USFS Chief talks about fire … for 18 seconds

Today the U.S. Forest Service released this 18-second video of Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen talking about wildland fire.

And, below are some written words attributed to the Chief:

Barrel Fire southeast of Tucson burns over 100 acres

Above:  Air Tanker 167, an RJ85, drops on the Barrel Fire, May 16, 2018. USFS photo by Sean Cox.

Several fire departments suppressed a fire, or possibly multiple fires, along Highway 83 approximately 60 air miles southeast of Tucson Wednesday.

The highway was completely closed for a while; later one lane was opened before the highway fully reopened after 10 p.m.

The fire reportedly burned about 146 acres.

wildfire barrel fire tucson
A helicopter assists firefighters along Highway 83 at the Barrel Fire southeast of Tucson May 16, 2018. Corona de Tucson FD photo.

Two teams are managing the volcano incident in Hawaii

Two separate organizations are managing the issues surrounding the eruption of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.

The fissures we have been hearing about that are producing toxic gasses and lava flows are on private land on the big island, the Island of Hawaii.

Kilauea volcano fissures map
Map showing the location of the volcano fissures on the Big Island. Click to enlarge.

The large, black convection column is at the Kilauea volcano in Volcanoes National Park 23 miles west of the fissures.  After the level of the lava lake fell by several hundred feet, freshly exposed rocks on the sides of the crater began falling into the lava, creating the black smoke and ash clouds sometimes rising several thousand feet. Due to this and the possibility of a massive explosion if water is introduced into the volcano, creating steam, at the request of the NPS the FAA has issued a Temporary Flight Restriction that extends 20,000 feet AGL and a 12-nautical-mile radius around the summit.

In response to our inquires, Volcanoes National Park Fire Management Officer Greg Funderburk sent us this description of how the incidents are being managed:

“There are currently two separate incidents being managed on the Island of Hawaii.  These incidents are both associated with the Kilauea Volcano.

“The Leilani Fissure Eruption is being managed by Hawaii County and the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.  FEMA and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency are assisting with the overall management effort.  This incident is located on private land in the rural Puna district of Hawaii County.

“There is currently no significant wildfire activity associated with the lava flow.  The area has been receiving frequent rainfall and fuels are in the greenup stage.  If the lava activity continues into the dry season wildfire potential may increase.

“On-scene Incident Management of the Leilani Fissure Eruption is currently being provided by a Type 3 Incident Management Team (IMT) from the Honolulu Fire Department (IC-Bowers) under a Delegation of Authority from the Hawaii County Fire Department.

“The National Park Service is managing an event within the boundaries of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  The 2018 HAVO Increased Volcanic Activity Incident has been managed by a local Type 3 organization (IC-Broward), but transfer of command will take place to the NPS Western IMT (IC-Wissinger) at 0800 on May 16, 2018.  The IMT is managing the risk associated with a possible large steam eruption that is predicted to occur at the summit of Kilauea.”

Mr. Funderburk explained that some of the objectives of the IMT include maintaining closures, damage assessments, disseminating information, and managing traffic.

Links to more information:

Long-term effects of smoke exposure can be difficult to determine

Above: Firefighters arrive at the White Tail Fire in South Dakota, March 8, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Researchers are finding it difficult to conduct research on the long-term effects of exposure to smoke from wildfires. Last year in some areas of the Northern Rockies in the United States and Canada residents suffered through one of the worst seasons of smoke in a while.

Below are excerpts from an article at Pacific Standard. Most of it is about the effects on residents, but it also mentions firefighters.

“Seeley Lake was the worst smoke event we have ever seen, and I think possibly has been seen, at least in the United States and Canada,” [Sarah] Coefield says. “Every single day, the smoke is hazardous. I’d wake up every hour at night, and check the smoke, and then fret about Seeley Lake. What do I say in the morning? ‘It’s terrible. Again.'”


Then there is the difficulty of securing the financial resources to undertake a long-term study. Even researching the effects of smoke on firefighters—who, with their regular and intense exposures to wildfires, are among the worst affected—can be difficult, says John Balmes, professor of environmental health sciences at the Berkeley School of Public Health.

“Occupational studies of wildland firefighters are a problem because it’s a workforce that tends to turn over a lot,” he says. For one study, he followed a group of firefighters across the fire season to monitor their exposure, but didn’t get the funding needed to follow up on their health the next year—a progression that could have shed light on the long-term effects of smoke.

Has society chosen to have fire under the most extreme conditions?

Above: Lolo Peak Fire at 6:25 p.m. MDT August 19, 2017 as seen from the Missoula area. Photo by Dick Mangan.

An article by Rob Chaney in the Missoulian quotes a research forester and a Type 1 Incident Commander talking about the characteristics of the wildfires we have been experiencing in recent years. Below is an excerpt:

…“This has been a choice society has made to have fire under the most extreme conditions,” Mark Finney, a research forester for the U.S. Forest Service Fire Sciences Lab, told the Missoula City Club on Monday. “There are alternatives if we choose to use them, instead of waiting for fires to start and then responding to them.”

Greg Poncin, incident commander for both the Lolo Peak and Rice Ridge fires of 2017, added that 12 of the 30 largest fires in the past decade all occurred last year…

Mallard Fire in Texas reaches Highway 287

Hotshots Mallard Fire
A Hotshot crew en route to the Mallard Fire in Texas. Photo by CarrieAnn Fain.

(Originally published at 7:13 a.m. CDT May 13, 2018)

The Mallard Fire in the panhandle of Texas has been very active over the last two days and has burned a total of more than 63,000 acres. But where it has spread from rugged terrain into pastures and agricultural property firefighters have been more successful.

In two places it has approached U.S. Highway 287. Firefighters were able to stop it just before it hit the small community of Goodnight. But seven miles southeast of the town it crossed the highway and ran briefly into fields before being knocked down.

map mallard fire
Map showing the perimeter of the Mallard Fire at 9:42 p.m. CDT May 12, 2018.

On Sunday the area is just outside a Red Flag Warning area, but the weather will not be helping firefighters much today. The winds will be out of the south at 10 to 22 mph with gusts in the late afternoon reaching 29 mph. The temperature will max out at 94 while the relative humidity increases from 22 percent to 40 percent in the afternoon. There is a 38 percent chance of thunderstorms and gusty winds after 4 p.m.

Weather geeks are having a field day observing the Mallard Fire. For the last two days it has produced huge pyrocumulus clouds stretching for miles into Oklahoma. At times it has morphed into a supercell with lightning and mammatus clouds.

Over the last few years extreme fire behavior has become more “normal”. Firefighters must maintain their situational awareness. What they are used to seeing and expecting may not be, now, what actually occurs on a wildfire. Hopefully, technology that exists and has been talked about but not widely deployed, will be made available to firefighters so they can know in real time WHERE the fire is and WHERE firefighters are.