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+

Report released on swamp buggy fire in Florida

burned swamp buggy

The burned swamp buggy. Photo from the report.

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has published a report on a swamp buggy that caught fire and was destroyed while working on a prescribed fire in Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida in August.

According to the report:

The exact cause of the swamp buggy fire remains unknown. However, physical examination of a very similar buggy—as well as the first-person accounts from those present during the burn—suggest that the fuel line running from the buggy’s gas tank to the pump failed.

swamp buggy

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Recording of webinar on the effectiveness of suppression resources in large fire management

This video is a recording of an October 8, 2014 webinar on the effectiveness of firefighting resources in suppressing large fires. I hesitated to embed it here because about a third of the dozens of the graphics are illegible. They only use a portion of the available screen and the resolution is very low. Expanding the video to full-screen does not help. However, the content is interesting.

Here is how the webinar topic was described:

Dave Calkin presents on webinar on October 8, 2014. Wildfire management currently represents over 50 percent of the US Forest Service’s total budget. Suppression of large fires represents the single largest category of fire management and typically exceeds $1 billion annually. In both 2012 and 2013 large fire suppression exceeded the Agency’s budget allocations by over $400 million. Despite the scale of this investment relatively little is understood about how suppression actions influence large wildfire spread and those conditions that ultimately lead to containment. There is considerable uncertainty in managing large wildfires including the quality of weather forecasts, complex environmental conditions, variation in the type and quality of suppression resources, and whether or not requested suppression resources will be assigned.

In this presentation we review several recent studies that attempt to understand how suppression actions influence fire progression as well as review variation among Incident Management Teams in the amount of resources that they use to manage large wildland fires in the US. Despite these recent efforts, there remains limited understanding of suppression effectiveness. These results suggest that modeling large fire containment as a production process of fireline construction similar to traditional initial attack models is inappropriate. Improved understanding of large fire management effectiveness and efficiency will require spatially tracking individual resource assignments, activities, and tactics within the broader suite of fire management objectives and strategies.

One of the key facts the researchers needed in their study was how resources assigned affected the containment of the fire.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group defines “contaiment”:

The status of a wildfire suppression action signifying that a control line has been completed around the fire, and any associated spot fires, which can reasonably be expected to stop the fire’s spread.

It is well known that many incident management teams do not accurately report the daily containment percentage, usually pulling a number out of their rear end that is much lower than the actual amount of fireline that is constructed. They don’t have the courage to report the facts so they lie, fearful that if there is competition for resources a lower containment percentage will enable them to obtain and sometimes hoard firefighters, crews, engines, and aircraft — regardless, in some cases, of greater needs elsewhere. On a fire we visited in 2013 managed by a Type 1 incident management team we found that even though it had been contained for a couple of days, and there was very little mopup that still needed to be done, the Incident Commander reported a very low containment percentage in order to make it easier to justify an evacuation order to the public.

The researchers realized this, so they ignored the official percentages reported on the daily Incident Status Summary report, the ICS-209. They analyzed fires for which perimeter maps were available for each day. When a section of the fire perimeter stopped moving permanently, for the purposes of their study they considered that area “contained”.

They found that on 50 fires they looked at, when the entire perimeter stopped moving the average containment reported was 64 percent. Of course, there may be good reasons for not declaring a section of line held or contained. It may not move in that area, but it could still require fireline to be constructed. Reasons for a fire to stop moving other than proactive suppression, include changes in weather, fuels, and topography.

So it is not possible, using ICS-209s or mapping data after the fact, to accurately determine the actual containment of a fire. However, the method used by these researchers may provide a figure closer to reality than the data reported by many incident management teams.

Geographic Area Coordinating Centers and Multi-Agency Coordinating Groups that have to allocate scarce resources may be tempted to use the method described in this webinar to truth-check the information reported by incident management teams.

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Throwback Thursday

Fire on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, October 13, 2008.

Fire on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, October 13, 2008.

Between October 12 and 18, 2008, these were some of the topics we covered on Wildfire Today:

–A vegetation fire on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay burned 250 acres. About 400 firefighters were transported to the fire in ferries and boats.

–The Sesnon Fire, started by downed power lines, burned 14,000 acres in Los Angeles County.

–Two engine crews from Los Angeles City Fire Department were entrapped on the Sesnon fire, but survived. There were no reports of injuries.

–The U.S. Forest Service suspended its contract with Carson Helicopters after nine people were killed when one of the company’s helicopters crashed on a fire.

Evergreen International was expecting to get a Supplemental Type Certificate from the FAA for their 747, accomplishing one of the steps leading, they hoped, to a contract from the USFS for their 20,000-gallon “Supertanker”.

–The Granite Mountain Hot Shots obtained their Type 1 Crew status, becoming the first city to have a Type 1 Hotshot Crew.

Bob Mutch received the International Association of Wildland Fire’s, Wildland Fire Safety Award.

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Victoria rolls out new fleet of fire engines

Yesterday we wrote about the rollout of Victoria’s new ground-based $82.1 million forest firefighting fleet. Now, above, thanks to Wol, we have a video about the new trucks. The slide-outs for a chain saw and spare tire are interesting.

Minister for Environment and Climate Change Ryan Smith said the 306 new firefighting vehicles to be rolled out over a six-year period were specifically designed to provide greater protection to fire crews and would deliver increased water carrying capacity of 630 litres (166 gallons), up from 400 litres (105 gallons) previously.

The new vehicles, based on the Mercedes Benz G Wagon, are fitted with equipment designed for Department of Environment and Primary Industries’ (DEPI) firefighting and planned burning needs, including cabin fire curtains for improved crew safety and, the highest level of falling object protection for a vehicle of this size.

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Wildfire briefing, October 15, 2014

Half of the Holy Grail of Firefighter Safety demonstrated at the Happy Camp Fire

The Holy Grail of Firefighter Safety is to have key members of the Operations and Planning Sections knowing two things about a fire in real time:

  1. The location of the fire, and
  2. The location of firefighters.

Half of that was provided on the Happy Camp Fire, when true video and infrared video were streamed in real time down to the Incident Command Post from an Air Attack aircraft over the incident. At times the Planning Section Chief controlled the camera, looking at sections of the fire that were key to his situation awareness, mapping responsibilities, decision making and planning.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Fire Aviation.

A suite of video sensors normally used on an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) was installed on an Air Attack aircraft working on the 134,056-acre Happy Camp Fire in northern California. The instruments provide normal and infrared video, making it possible for the Air Tactical Group Supervisor and personnel at the Incident Command Post to see in real time through smoke to determine where the priorities should be and where aircraft should be assigned to drop water or retardant.

Read the rest here.

Cleanup after the Boles fire has started

The government has started a massive cleanup in the northern California town of Weed, following the Boles Fire that destroyed 157 residences and 8 commercial structures last month.

Victoria, Australia rolls out new fire trucks

The rollout of Victoria’s new ground-based $82.1 million forest firefighting fleet has begun for the upcoming fire season.

Minister for Environment and Climate Change Ryan Smith said the 306 new firefighting vehicles to be rolled out over a six-year period were specifically designed to provide greater protection to fire crews and would deliver increased water carrying capacity of 630 litres (166 gallons), up from 400 litres (105 gallons) previously.

The new vehicles, based on the Mercedes Benz G Wagon, are fitted with equipment designed for Department of Environment and Primary Industries’ (DEPI) firefighting and planned burning needs, including cabin fire curtains for improved crew safety; and, the highest level of falling object protection for a vehicle of this size.

Attorney argue over evidence in Rim Fire arson case

The attorney representing the person charged with starting the 257,000-acre Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park is arguing that prosecutors aren’t providing all of the evidence they have collected against her client. The fire became the third largest in California recorded history, destroyed 11 homes, and cost $125 million to suppress. In August a Federal Grand Jury indicted 32-year-old Keith Matthew Emerald for starting the fire, charging him with two felonies, “Timber set afire” and “False statement to a government agency”, plus two misdemeanors, “Fire left unattended and unextinguished” and “Violating a fire restriction order”.

Read the story of how Mr. Emerald became a suspect.

Busy wildfire season in Canada’s national parks

From GuelphMercury.com:

The number of wildfires in Canada’s national parks was close to average last summer, but the size of some of those fires made it an unusually hot season.

“We’ve had a more active than normal wildfire season,” said Jeff Weir, Parks Canada’s national fire manager. “A small number of those fires have been quite challenging.”

The agency reported 85 wildfires in the spring and summer of this year. That’s slightly higher than the average of 82.

The amount of forest burned was almost 3,000 square kilometres — an area about half the size of Prince Edward Island.

“That’s higher than normal,” Weir said.

There were several large fires in Wood Buffalo National Park, which straddles the boundary between northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Together with a large fire in Banff National Park, the fires accounted for 1,300 square kilometres of forest burned.

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Data breach may have exposed personal information of 15,000 applicants for firefighter jobs

The British Columbia Ministry of Forests has announced that a hacker accessed their computer system and may have obtained personal data about 15,000 individuals who applied for wildland firefighting jobs. The agency is in the process of notifying those who may be affected.

The databases were accessed by an unauthorized user on Sept. 24, 2014. As soon as the breach was discovered, public website access to the databases was shut down. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is conducting a thorough review of the incident in co-operation with the Office of the Chief Information Officer.

This incident may have resulted in some personal information being unlawfully accessed, including the name, gender, general contact information, date of birth, driver’s license number and job evaluation information of past wildfire crew firefighter job applicants. In some cases, information that applicants entered about their status as an Aboriginal, minority or disabled person may also have been viewed.

The government is notifying the individuals who are affected by this incident and could be at risk of harm as a result. People who require notification will be contacted by mail or other means.

In addition, the government is making credit protection services available at no cost to all of the individuals concerned. Persons who may be affected and who are being notified should call 1 844 456-2284 (toll-free from anywhere in Canada) for information about how to sign up for credit protection services.

Some of the database records are up to 10 years old and contacting all of the individuals in a timely manner may be difficult, so the Wildfire Management Branch is also reaching out to past job applicants through the media and its own social media channels.

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