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+

Teenage girl found guilty of starting Cocos Fire in San Diego County

The teenage girl on trial for starting the Cocos Fire north of San Diego was found guilty Tuesday morning. The prosecution’s case hinged on expert testimony from a CAL FIRE investigator who said a burning ember from a fire the girl admitted starting in her back yard traveled 0.44 miles to ignite the fire that eventually burned 1,995 acres and destroyed 36 homes in San Marcos, California.

Conflicting expert testimony from a retired CAL FIRE investigator who said an ember from the girl’s fire could not have traveled that far apparently was discounted by the judge, who ruled in the trial. There was no jury, because the defendant was a juvenile — 13 years old when the fire started in May, 2014.

The girl told investigators she “didn’t want to kill anybody” — only to “see what would happen” when she set the first of two fires in her backyard, according to an audio tape played in court on Monday.

The damages caused by the fire amounted to about $10 million. Sentencing is set for April 15 in juvenile court.

map Cocos Fire

Map showing the Cocos Fire. The dark red squares represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:27 p.m. PDT, May 15, 2014. The location of the icons can be as much as a mile in error.

Articles at Wildfire Today tagged Cocos Fire.


More science indicates pine beetle outbreaks do not lead to catastrophic fire

mountain pine beetle

Mountain pine beetle

Scientists continue to develop evidence showing that pine beetle outbreaks do not lead to catastrophic wildfires. This should not be a shocking development to those who have been keeping abreast of the studies on the subject, including one that Wildfire Today first covered in 2010 (Firefighters should calm down about beetle-killed forests).

In a soon to be published paper, University of Colorado Boulder researcher Sarah Hart determined, “The bottom line is that forests infested by the mountain pine beetle are not more likely to burn at a regional scale. We found that alterations in the forest infested by the mountain pine beetle are not as important in fires as overriding drivers like climate and topography.”

The CU-Boulder study authors looked at the three peak years of Western wildfires since 2002, using maps produced by federal land management agencies. The researchers superimposed maps of areas burned in the West in 2006, 2007 and 2012 on maps of areas identified as infested by mountain pine beetles.

Western U.S. forests killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic are no more at risk to burn than healthy Western forests, she found. Results that fly in the face of both public perception and policy.

The area of forests burned during those three years combined were responsible for 46 percent of the total area burned in the West from 2002 to 2013.

Co-authors on the new study include CU-Boulder Research Scientist Tania Schoennagel of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, CU-Boulder geography Professor Thomas Veblen and CU-Boulder doctoral student Teresa Chapman.

Sarah Hart CU Boulder

Sarah Hart

The impetus for the study was in part the severe and extensive native bark beetle outbreaks in response to warming temperatures and drought over the past 15 years that have caused dramatic tree mortality from Alaska to the American Southwest, said Hart. Mountain pine beetles killed more than 24,700 square miles of forest across the Western U.S. in that time period, an area nearly as large as Lake Superior.

“The question was still out there about whether bark beetle outbreaks really have affected subsequent fires,” Hart said. “We wanted to take a broad-scale, top-down approach and look at all of the fires across the Western U.S. and see the emergent effects of bark beetle kill on fires.”

Previous studies examining the effect of bark beetles on wildfire activity have been much smaller in scale, assessing the impact of the insects on one or only a few fires, said Hart. This is the first study to look at trends from multiple years across the entire Western U.S. While several of the small studies indicated bark beetle activity was not a significant factor, some computer modeling studies conclude the opposite.

The CU-Boulder team used ground, airplane and satellite data from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to produce maps of both beetle infestation and the extent of wildfire burns across the West.

The two factors that appear to play the most important roles in larger Western forest fires include climate change — temperatures in the West have risen by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 as a result of increasing greenhouse gases — and a prolonged Western drought, which has been ongoing since 2002.

“What we are seeing in this study is that at broad scales, fire does not necessarily follow mountain pine beetles,” said Schoennagel. “It’s well known, however, that fire does follow drought.”

The 2014 Farm Bill allocated $200 million to reduce the risk of insect outbreak, disease and subsequent wildfire across roughly 70,000 square miles of National Forest land in the West, said Hart. “We believe the government needs to be smart about how these funds are spent based on what the science is telling us,” she said. “If the money is spent on increasing the safety of firefighters, for example, or protecting homes at risk of burning from forest fires, we think that makes sense.”

Firefighting in forests that have been killed by mountain pine beetles will continue to be a big challenge, said Schoennagel. But thinning such forests in an attempt to mitigate the chance of burning is probably not an effective strategy.

“I think what is really powerful about our study is its broad scale,” said Hart. “It is pretty conclusive that we are not seeing an increase in areas burned even as we see an increase in the mountain pine beetle outbreaks,” she said.

“These results refute the assumption that increased bark beetle activity has increased area burned,” wrote the researchers in PNAS. “Therefore, policy discussions should focus on societal adaptation to the effect of the underlying drivers: warmer temperatures and increased drought.”

The entire paper can be downloaded (1MB).
Reports about other pine beetle studies, and general articles on the insects, are tagged beetles.


Red Flag Warnings, March 24, 2015

wildfire Red Flag Warning, 3-24-2015

Red Flag Warnings or Fire Weather Watches have been issued for areas in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming beginning around mid-day on Tuesday.

The map was current as of 9 a.m. MDT on Tuesday. 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.


Video of near-burnover in Chile

Chile fire bomberos

These images are screen grabs from the video below of a near-burnover of firefighters near Valparaiso, Chile. The date of this incident is not known, but it may have happened around March 14. There was a report that 19 firefighters were injured on the fire, five of them badly, but this video may not be related to those injuries. Here is how the video was described in the Daily Mail:

This is the terrifying moment firefighters were forced to flee for their lives after becoming surrounded by towering flames when tackling a forest fire in Chile.

The group had been fighting a blaze around the Pacific ports of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar in the west of the country and thought they had almost extinguished the flames.

But due to the hot and windy weather, the blaze suddenly sprung back to life and they were forced to call in reinforcements from the third and seventh companies of firefighters from Vina del Mar.

Chile fire bomberos

And with the fire spreading much faster than they anticipated, the footage shows the firefighters running and jumping back on to the fire engine for safety and then speeding away from the blaze.

Luckily they make it and avoid being swept up in the flames but not before quickly returning to the scene, when it was safe to do so, to extinguish the fire.

Fireman Valdes, who was one of those that escaped, said: ‘It was pretty hairy for a while, but once we got free we just got stuck back in again, and continued to tackling the fire.

Chile fire bomberos


Wildfire spreads across border from North Korea into South Korea

Strong winds swept a wildfire in North Korea across the heavily armed border with South Korea on Monday, prompting a suspension of cross-border movements into a jointly-run factory park in the North.

About 50 firefighters and three helicopters were battling the fire on the south side of the Demilitarised Zone border, according to an official at the South Korean border town of Paju, adding that there were no reports of casualties. Access to the area is usually restricted.