New USFS engines

US Forest Service type 3 engineThe U.S. Forest Service is putting some fancy new engines in service. Ten of them, like the one above, are designated for the San Bernardino National Forest in southern California — four this year and another six next year. The specifications for these Type 3 engines are HERE.

The last time I was a USFS engine foreman captain it was on a 16-year old Model 60 on the Cleveland National Forest that was far past it’s prime, and broke down almost every time it went “off forest”. In the 1980s, sometimes the forest would send a USFS mechanic along with every 5-engine strike team on a fire assignment. The firefighters loved it, because there was always something on the engines that needed fixing — sometimes minor issues, at other times problems that put the apparatus out of service. The mechanics liked it too, since it was a source for overtime, which they rarely got otherwise. I have a feeling these new engines will be a lot more dependable, as long as they are not still trying to make it to fires 16 years from now.

Thanks Ken

Gorse fire in Scotland

Photo: Inverness Courier

Firefighters in Scotland don’t have the opportunity to fight many vegetation fires, but on Wednesday, 27 firefighters near the city of Inverness battled strong winds as they dealt with a fire burning in gorse, a shrubby plant not unlike chaparral. The wind pushed the fire, making it a mile and a quarter long with 30-foot flames.

An article about the fire in the Inverness Courier is interesting, seeing how wildland fire is perceived, fought, and reported in a different part of the world. Some of the terms in the story that are not commonly used in the United States include soot, appliances, conservatory, Constabulary, heath, and heather. One resident “had soot all over my conservatory”.

Thirtymile fire, 9 years ago today

Thirtymile Fire
Thirtymile fire, July 10, 2001

The Thirtymile Fire (or 30 Mile fire) was first discovered during the evening of July 9, 2001. During the afternoon of July 10 high winds developed causing the Thirty Mile Fire in the Chewuch River Valley, north of Winthrop, WA to blow up and grow from approximately 5 acres to over 2500 acres within 2 ½ hours.

That afternoon twenty-one firefighters and two civilians were entrapped in a narrow canyon of the Chewuch River Valley. Fires shelters were deployed in an area surrounded by fire on all sides. Four firefighters were killed and another four firefighters and 2 civilians were injured.

Those killed were:

Tom L. Craven, 30, Ellensburg, WA;
Karen L. Fitzpatrick, 18, Yakima, WA;
Devin A. Weaver, 21, Yakima, WA;
Jessica L. Johnson, 19, Yakima, WA.

Ellreese Daniels, the crew boss of those four firefighters, had been initially charged with 11 felonies, including four counts of manslaughter after the four members of his crew were entrapped and killed. The charges were reduced to two counts of making false statements to which Mr. Daniels pleaded guilty on August 20, 2008. He was sentenced to three years of probation and 90 days of work release.

This was the first time that a wildland firefighter in the United States had been charged with felonies for decisions that were made on the fire line. It set a precedent and may forever change the profession. Since then, firefighters have been advised to “lawyer up” immediately after a serious accident on a fire. Many are hesitant to speak to investigators for fear of going to prison and ruining their lives and the lives of their families, which makes it difficult to glean any lessons learned from an unfortunate incident.

John N. Maclean wrote an excellent analysis of the charges against Mr. Daniels.

The Cantwell-Hastings bill that was signed into law in 2002 was a knee-jerk reaction to the fatalities on the Thirtymile fire. It required fatalities of U.S. Forest Service personnel on a fire to be investigated by the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General’s office — an office that had no experience or training in the suppression or investigation of wildland fires. The goal of the IG investigation would be to determine if any crimes were committed, so that a firefighter could be charged and possibly sent to prison. The  “National Infrastructure Improvement and Cost Containment Act”, House Bill 4488, introduced in January of 2010 primarily to improve the pay of wildland firefighters, would make this situation even worse, expanding the investigation requirement to include the Department of Interior agencies as well as the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture.


On a side note, the Wikipedia entry about the Thirtymile fire is terrible and needs to be revised and fleshed out.

Fire department keeps citizens informed via iPhone app

Firegeezer has the story about an iPhone application released by the San Ramon Valley (California) Fire Protection District that provides near real-time information about on-going incidents. The app can supply residents with important information during a disaster.

This is something that many large fire organizations should consider. Check it out at Firegeezer.

Followup on Montana Representative’s lawsuit against Billings Fire Department

On July 5 Wildfire Today told you about Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg’s lawsuit against the Billings Fire Department over the loss of trees and ground cover on his property during an 1,100-acre fire in 2008. On Tuesday Representative Rehberg issued a statement that sounds like he is trying to diffuse criticism over his decision to sue the city. He is up for re-election and may be getting nervous about how this may affect his chances in the November election.

Here is Rehberg’s statement, taken from his U. S. Government web site:

It’s unfortunate that some folks are mischaracterizing this situation for political gain. The appreciation I expressed to the front-line firefighters back in 2008 is the same appreciation I feel today. Jan and I have the deepest respect for firefighters and the dangerous work they do here in Billings. We continue to be very thankful for their bravery and skill.

It appears that Representative Rehberg “appreciates” and “respects” the firefighters so much that he has filed a lawsuit against the fire department, hoping to put some cash in his pocket.

The news release also has a statement from his attorney that said during the fire there was a “withdrawal of firefighters from an existing fire scene during high temperature and high wind conditions”, and firefighters “carelessly abandoned the scene of a fire that it had not adequately suppressed during hot and windy conditions”. They infer that this led to additional acres being burned on Rehberg’s property.

An article in the Billings Gazette said the City plans to contest the lawsuit, rather than pay Representative Rehberg a cash settlement. Here is an excerpt:

According to the complaint, the manager of Rehberg Ranch LLC was told by the Fire Department that firefighters would be present at the fire scene on July 4 to control any flare-ups brought on by the hot and dry weather conditions.

Instead, personnel left the scene before noon and the fire re-ignited, escalating to an “out-of-control blaze before the Billings Fire Department could return,” the complaint alleges.

The resulting wildfire was reported to the north of Rehberg Ranch and forced the evacuation of about 40 homes within a 1.5-mile radius of Night Hawk Road and Lone Eagle Drive, according to Gazette records.

Volek said Fire Department personnel were working overtime to deal with multiple fires in that area and elsewhere that were stoked by dangerous weather conditions.

“This was on July the Fourth in a very hot time,” Volek said. “The temperatures were around 100 that day and we also had other fires and fireworks going on at that time. The city was fully occupied.”

Rehberg’s opponent in the November election, Dennis McDonald, said in a press release:

Homes were saved, lives saved, and trees and grasslands were protected. These heroes deserve a huge ‘thank you,’ not a Rehberg lawsuit.

UPDATE @ 8:34 a.m. July 7

We searched the archives at the Billings Gazette found more information about the fire.

Continue reading “Followup on Montana Representative’s lawsuit against Billings Fire Department”

Initial attack efficiency, 2009

Here is some data on initial attack efficiency for wildland fires for the year 2009, prepared by the Bureau of Land Managment. The data is through December 18, 2009.

Tip: click the “+” at the bottom of the Scribd window to enlarge the text, or the “full screen” link at the top of the Scribd window.
Wildland fire initial attack efficiency for 2009