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+

Photos from the Norbeck prescribed fire

These are photos taken October 20, 2014 at the Norbeck Section 1 prescribed fire being managed on State, Federal and private lands approximately 4 miles northeast of Pringle, South Dakota. More details about the project can be found here. We will first post some quick cell phone pictures transmitted from the site, and toward the end of the day put up some real photos.

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Norbeck prescribed fire in the Black Hills

Norbeck prescribed fire

Briefing for the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire at 7 a.m., October 20, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Monday morning we attended the 7 a.m. briefing for the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire in the Black Hills. It is a complex, Type 1, 1,938-acre project on State, Federal and private lands approximately 4 miles northeast of Pringle, South Dakota. The 120 personnel will be igniting vegetation in Wind Cave National Park, Custer State park, Black Hills National Forest, and private land. Some of the funding is provided by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. To assist with ignition on the large project a Type 3 helicopter will be dropping plastic spheres that burst into flame about 30 seconds after they exit the dispenser on the helicopter.

When I looked at the large crowd assembled for the briefing and remarked to Todd Pechota, the Fire Management Officer for the Black Hills National Forest, that I didn’t expect to see so many people, he said, “We wanted to get this one right”.

Norbeck prescribed fire

Communications Unit Leader Bob Fischer briefs on radio usage for the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The four different land owners and the funding from a non-government organization are some of the reasons why planning for the project has been going on for at least five years. They brought in a Prescribed Fire Burn Boss, Ross Wilmore the Fire Management Officer on the White River National Forest in Colorado, to work with the trainee Burn Boss, Matt Spring.

And just to make things a little more complicated, the annual buffalo roundup in Wind Cave National Park is occurring now, with the animals being herded to corrals about a half mile east of the prescribed fire. Many people from the national park are tied up on that project.

The ignition of the burn is expected to take two days, Monday and Tuesday of this week. Dew and even frost in some areas may delay the start of the project Monday morning, but things should dry out by mid- to late morning.

Highway 87 through Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park will be closed Monday through Wednesday. As the fire progresses through the ponderosa pine and grass meadows in the area, it will be putting up a large amount of smoke. The firefighters expect to work from north to south, primarily concentrating on the three northern-most units on Monday, and move to Unit 4 on the south end on Tuesday. (See the map below.)

We will return to the prescribed fire Monday afternoon to report on the progress and hopefully grab some more photos.

Norbeck prescribed fire

A heliwell and two dozers at the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The heliwell is filled with water, so that a helicopter with a buck can dip out it. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Map of the Norbeck prescribed fire

Map of the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire. I drew in NPS 5, the dirt road that intersects with Highway 87 at Drop Point 6. (click to enlarge)

The weather for the project looks pretty good. The spot weather forecast for Monday predicts southwest then south winds at 6 to 10 mph, 72 degrees, and relative humidity of 31 percent; Tuesday looks about the same. The smoke will be pushed toward the north and northeast.

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New York Times: Mary Lowry writes about pyromania

Mary Lowry, the author of a new novel about wildland firefighting, has an interesting article in the New York Times, titled The Origins of My Pyromania. When we wrote about her book, Wildfire, we mentioned that she worked for two seasons on the Pike Hotshots in Colorado.

In the Times piece, she talks about playing with fire and matches as a child, and then getting paid while using a drip torch for some serious ignition when she was a firefighter. Here is a brief excerpt from the article.

…When I was 21, I found myself standing in a forest holding a drip torch in my hand. A drip torch is like a devilish silver watering can full of diesel and gasoline, with a burning wick below the spout. I tilted the drip torch, tentatively at first. A liquid trickle of fire poured out into a clump of bushes. I walked along, deliberately spilling fire, and the flames surged, reaching for low-hanging branches, then climbing into the trees.

This was the larger conflagration I had always longed for. I wasn’t a lone pyromaniac any longer, hiding my acts from the judgment of those around me. I was working on an elite “Hotshots” crew of 20 wildland firefighters. Now, for the first time, I was lighting a “backfire” that would burn in front of the main wildfire and thus deprive it of the fuel it needed to spread. I was literally fighting fire with fire…

Merriam-Webster defines pyromania as “an irresistible impulse to start fires”. I would not go so far as to say every firefighter is a pyromaniac or an arsonist, and I don’t know if Ms. Lowry fits that description, but when a convection column is boiling up from the ground, lofting burning leaves and small tree branches into the sky, and it glows inside like a volcano, and the indrafts are pulling in winds and smoke from all directions, and there is condensation on the top forming a cloud … it’s hard not to be fascinated with the awesome spectacle.

In 1971 a reporter from the Los Angeles Times went through the training to become qualified as a firefighter so he could follow the El Cariso Hotshots around on several fires, including a long road trip to the Mendocino National Forest northern California. When the lengthy article appeared in print, the Assistant Superintendent took some heat after being quoted as saying, “You know the difference between a firefighter and an arsonist? Only about a hair”.

1971 LA Times El Cariso article

1971 LA Times El Cariso Hotshots article

And, sorry, but no, I don’t have an electronic copy of the 1971 article, which covers almost three full newspaper pages. If anyone does, or if there is a link to it on the Times site (I could not find it), let us know in a comment.

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Wildfire camo clothing

A camouflage pattern on clothing or a vehicle that replicates a wildfire of course has no practical use. If you are in a wildfire, there is no logical reason why you would want to hide. But on the other hand, according to my research, 99.2753 percent of the people that wear standard camo have no practical reason for wearing it, other than fashion.

Last year we wrote about a race car that competed in a NASCAR event that was wrapped in a wildfire pattern. Now it turns out that the company that made the wrap is putting the pattern on clothing. (It’s pretty cool, I have to admit.)

fire camo shirt

Wildfire camo shirt, by Moonshine Attitude Attire.

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Golf club may have started Poinsettia Fire in California

Poinsettia Fire, screen grab from Fox TV at 120 pm PDT, May 14, 2014

Poinsettia Fire, screen grab from Fox TV at 1:20 p.m. PDT, May 14, 2014.

A fire investigator has determined that a golf club striking a rock is one of the possible causes for the Poinsettia Fire that burned 27 residences and 600 acres on May 14 in Carlsbad, California. The fire started near a cart path on the 7th hole on the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa’s golf course.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Union-Tribune:

As for arson, a viral suspicion on that infernal spring day, [Dominic Fieri, an investigator with the Carlsbad Fire Department] found no evidence of an incendiary device.

“Based on the location of the fire’s origin, and interviews conducted by the Carlsbad police,” he wrote, “I have ruled out any fire causes that resulted in a deliberate act of circumstances in which a person ignited the fire.”

That leaves Fieri with only one explanation he could not reject out of hand — a “smoldering ignition source that had direct contact with combustible materials.”

Given the starting point on a golf course, Fieri concluded that the blaze may have been started either by a burning cigarette or cigar (though he could find no physical evidence in the windy, charred ignition area) or a spark created by a “titanium golf club head” hitting a rock.

If a golf club started the Poinsettia Fire it is not the first time it has happened. There is at least one and possibly two other cases of this happening.

As we wrote in 2010, the Orange County Fire Authority in California said that a 12-acre fire in August of that year was ignited when a golfer, whose ball was in the rough, struck a rock with his club, causing sparks which started the fire. It took hand crews, helicopters, and 150 firefighters to put out the fire at the Shady Canyon Golf Club.

Earlier this year scientists at UC Irvine even conducted research to see if it was possible. Their conclusion:

Titanium alloy golf clubs can cause dangerous wildfires, according to UC Irvine scientists. When a club coated with the lightweight metal is swung and strikes a rock, it creates sparks that can heat to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit for long enough to ignite dry foliage, according to findings published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Fire and Materials.

If you look carefully in the video below, you will be able to see sparks created by a titanium club.

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