Inaja fire, November 25, 1956

Eleven firefighters – two Forest Service personnel and nine from Viejas Honor Camp – lost their lives fighting this human-caused fire west of Julian, California on November 25, 1956. Soon after this fire, the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders were developed.

This was one of the first fires where sodium calcium borate was used as a fire retardant dropped from an air tanker. It was quickly discovered that this chemical sterilized the soil, and by 1957 it was no longer used. However, the term “borate bomber” lingered on for decades.

For more info

Followup on protection of “no man’s land”

On November 15 Wildfire Today covered an issue in eastern Washington surrounding the Dry Creek fire, which burned 49,000 acres and the Silver Dollar Restaurant. The fire occurred in an area in which no jurisdiction had fire suppression responsibility. (Map)

A public meeting was held on November 23 at which numerous complaints were hurled at firefighters.

After the meeting, some state lawmakers said they expect to introduce legislation that would allow, or even REQUIRE, firefighters to fight fires wherever they can. Now THAT would be an interesting piece of legislation.

Here is an excerpt from the Yakima-Herald:


SUNNYSIDE — Firefighters told one man with a water tank he couldn’t proceed to his restaurant to protect it from approaching flames. It burned down.

No one stopped a man who drove down a smoke-covered highway, where he ran off the road and died of what was believed to be a heart attack.

Lawmakers heard these stories and others from angry residents complaining about contradictory orders, lack of action and jurisdictional concerns they blame for allowing two Aug. 20 lightning strike fires to grow into the destructive 49,000-acre wildland fire last August.

“If you’re not going to fight (the fire), get the hell out of there and let us,” said Paul Tilley, who lives near the intersections of State Routes 24 and 241, part of an area blackened by the Dry Creek fire complex that burned down the Silver Dollar Café and a state highway bridge.

Residents unloaded on firefighters who they said refused to help build fire lines because they weren’t authorized but then denied people access to do it themselves.

“Hope you got thick skins,” state Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, told the dozen or so uniformed fire officials in the room.

Firefighters did not dispute many of the complaints, but they described a large, rapidly changing range fire complicated by spotty radio communication and jurisdictional problems.

All told, about 100 people attended the meeting at Snipes Mountain Brewery and Restaurant.

Lawmakers wanted to hear about fires in “no man’s land,” areas so remote they’re not part of a tax-supported protection district. Firefighters from neighboring districts often do not respond to these areas for fear of liability .

After the meeting, the lawmakers said they plan to introduce new legislation in 2010 to allow — perhaps even require — equipped firefighters fight fires wherever they can.

State Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, called it a “duty to serve” law.

Wildfire news, November 24

Los Angeles County Fire Chief announces retirement.

P. Michael Freeman today announced that he will be retiring in March, 2010. Chief Freeman has served as Fire Chief with the Los Angeles County Fire Department LACFD for 21 years.

On November 18 the LADFD issued a report about the Station fire that lobbed some criticism towards the U. S. Forest Service for their management of wildland fires.

NASA’s Predator UAV flies burn sites in California

NASA provided this information in a press release:


MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. – NASA’s remotely piloted Predator B aircraft, named Ikhana, recently conducted post-burn assessments of two Southern California wildfire sites, the Piute Fire in Kern County and the Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest. Ikhana, an unmanned aircraft equipped with an infrared imaging sensor, completed a seven-hour imaging flight on Nov. 19, 2009 from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The Autonomous Modular Scanner, developed by NASA’s Ames ResearchCenter, Moffett Field, Calif., was carried in a pod under the aircraft’s wing. The scanner operates like a digital camera with specialized filters to detect light energy at visible, infrared and thermal wavelengths.

The scanner operated with a new photo mosaic capability requested by the U.S.Forest Service. A photo mosaic provides easier interpretation for the end user, which in the case of an active wildfire, is the fire incident commander.

Traveling northwest of NASA Dryden, the aircraft flew several data collectionroutes over the area burned by the month-long Piute Fire in Kern County that grew to 37,026 acres before it was contained in July 2008. The burn area is located in the Sequoia National Forest and on Bureau of Land Management public land near Lake Isabella.

Ikhana then traveled southeast to fly image collection routes over the arson-caused Station Fire. It burned more than 160,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest northeast of Los Angeles after being ignited on Aug. 26, 2009. The scanner collected images that will indicate the severity of devastation within the fire area. Another use of the images is for the U.S. Forest Service’s Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation, or BAER.

The Forest Service uses BAER to reduce further damage to land made unstable by fires, rather than replace what is burned. The BAER data are derived using multi-spectral data available from the Autonomous Modular Scanner on the aircraft. The processes can be changed mid-mission to enable improved collection of critical information, either in mapping active fires or assessing post-burn severity.

The post-burn images collected by the scanner were transmitted through a communications satellite to NASA Ames, where the images were superimposed over Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth maps to better visualize the locations. The images then were made available to the Forest Service for initial assessment of the damage caused by the fires and rehabilitation required.

Scientists prove mega-droughts occurred

By studying mineral deposits in caves, scientists have proved that extended droughts, or “mega-droughts” have occurred hundreds of years ago. The researchers took core samples of deposits left by dripping water in caves, and studied them much like scientists study tree rings to determine fire history.

Their analysis in caves in the Sierra Nevada in California determined that one of the droughts they detected lasted 140-years around the year 1100. The pattern of droughts seems to be associated with rapid climate warming.

More information.

Bushfires wreaking havoc in Australia

From The Trumpet:

Thousands of homes are threatened by huge wildfires sweeping across eastern Australia. Record temperatures and persistent winds have combined to make this the worst bushfire threat in 100 years in New South Wales, just months after the country’s most devastating wildfire disaster to date.

The record heat has kindled fears of a repeat of February’s cataclysmic fires in Victoria that killed 173 people and consumed more than 2,000 homes. The conditions have prompted authorities to issue the first “catastrophic” or “Code Red” alert—a new level of warning introduced since the deadly Black Saturday fires in February—for parts of New South Wales and South Australia.

“The very hot temperatures we’ve seen across New South Wales right throughout this last week are simply breaking hundred-year records,” said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

In a Code Red warning, residents cannot be forcibly evacuated, but are strongly advised to leave their property because of the dire risk of death, injury and destruction.

Fire expert Kevin Tolhurst said, “What we saw on (Black Saturday) was an extraordinary day from a weather point of view. We are starting to see those sort of days more frequently.”

Bill introduced in Senate to aid in control of pine beetles

From KPVI news:

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall says the insect infestation killing millions of pine trees in the West is 1 of the region’s “biggest natural disasters.”

The Colorado Democrat said Monday he has introduced a bill to give forest managers more ways to respond.

The bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, would allow the U.S. Forest Service to identify high-priority areas and expedite analysis of proposed treatments.

More than 2.5 million acres of pine trees in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming have been killed by tiny beetles that burrow under the bark.

Forest managers say the outbreak poses wildfire and public safety risks.

A national management team will help the Forest Service coordinate responses to the outbreak.

As we reported on November 11, one of the NIMO teams has been activated to assist in battling beetles.

Fewer inmates could hamper fire suppression in California

The state of California is under a court order to reduce their prison population by 40,000 people, from 150,000 to 110,000. In order to comply, Governor Schwarzenegger is seeking legislation to implement alternatives to state incarceration, such as house arrest or utilizing local jails.

A reduction of this size in low risk inmates will mean there will be fewer prisoners available to staff the state’s Type 2 inmate crews. When working on a fire an inmate earns $1 per hour, much less than a CalFire employee, so replacing the crews with CalFire firefighters is not an option in a state with major financial problems.

The reason the court ordered a reduction in the prison population was to improve the treatment of physically and mentally ill inmates. They labeled the care so poor that it violates an inmate’s constitutional rights.

New wildfire game for the iPhone and iTouch

Wildfire Fighter game

Today a new game was released for the iPhone and iTouch called Wildfire Fighter, which allows the user to attack fires on the screen with helicopters and air tankers. Here is a video showing the game in action.

It only costs $.99, so even though I’m not a big gamer, I thought I’d try it out on my iTouch. I purchased the application through iTunes, downloaded it, synced iTunes with the iTouch, but the game did not show up on the iTouch.

I have contacted support at the developers of the application, “People Operating Technology” in an attempt to resolve the problem, but for now, it looks like a wasted dollar. You can get more information about the game at the iTunes store (the link will open your iTunes program).

We will update this post if we hear from the developer about how to resolve the problem. In the meantime, save your money.

UPDATE at 11:10 M.T, Nov. 24

Jason Petralia of People Operating Technology called me, responding to the email I sent them. He told me to delete the application from iTunes, then using WiFi on the iTouch to go to the app store and “buy” it again. The app store recognized that I had previously purchased it and allowed me to download it for free–and it installed on the iTouch easily on this second attempt.

While the app was downloading, Mr. Petralia provided some information about the program. He said the key developer was, Chris Skaggs, whose father was a Captain with the Lake Arrowhead Fire Department in southern California, an area with many wildland fires.

On the home screen, there is an image of Smokey Bear with a link that says “Get your Smokey On”. Clicking on it takes you to a page dedicated to Smokey which also has the logos and links for the U. S Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, the Ad Council, and of course Smokey’s site. The iTouch’s Safari web browser can’t open the State Foresters’ site, but the others opened without a problem.

Right now there is no version of the game for the Android operating system, such as the one on the new Motorola Droid I just purchased, but they may develop one in the future, Mr. Petralia said.

So I have it on the iTouch, and will try it out later today. But without reading the on-screen manual, I experimented with it briefly. Under the concept of hitting a fire quickly with overwhelming force, I directed an air tanker and a helicopter to drop on the fire. They were about the same distance from the fire, but thinking the helicopter would have a slower air speed, there would be no conflict. I was wrong:

Wildfire Fighter Mission Failure. Good Job Firefighter – you managed to put out 2 fires in Idaho on Cool (difficulty level) before a tragic midair collision destroyed some of your fleet.

Well, “Good Job Firefighter” is putting the best possible spin on a mid-air collision, I suppose. I will try it out in more depth later, hopefully without crashing too many air tankers and helicopters.

And, thanks to Mr. Petralia for responding so quickly to our request for support.

Elvis arrives in Australia

Elvis in Australia. ABC TV photo.
Elvis in Australia. ABC TV photo.

The Erickson Air-Crane named “Elvis”, after working in the United States during the fire season, has been shipped to Australia to assist with their fire season which is just getting underway. It arrived last week, was assembled over the weekend, and was flight tested on Monday.

It was brought in a month earlier than usual due to the current bushfire threat. Last week the Opposition party criticized the government for not having Elvis available for the first day of extreme fire danger.

Here is some helicopter porn–a fantastic video of Elvis amazing the spectators at the Oshkosh air show in July.

IAFC to form “Go Teams”

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is forming a two-person “Go Team” in each of FEMA’s ten regions to work with peers, allied agencies and elected officials at any level of government to help in the organizational response and recovery after significant emergencies and catastrophic events. The teams will be made up of IAFC members that are selected through an application process.

This is a very interesting development. Apparently a core team will consist of two people, but the size will be “request driven”. A Go Team will not replace an Incident Management Team, but will serve as an additional resource for the affected agency. One of the main purposes of a team will be to serve as a liaison with the requesting authority for assisting with identifying resource needs as well as assisting with determining the state and national processes to fill the requests.

The teams will be under the direct control of the IAFCs Emergency Management Committee.

FEMAs Regions
FEMAs Regions

The teams are being developed in part as a result of a cooperative agreement between the IAFC and the Department of Homeland Security.

More information is HERE. FAQ’s are HERE (.pdf).