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+

Wildfire briefing, December 22, 2014

Recently passed California ballot initiative could deplete firefighting inmate crews

A California ballot initiative recently passed could decrease the number of personnel available to staff firefighting inmate crews. The Colbert Report featured this issue on December 2 in their usual satirical style, but Reuters has a more serious look at the potential effects.

Below is an excerpt from their article:

…That measure will likely diminish the very segment of the inmate population that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, draws upon to fill its wildland firefighting crews.

Housed in 39 minimum-security “conservation camps” run by the state corrections department, the firefighting inmates also do brush clearance, flood control and park maintenance projects.

“It might do some damage to our pipeline,” said corrections Sergeant John Lanthripp, assistant commander of the largest of the camps, Oak Glen, in Southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains.

The change comes as California firefighting resources are increasingly stretched by more large wildfires, and a longer fire season, attributed to the state’s prolonged drought…

Fire in Cambodia destroys homes

A fire in Phnom Penh, Cambodia burned 26 homes and injured two people Saturday evening.

Forest Service asks visitors to not decorate trees

I didn’t know this was a thing.

Some national forests in Arizona and New Mexico are concerned about a tradition of decorating trees on forest land during the holidays. Over the past several years, the practice along well-traveled roads has become increasingly popular at the expense of the National Forest’s wild land and natural character.

A spokesperson for the Coconino National Forest said that not only are the decorating items distracting and altering the natural visual character and scenic quality, they are also potentially threatening to wildlife. Various wildlife species can ingest them or in some cases get entangled in them.

Decorating trees is a wonderful tradition, the Forest Service said, but it is much more appropriate on private and commercial property than on the National Forest. This season, the Forest Service will be proactively taking steps to prevent tree decorating on the National Forest. Decorations will be promptly removed, and individuals responsible can be issued violation notices under the Code of Federal Regulations CFR 261.11b for “possessing or leaving litter on the National Forest” with a fine of $150 or more. Please report such activities to the Red Rock Ranger District at (928) 282-4119.

Spectacular photos

We can’t publish them here, but check out these excellent photos taken at wildland fires. The first two won awards:

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Ken.


Charges to proceed for spill of helicopter fuel into BC creek

fuel truck lemon creek

A truck with fuel for helicopters fighting a wildfire overturned into Lemon Creek in British Columbia, July 25, 2013.

A judge has ruled that the British Columbia government and an aviation services company can face charges over a spill of helicopter fuel into a creek last year. On July 25, 2013 a truck carrying jet fuel for helicopters fighting a wildfire on Perry Ridge made a wrong turn onto an unmaintained forestry road that couldn’t support its weight. The truck overturned and rolled into Lemon Creek, spilling 33,000 liters of fuel into the watercourse, a tributary of the Slocan and Kootenay rivers. The spill caused the death of hundreds of fish, according to a 2013 report by SNC-Lavalin, produced for the company and the B.C. Environment Ministry.

After the ministry decided following a detailed investigation of the spill that the case was closed with no recommendation for charges, Slocan Valley resident Marilyn Burgoon pleaded with a judge to allow charges to be filed against the government and Executive Flight Centre Fuel Services, the operator of the truck. The company blamed the accident on the provincial government, alleging it received poor directions to the delivery point for the helicopter fuel.

At a hearing on November 27 Ms. Burgoon provided evidence alleging both parties shared responsibility for the fuel discharge.

​“This is a very important victory for democracy,” said Burgoon after the charge was approved.

“This provincial court decision means that government and industry are still accountable for their actions in a court of law. Even when government and industry drag their feet to avoid the investigation of environmental offences, justice can still prevail.”

Burgoon said the right of a private citizen to lay a charge is a fundamental part of Canada’s justice system.

“If government is not going to apply the laws of Canada, it is up to the people to do so,” she said.

A summons will now be issued and a court hearing date will be set in 2015.


BLM firefighter recognized as hero for saving two girls from drowning

Justin Hanley

Sisters Chava (left) and Shoshana Berry (center) were on hand to make the presentation of the Carnegie Medal to Justin Hanley (right) the evening of Dec. 13.

A Bureau of Land Management wildland firefighter employed at the Miles City, Montana Field Office was recently awarded the Carnegie Medal for Heroism for saving two young girls from drowning in the Yellowstone River.

Justin Lowell Hanley saved Chava L. and Shoshana L. Berry from drowning near Miles City, Montana, August 4, 2013. Sisters Chava, 14, and Shoshana, 10, were wading in the Yellowstone River along the bank when the current pulled them into the deeper water of the river’s channel and carried them downstream. Mr. Hanley, 43, a wildland firefighter who lived nearby, was alerted. He responded to the scene and saw the girls in the water several hundred feet away.

He ran along the bank to a point just beyond them and then partially disrobed and entered the water, despite knowing little about river conditions. As Hanley swam out, the strong channel current pulled on him, but he succeeded in reaching the girls at a point about 250 feet from the bank. Chava was inert and he held her against his side with one arm and then grasped Shoshana with that hand. Using his free arm, he stroked back toward the bank, the current continuing to take them downstream. En route, Hanley submerged repeatedly to touch the river’s bottom. He reached the bank with the girls at a point about 700 feet downstream from where he entered the river.

Firefighters had responded by then and tended to Chava, who had lost consciousness. Both girls were taken to the hospital, where Chava was detained for having aspirated water. They recovered. Hanley recovered from fatigue and abrasions.

Firefighters are sometimes called heroes by the public for what I consider just doing their jobs. But what Justin Hanley did was far beyond the call of duty. My first real job was serving as a lifeguard, so I know that grasping two girls with one arm and swimming hundreds of feet back to shore in deep water while the current carried them downstream, is amazing.

Justin Hanley is truly a hero.


A confluence of wildfire and art

The Fires of Change exhibition is a collaborative science and art partnership among the Southwest Fire Science Consortium, Flagstaff Arts Council, and the Landscape Conservation Initiative. The exhibition will open at the Coconino Center for the Arts in September 2015 during the Flagstaff Festival of Science. This film documents the workshop the artists attended at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to learn about fire management. For more information about the project, the partnership, and the artists involved, visit the Flagstaff Arts Council web site.

I am really curious about what will be created out of this very intriguing project. If it works out the way it possibly could, it should be a travelling exhibition, or, other areas could conduct similar initiatives.


Wildfire briefing, December 18, 2014

Possible wildfire suppression scam

From the Rapid City Fire Department:

Scam Alert: Investigators for the RCPD would like to inform the public of a possible scam targeting local businesses. An individual has been soliciting donations for an organization called ‘Atta Katta Wildland Fire Suppression.’ The Rapid City Police Department has reason to believe that this organization is fraudulent. If you’ve been solicited for a donation to this organization, please contact Sgt. Warren Poches at 394.4134.

Moonlight fire scandal continues to grow

The accusations of prosecutorial abuse, fraud, and government coverups related to the 2007 Moonlight Fire in northern California are gathering more nationwide attention. Here is how an article by Kathleen Parker begins:

First there’s the spark, then the conflagration, followed by the litigation and then, surely, the movie. Call it “Moonlight Fire,” and prepare to suspend disbelief. The story is a doozy — a tale of corruption, prosecutorial abuse, alleged fraud upon the court, and possible government cover-ups in the service of power and greed. All the script needs is a Forest Service employee urinating on his bare feet in his lookout tower just as the fire was beginning.


This is what a real-life ranger discovered when she went to the tower to pick up a radio for repair. She also reported spotting a small glass pipe and smelling marijuana. As for the urinary exercise, the lookout said he was treating his athlete’s foot. But of course.

So goes one of the more colorful anecdotes surrounding the 2007 California wildfire that burned up to 65,000 acres — 45,000 of them on federal land — in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains…

Jonathan Keim also wrote about the debacle for the National Review.

Articles at Wildfire Today tagged Moonlight Fire.

Study on the Rim Fire recommends more interagency prescribed fires

Excerpts from an article a KSBW:

A fierce wildfire that scorched part of Yosemite National Park burned less intensely in places that had fires in recent years – a finding that researchers said Wednesday supports a belief that controlled burning often curtails extreme fires.

The U.S. Forest Service study focused on areas of the Rim Fire that burned 400 square miles in Stanislaus National Forest, Yosemite’s backcountry and private timber land.

It was the largest fire in the recorded history of the Sierra Nevada. It destroyed 11 homes and cost more than $125 million to fight.

Areas hit by the Rim Fire within Yosemite had burned within 14 years and experienced less intense flames, said U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, which authored the study.

Researchers recommend that forestry agencies with shared borders and interests combine their efforts to conduct controlled burns during moderate weather conditions, giving them the best chance for to avoid massive high-intensity fires.

Night flying helicopters in southern California

An article at The Coast News reports on the two night-flying helicopters operated by the city of San Diego.

10-year high for people charged with lighting fires in Victoria

From The Age in Australia:

The number of charges for lighting fires on days of total fire ban or during bushfire danger periods has reached a 10-year high, as police crack down on the foolishness that has sparked destructive blazes since Black Saturday.

There were 227 charges for lighting a fire on a total fire ban day or in a fire danger period last year, an increase of more than 17 per cent compared to the previous year and more than five times the number recorded in 2010-11.

While most of the fires raging in Victoria this week are believed to have started because of lightning strikes, Emergency Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said some of the 350 blazes burning on Wednesday would have been caused by people ignoring the volatile conditions.

“It wouldn’t all be lightning. There would have been some foolish behaviour…

Homes burn in Victoria bushfire

Four homes burned in a bushfire in the Creighton’s Creek area of Victoria. State Control Centre spokesperson Leigh Miezis said 1,500 firefighters are currently battling the blaze.

The video below was filmed by Jacob Haddrill in Creightons Creek. He saved his cattle but his feed and fencing was damaged in the fire.