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+

Lightning starts 100+ fires in Oregon

Fires east of Burns

Wildfires east of Burns, Oregon. The yellow and red squares represent heat detected by a satellite. The fires are 33 to 50 miles east and southeast of Burns. (click to enlarge)

Thunderstorms that passed over the Cascade Mountains on Sunday started over 100 fires in Oregon’s central district. Three of the fires had burned over 5,000 acres by Monday night.

The four fires shown on the map above, Buzzard, Saddle Draw, Twin Reservoir, and Lamb Ranch, are all burning in Bureau of Land Management areas and exhibited extreme fire behavior on Monday.

Below, from the national Situation Report, is a list of the current fires in Washington and Oregon.

Northwest area fires July 15, 2014

*New fires


Lesson learned: heat-related illness

Lesson learned, heat related illness

A crewperson on an Angeles National Forest hotshot crew had a close call in June with a heat-related illness. While engaged in strenuous physical activity, the firefighter developed severe cramps and had a temperature two degrees lower than normal. During a five-hour period he or she drank all the water from their 100-ounce Camelback once, and again later after refilling it, plus two Gatorades.

The EMTs on the crew who recognized the serious potential of the person’s condition arranged for transportation to a hospital. It turned out to be a mild case of rhabdomyolysis which, if not caught in time and treated can be fatal. The EMT that accompanied the firefighter to the hospital insisted that tests for rhabdo be done, even though the staff at the hospital had not planned on doing the tests.

The hotshot also had hyponatremia, which is a severe imbalance of water to salt. Drinking large quantities of water without enough fluids with electrolytes can cause hyponatremia.

Congratulations to the hotshot crew and the EMTs for making good decisions during this serious incident.

You can read the entire report here, but below are the Lessons Learned:

  • Know yourself and know each other. Each person must monitor their water and sports drink intake. Supervisors must ensure all crewmembers are getting adequate electrolyte replacement.
  • Recognize fatigue and take action early, before it can lead to a heat-­related illness. This may require taking breaks due to environmental conditions.
  • Do not count on observing classic heat-­‐illness symptoms; patient may not present the symptoms you have been trained to look for.
  • The patient is not the one who decides if he or she goes to the hospital. It is the decision of the first responder, EMT, or higher-­‐ranking individual, due to the nature and/or severity of the injury/illness and/or agency protocol.
  • If employees are treated for heat-­‐related illness, the treating facility should be asked to check for rhabdomyolysis. The patient’s representative must insist that CPK, potassium phosphate, and myoglobin tests are done initially and on the follow up appointment.

In 2007 a California radio station held a contest to see who could win a Wii game console by drinking the most water without going to the bathroom. Jennifer Strange, a 28-year-old mother of three, died of hyponatremia after drinking about two gallons of water. A jury found the radio station liable, and awarded her husband $16.5 million.

We have written previously about the “Myth of drinking water”. Some may assume that drinking lots of liquids will prevent heat related illnesses, but that is not always the case. In the article, we quoted Dr. Brent Ruby, who has conducted research in this area. In the quote below he was referring to the 2011 Caleb Hamm fatality on the CR337 Fire in Texas. Mr. Hamm was a member of the Bureau of Land Management’s Bonneville Interagency Hotshot crew.

Dr. Ruby:

I was bothered by the findings of the CR337 fatality report from the investigation team. There are issues within this case that are very similar to a published heat exhaustion case study we published recently (Wilderness and Environmental Medicine 22, 122-125, 2011, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21664560). In this report, we document drinking behavior, activity patterns, skin and core temperatures in a subject that suffered heat exhaustion and required evacuation. The lessons learned from this research clearly indicate that the best protection against a heat injury is reducing work rate…


Senate hearing on USFS fire funding, Wednesday morning

Tuesday, July 15 at 10:30 ET the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the Administration’s budget request of $4.8 billion for the U.S. Forest Service in fiscal year 2015, which begins October 1, 2014. One of the prime topics of discussion is expected to be the President’s proposal to fund some wildfires in a manner similar to other natural disasters, keeping the funds separate from non-fire activities. This method of funding is supported by western lawmakers and the Western Governors’ Association, but there is opposition from some Republican politicians.

Several competing bills have been introduced that have similar provisions. They would all protect the US. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior routine budget items from being pillaged in order to pay firefighting bills. Senator John McCain last week introduced another bill with many of the same goals, but in addition his legislation would encourage timber harvesting and thinning, while streamlining some of the environmental restrictions that might otherwise slow down the projects.

As usual in hearings like this, it is likely that the topic of federal air tankers will be discussed.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing will be web-cast live at 10:30 ET, Tuesday. (the link was corrected)


Oregon: Moccasin Hill Fire

A fire 24 miles northeast of Klamath Falls, Oregon (see the map below) burned approximately 20 structures and 2,900 acres by 1 a.m. on Monday, according to reports from the National Interagency Fire Center and the South Central Oregon Fire Management Partnership. The Moccasin Hill Fire, reported at 1:15 p.m. on Sunday, has forced the evacuation of about 100 residents.

Sunday night the resources assigned to the fire included 10 engines, 3 crews, 3 dozers, 1 water tender, one single engine air tanker, five helicopters, three heavy air tankers, one very large air tanker, one lead plane and one air attack. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

map of Moccasin River Fire

Map showing the location of the Moccasin Hill Fire at 2:44 a.m. PDT, July 14, 2014. The red squares represent heat detected by a satellite. (click to see larger version)


Red Flag Warnings, July 14, 2014

wildfire Red Flag Warning - July 14, 2014

Warnings for elevated wildfire danger were issued Monday by the National Weather Service for areas in Washington and Idaho. 

The Red Flag Warning map was current as of 8:25 a.m. MDT on Monday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts. For the most current data, visit this NWS site.