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+

Company is asking for money to develop improved fire shelter

Yarnell Hill Fire shelter

The remains of a fire shelter used on the Yarnell Hill Fire. The aluminum foil has been completely burned off, exposing the silica cloth. From the Yarnell Hill Fire report: “The burned remnants of a fire shelter that was recovered from the Yarnell Hill Fire deployment site shows signs of extremely high heat. The photo was taken during equipment inspection.”

A company is launching a social media campaign today, asking for donations to help them develop an improved fire shelter, a pup tent like enclosure that can serve as a last resort for wildland firefighters entrapped by fire.

James Moseley, founder and CEO of SunSeeker, hopes to raise $150,000 through Indiegogo, according to a press release, to build shelters with a ceramic fiber material he licensed from NASA. For the last six months he has had a campaign on Gofundme where $15,000 of his $150,000 goal has been raised.

“While previous models have been kept in a bag and were designed to be removed by hand, the Fire Blanket will be worn as a backpack, and can be deployed like a wingsuit”, Mr. Moseley said. “The packing and deploying mechanisms are being designed by Rigging Innovations, the leaders in wingsuit development.”

The existing fire shelters used by the land management agencies in the United States are made from silica cloth and aluminum foil sewed together with quartz and fiberglass thread. The problem with these materials is that quartz thread becomes brittle and can break at 2,000°F, aluminum foil will melt at 1,220°F, and silica cloth also becomes brittle at 2,000°F, according to data in the Yarnell Fire investigation report, the fire on which 19 firefighters were killed after deploying their fire shelters.  The outer foil shells were 95 to 100 percent burned away on 17 of the 19 shelters, while the foil on the other two was 80 percent burned away. The heat-resistant quartz and fiberglass thread failed in some areas on most of the shelters, causing some of the seams to separate, allowing super-heated gasses to enter. The failure of the seams and the brittle silica cloth found in some areas indicates that the temperature of the fire was over 2,000°F, hotter than many fires.

Mr. Moseley’s press release announcing the social media campaign said his shelter “can withstand temperatures up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, will outperform the current shelters used by our nation’s firefighters by three times”.

However, on his website (http://sunseekerfireblanket.com/)  and Facebook page, he writes:

Utilizing NASA technology, we will develop a fire shelter that will give fire fighters over 2500°F degrees of protection!

On Mr. Moseley’s Gofundme page, he said:

We’ve collaborated closely with individuals that work with NASA and the National Forestry Service to develop a product with better fire protection than what it currently available, with our ultimate goal being that this product helps save lives.

There is no “National Forestry Service” in the United States. Mr. Moseley is probably referring to the U.S. Forest Service.

We first wrote about Mr. Mosely’s efforts in November of 2013 when he started asking for money.

A better fire shelter is needed. We hope that Mr. Moseley or someone else can come up with a better design that meets the requirements. In May of this year the U.S. Forest Service’s Washington office announced that they directed their Technology and Development Center to conduct a three-year review of the fire shelter system, which includes the fire shelter, fireline pack, practice shelters, and training. The Forest Service said the review “had been scheduled to begin in 2015, but due to factors both internally and externally, the WO-FAM requested this review process start in 2014.”

The finished product and everything that goes into it has to be high temperature resistant, foldable into a small space, easy to quickly deploy, durable enough to be carried by firefighters for years, affordable, and not too heavy.

Some will say that firefighters should avoid a situation where a fire shelter, a last resort, is needed. Of course that is true, and no firefighter should DEPEND on a shelter to save their lives. And, no firefighter should DEPEND on aircraft to serve as a lookout, drop life-saving water or retardant, or extricate them before an entrapment or at the end of a shift. But, firefighters, in spite of their best intentions, training, and wildland firefighting experience, sometimes find themselves in situations where they need a fire shelter.

That is the reality. We should take steps to improve their chances of survival.


Create a Smokey Bear Jack O’Lantern

Smokey Pumpkin(We first ran this October 6, 2009.)

Would you like to have Smokey Bear looking out at your trick or treaters from a Halloween Jack O’Lantern?  Here’s how, thanks to the Virginia Department of Forestry:

Print this stencil, which looks like this, below:

Smokey Bear stencil


Option #1

  1. Cut out the “black pieces” from the stencil sheet, using an x-acto knife or similar tool.
  2. Tape stencil sheet onto pumpkin.
  3. Use a fine-line marker and draw the image ‘through the holes” onto the pumpkin.
  4. Cut these pieces away from the pumpkin.

Or, Option #2

  1. Tape the stencil onto the pumpkin.
  2. Using a pin or other sharp tipped tool “pin-prick” the edge of all the black portions of the stencil.
  3. Remove the stencil, and connect the dots/pin-pricks with a marker.
  4. Cut these pieces away from the pumpkin.

5. Send us a photo of your result.


Prescribed fires in Wind Cave continue

Cold Brook prescribed fire

The National Park Service burns Unit #3 of the Cold Brook prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park, October 25, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The National Park Service fire staff at the Northern Great Plains Area has been busy this week in South Dakota. On Monday and Tuesday, along with other federal and state cooperators, they executed the 1,938-acre Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire. On Friday they accomplished about 200 acres in Jewel Cave National Monument, and on Thursday and Saturday burned two units for 1,199 acres in the Cold Brook project in Wind Cave National Park. They still want to burn a third 1,000-acre unit in the Cold Brook area, but are waiting for a specific smoke dispersion condition near an urban interface area.

The weather this week has been close to ideal for burning in the Black Hills, obviously. The high temperatures have been in the low 70’s, the winds moderate and mostly consistent, and the relative humidity has been in the 20’s.


Ranking the federal fire agencies

Every year the U.S. Office of Personnel Management conducts a Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey asking employees dozens of questions about their perceptions of what it is like to work at their agency. Below are some examples of the questions from the 2014 survey:

Examples of questions FEVS survey

We don’t have the government-wide comparative results for the 2014 survey, but the 2013 data is available on the BestPlacesToWork.org site. We looked up last year’s findings for the five federal agencies that employ the most wildland firefighters. The numbers below indicate the ranking out of 300 agencies, with the lower numbers being better. The links will take you to more details about the results for each agency:

  1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 75
  2. Bureau of Land Management, 155
  3. National Park Service, 200
  4. Bureau of Indian Affairs, 247
  5. Forest Service, 260

The U.S. Forest Service, which employs the most federal wildland firefighters, has notified their employees about how the organization fared in 2014, saying “…scores improved overall compared to the 2013 survey and this is encouraging as government wide the average scores decreased slightly.”

Here is a summary of the highs and lows for the USFS this year, according to their memo:


“General Observations about the survey results:

What we’re proud of:

  • Employees enjoy their job, their coworkers, their supervisors, and work life programs like telework, flexible schedules and child care.
  • Responses are more positive than they were a year ago, which shows we are working to make improvements but there is plenty of work we need to continue to do.
  • Employees believe that they are protected from health and safety hazards and that diversity in the workplace is promoted.
  • Supervisors ROCK! On average, any question that began with “my supervisor…” rated at 70% positive. We need to recognize the good work of supervisors throughout the agency.
  • 63% of employees are satisfied or very satisfied with their job. Consider that in Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace study of over 150,000 people surveyed only 30 percent admitted they honestly enjoy their job and their bosses.

What we need to work on:

  • “Managers” are rated much less favorably than “Supervisors”.
  • “Senior Leaders” score very low in trust, respect, and the ability to motivate employees.
  • Employees are not satisfied with pay, training, or that their talents are well used.
  • There is an urgent need to communicate more effectively with employees about actions taken at the senior management level — the “why” much more than the “what”.
  • Majority of employees feel they do not have enough resources to do their job. One interpretation of this is that it reflects that employees want to do more, because their is valued, important and is something they are proud of.
  • 83% of employees say their supervisor supports work life balance, but only 40% say their workload is reasonable. The public, our communities, are all demanding we increase our stewardship, service and response.  It has always been the case, but with a smaller workforce it is even more challenging.  We need to set priorities and hold ourselves to doing that work.   Here again is an indication of employees thinking the work we do is important.
  • People look at our standing in the survey results and say it reflects “low morale”. From the Chief’s vantage point we get a tremendous amount of work done, safely!  Agencies with low morale don’t do that. Our employees are frustrated—they see so much that we can and should be doing, but we don’t have all the resources to do the work.
  • The lowest ranked questions have a common theme of trusting the organization, feeling that the system is unfair, and employees are not appropriately recognized or empowered.”

Safety meeting topic: taking calculated risks

Firefighters — at your next safety meeting, here is a topic worthy of discussion: taking calculated risks on a fire.

On October 2, 1943 on the Cleveland National Forest east of San Diego 11 people fighting the fire, mostly Marines, were killed on the Hauser Creek Fire.

Below, is the second paragraph from the Recommendations section of the official report on the fatalities. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Hauser Creek Fire

What  do you think about taking “calculated risks”?


Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tim.


Property owners sue over wildfires in Washington and California

Two lawsuits are being threatened over separate wildfires in Washington and California.

Poinsettia Fire

About two dozen landowners are suing a golf course over last summer’s Poinsettia Fire in Carlsbad, California. The lawsuit that was filed in San Diego Superior Court blames Omni La Costa Resort & Spa LLC for the May 14 wildfire that destroyed five homes, 18 apartment units, one commercial building, and 600 acres on May 14 in Carlsbad, California.

As we wrote on October 19, a fire investigator has determined that a golf club striking a rock is one of the possible causes for the fire which started near a cart path on the 7th hole on the resort’s golf course.

Carlton Complex of fires

In central Washington 65 landowners filed tort claims Friday against the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over the management of the Carlton Complex of fires.

Below are excerpts from an article at King5:

…”We represent mom and pops, cattle ranchers, apple farmers, (and) business owners,” said Brewster attorney Alex Thomason, who filed the legal paperwork in Olympia.

Even before the smoke from the fires had cleared this summer, complaints from landowners started to echo through the Okanogan region.

“They sat over there in the field and watched and took pictures,” Kim Maltias told KING 5 on July 28.

Thomason says some of his clients believe that DNR allowed the fires to grow bigger so that they would receive more state funding.

“The DNR firefighters call this ‘God money.’ It’s an unlimited amount of resources, so they get access to that money by letting the fire get bigger and bigger,” said Thomason.

The tort claims accuse DNR of negligence for failing to protect the properties from the wildfires.

“In the very beginning, DNR stood by and did nothing. They let this fire grow and grow and grow,” said Thomason.

Thomason says some of his clients believe that DNR allowed the fires to grow bigger so that they would receive more state funding.

“The DNR firefighters call this ‘God money.’ It’s an unlimited amount of resources, so they get access to that money by letting the fire get bigger and bigger,” said Thomason.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Carl.