Two teenagers arrested for starting fatal Black Saturday fire in Australia

Two teenage boys were arrested for starting a fire in Australia on Black Saturday last February 7 in which a disabled resident burned to death. The Maiden Gully fire near Bendigo killed Kevin “Mick Kane, 48, destroyed 60 homes, caused $29 million in damages, and burned 875 acres.

The two boys, aged 14 and 15, are said to have started the fire, then were seen by witnesses when they returned to watch it. Later they were stopped by a police roadblock.

Between January 29 and March 26 they made 55 calls on a mobile phone to an emergency number, threatening operators and harassing them with obscene comments. Police used listening devices to investigate the pair.

The boys were each charged with arson causing death, deliberately lighting a bushfire, lighting a fire on a total fire ban day, and lighting a fire in a country area during extreme weather conditions. They face a total of more than 150 charges.

US Forest Service orders thousands of radios

BK radio DPHX5102XThe U. S. Forest Service has placed an order for $6.6 million worth of radios from RELM Wireless Corporation, also known as BK Radio. The order is for RELM’s D-Series digital P-25 portable and mobile radios which should be delivered in the first quarter of this year.

This could be an order for 4,000 to 6,000 radios. A typical RELM BK portable radio is their DPHX5102X P25 VHF Portable model (400 channels, 136-174 MHz, 5 watts; see photo at right). The retail street price of that unit is about $1,527 plus shipping and accessories, but there is no doubt that a $6.6 million order will produce per-unit prices much lower.

According to RELM, the USFS currently has about 57,000 RELM radios in service.

President proposes FY 2011 budget for wildfire agencies

The President of the United States has released the administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011 which begins October 1, 2010. One of the big changes that will affect wildfire management is that in addition to the FLAME Act wildfire suppression reserve fund, in FY2011 there will also be a “Presidential Wildland Fire Contingency Reserve Fund” of $282 million for the U.S. Forest Service and $75 million for the four Department of Interior wildfire agencies: the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Bureau of Land Management. The Presidential Wildland Fire Contingency Reserve Fund is to be used after the fully funded, inflation-adjusted 10-year average of suppression costs is exhausted.

Keep in mind that the President’s proposed budget will almost certainly be modified by Congress.

Below, are the details for the Department of Interior and the USFS.

Continue reading “President proposes FY 2011 budget for wildfire agencies”

Update on the U.S. firefighters deployed to Australia

Ion Worrell, an Australian friend, gave us an update on the U.S. firefighters that are deployed down under to assist with the fires in Victoria. It is easier to obtain information about this assignment from the other side of the world than from our own agencies.

Most of them have worked on fires in the Cann River area over the last three weeks. In between fires the 13 of them are working on a variety of projects at 9 locations around the state: Melbourne, Ballarat, Yallock, Colac, Bendigo, Traralgon, Alexandra, Woori Yallock, and Orbost. For example, Bob Lippincott and David Eaker are working on some Local Fire Management Plans at Woori Yallock. Here is an example of the planning process.

Deployed to Victoria, Australia:

  • Rod Bloms, U.S. Forest Service (USFS)
  • Shane Del Grosso, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS)
  • David Eaker, National Park Service
  • Jeff Gardetto, Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • Lynne Howard, USFS or USF&WS (?)
  • Jim Jaminet, interagency Fire Mgt. Officer
  • Allen Johnson, USFS
  • Yvonne Jones, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
  • Bob Lippincott, USFS
  • Noel Livingston, USFS
  • Rocky Oplinger, USFS
  • Mark Struble, BLM
  • Ron Woychak, BLM
Thanks Ion

DC-10 used for the first time on a bushfire

The DC-10 air tanker, which is known as air tanker 911 when it is used in the U.S., that is being tested in the state of Victoria in Australia was used on a fire down under for the first time on Sunday, January 31. Here is an excerpt from an article on ABC News:

Victoria’s new water bomber aircraft was used for the first time to tackle a blaze near Mildura yesterday.

The DC-10 dropped fire retardant on the 250 hectare blaze in the Murray Sunset National Park.

Ewan Waller, chief fire officer with the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) says operationally from the ground, it certainly helped getting the fire under control.

Fire crews have now contained the blaze, along with several others that started in the Dandenong Ranges yesterday.

The incident controller, Russell Manning, says the water bomber helped control a line of the fire that was moving quickly.

“We had an edge of the fire in the north-east corner that was threatening to run away with the south westerly winds,” he said.

“The DC-10 was sent here and very quickly put a retardant line in and suppressed that edge of the fire and enabled us to track the edge of the fire.”

However, speaking to ABC Radio’s Jon Faine, Mr Waller says the trial of the DC-10 tanker, nicknamed Vicky, is continuing.

“We’re circumspect. We want to make sure we get the trial information in and do the objective scientific study and seeing does this thing work and we’ll be advising Government at the end of the trial,” he said.

The DC-10 can drop up to 42,000 litres of recycled water or retardant, which is loaded at a pumping station at Avalon in about 10 minutes.

On January 28 we published our most recent update on the DC-10 in Australia.

Forest fire carbon emissions grossly overestimated

Researchers are saying that previous researchers’ estimates of carbon emissions from wildfires were seriously overestimated due to erroneous assumptions about the amount of organic material that actually burned. The new research does not go so far to say that “wood smoke is good smoke”, but they do use my new favorite word, “pyrodiversity”.

From the New West:

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A recent study at Oregon State University indicates that some past approaches to calculating the impacts of forest fires have grossly overestimated the number of live trees that burn up and the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result.

The research was done on the Metolius River Watershed in the central Oregon Cascade Range, where about one-third – or 100,000 acres – of the area burned in four large fires in 2002-03. Although some previous studies assumed that 30 percent of the mass of living trees was consumed during forest fires, this study found that only 1-3 percent was consumed.

Some estimates done around that time suggested that the B&B Complex fire in 2003, just one of the four Metolius fires, released 600 percent more carbon emissions than all other energy and fossil fuel use that year in the state of Oregon – but this study concluded that the four fires combined produced only about 2.5 percent of annual statewide carbon emissions.

Even in 2002, the most extreme fire year in recent history, the researchers estimate that all fires across Oregon emitted only about 22 percent of industrial and fossil fuel emissions in the state – and that number is much lower for most years, about 3 percent on average for the 10 years from 1992 to 2001.

The OSU researchers said there are some serious misconceptions about how much of a forest actually burns during fires, a great range of variability, and much less carbon released than previously suggested. Some past analyses of carbon release have been based on studies of Canadian forests that are quite different than many U.S. forests, they said.

“A new appreciation needs to be made of what we’re calling ‘pyrodiversity,’ or wide variation in fire effects and responses,” said Garrett Meigs, a research assistant in OSU’s Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. “And more studies should account for the full gradient of fire effects.”

The past estimates of fire severity and the amounts of carbon release have often been high and probably overestimated in many cases, said Beverly Law, a professor of forest ecosystems and society at OSU.

“Most of the immediate carbon emissions are not even from the trees but rather the brush, leaf litter and debris on the forest floor, and even below ground,” Law said. “In the past we often did not assess the effects of fire on trees or carbon dynamics very accurately.”

Even when a very severe fire kills almost all of the trees in a patch, the scientists said, the trees are still standing and only drop to the forest floor, decay, and release their carbon content very slowly over several decades. Grasses and shrubs quickly grow back after high-severity fires, offsetting some of the carbon release from the dead and decaying trees.

Thanks Dick