More than 200 New York City firefighters earlier today were working two brush fires, one of them being a six-alarm incident and another one five alarms. The fires were at Great Kills Park, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. The largest fire started at 2:40 and was controlled at 10 p.m.
In some areas the fire burned through phragmites, a cattail-like plant that grows in wet areas and burns like California brush if a wind is pushing it.
The dirty little secret that some firefighters and land managers either don’t know or will not admit to knowing, is that forests that have been affected by mountain pine beetles are less likely to burn as intensely as green forests. When the needles on a pine tree die, the volatile oils that cause a green, healthy pine tree to torch and support a crown fire, break down. And a tree with no needles is not a good candidate for a crown fire either — less so than a green tree.
Sometimes land managers, when faced with a landscape of brown, ugly, beetle-killed trees, fall all over themselves finding additional taxpayer funds to “fix” the problem, such as a state Governor vowing to order his state employees to storm into a federal wilderness if there are any fires in the area, which has some beetle-killed trees, or a 1,200-acre park (Mount Rushmore National Memorial) asking for $5.7 million to fix a possible future beetle problem.
Some scientists have tried to say that the wildfire potential in areas affected by beetles is over-stated. But now there is new research that further confirms that point of view. And it appeared on the NASA web site, whose satellites were used to collect some of the data.
University of Wisconsin forest ecologists Monica Turner and Phil Townsend, in collaboration with Yellowstone National Park Vegetation Management Specialist Roy Renkin, are studying the connection in the forests near Yellowstone National Park. Roy, by the way, is also a qualified Fire Behavior Analyst, who I have worked with many times on fires. He knows his stuff.
Here is an excerpt from the NASA article:
Their preliminary analysis indicates that large fires do not appear to occur more often or with greater severity in forest tracts with beetle damage. In fact, in some cases, beetle-killed forest swaths may actually be less likely to burn. What they’re discovering is in line with previous research on the subject.
The results may seem at first counterintuitive, but make sense when considered more carefully. First, while green needles on trees appear to be more lush and harder to burn, they contain high levels of very flammable volatile oils. When the needles die, those flammable oils begin to break down. As a result, depending on the weather conditions, dead needles may not be more likely to catch and sustain a fire than live needles.
Second, when beetles kill a lodgepole pine tree, the needles begin to fall off and decompose on the forest floor relatively quickly. In a sense, the beetles are thinning the forest, and the naked trees left behind are essentially akin to large fire logs. However, just as you can’t start a fire in a fireplace with just large logs and no kindling, wildfires are less likely to ignite and carry in a forest of dead tree trunks and low needle litter.
“Both fire and beetle damage are natural parts of system and have been since forests developed,” Townsend said. “What we have right now is a widespread attack that we haven’t seen before, but it is a natural part of the system.”
Renkin agrees with the assessment. “Disturbances like insect outbreaks and fire are recognized to be integral to the health of the forests,” he said, “and it has taken ecologists most of this century to realize as much. Yet when these disturbances occur, our emotional psyche leads us to say the forests are ‘unhealthy.’ Bugs and fires are neither good nor bad, they just are.”
What this boils down to is that the rate of spread and flame lengths of a fire in beetle-killed lodgepole pines will be less than you would see in green stands of lodgepoles. But fighting fire in an area that has a large number of dead trees can be extremely hazardous for firefighters due to the snags falling as they burn. Green trees are less likely to burn through and fall in the first few hours or days after a flame front moves through. Too many firefighters have been killed or injured by falling snags, or while cutting down snags.
A Kentucky Wildland Firefighter has been seriously injured with burns and blunt force trauma yesterday morning while working a 12-acre wildfire in Livingston County. Don Lam, Forest Ranger Technician for the Kentucky Division of Forestry is currently in serious condition at Deaconess Hospital in Evansville after being airlifted following the accident.
Initial investigations report that Ranger Lam was struck by a rolling log, a burning snag approximately 10 ft in length that broke loose and rolled off a bluff. The impact has left Ranger Lam unconscious and with serious injuries including second degree burns. We’ll post updates as they become available on our home page.
A crewmember on the Warm Springs Hot Shot Crew was seriously injured by a large falling rock while working on the Pyramid Butte fire in Oregon September 4, 2010. The complete Preliminary Report is HERE, but an excerpt is below.
Agency aircraft are best suited to deal with accidents that occur on the fireline. More agency rotor-wing aircraft need to be equipped with the capability to perform extractions for medical emergencies. All methods of remote extraction should be evaluated and a standardized system of operation should be established. Our reliance on military and lifeflight helicopters to extract our most serious injuries needs to be reduced. These helicopters are not always available, and extraction capable agency helicopters would alleviate communication issues and provide more timely patient care.
As we said on August 27:
The U. S. Coast Guard and Los Angeles County Fire Department do this on a regular basis. Here are some links showing them in action:
Yes, that’s right. According to fire investigators in Ventura County, California, a bobcat climbed a power pole, was electrocuted, fell to the ground and started a grass fire. The 75 firefighters that responded put it out after it burned five acres near Piru at 3 a.m on Monday.
The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center had the following update about the Fourmile fire at 7:20 p.m. today:
Four Mile Canyon Fire Update: (CO-BLX) , 5 miles west of downtown Boulder, CO. Single tree torching with creeping in Douglas-fir, Ponderosa pine and grass was observed today. Transition expected from Type 2 (Richardson) to Type 1 (Thomas) will occur at 1800 Tomorrow. Red flag predicted for tomorrow for high winds and low humidity. Currently at 6,365 acres, 10% contained.
UPDATE @ 6:15 p.m., Sept. 8
The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office has provided a list of 140 structures that have been destroyed by the Fourmile Canyon wildfire and another 24 that have been damaged by the fire.
UPDATE @ 4:00 p.m., Sept. 8
My favorite quote so far about the Fourmile fire is from an article today at the Daily Camera:
The fire burned in on itself, shrinking its overall size to 6,168 acres.
We need to figure out how to harness that technology or phenomenon, whatever it is, but it might put firefighters out of a job.
By the way, some of the comments on that article are interesting.
Adam K. plotted the locations of the structures that have been reported by the Boulder Office of Emergency Management as having burned as of 9:42 p.m. on September 7. The information is preliminary and incomplete, and Wildfire Today assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of the data. Here is how the list of addresses with burned structures was described by the Boulder OEM:
9:42 p.m. – Sept. 7, 2010 – The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office is providing this information to residents who have been affected by the fire. The addresses listed below are of houses that the Sheriff’s Office has identified as destroyed by the Fourmile Canyon Fire. These addresses were determined from only 5-10% of the burned area, as that is the only area that could be safely surveyed today. Some parts of the burned area are more densely populated than others. In most cases, Sheriff’s deputies were able to identify addresses by the homes’ mailboxes, some of which are grouped with other mailboxes, so while we intend this to be an accurate list of addresses, we are working under difficult conditions in determining the actual address of each home.
We will continue to post more information as it becomes available following additional investigative work on Wednesday.