Christmas cards from wildfire companies

We enjoy looking at Christmas or holiday cards that are sent by companies that are involved in wildland fire. It is interesting to see how they interpret the holiday while at the same time including a (sometimes) subtle advertisement for their products, or a thank-you for being a customer.

Here is a photo of the front of the card that was sent to us by one of the supporters of Wildfire Today, Thermo-Gel.

Thermo-Gel Christmas Card 2009
Thermo-Gel's holiday card

Inside the card it reads: “Wishing you a happy holiday season and a successful new year. Thermo-Gel.” The card also includes a handwritten message from our contact at the company.

Sorry the photo of the card is a little crooked; the card was perfect, of course. I took the photo with my Droid cell phone, after my attempt at scanning the card failed. The scanner software separated each of the six images on the card into six individual files. Foiled by technology again, which thought it knew better than I did what I needed!

Have you seen any interesting cards from wildland fire companies or wildland firefighters? Without opening up too big a can of worms, we will publish a few of the more intriguing ones here. You can send them to bill –dot– wildfire today –at– g mail -dot– com–  Remove all of the spaces and hyphens. Or you can contact us HERE for more information.

Oh, and by the way. Have a GREAT holiday season!

Men charged with misdemeanors for starting Jesusita fire

Jesusita fire
Jesusita fire

(Updated at 9:00 a.m. December 12)

Two men have been accused of linked with starting last May’s Jesusita fire near Santa Barbara, California and charged with using weed eaters without a “hot work” permit. The fire burned 8,733 acres, destroyed 160 structures, and damaged 17 others.

Allegedly, Craig William Ilenstine, 50, and Dana Neil Larsen, 45, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office:

“…had not obtained a hot work permit as required by law, and neither person took the requisite precautions of watching or having someone else watch the area where they worked for at least thirty minutes after they finished using their weed cutters, to make sure they did not leave any smoldering areas.”

If convicted, the men could face $25,000 in fines and up to 90 days in jail, in addition to restitution for the costs of suppressing the fire.

Wildfire Today covered the Jesusita fire HERE.

UPDATE @ 9:41 a.m. December 11

The Santa Barbara Independent has a lengthy article about this issue. Apparently it is very unusual for anyone to have a “hot work” permit when they are doing trail maintenance, as it appears Mr. Ilenstine and Mr. Larsen were doing.

UPDATE @ 9:00 a.m. December 12

According to another article in the Santa Barbara Independent, the two men are not being charged with starting the fire, only with operating equipment without a “hot work” permit. It is a very confusing situation, in that they are not being charged with starting the fire, but if convicted of the permit violation, the District Attorney may seek damages, in which case he will have to prove causation between the use of the weed eater and the start of the fire.

The District Attorney, in a press conference, when asked if the weed eater had a metal blade rather than nylon string, said “That would be the case”. He said when a weed eater has a metal blade a “hot work” permit is required.

Bill introduced to open more acres to fuel reduction projects

A bipartisan coalition of members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced a bill that would expand the authority of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 beyond the wildland-urban interface. The new bill, named the Healthy Forests Restoration Amendments Act of 2009  (H. R. 4233), would allow thinning farther away from communities than the original 1.5-mile radius. One of the effects would be increased logging in more remote areas.

HERE is a link to a 4-minute video in which Rep. Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) makes an announcement about the bill.

Below, is an excerpt from an AP article:

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The bill would amend the 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which never fulfilled its promise of jump-starting thinning projects on federal lands and around communities, to expand the areas where the Forest Service could use a streamlined environmental review process.

Andy Stahl of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, a conservation group, said the thinning bill contained a “Trojan Horse” designed to allow more commercial logging in the name of reducing fire danger on national forests.

By inserting the words “Necessary connected action” into a section of the original bill, the amendment would open the door to streamlined environmental reviews of timber sales connected to thinning projects, Stahl said.

“The only way hazardous fuel reduction projects pay their way out the woods is if you sell commercial timber with them,” Stahl said. “So it’s necessary to have a commercial timber sale to reduce hazardous fuels.

“But a commercial timber sale under the current law doesn’t fit the Healthy Forests Restoration Act criteria. This amendment would do so.”

The bills drew support from Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group. He said they would make it more certain where the Forest Service can conduct large thinning projects without having to go through major environmental reviews, and help build a market for thinning materials that currently have little value.

Co-sponsors were Reps. Brian Baird, D-Wash.; Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.; Schrader, and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.

Australia enters their fire season

Australia began experiencing bushfires several weeks ago and have even had a firefighter fatality already. They are gearing up for the new season in at least two areas:

The state of Victoria may contract for super-tanker

From the Herald Sun:

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The leasing of a new $10 million super water-bomber will be a very welcome addition to Victoria’s firefighting arsenal.

With the bushfire season now upon us the state is bracing for a repeat summer of soaring temperatures and tinder-dry conditions.

The State Government has acted swiftly in fast-tracking this aircraft, which is likely to be a DC10 or a 747, and is expected to be airborne from January.

The chosen aircraft will be capable of dumping up to 70,000 litres in one go, about eight times as much as Elvis, the famous sky crane.

And it will be able to fly anywhere in Victoria within 45 minutes.

The Government says similar aircraft were successfully used to fight the Californian wild fires.

There has been some debate about the effectiveness of water-bombing planes after revelations the Russian Government offered us the use of two Ilyushin-76 jets, three days after Black Saturday.

The offer was declined mainly on grounds the jets were unsuitable for the Victorian conditions and should not be seen as the “silver bullet”.

The Government also said flying heavily loaded, multi-engine planes at 150m in mountainous and possibly smoke-obscured terrain posed enormous safety considerations.

The state of Victoria tests new fire control center

From The Age:

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In the real world yesterday’s weather was grey, damp and unthreatening.

But within Victoria’s remodelled, re-equipped and rebadged bushfire State Control Centre – and in the vivid imaginings of fire-fighting hierarchy – extreme weather was sparking fire from rural forests to the urban fringe, and rekindling the still-raw memories of Black Saturday.

About 30 desk-bound fire specialists – the central command front-line – furiously worked keyboards, phones and the floor as giant video screens scrolled through a series of fire scenarios being called in from the field. Around them a circle of overseers siphoned critical information to imaginary fire-fighting troops on the ground, to endangered communities, and up the chain of command.

Imaginary fires broke out from one end of the state to the other, provoking not-so-illusory tensions in the nerve centre as new systems, born out of failures exposed on Black Saturday and through the ongoing Bushfires Royal Commission, were put though their paces.

One of the key changes is an overhauled command structure, introducing new ”area of operations” controllers in the field and a single state controller with ultimate responsibility for Victoria’s bushfire response. At the helm yesterday morning was CFA chief Russell Rees, who has endured close questioning of his actions on Black Saturday through the royal commission hearings. By afternoon command of the exercise had passed to Ewan Waller, chief fire officer of the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

Under the previous structure, criticised in the Black Saturday aftermath for its ambiguity, the two fire chiefs simultaneously shared responsibility for emergencies. Following a review of the system by Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland, this summer a streamlined fire command-and-control structure has been introduced, and the buck stops with the state controller empowered on the day.

The scenarios yesterday also tested new emergency warning systems designed to rapidly broadcast alerts across agency websites and through radio, telephone systems and broader media. Breakdowns in critical communications have been another key concern of the royal commission.

A $2 million revamp of the control room, along with evolving protocols and safeguards, is designed to improve communication within the command centre. One of the key issues identified in early hearings of the royal commission was the failure on February 7 of chiefs to see or act on the predictions of fire behaviour specialists. The new control room design brings them, together with meteorologists and mappers, closer to the action in the nerve centre.

Thanks Dick

Aussie air tanker pilots complain about exploding fuel drums

During the large vegetation fires in southern California in 2003 the fires were so intense that the windshields on six air tankers were cracked by chunks of debris that were being hurled into the air. One pilot saw a four by eight sheet of plywood sail past at 1,500 feet.

Currently there are over 100 fires burning in Australia, with about 20 of them being classified as “uncontrollable”.  These fires, too, are burning very intensely according to a story in The Australian:

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PILOTS flying hazardous water-bombing missions over bushfire-ravaged Kinglake have described how their aircraft were rocked by the concussion of exploding fuel drums and of steel lids being flung hundreds of feet from the conflagration below.

Fire bomber aircrew fought a desperate battle to save homes but the sheer speed of the Kinglake fire proved overwhelming, said Helicorp chief Steve Graham, whose fleet includes five of the famous orange Erickson Air Cranes.

The dramatic description came from the pilot of one of four helicopters deployed to fight the Kinglake inferno on Saturday night.

“He had lids of 44 gallon drums being sent up by the exploding chemicals and fuel drums in the paddocks and in the houses,” Mr Graham told The Australian.

“Flying among all this he could physically feel the vibrations and concussion of explosions, and then there’s wires, heat and smoke.”

The undisputed king of the aerial bombers is the Air Crane, a modified version of a 1960s heavy-lift chopper capable of dumping 10,000 liters of water.

But the fire fleet this year also comprises medium-size helicopters like the Bell 212 and Bell 205 capable of hauling 1.4 tonnes of water and an assortment of fixed wing aircraft.

Aircrew are typically a mix of American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealanders.

Each Air Crane chopper requires a six-person crew, three pilots and three engineers responsible for a gruelling maintenance schedule demanded by the hard working machines.

Fire bombing is anything but random and requires carefully managed aerial coordination, Mr Graham said.

At the heart of the operation is a flying observer called an aerial attack coordinator.

Armed with a bank of radio sets tuned to the different frequencies of various emergency services on the ground, he receives instructions on targets and directs the water-bombing aircraft.

“If the guy on the ground says, we’ve got a real problem over on this ridge, the guy in the air says thanks very much, we’re on it, and he then directs the heavy artillery into the area that is needed,”Mr Graham said.

The capability of the Air Crane does not come cheap, with one aircraft’s running costs in the order of “tens of thousands of dollars per air hour” Mr Graham said.

Two Air Cranes are normally based out of Sydney, two in Melbourne and one in Adelaide, Mr Graham said.

Helicorp has just signed a five-year contract with the National Aerial Firefighting Centre to provide a fleet of specialised aircraft during the summer bushfire season.

Friends honor NSW park ranger

Aaron Harber
Aaron Harber, holding a muttonbird in the Nimboi-Binderay National Park. The Australian

The park ranger who was killed in a helicopter crash on Wednesday in New South Wales has been identified as Aaron Harber. The helicopter crashed in heavy fog as it was on its way to pick up other members of a rural firefighting team near Dorrigo in Australia. The pilot was seriously injured in the crash and is in critical condition with head and chest injuries.

From The Australian:
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Yesterday Harber’s friends paid tribute to a family man who worked tirelessly for the community.

“He was a big-hearted, down to earth, really nice guy who was generous with his time. The whole town is in a state of shock,” family friend Ross Pollard said.

With the National Parks and Wildlife Service since 1997, Harber moved up to Dorrigo 13 years ago with his family from Sutherland Shire in southern Sydney where he grew up.

His wife Jane Louise Geyle Harber said in a statement released yesterday afternoon, “It is with great sadness that we mourn the tragic loss of Aaron, proud husband, father and family member in a tragic helicopter crash yesterday at Dorrigo.

“While we are devastated by our loss, we take pride in the knowledge that Aaron has left a lasting legacy as a fine family man and as an active member of the Dorrigo community.

“His sacrifice will not be forgotten and he will be forever missed.”

“His family will be cared for,” Barnes said.

“We’re working with the family and we’re helping out in every way possible. We will be supporting them through this.”

“The family will be entitled to a lump sum payment from the National Parks and is also entitled to weekly payments to dependent children,” a National Parks spokesperson said.

Nearly 100 bushfires are still raging in NSW with 29 fires rated “uncontainable”.

Fires in Bundarra, Barraba and near Gwydir remain out of control, burning in and around rural properties.

“We have got a lot of fire activity from north of Tamworth to Armidale and that’s mostly a result of some dry lightning that has went through the area over the last few days,” RFS spokesman Ben Shepard said.

A statement released by NSW Health confirmed that 61 year old Bernie Schulte is in a critical but stable condition and 20 year old Cameron is in stable condition after suffering burns while defending their property in the town of Vittoria, 25km west of Bathurst.