Changes at the state fire chief positions in Colorado and Montana

There will be transitions at the top of the state wildfire organizations in Colorado and Montana.

In Colorado, Paul Cooke, the Director of the Division of Fire Prevention and Control, is retiring. He became the Director in 2012 after the Colorado legislature and Governor Hickenlooper made major changes in the organization and structure of state-level fire and life safety programs. Chief Cooke will remain in the position until his successor is appointed and onboard.

In Montana the Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) recently selected Mike DeGrosky as the new Fire and Aviation Bureau Chief following the retirement of Ted Mead in December. The Fire and Aviation Management Bureau provides resources, leadership and coordination to Montana’s wildland fire services to protect lives, property, and natural resources; working with local, tribal, state, and federal partners to ensure wildfire protection on all state and private land in Montana.

“Our effort to involve a number of DNRC staff members as well as external partners was met with support and enthusiastic participation across the state, and I found it both rewarding and inspiring to see so many people engaged in the process. We offered Mike DeGrosky the position and he accepted enthusiastically. The DNRC welcomes Mike and is excited to have him join our team,” said Bob Harrington, Forestry Division Administrator.

Mike comes back to DNRC with over 38 years of wildland fire and incident management experience as well as extensive experience in facilitation, consulting, and conflict resolution experience in wildland fire and natural resource organizations.

From 1982-1995 Mike worked for the DNRC in various positions including Rural Fire Forester, Fire Management Specialist, Unit Fire Supervisor and Fire Program Manager. Other services and roles in his career include Volunteer Fire Department Captain, Training Officer, and consultant to fire and emergency management organizations.

DeGrosky is a graduate of the University of Montana, College of Forestry and Conservation, holds a Master’s degree in organizational leadership from Fort Hays State University, and a PhD in Business Administration with an emphasis in organizational leadership from Northcentral University.

“I am looking forward to working with each of you. I will put a high priority on getting out and meeting local officials, fire service organizations and agency partners. I am pleased to be back with the Department and look forward to our work together,” DeGrosky said.

He began working part-time in late January and will assume the duties as Chief full time on February 8, 2016.

Sky lantern ignites fire in California four-plex; Oregon may strengthen their ban

Sky Lantern poster

Investigators determined a fire that burned a portion of a four-plex structure in Santa Rosa, California was started by a sky lantern, sometimes called a Chinese lantern.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Press Democrat:

…Investigators suspect [the] fire started when a floating paper lantern landed on the shake roof of a four-plex on Butte Drive off Hardies Lane. Firefighters limited the fire to a small section of the room, Lowenthal said.

“We found the remnants of a sky lantern on the roof,” Lowenthal said.

He said they suspect this is the second fire caused by a sky lantern in the neighborhood south of Piner Road in recent weeks…

Meanwhile legislators in Oregon have introduced a bill that would strengthen the laws regulating sky lanterns. Presently they are banned over state protected lands during fire season.

Below is an excerpt from the Statesman Journal:

…Just last week, a sky lantern released to celebrate a wedding in New Zealand set a home on fire.

Oregon Rep. David Gomberg, D-Lincoln City, is co-sponsoring a bill to ban the lanterns. He calls them “flying Sterno cans.”

“They are very pretty. And they’re pretty dangerous,” he said.

They’re also cheap: Walmart offers a set of 10 for $15.99.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, is the other sponsor.

“Given the stressed condition of our forests, whether it’s disease or drought or mismanagement, conflagration has become a clear and present danger,” Johnson said. “I believe one of the highest responsibilities of the legislature is not to let Oregon burn down on our watch.”

Counting Oregon, sky lanterns are banned in 29 states.

If you’re still not convinced that sky lanterns should be banned, here is an article about the problems they cause in Taiwan. It includes a photo of a dead owl tangled in a sky lantern.

Evaluation of fatal explosion in West, Texas

Above image: A screen grab from the video produced by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board about the explosion in West, Texas in 2013.

You may remember the terrible fire and explosion that injured 260 people and killed 15 in the small town of West, Texas April 17, 2013. Ten firefighters died. The incident occurred at the West Fertilizer Company when 30 tons of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate exploded after being heated by a fire at the storage and distribution facility.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board just released this excellent video with professional quality animations explaining how it occurred. They also point out some training, zoning, and regulatory issues that if implemented may have prevented a large-scale catastrophe.

Powerline Fire burns near headquarters of Big Bend National Park

(UPDATED at 7:35 p.m. CST February 5, 2015)

Big Bend National Park reports that the 1,792-acre Powerline Fire is 98 percent contained. They will begin demobilizing firefighting resources Saturday.


(UPDATED at 5:42 p.m. CST February 4, 2016)

Below is an updated satellite map of the Powerline Fire in Big Bend National Park in south Texas.

Map Powerline Fire 148 pm CST 2-4-2016
Map showing heat detected by a satellite (the red squares) on the Powerline Fire at 1:48 p.m. CST February 4, 2016. The fire appears to be spreading toward the southwest.  Some areas of the fire, especially east of the road, burned and cooled between satellite over flights, and were not detected. The park headquarters and employee housing area can be seen north of the fire.


(UPDATED at 10:55 CST, February 4, 2016)

Powerline Fire
Poweline Fire in Big Bend National Park, the afternoon of February 3, 2016. NPS photo.

Better mapping has revealed that the Powerline Fire in Big Bend National Park in south Texas had burned 1,537 acres as of 5 p.m. CST on Wednesday, which is a revision of the earlier estimate of 1,995 acres.

Late on Wednesday the park reported that the fire had approached the southern side of the road between Panther Junction and Rio Grande Village, but it had not jumped the road since Monday February 1st and there was no active fire on the north side of the road.

Powerline Fire map
Map of the Powerline Fire for the February 4 operational period. Park Headquarters and the employee housing area are just northwest of the fire. NPS.

Continue reading “Powerline Fire burns near headquarters of Big Bend National Park”

Wildfire potential February through May

On February 1 the Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for February through May, 2016. The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the ten Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.

If their forecasts are accurate it looks like mild fire potential until April and May when conditions could become more favorable to the spread of fires in the Midwest and south-central Alaska. Hawaii could become busy starting in February or March.

Here are the highlights from their outlook.


February wildfire potential

  • Below normal significant fire potential will persist across most of the Southeastern U.S., mid-Atlantic and Puerto Rico as El Nino storm systems continue to bring significant moisture to most of these areas.
  • Significant fire potential is normal across the remainder of the U.S., which indicates little significant fire potential.


March wildfire potential

  • Below normal significant fire potential will continue across most of the Southeastern U.S., mid-Atlantic and Puerto Rico as El Nino continues to bring significant moisture.
  • Above normal fire potential will also develop across the Hawaiian Islands thanks to long term drought.
  • Significant fire potential will remain normal across the remainder of the U.S., though potential for pre-greenup fire activity increases through early spring.

April and May

April May wildfire potential


  • Above normal significant fire potential will develop across the Great Lakes into the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys where less precipitation has occurred.
  • An area of above normal fire potential is also likely to develop across south central Alaska because warm temperatures and rain have limited snowpack.
  • Above normal fire potential will continue across the Hawaiian Islands as drought persists. Below normal significant fire potential will continue across most of the Southeastern U.S. and Puerto Rico.
  • Significant fire potential continues normal across the remainder of the U.S.

In addition to NIFC’s outlook, here’s bonus #1: the Drought Monitor released January 28, 2016.

Drought Monitor 1-28-2016

Bonuses #2 and #3, 90-day temperature and precipitation outlooks:


90 day temperature outlook


90 day precipitation outlook