Mount Rushmore July 4th fireworks canceled due to fire danger

The annual 4th of July fireworks at Mount Rushmore, which in the past has started fires and littered the ground with tons of fireworks debris, is being cancelled this year. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is surrounded by 1,200 acres of forested lands within the Memorial’s boundary, but it is adjacent to the Black Hills National Forest’s Black Elk Wilderness, in which most of the trees have been recently killed by pine beetles.

The National Park Service is saying the fireworks are being cancelled because of the risk of fire caused by the fireworks in the beetle-killed fuels. Navnit Singh, chief of interpretation and education at the memorial, said Wednesday:

The condition of the forest is such that, unlike any other year before, there is a greater risk of a wildfire growing into a catastrophic fire, because there’s more dead forest close to the park than any other previous year.

I was the Fire Management Officer for Mount Rushmore and six other parks during the first four years that fireworks were used on Independence Day at the Memorial. I developed a plan that would require that the weather and fuel conditions be within certain parameters before the fireworks could be used. We continued to refine the plan each year, settling on Probably of Ignition as one of the primary factors on the go/no-go checklist, especially after the fireworks started about 10 fires one year. All of the fires were small and were suppressed by the 60-80 firefighters we had positioned in the forest around the sculpture. One year the fireworks were cancelled because of the fire danger.

Mount Rushmore fireworks embers hitting ground
The Mount Rushmore Society conveniently has this photo on their web site, showing the Mount Rushmore fireworks with burning embers hitting the ground. Photo: South Dakota Tourism

In my humble opinion, igniting fireworks over and around Mount Rushmore is no way to treat the memorial, the sculpture, and the natural resources around the Memorial. The fireworks are disrespectful to the significance of the Memorial, they leave millions of pieces of debris that can never be picked up, they start fires, and tie up firefighting resources during a busy period of the fire season.

El Nino to continue into the early summer

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center has issued an updated El Niño Advisory, predicting that it will continue through June, 2010. Here is an excerpt:

For the contiguous United States, potential El Niño impacts include above-average precipitation for the southern tier of the country, with below-average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys. Below-average snowfall and above-average temperatures are most likely across the northern tier of states (excluding New England), while below-average temperatures are favored for the south-central and southeastern states.

Thanks Dick

New wildland firefighter shirt developed by Coaxsher

Coaxsher, one of the sponsors of Wildfire Today, has progressed from designing and manufacturing wildland firefighter packs and radio harnesses to wildland firefighter shirts. The new design for a shirt that they will begin shipping on February 15 has features that have not been available on other shirts.

Xvent wildland firefighter shirt

It has several air vents in the front and around the upper arms. Each vent opening includes a Nomex zipper.

The fabric in the shirt is Tecasafe Plus 700, made by Tencate Southern Mills, Inc. and is sewn with Nomex thread. The fabric meets the specifications of NFPA-1977 and Tencate claims it is more comfortable than Nomex.

The shirt has two pockets on the front that are larger than on most shirts and it also has pockets on the upper arm that would be suitable for a cell phone and pens. There are compartments in the shoulders where optional “fire-retardant” padding can be inserted that would reduce discomfort caused by carrying chain saws or heavy packs.

Coaxsher is calling it the CX Wildland Vent Brush Shirt, and certification for NFPA-1977, 2005 specifications is pending.

The price will be $149.95, but can be pre-ordered for $119.95 until February 20.

Sadler fire: who should have been held accountable?

A rocket scientist who calls himself “old coyote” wrote a ridiculous post on another wildland fire web site about accountability. He or she was offering an opinion about the disciplinary actions that were taken after the accident in which eight members of the Klamath Hot Shots were injured when their crew carrier was hit by a semi truck and rolled over on August 22, 2009 in northern California. According to rumors on that site, some members of the overhead on the hot shot crew were forced to take some time off as a result of their actions or inactions related to the cause of the injuries, reportedly for some members of the crew not wearing seat belts. “Old coyote” wrote:

When you think about it, the personnel actions fall right in line with the fall-out from the Sadler Fire. Now, why did practically a whole platoon of team overhead lose their quals due to an independent decision of a certain dumb-ass Crew Boss?

For the December/January 1999-2000 issue of Wildfire magazine (vol 9, no. 1) I wrote an analysis of the findings from the Sadler fire investigation report. I was moved to write the analysis due to the unique nature of the August, 1999 incident. The sheer number of errors in judgement that were made on that fire were astounding. Never before or since have I been aware of a large fire being run by a Type 1 Incident Management Team where so many poor decisions were made that seriously and adversely affected the safety of firefighters.

To imply that the single cause of the entrapment on the fire was the fault of a “dumb-ass Crew Boss”, or that the IMTeam should not be held accountable, is absurd.

The head of the Sadler fire approaching the backfiring operation.
The head of the Sadler fire approaching the backfiring operation.

The Incident Action Plan written by the Type 1 IMTeam for the Sadler fire stated that the tactics for every Division that day “will be announced at briefing”. And, neither the Division Supervisor nor the Branch Director were given copies of the written plan.

The strategy of backfiring from a dozer line out ahead of the fire that was developed by the Branch Director was presented to two hot shot crews by the Division Supervisor, but the crews refused the assignment. The Crew Boss of a Type 2 crew of National Park Service regular employees accepted it. They were not a full time organized crew.

The entrapment happened to six members of the crew as they were igniting the backfire along the dozer line in grass and sage vegetation. There were no lookouts posted, and unexpectedly to the firing team, the head of the main fire overran their location.

The entire article as it appeared in Wildfire is on our Documents page, but below are some excerpts, including a long list of some of the mistakes, errors in judgement, and sheer laziness in emergency management that were exposed in the report.

Continue reading “Sadler fire: who should have been held accountable?”

United States resources deployed to aid Haitian earthquake victims

Among the first to our knowledge of emergency services personnel being mobilized to assist the victims of the Haitian earthquake, the Los Angeles County Fire Department is sending their 72-member Heavy Rescue Task Force after being requested by the U. S. Agency for International Development.

Here is the way the LA County FD describes their Task Force:

California Task Force 2 (CA-TF2) is a specially-trained and equipped Urban Search and Rescue Task Force consisting of Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighters and paramedics rescue specialists, emergency room physicians, structural engineers, heavy equipment specialists, canine search dogs and handlers, hazardous materials technicians, communications specialists, and logistics specialists. This unique technical rescue team responds with 55,000 pounds of prepackaged search and rescue tools and medical equipment to conduct around-the-clock search and rescue operations at domestic and international disasters, both natural and man-made.

In addition to the very powerful 7.0 magnitude quake, there have been three seven aftershocks. Here is the data from the USGS:

USGS data as of 1855 MT, Jan. 12, 2009
USGS data as of 1855 MT, Jan. 12, 2009

Let us know if you are aware of any other large groups or incident management teams that are being mobilized.

UPDATE @ 1829 MT, Jan. 12

A 72-person FEMA Urban Search and Rescue task force from Fairfax County, Virginia is also being deployed.

UPDATE @ 0930 Jan. 13 has a slide show of the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team preparing for their deployment. (via statter911) Here is one of the 37 photos.


UPDATE @ 1:05 p.m., Jan. 14

Both task forces have arrived at Haiti. The Fairfax County folks arrived on Jan. 13, while the LA County task force arrived today.

L.A. County Board of Supervisors has the solution to the wildfire problem

A member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Michael D. Antonovich, has what he feels is the solution to the wildfire problem: an automated fire detection system. According to the LA Times, Supervisor Antonovich stated:

The goal of a technology-based system would be to identify new fires as they start and have a programmed airborne response within minutes to suppress the fire before it spreads.

This brings up two issues:

1. Automated fire detection

There is nothing wrong with the concept of an automated fire detection system, in fact there are a number of them up and running around the world, primarily in very remote areas. But the detection of fires in a county with a population of almost 10 million is not the problem. I would venture a guess that with the millions of cell phones in L. A. County, that all fires are reported within minutes.

2. “Airborne response within minutes to suppress the fire before it spreads”

(Sigh) It appears that this is just another politician that thinks aircraft put out fires. The fire agencies already have a “programmed airborne response”. Under certain weather and fuel conditions, and when appropriate, aerial fire resources are dispatched along with ground units. And it takes boots on the ground to suppress a fire.

The L. A. County Board of Supervisors at their meeting today will consider Supervisor Antonovich’s proposal, and if accepted, the county’s Quality and Productivity Commission would be directed to study options and report back in four months.

We are tagging this as a lame-ass idea.

UPDATE @ 4:10 p.m. January 13:

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Board of Supervisors did decide yesterday to pursue the concept, and instructed the county’s Quality and Productivity Commission to look for technology that could detect wildfires so that they could be “put out within minutes of starting”. Their report is due in May.