Our job is better than your best vacation.

The video strongly emphasizes smokejumping and rappelling, as if those jobs make up a large percentage of the firefighting work force. And it shows a lot of women, as if they comprise more than 10 percent of the work force.

I only noticed one firefighter with his shirt sleeves rolled up and that was on screen for about 1/4 second. I wonder how much footage they had to discard that showed firefighters with safety or personal protective equipment infractions.

The production values are very high, perhaps the best I have seen coming out of the USFS or the folks at the National Interagency Fire Center. It gives producer credit to the Creative Media and Broadcast Center, USDA Office of Communications, Washington, DC.

It is a little over the top at times, but I give it a…thumbs up

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Crew that deployed fire shelters on King Fire had three minutes to run to a safer area

Gary Dahlen award

Pilot Gary Dahlen, center, is recognized for his actions to aid a crew that was threatened by a rapidly spreading fire. Photo courtesy of CAL FIRE.

The 12 people that deployed fire shelters on the King Fire in northern California on September 15 were in a spot near heavy timber that may or may not have been survivable, even in the shelters they had climbed under. Gary Dahlem, flying a Bell 205 overhead, told the crew that they should relocate, and they had three minutes to run out of the timber to an area with lighter fuels.

Amy Wang of the Arizona Republic interviewed Mr. Dahlem and got his story about how it all developed. Here are a couple of excepts from the beginning of her article:

The command that blared from the radio was one Gary Dahlen had never heard before, not in all his years piloting helicopters over wildfires.

“All available helicopters prepare for an emergency launch.”

He hardly knew what to make of it. “I was thinking maybe structures were threatened,” Dahlen said later.
[...]

He quickly climbed into his flight suit, then into his seat. As the helicopter’s turbo engine whined to life, someone from the fire command staff came sprinting toward the aircraft, reached in and punched latitude-and-longitude coordinates into Dahlen’s GPS.

That was when he learned the emergency: It was a shelter deployment.

We were listening to the radio traffic during the incident and live-blogged about it that day.

On September 23 Mr. Dahlen received an award for his actions.

One thing the excellent article does not mention is that the pilots were given incorrect lat/long coordinates for the location of the crew, which would have sent them many miles off course. There was just one digit that was wrong, but the pilots figured out what it should have been and found the firefighters. Describing a location using lat/long requires about 13 to 20 digits, providing many opportunities for errors as they are communicated and punched into navigation systems. If we switched over to the U.S. National Grid a location could be described using only 6 to 8 digits (depending on the degree of accuracy required) if you already know what region of the country the location is in. Add 2 characters to specify the region, and 3 more to make it a unique location world-wide.

 

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Fire that orphaned mountain lion cubs was started by exploding target

mountain lion cubs fire

Sara Steele and Liz Shellenbarger dry off the mountain lion cubs found under a burning log. Photo by Cory Rennaker, Bitterroot National Forest Helitack, USFS.

Investigators have confirmed that shooters using exploding targets started the Three Mile Fire nine miles east of Florence, Montana in August. The fire burned about 50 acres before firefighters extinguished it at a cost estimated at $94,000.

During the initial attack on the fire, Bitterroot National Forest firefighters rescued a pair of mountain lion cubs. The kittens, just a few weeks old, were taking shelter under a burning log. Firefighters called in a helicopter bucket drop to cool the log, and the kittens, although wet from the 600 gallons of water, were rescued.

Mountain lion cubs

Photo by Cory Rennaker, Bitterroot National Forest Helitack, USFS.

A few weeks after being rescued, the cubs, named Lewis and Clark, were adopted by the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo and Aquarium, and on September 23 made an appearance on David Letterman’s show. During the first two minutes of the video below, Jack Hanna tells Dave about the blank spot in his brain, and then the cubs are brought on.

We have written about exploding targets many times before. The dangerous devices consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user create an explosive when shot by a high-velocity projectile.

Exploding targets have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years. They have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. In June, 2013 a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed after shrapnel from the device struck him in the abdomen causing his death. The Missoulian reported that two years ago a woman in Ohio had her hand nearly blown off while taking a cellphone video of a man firing at an exploding target placed in a refrigerator about 150 feet away.

The U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets in the Northern Region, which includes Montana. The Three Mile Fire occurred on state protected land in a Wildlife Management Area where target shooting is not permissible. The state of Montana has not taken action to specifically prohibit the use of exploding targets, although they can become illegal when fire restrictions are in place.

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Three preliminary accident reports

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has published preliminary reports for three recent accidents — two burnovers and one very serious snag incident. Below are the summaries of the three accidents. It usually takes many months for the final, complete reports to be written and released.

Snag accident on the Freezeout Ridge Fire, Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho, one injury, September 21, 2014:

Firefighters from the Winema Hotshot crew were working on the Northeast edge of the Freezeout Ridge Fire when a snag fell and struck a Firefighter. The individual was knocked unconscious and it was determined by personnel on scene that life flight medical attention was needed. The individual was treated on scene by crew members, then transported via helicopter, long lined to a heli-spot where he was treated by a paramedic and transported to a hospital in Boise. He is being treated for severe head injuries including a skull fracture, broken jaw, lacerations to the face and head, two broken arms, dislocated thumb, and minor burns.

A Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA) team has convened and began to assess the incident.

Because a decision was made to deviate from aviation policy in order to potentially save the life of the injured firefighter, a SAFECOM was filed. That aspect of the incident is covered at Fire Aviation.

Entrapment on the King Fire in northern California, no serious injuries, September 15, 2014:

We wrote about this entrapment live as it was developing.

Below is the information from CAL FIRE’s preliminary report:

SYNOPSIS:
The following information is a preliminary summary report referencing a Heavy Fire Equipment Operator , a Fire Captain B and CAL FIRE inmate fire crewmembers involved in a burnover during a wildland fire incident. There were no serious injuries suffered by CAL FIRE personnel or inmate crewmembers. The extent of the damage to the CAL FIRE bulldozer is unknown at the time of this report.

NARRATIVE:
On September 15, 2014, a CAL FIRE Fire Captain (FCB-1), with inmate fire crewmembers (CRW-1), and a CAL FIRE Heavy Fire Equipment Operator (HFEO-1) were assigned to Division K (DIV K) on the King Incident in El Dorado County. CRW-1 and HFEO-1 were working on the northeast side of the King Incident. The reported assignment was to go direct and contain a slop over on a mid-slope road. At approximately 1245 hours, FCB-1 observed an increase in the fire behavior, and determined to cancel the assignment. FCB-1 notified HFEO-1 and with the inmate crewmembers took refuge at a deployment site. HFEO-1 was forced to leave the bulldozer by foot and took refuge at the deployment site with FCB-1 and CRW-1. The personnel deployed their fire shelters. Air support was requested, accountability maintained and their location was communicated. The personnel were evacuated by helicopter and transported to the helibase. They were evaluated by paramedics and returned to the Incident Base later the same day. There were no serious injuries suffered in this incident.

Entrapment on the Black Fire in California’s Mendocino County, September 13, 2014, two minor injuries, three engines damaged:

The Willits News has a photo of one of the engines that burned.

Below is the summary from the CAL FIRE preliminary report:

SYNOPSIS
On Saturday September 13, 2014, at approximately 1625 hours, a rapidly moving wildland fire burned over two local agency Type III engines and one CAL FIRE utility vehicle; destroying one of the two engines and the utility. The second engine sustained significant heat damage. Two local agency fire personnel suffered minor injuries, and were treated and released at a local medical facility. During the same fire run, firefighters on a CAL FIRE engine having to take refuge in a structure. The CAL FIRE engine sustained minor damage. The engine operator suffered minor injuries and was treated and released at a local medical facility.

NARRATIVE
On Saturday September 13, 2014, the BLACK fire was approximately 50 acres and actively burning with spotting at ¼ mile. The fuel type was primarily oak woodland intermixed with grasslands and areas of chamise. Two local government Type III engines were operating at a structure (Structure 1) along a ridge with the Division Group Supervisor (DIV C) in a utility. At the same time, a CAL FIRE engine had staged next to a separate structure (Structure 2) approximately 100 yards to the south along the same ridge within DIV C.

At approximately 1625 hours, the fire made a rapid, upslope run through a large area of chamise and manzanita located below the road that accessed the structures. All of the structures along the ridge were threatened. Structure 1 ignited and the residential propane tank began to vent. DIV C determined personnel couldn’t safely take refuge in the structure or the fire apparatus. Ultimately it was determined the apparatus couldn’t be moved quickly enough to ensure a safe exit and all personnel at the structure exited the area on foot to a Temporary Refuge Area.

During this increased fire activity a CAL FIRE engine crew took refuge in Structure 2. When the fire front passed, all personnel exited the structure and drove from the fire area. There was minor damage to the state engine.

 

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