Dozens of homes believed destroyed in New South Wales bushfire

Above: A fire burns structures in Tathra, New South Wales. Photo credit: NSW Rural Fire Service.

(Originally published at 11:03 a.m. MDT March 18, 2018, US time)

A fire that started southeast of Bega, New South Wales has burned east to the Pacific coast destroying homes in its path. The official tally of the affected structures is not available but Campbell Fuller, communications director of the Insurance Council of Australia, said “We are hearing several dozen properties” burned.

map bushfire Tathra new south wales
Google Earth file photo of the area in Tathra NSW affected by a bushfire. Compare this image to the one at the top of the article.

From the Daily Telegraph:

Earlier on Sunday night Bega Valley Shire Council mayor Kristy McBain said up to 35 homes had been lost and the concern was now about people stuck in Tathra as the roads in and out of the town were closed.

Many of the destroyed homes were in the small coastal community of Tathra, population 1,622. After the fire ran east for 5 miles (8 km) from the Bega area to the coast, jumping the Bega River, the wind shifted to come out of the south, slowing the spread. Officials advised residents to continue to monitor conditions and be prepared to enact their bush fire survival plan should the fire threaten again. The evacuation center is at Bega Showground.

map bushfire Tathra new south wales
Map of the bushfire between Bega and Tathra NSW. Map by NSW RFS.

The NSW Rural Fire Service video below shows Air Tanker 390 making a drop in Tathra.

The latest size of the fire released by the Rural Fire service at 23:10 March 18 local time was 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres).

bushfire Tathra new south wales
Air Tanker 390 makes a retardant drop near structures in Tathra, NSW. Photo credit, NSW RFS.


Elevated wildfire danger for the next 9 days in portions of CO, NM, TX, OK

Low humidities and frequent strong winds will challenge firefighters

Above: National Weather Service product for the Tucumcari, New Mexico area showing peak wind gusts and the potential for fire spread, March 17 through 25.

Originally published at 11:10 a.m. MDT March 17, 2018.

Firefighters could be busy for the next 9 days in portions of Southeast Colorado, Eastern New Mexico, the panhandle of Oklahoma, and Western Texas. The period begins Saturday with Red Flag Warnings in those areas for strong winds and low humidity. The pattern will continue off and on, mostly on, through the next weekend, March 25.

Red Flag Warnings wildfire
Red Flag Warnings (red) and Fire Weather Watches (yellow), March 17, 2018

The National Weather Service chart at the top of this article shows what models predict for potential fire spread in the Tucumcari, New Mexico area, which is just outside of the Red Flag Warning for today, Saturday. It is almost a certainty that the predicted 50 mph wind gusts for Tucumcari on Sunday will generate a Red Flag Warning. Below is the Weather Underground product for the same area, which is a 4,200 feet above sea level. It shows minimum relative humidities that are in the low teens for every day through March 26 with the exception of Monday March 19 when it bottoms out at 22 percent, still quite low. Strong winds are in the forecast for Sunday, Monday, and Thursday through Sunday.

Weather forecast Tucumcari NM
Weather forecast for Tucumcari, NM. Weather Underground.

Red Flag Warnings in seven states, March 16, 2018

The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag Warnings and/or Fire Weather Watches for areas in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri.

The Red Flag Warning map was current as of 9:52 a.m. PST on Friday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts.

OpEd: I am tired of complaints about the cost of fighting wildfires

Firefighting and warfighting are both expensive

Above: Whoopup Fire, Wyoming, 2011

(This was first published on Fire Aviation)

The large air tankers on exclusive use contracts have been cut this year from 20 to 13. In 2002 there were 44. This is a 73 percent reduction in the last 16 years.

No scooping air tankers are on exclusive use contracts this year.

The large Type 1 helicopters were cut last year from 34 to 28 and that reduction remains in effect this year.

Some say we need to reduce the cost of fighting wildfires. At first glance the above cuts may seem to accomplish that. But failing to engage in a quick, aggressive initial attack on small fires by using overwhelming force from both the air and the ground, can allow a 10-acre fire to become a megafire, ultimately costing many millions of dollars. CAL FIRE gets this. The federal government does not.

Meanwhile the United States spends trillions of dollars on adventures on the other side of the world while the defense of our homeland against the increasing number of acres burned in wildfires is being virtually ignored by the Administration and Congress. A former military pilot told me this week that just one sortie by a military plane on the other side of the world can cost millions of dollars when the cost of the weapons used is included. The military industrial complex has hundreds of dedicated, aggressive, well-funded lobbyists giving millions to our elected officials. Any pressure on politicians to better defend our country from wildfires on our own soil is very small by comparison.

I am tired of people wringing their hands about the cost of wildfires.

You can’t fight fire on the cheap — firefighting and warfighting are both expensive. What we’re spending in the United States on the defense of our homeland is a very small fraction of what it costs to blow up stuff in countries that many Americans can’t find on a map.

Government officials and politicians who complain about the cost need to stop talking and fix the problem. The primary issue that leads to the whining is that in busy years we rob Peter to pay Paul — taking money from unrelated accounts to pay for emergency fire suppression. This can create chaos in those other functions such as fire prevention and reducing fuels that make fires difficult to control. Congress needs to create the “fire funding fix” that has been talked about for many years — a completely separate account for fires. Appropriately and adequately funding fire suppression and rebuilding the aerial firefighting fleet should be high priorities for the Administration and Congress.

Maybe we need some teenagers to take on this issue!

Shawna Legarza discusses firefighting aircraft available this year

The U.S. Forest Service Director of Fire and Aviation spoke at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento Tuesday.

Above: Shawna Legarza speaks at the Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 conference in Sacramento, March 13, 2018.

(Originally published at 8:18 PDT March 13, 2018)

Shawna Legarza, the U.S. Forest Service National Director of Fire and Aviation, gave a presentation at the Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 conference in Sacramento, March 13, 2018. She said we are no longer experiencing fire seasons — fires now occur year round. Firefighters in Southern California have been saying that for a couple of decades, but the epidemic is spreading.

After her talk we spoke with her for a couple of minutes before she had to leave for a meeting in Arizona. We asked her about the firefighting aircraft that will be available in 2018.

Shawna Legarza fire aviation
Shawna Legarza speaks at the Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 conference in Sacramento, March 13, 2018.

86-year old firefighter killed in water tender rollover

The accident occurred near Overton, Texas.

A firefighter with the New London Fire Department in Texas died after the water tender they were using to respond to a vegetation fire rolled over near Overton, Texas. The U. S. Fire Administration released the following information:

Firefighter M.V. Hudson was injured in a fire tender (tanker) crash on the evening of February 28th. Hudson and two other firefighters were responding to a grass fire when the apparatus left the right side of the roadway and rolled over, badly damaging the cab and injuring all three occupants. The three firefighters had to be extracted from the vehicle and were rushed to the hospital. Two firefighters were subsequently released, but Firefighter Hudson died while in the hospital on March 10, 2018.

Mr. Hudson had 45 years of firefighting service and was 86 years old.

Our sincere condolences go out to his family, friends, and co-workers.