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+

DNR sued over failure to suppress fire that became the Carlton Complex

Three landowners are suing the Washington state Department of Natural Resources, accusing the agency of negligence in not initially putting out the Golden Hike Fire that later merged with three others to become the Carlton Complex. The fire developed into the largest in the recorded history of the state, burning 256,108 acres and approximately 300 homes in July, 2014 in and around the towns of Pateros and Malott.

gavelThe suit contends that the DNR did not respond promptly to the fire, “abandoned fire lines early in the evening [on the first day] and did not return until morning”, and prevented local volunteers and residents from fighting the fire.

The three landowners are David Schulz, a former Okanogan County commissioner and 45-year firefighting veteran, his wife Deannis Schulz, and John Clees, a rancher. They are asking for damages to be determined at the trial, attorney’s fees, punitive damages, and treble damages under RCW 64.12.030.

Their attorney, Alex Thomason, represents more than other 200 clients who also lost their homes and property. If this suit is successful it could open the door to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

A similar case came after the 1985 Barker Mountain Fire that burned 25,000 acres in northeast Washington, including 5,000 acres of private land. The plaintiffs whose property was damaged argued that the DNR was negligent in fighting the fire since they withdrew the firefighters at the end of the first day to get rest and then reassigned them to one of many others that were burning at the same time. The case made it to the state Supreme Court where the judges upheld the decision that the state was indeed negligent, confirming the $2.6 million award to the plaintiffs. The dissenting opinion contended that the 30 mph wind that developed on the second day which caused the fire to again become active and spread far beyond control was an “act of God” and the DNR was not negligent.

Davidson River crew — 1923 and 2015

Davidson River Fire Crew 2015

Davidson River Fire Crew 2015.

We received the following message from Bill Coates, Acting Superintendent of the Davidson River Initial Attack Crew (above), who referred to a photo that we posted on November 18 taken in 1923. We reposted that photo down below. Click on it to see a larger version.


“The first photo featured on your post of old firefighting photos is one that we also encountered in some archives a while ago, identified as the Davidson River Fire Crew. In 2008 the US Forest Service and Schenck Job Corps in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina teamed up to create the Davidson River Initial Attack Crew, an advanced fire management training program for Job Corps graduates. Today that crew trains and places approximately 15 students per year, and provides training opportunities to 8-12 agency overhead detailers. We help Region 8 forests accomplish their prescribed fire targets and typically burn between 30,000 and 60,000 acres annually, in addition to wildfire response. I’ve attached a photo [above] of today’s crew from a day we recently spent volunteering at Veteran’s Healing Farm (veteranshealingfarm.org). John Mahshie, who runs the farm, is on the far right.

Bill Coates, Acting Superintendent, Davidson River IA*


firefighters rail car

Firefighting over the last 100 years has changed — some

firefighters rail carFighting wildfires has changed in some ways over the last 100 years. We have firefighting aircraft, chain saws, better modes of transportation, and better pumps, but we’re still fighting fire with sharpened pieces of metal attached to the ends of sticks.

Weather.com assembled a collection of 82 photos that gives us an idea what it must have been like fighting wildfires and structure fires a hundred years ago. Here are a couple of examples — you can see the rest HERE.

Female firefighters 1922

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

South Dakota: Argyle Road Fire

Argyle Road Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

And engine from the state of South Dakota positions to attack the fire.

On a day when weather conditions were flirting with Red Flag Warning criteria, firefighters on Wednesday stopped the Argyle Road Fire north of Hot Springs, South Dakota after it burned approximately five acres. The personnel on scene from Hot Springs, Custer, Argyle, and the Forest Service were dealing with a temperature of 38 degrees and winds measured at Elk Mountain (north of the fire) of 23 mph with gusts to 49.

The fire was burning in an area that had been slightly thinned, but the slash was still scattered on the ground.

It is likely that the fire, which was on private land south of Argyle Road seven miles west of US Highway 385, started from the power line that was on the ground near the point of origin, apparently recently broken.

All of the photos were taken by Bill Gabbert.

Argyle Road Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Two engine crews from the Hot Springs FD attack the fire.

Argyle Road Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

An engine from Hot Springs, SD FD refills from the Hot Springs water tender.

Argyle Road Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert. Argyle Road Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Argyle Road Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The downed power line.

Argyle Road Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The downed power line.

Red Flag Warnings, November 18, 2015

wildfire Red Flag Warnings 11-18-2015

The Red Flag Warning map is interesting today, with the only warning area being in the southwest corner of North Dakota, in effect from late Wednesday morning through early evening. It is another example of weather conditions, as reported by the National Weather Service, being affected by state boundaries.

Black Hills wind forecast

Greater Black Hills wind forecast November 18, 2015. Parts of SD, WY, MT, ND, & NE.

Here is the weather forecast for the center of the Red Flag Area in North Dakota; what it does not include is the relative humidity, which is predicted to be 35 to 45 percent:

A chance of rain and snow showers before 2pm, then a chance of snow showers between 2pm and 4pm. Mostly cloudy, then gradually becoming sunny, with a temperature falling to around 28 by 5pm. Windy, with a northwest wind 26 to 31 mph increasing to 40 to 45 mph in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 65 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%. Total daytime snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.

And below, the forecast for northwest Wyoming (RH 35 percent):

A slight chance of rain showers, mixing with snow after 2pm, then gradually ending. Partly sunny, with a temperature falling to around 31 by 5pm. Very windy, with a northwest wind 29 to 34 mph increasing to 39 to 44 mph in the morning. Winds could gust as high as 60 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

And northwest South Dakota (RH 33 percent):

Isolated showers before 9am. Partly sunny, with a temperature falling to around 32 by 5pm. Very windy, with a northwest wind 28 to 38 mph increasing to 39 to 49 mph in the morning. Winds could gust as high as 70 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

As you can see in the map below, the peak wind gusts recorded at around 8 a.m. MST on Wednesday were in the 40s and 50s in western Montana and northwest South Dakota. Much of western Wyoming was in the same boat. There was a 71 mph gust at Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The high wind speeds are caused by a strong cold front moving through the area, which may not have reached full strength in North Dakota at 8 a.m.

Peak wind gusts 8 am MST 11-18-2015

Peak wind gusts at 8 a.m. MST, November 18, 2015.

Apparently the NWS weather forecasters in these areas disagreed about how to evaluate the very strong winds balanced with the chance of precipitation, and then how to decide if conditions met the Red Flag criteria.

We have gotten the impression over the years that there is a lot of subjectivity that goes into Red Flag Warnings. The criteria for determining the Warnings is supposed to be very cut and dried and objective, and varies from area to area based on historical weather and fuels. But it is not uncommon to see the boundaries for Red Flag Warnings end at state lines even though conditions and forecasts may be very similar on both sides of those imaginary lines.

The Red Flag map was current as of 8:00 a.m. MDT on Wednesday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts and maps. For the most current data visit this NWS site or this NWS site.

At least four dead in Western Australia fire

Police in Western Australia have confirmed that four people have been killed in a vegetation fire in Western Australia on the south coast near Esperance. It is feared that two more may have also died.

From ABC.net:

…Fire and Emergency Services Regional Superintendent Trevor Tasker said the blaze at Salmon Gums was the worst he had ever seen.

“The wind and weather conditions … there was no stopping it,” he said.

Two of those killed are believed to be a farmer and one of his workers from Salmon Gums.

Superintendent Tasker said they are thought to have they crashed a car while trying to flee their farm.

“We believe that may be the case, but we really can’t say for sure,” he said.

There are four fires burning in the region, but the two most serious are at Grass Patch and Salmon Gums, 100 kilometres north of Esperance and at Stockyard Creek, 25 kilometres east of the town…

Fire Aviation has an article posted today about large air tankers from North America being deployed to Australia for their 2015/2016 summer bushfire season.