FSEEE will file lawsuit over retardant use

The Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics intends to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Commerce, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and Santa Barbara County Fire Department. The FSEEE filed a “notice to sue” with the three agencies on Wednesday, which is required by the Endangered Species Act at least 60-days prior to filing a lawsuit.

The group charges that during the suppression of the Jesusita fire near Santa Barbara, California last May, about 50 steelhead trout were killed by fire retardant. FSEEE said in the notice that the agencies violated the Endangered Species Act.

The group has been campaigning against the use of fire retardant since at least 2004.

Truck dispenses dry chemical to suppress wildfires

Velocity FireForce's truck-mounted dry chemical system. Photo: Velocity FireForce
Velocity FireForce's truck-mounted dry chemical system. Photo: Velocity FireForce

That headline might be a little optimistic, but Velocity FireForce has invented a method for applying very large quantities of a dry chemical with the objective of suppressing wildfires.

Their web site (warning–a video will start automatically; the same video as above) does not provide any details about what the chemical is, or what the environmental effects would be. Aside from the environmental issues, many wildland fires occur during wind events, which would be very problematical for applying what amounts to dust.

We put this in the category of “lame-ass ideas” for suppressing wildfires.

Big Bear Hot Shots donate bikes to needy students

The Big Bear Hot Shots give away 21 bicycles to children at Baldwin Lane Elementary School on Dec. 15.
The Big Bear Hot Shots give away 21 bicycles to children at Baldwin Lane Elementary School on Dec. 15. USFS photo.

On Wednesday the Big Bear Hot Shots donated 21 brand new bicycles to needy students at Baldwin Lane Elementary School  in Big Bear, California. In a tradition that started eight years ago, first suggested by Captain Jesus Montijo, after every wildfire the hot shots pass around a jar to collect money from crew members to purchase shiny new bikes just before Christmas. Each year they choose a different area for the bike giveaway. The crew has donated a total of 130 bikes over the last eight years to kids whose families are down on their luck.

Congratulations to the Big Bear Hot Shots for this wonderful gesture!

Forest Service fined $12,000 for smoke from prescribed fire

From the Yakima Herald:

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YAKIMA, Wash. — Months after a controlled burn that sent thick smoke into the Yakima Valley, a local environmental agency has fined the U.S. Forest Service a maximum penalty of $12,000 for violating the Washington Clean Air Act.

Officials at the Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency said the Naches Ranger District failed to provide details about how it will assure that future burns don’t compromise air quality. In late October, the Forest Service was told that its Sept. 28 burn in the Bethel Ridge area had posed health risks to Yakima County residents.

This is the first time the regional environmental agency has imposed a fine on the Forest Service, or issued the maximum financial penalty for a single violation of the state’s clean air law.

“We want people to understand we’re trying to do something,” said Dave Caprile, spokesman for the clean air agency, which monitors air quality in Yakima County. “We are going to treat the Forest Service as we would any other individual.”

Forest officials say they don’t believe Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency even has the authority to regulate smoke from burns on Forest Service land.

Naches District officials have said the Bethel Ridge burn met state smoke management requirements and that they received day-of approval from the state Department of Natural Resources.

The 2,000-acre burn was intended to reduce the danger of a catastrophic wildfire by reducing downed tree limbs, bushes and other debris that have built up after decades of fire suppression.

Forest authorities have said an unexpected wind shift late in the afternoon — after the controlled burn had begun — sent smoke toward Yakima for more than five hours.

At least 17 residents from Tieton, Selah and Yakima complained to the Clean Air Agency about eye irritation, scratchy throats and aggravated asthma after the Sept. 28 burn.

“The smoke intrusion … was a very unfortunate event that none of the experts we consulted at DNR or National Weather Service predicted,” District Ranger Randall Shepard wrote to the Clean Air Agency last month in a letter obtained through a public records request.

“We acted in good faith within the authorization granted us and thus can only conclude that our actions that day were appropriate and responsible.”

While he has said that the Forest Service will now notify the clean air agency before future burns, he doesn’t recognize it as a regulatory authority.

“The short answer is we feel like we’ve gone through the proper authorities and that’s the Department of Natural Resources,” Shepard told the Herald-Republic on Tuesday. “We’re consulting with our legal counsel to see where we go next.”

The Forest Service has until early January to pay the fine or appeal.

Stronger regulation urged in Australia to prevent fires caused by power lines

Power lines that are not properly maintained have been responsible for starting many large devastating fires, have killed people, and destroyed thousands of homes.

As we reported on October 30, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) agreed to a settlement with the California Public Utilities Commission to pay $14.3 million for starting the Witch, Rice, and Guejito fires in eastern San Diego County in 2007. The company was also ordered by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to apologize to the PUC for obstruction of their wildfire investigations. The PUC earlier fined SDG&E $1 million for withholding information from the PUC about the Sunrise Powerlink proposal, where concerns about future wildfires were noted in many public comments against the proposal. SDG&E power lines have also started other large fires, including the 1970 Laguna fire which killed eight people and burned 175,000 acres between Mt. Laguna and El Cajon, California.

And on December 12 Wildfire Today told you that the City of San Francisco agreed to pay the federal government $7 million for two fires in 1999 and 2004 that burned 5,698 acres and were caused by their power lines.

Power lines in Australia

Some of the fires in Australia on Black Saturday last February were caused by power lines. The Age has an article about an investigation or Royal Commission that is studying those fires. Here is an excerpt.

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Stronger power line fire-safety strategies urged

DEATHS in bushfires that were caused by power lines showed a huge failure to regulate electricity companies, the Bushfires Royal Commission has heard.

Energy Safe Victoria, or a similar organisation, should be made explicitly responsible for fire-safety strategies for power lines, said Graeme Hodge, of Monash University.

Professor Hodge faced questioning over a claim in his statement that ”… most observers would argue [that], to the degree that some of the state’s bushfires were a consequence of Victoria’s electricity infrastructure, citizens suffered a significant regulatory failure … it has been the indirect safety concerns around electricity transmission and distribution systems that appear to have failed.”

Professor Hodge has a background in the regulation of utilities, particularly electricity. He told the inquiry there was a difference between passive and active regulation and that some systems ”appear to have regulatory strength but it’s a ritual that they are going through”.

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More articles about power lines and fire danger can be found by clicking on our “power line” tag.

Thanks Dick

DC-10 air tanker arrives in Australia

DC-10 air tanker arrives in Australia
In Melbourne on December 14, Pilots Captain Jack Maxey, left, and Captain Kevin Hopf in front of the DC-10 water bomber (as they call it down under), Victoria's latest weapon in bushfire fighting. Photo: Paul Rovere

The state of Victoria in Australia has decided to test the effectiveness of a very large air tanker during their current bushfire season. The Victorian Government and the Country Fire Authority have contracted with 10 Tanker Air Carrier to station one of their DC-10 air tankers at the Avalon Airport near Melbourne until March.

The DC-10 arrived in Melbourne on December 14 and is expected to be ready for missions as early as Christmas or perhaps the first part of January.

It will cost about $10 million to lease and operate the aircraft until March, with an option to extend the lease if needed.

Captain John Maxey, one of the pilots, was quoted as telling one of the Australian reporters in his Oklahoma drawl, “It works pretty goddamned good. You can quote me on that.”

CalFire has previously contracted for the DC-10 for three fire seasons, from 2007 through 2009.  10 Tanker Air Carrier has a total of two DC-10s that have been retrofitted as “very large air tankers”, which can carry up to 12,000 gallons.