Red Flag Warnings October 21, 2017

The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag Warnings in areas within California, Nevada, and Arizona for high temperatures, low humidity, and gusty winds.

The map was current as of 9:15 a.m. MDT on Saturday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts.

Destructive Northern California wildfires have entered the record books

Four of the recent wildfires in Northern California are tentatively in the list of the top 20 fires in California, as ranked by structures destroyed. The exact numbers will probably change in the coming weeks as the post-fire surveys conclude.

destructive northern california wildfires records
“Structures” includes ALL structures — homes, commercial buildings, sheds, garages, and barns.

It is burning season in British Columbia

The map above shows the number of current registrations for Category 3 open fires in British Columbia. Registrations are required for a fire that burns material in piles larger than two meters high and three meters wide, windrows, or grass over an area larger than 0.2 hectares (0.49 acres) in size.

Most areas in southern British Columbia are expecting to receive precipitation over the next couple of days, so landowners are probably wanting to get the burns in before the rain or snow.

The BC Wildfire Service sent out a notice Friday morning saying, “Burn Registration line is currently receiving a high volume of calls. Pls be patient if you are waiting in queue.”

bc weather forecast

Another fire truck rollover — this time, into a creek

The driver was pinned underneath the engine and partially submerged in the creek.

(Above: photo from the report shows the contracted engine after rolling off the road into a creek.)

(Originally published at 5:36 p.m. MDT October 19, 2017)

Below is the summary from the report of the rollover of an engine that was working on the Miller Complex in southwest Oregon.

On 27 August 2017, a Type 6 contract engine was conducting structure triage assessments while assigned to the Miller Complex in southwestern Oregon, managed by a Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT). The crew had just resumed their trip after a short break when the driver came too close to the edge of the roadway and rolled down a steep embankment into a shallow creek.

The engine driver was not wearing his seatbelt and was seriously injured. Although not ejected, the driver was partially pinned underneath the engine, and partially submersed in the creek. The other two engine crewmembers were seat-belted, received minor injuries, and tried to radio for help.

After unsuccessful attempts at radio communication, one crewmember set out on foot to find help. After over one hour searching for help, the crewmember found a nearby resident who helped the accident victim locate a heavy equipment boss assigned to the fire.

A Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB) assigned to the Division was also EMT-B qualified and became the first responder and incident-within-incident commander (IIC). This IIC managed a large accident response effort which included a staging area manager, extrication team, paramedics, low-angle rescue team, and multiple aircraft resources.

All three victims were successfully and rapidly transported to a hospital about 40 miles away due to a solid response plan implemented by a fireline leader with a calm demeanor and a strong command presence. Agency and IMT support for the injured contractor employee from the initial patient response to the patient’s three-week admission to hospital was outstanding. Relationships between the Forest Service and the contracting community have been further strengthened by the post-accident patient support.

To date, Wildfire Today has documented over three dozen rollovers of fire apparatus working on wildland fires. 

Senators introduce legislation that would affect wildland fire management

One proposal has a better chance of passage than the other.

USFS headquartersWe always hesitate to write about proposed legislation because it seems that about 90 percent of it never sees the light of day. And, at Wildfire Today we don’t cover politics unless it directly affects wildland fire. So with those disclaimers, here is information about two efforts that would affect federal fire management.

Two Arizona Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, filed an amendment yesterday to the Senate Budget Resolution that they claim would “require Congress to fully fund the U.S. Forest Service’s cash-strapped wildfire management account”. This is an attempt to partially solve the “fire borrowing” problem which is a ridiculous situation requiring land management agencies, in a busy fire year, to take money from non-fire programs to pay for fire suppression.

The amendment would only allow any funding for the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior if the budget included a fix for fire borrowing, a concept with some support. But it also requires the use of the 10-year average fire cost to determine the fire budget in perpetuity, and it can’t provide more than an additional $1.4 billion in a busy fire year. The latter idea is controversial and could be divisive, so it is unlikely that the party leadership or the majority of the Senate would buy off on it.

For the last two years, and especially the last two months, Senator McCain has actually lived up to his self-described “maverick” status, often breaking ranks with his party and openly criticising (or returning fire from) the President, who is also a member of his party. There is a theory that this proposed amendment is unserious, and is simply an attempt to ruffle some Republican feathers.

The other proposed legislation has some limited bipartisan support, four Democrats and two Republicans, and may have a better chance of passage. It was introduced today by Senators Cantwell, Murray, Risch, Wyden, Crapo, and Merkley. They are affectionately  calling it the “pine pilot” bill.

Their Wildland Fires Act of 2017:

  • Establishes a pilot program for ponderosa pine forests that directs the FS and DOI to treat the top 1% most-at-risk, least-controversial lands over the next 10 years by reducing wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and conducting prescribed fires outside of the WUI;
  • Authorizes the use of 10-year contracts for prescribed fire companies and of up to ten 20-year contracts for restoration projects or fuels reduction projects on Federal land;
  • Requires a cost review of every wildfire over 100,000 acres;
  • Authorizes the Secretaries to re-purpose unused wildfire suppression funds to conduct wildfire risk reduction projects; and,
  • Provides funding to communities that are at-risk to wildfires for planning and preparing for wildfires.

Alberta firefighter killed in water tender crash

James Hargrave
James Hargrave. Photo from the office of Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier.

A volunteer firefighter from southeast Alberta was killed in a vehicle accident Tuesday night October 17.

James Hargrave, a 34-year old firefighter with Cypress County Fire Services was working on a wildfire that started in Alberta and spread into Saskatchewan where it was moving toward the towns of Leader and Burstall.

Mr. Hargrave was driving a water tender that collided with a pickup. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said he died at the scene. The driver of the pickup had minor injuries.

“James was very community-minded and joined the fire services to help and protect residents far and near. He was a great father and will be dearly missed by his wife, children, extended family, friends, neighbours and fellow first responders,” Cypress County said in a news release. “He was a great father and will be dearly missed by his wife, children, extended family, friends neighbours and fellow first responders.”

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Hargrave’s family, coworkers, and friends.

map fires alberta
Map showing fires detected in southeast Alberta by a satellite at 2:55 p.m. MDT October 17, 2017.