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+

Helicopter hoist extraction at night on the French Fire

A night time helicopter hoist operation was used to extract a firefighter who was injured during a night shift on the French Fire, about 36 miles northeast of Fresno, California. The Lessons Learned report does not give the date of the incident, but the fire started on July 28, 2014.

At approximately 12:53 a.m., a large snag within the burned area fell, hit adjacent trees, and caused a shrapnel effect of flying woody debris. A sawyer cutting brush ahead of the line construction effort for the Tahoe IHC was struck by an 8” diameter piece of this woody debris. As crewmembers rushed to the downed firefighters aid, he was found to be semi-conscious with a visible laceration to the head (caused by broken hardhat suspension).

The firefighter was stabilized and packaged by fellow hotshots, paramedics from a nearby Ventura County crew, and line medics. Within 1 hour and 10 minutes after the first report, the victim had been hoisted from the remote area by a helicopter and delivered to a hospital in Fresno.

The Dutch Creek protocols were used during the incident.

The Lessons Learned included:

  • Choose extraction site away from fireline or black edge.
  • When pilots use night vision goggles, all colors look the same — use glow sticks in a circular or spinning motion to call attention to the location.
  • Having qualified medical personnel and equipment close at hand facilitates prompt patient care.

The report did not provide the outcome of the victim’s injury other than being conscious and stable upon arrival at the hospital, but aside from that, the management of the incident sounds like a success story — good planning and execution of the plan.

More details are in the report: Night_Hoist_Extraction_final


California: Way Fire near Kernville

(UPDATED at 8:41 a.m. PDT, August 21, 2014)

Map of Way Fire at 10 pm 8-20-2014

3-D map of the Way Fire at 10 p.m. 8-20-2014. The Shirley Fire that occurred across the highway in June is also shown. (click to enlarge)

Firefighters are beginning to get a handle on the Way Fire near Wofford Heights, California, but there is still some fireline that has not yet been constructed in very steep terrain. The remaining fire activity is on the east and northwest sides, but those areas are being kept mostly in check with aircraft.

At the public meeting Wednesday night the Operations Section Chief said that for safety reasons, they may not commit firefighters to those rugged areas; they will continue to treat them with water and retardant drops from helicopters and hope that does the trick. The team is bringing in a portable fire retardant plant that will supply the helicopters. Long Term Retardant is more effective than water when dropped from a helicopter or an air tanker. Fire Aviation has photos of a retardant plant being used on the Beaver Fire in northern California on August 13.

The latest size estimate is 4,031 acres. The incident management team is calling it 48 percent contained as of 8:41 a.m. PDT, August 21, 2014.


(UPDATED at 8:25 p.m. PDT, August 20, 2014)

At 8 p.m. today the incident management team issued an update on the Way Fire near Wofford Heights and Kernville, reporting that the fire had burned 3,858 acres and they are calling it 48 percent contained. There is still some active fire on the north side.

All evacuation orders and road closures have been lifted.

A public meeting was held at 6 p.m. which was live-streamed on YouTube. The meeting was very well organized and informative for the locals who attended and the others who watched it on the internet. It was recorded and is available on YouTube.


(UPDATED at 9 a.m. PDT, August 20, 2014)

The Way Fire near Wofford Heights and Kernville in southern California grew very little on Tuesday under more moderate weather conditions. Very little information is being distributed by the Type 1 Incident Management Team that assumed command at 6 p.m. Tuesday, but the latest reported size is 3,367 acres and they are calling it 15 percent contained.

According to the Situation Report eight homes have burned. KBAK television reported that at the peak of fire activity 14 air tankers and 8 helicopters were working to assist firefighters on the ground. Approximately 900 personnel are assigned, along with 26 hand crews and 56 engines. The fire is burning in Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction, and is organized under a unified command with Kern County Fire Department and the U.S. Forest Service.

BakersfieldNow has an impressive slide show with more than 50 photos of the fire.


(UPDATED at 6:05 p.m. PDT August 19, 2014)

The map of the Way Fire near Kernville shows data collected at 2:26 p.m. PDT, August 19, 2014.
Continue reading


72-hour report on Beaver Fire shelter deployment

Beaver Fire deployment

The Division Supervisor’s truck is seen in the foreground just before the fire shelters were deployed. The photo is from the report.

A 72-Hour Report has been released for the incident on the Beaver Fire in which three people took refuge from a wildfire inside their fire shelters. The near miss occurred August 11 at 5:30 p.m. on the Klamath National Forest in northern California, approximately 15 miles northwest of Yreka. We first wrote about it on August 12. Below is the Incident Summary from the report:


“At approximately 1730 on August, 11, a Division Supervisor, contract dozer and a Heavy Equipment Boss deployed their fire shelters on the Beaver Fire on the Klamath National Forest in northern California (U.S. Forest Service Incident CA-KNF-005497). The individuals involved were improving line on the far western edge of the fire, approximately 2 miles from the fire front. Fuels in the area consisted of a pine overstory and manzanita surface fuels. Extreme to exceptional drought, at the highest levels on the Drought Monitor system, existed over nearly all of northern California.

As indirect dozer line construction progressed downslope, outflow from a thunderstorm which had already tracked through the area, caused a dramatic and large scale pulse in fire behavior. As fire activity increased, the Division Supervisor drove down to the Heavy Equipment Boss and Dozer Operator to check their status. The dozer operator was in the process of constructing a predetermined safety zone. The fire quickly traveled a significant distance through heavy timber, impacting the indirect dozer line, requiring the three firefighters to deploy fire shelters to survive the heat blast and ember shower. The contract dozer operator received non-life threatening burn injuries, but was referred to a burn center for further evaluation.

PROPERTY DAMAGE: The DIVS pickup truck parked at the deployment site received heat damage and the bed and back seat caught fire. The Division Supervisor and Heavy Equipment Boss were able to put the fire out with two fire extinguishers. The Dozer received minor damage from a small fire which started behind the seat in the open cab.

Based on the nature of this incident, the Pacific Southwest Region will be utilizing the Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA) process to maximize learning opportunities and better manage future incidents.”


Gazette articles about firefighting technology in Colorado

Ryan Maye Handy, who has written for Wildfire Today, has crafted three articles for the Colorado Springs Gazette about advances in wildfire management technology that the state of Colorado is adopting. One is about the PC-12 fixed wing aircraft (which we have covered at Fire Aviation) that the state is purchasing. Another focuses on the inability to find, for many hours, the reported smoke that later developed into the disastrous Waldo Canyon fire that killed two people and destroyed 347 homes in Colorado Springs. The PC-12s, or any aircraft for that matter, probably could have detected the smoke and facilitated a much quicker initial attack on the fire.

The third article is about mapping fires with thermal sensors, and quotes Phil Riggan, a U.S. Forest Service research ecologist and thermal imaging pioneer based in Riverside, California. Below is an excerpt:

…Since 2001, Riggan has been part of the push to modernize firefighting by mixing on-the-ground firefighting with thermal images of wildfires. While the Forest Service uses a NIROPS flight, short for National Infrared Operations, to make passes over large fires once a day, Riggan advocates for real-time maps.

“If you are on one side of the fire, you don’t really know what’s going on on the other,” he said. “There’s just a lot of confusion that goes on. It’s really important that we try to move into a more modern stance here on fire information.”

Riggan, who has worked for years on a thermal imaging product called FireImager for the Forest Service, is not alone in his thinking. Last week, the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control signed contracts for two aircraft designed to capture thermal images of fires and upload them immediately into a statewide computer system that can feed to firefighters’ smartphones or tablets.