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+

Senator criticizes Park Service over escaped prescribed fire

Cold Brook Fire 4-14-2015

South end of the Cold Brook Fire, Wednesday morning, April 14, 2015. NPS photo.

South Dakota Senator John Thune sent a strongly worded letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel criticizing the National Park Service for the escaped prescribed fire, (the Cold Brook Fire in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota), that burned 6,420 acres of NPS land outside of the intended burn unit. The escape was entirely within the boundaries of Wind Cave National Park.

In the letter, Senator Thune makes assumptions about the cause of the escape, citing “extremely dry conditions”, and saying it “could easily have been prevented”.

A rational person would wait until an investigation or review sheds more light on what actually caused the prescribed fire to go out of control. However, recent investigations of federal fires with a negative outcome have consciously avoided determining the cause or listing conclusions. Or if they do, it is kept secret.

Below is the complete text of Senator Thune’s letter to Secretary Jewell:

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“On April 13, 2015, the National Park Service Forest Service (NPS) conducted a prescribed burn in the southern portion of Wind Cave National Park, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The prescribed burn was intended to cover 1,100 acres; however, due to the extremely dry conditions present at the prescribed burn site the fire, named the Cold Brook Fire, quickly escalated out of control consuming more than 6,500 acres of Wind Cave National Park.

In certain circumstances prescribed burns play an important role in federal lands management.  However, when a prescribed burn is the recommended management tool, intentionally setting one for any reason in tinder dry forestland or grassland when extremely dry conditions exist is entirely unwarranted and inexcusable and once started has a high likelihood of burning out of control.  Historically, carelessly set prescribed burns have resulted in unnecessary endangerment of firefighters, and have destroyed homes, personal property, and public lands.

I strongly urge a thorough and critical review of the Department’s prescribed burn policies and collaboration with local and state authorities and adjacent landowners prior to initiating any future burn.  The current prescribed burn practice of following a “prescription” checklist before starting a fire obviously is not adequately preventing prescribed burns from being set in unsafe conditions that are resulting in out-of-control wildfires.  There is an urgent need for you to do more to ensure that prescribed burns can continue to be used as a management tool without jeopardizing lives and property.

I fully expect the Department of Interior to assume complete liability for any damages caused as a result of the Cold Brook Fire.  Even though the fire was contained to Wind Cave National Park property, I have been informed that fire lines were established on private property and that the intense smoke will likely damage the lungs of young calves in the vicinity resulting in high risk of pneumonia and death loss.

Within 30 days please provide me with a detailed plan for reimbursement to all who were damaged due to this fire, including private individuals, landowners, and local, county, and state entities who suffered economic losses or contributed resources to fighting this fire.  Included in the requested plan please provide how claims will be established and processed, and the timeline for reimbursement.

The Cold Brook Fire could easily have been prevented and I strongly urge you to take whatever actions necessary to prevent future occurrences. I fully expect the Department to accept full responsibility and liability for the damages, losses, and expenses due to this fire.”

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Changes at the Wildland Firefighter Foundation

Rocky Barker has an article in the Idaho Statesman about how criticism of the organization has brought about changes. Below is an excerpt:

The harsh words from some of the surviving family members of fallen firefighters about the Wildland Firefighter Foundation weren’t easy to hear for Vicki Minor, the executive director and founder of the group that is dedicated to helping them.

I reported in February that critics and former board members said the foundation has grown too fast and had too few controls in place to ensure proper spending. But it was the view of some family members that they were treated poorly or forgotten that was tough on the Boise woman who has dedicated more than 16 years to help firefighters’ families through their grief.

Minor said this week that she and the foundation are better for the scrutiny.

“Actually, I’m grateful we had this done,” Minor said. “(This has) helped us become better at what we do, and that is taking care of wildland firefighters.”

An independent review conducted by Boise consultant Karyn Wood for the foundation’s board confirmed many of the shortcomings I reported in February. There was a lack of clear policies and there was little oversight on expenses, reporting on how they gave money to firefighter survivors and clarity about how the money they raised was spent…

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California firefighter dies during training

Inmate Firefighter Raymond Araujo suffered a heart attack while engaged in a training exercise on the Morongo Indian Reservation near Banning, California on April 13. The 37-year old firefighter succumbed to his injury after being airlifted to a base camp where he was treated by CAL FIRE and Riverside County Fire Department medics.

The incident occurred in Hathaway Canyon on the Morongo Indian Reservation near Banning, California.

Our sincere condolences go out to his family.

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Smoke from North Dakota wildfire causes pileup on interstate highway

From the AP:

BISMARCK, North Dakota — Authorities have blamed smoke from wildfires for a multiple-vehicle pileup on Interstate 29 in northeastern North Dakota that sent eight people to the hospital.

Injuries in the crash Wednesday ranged from minor to critical, the North Dakota Highway Patrol told KFGO radio. Hospital officials told WDAZ-TV early Thursday that seven people were admitted and one has been released.

Seven vehicles were involved in the crash, and two semitrailers collided nearby. It happened close to Manvel while hundreds of firefighters were working to contain multiple grass fires along a 60-mile stretch of the highway, KFGO reported.

“The reduced visibility is what caused the crashes to begin with, and people not slowing down to the conditions of the road,” Highway Patrol Trooper Ryan Mugan told WDAZ.

State transportation officials shut down the interstate from Grand Forks to the Canadian border for a time due to the smoke. The highway reopened Wednesday evening.

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New York firefighters want fire lanes maintained

Manorville fire engine

Firefighters in Suffolk County in New York say the lack of maintenance of fire lanes in forested areas hampers their ability to access wildfires. Their brush trucks are designed to crash through wooded areas but dead trees, logs, and high stumps at times prevent them from getting to a fire, or can cause them to become stuck on a stump.

Below is an excerpt from Riverhead Local:

Angry firefighters: policymakers ‘have no clue’ about dangers of battling wildfires in Flanders pine barrens

The two men driving the brush trucks that got stuck on dead trees in the Flanders brush fire Saturday are angry about the conditions on publicly-owned preserved lands in Flanders. But they’re even angrier about the statements made by government officials responsible for those conditions in the days following the small wildfire that burned 10 acres of woodlands.

On Monday morning, County Executive Steve Bellone called a press conference in Hauppauge to announce the establishment of a permanent brush truck training course on 25 vacant acres of county land in Yaphank.

“We need to…make sure that our fire personnel, as they go in to do their work, have what they need and have the training that they need to combat those wildfires,” Bellone said.

“Training is not the issue,” an incredulous and angry Flanders Fire Chief Joseph Petit said in an interview Monday evening. “The condition of the land is the issue.”

Fire lanes are so overgrown that they’re impassable (see video below) and thousands of dead oak trees — both standing and fallen — have created conditions in the forest so hazardous and so difficult to navigate that a disaster is inevitable unless immediate action is taken, Pettit said…

The video was published on 13 Apr 2015. It was shot during a wildfire in Flanders Fire District Saturday, April 11, 2015, showing the condition of county-owned preserved pine barrens, where fire lanes are obstructed by fallen dead oak trees. One brush truck got stuck on a fallen tree (broke a tie rod) and had to be towed from the scene. Location: Flanders, Suffolk County, New York.

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