Alberta: wildfire at Fort McMurray causes evacuations

A wildfire near Fort McMurray, Alberta forced 500 residents to evacuate Sunday evening.

Below is an excerpt from a CBC article:

…The Regional Fire Chief of Wood Buffalo, Darby Allen, is warning that the fire may hit the urban area overnight.

“One of the problems right now is the wind direction is changing quite erratically. So the wind direction might change and it might go in a different way,” Allen said.

“So right now it may not hit town until tomorrow morning but if it keeps going the way it’s going, [the fire] will come.”

Melissa Blake, the mayor of Fort McMurray has declared a “localized state of emergency” for the Gregoire neighbourhood. Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for Prairie Creek and Centennial Trailer Park, within the city, and a voluntary order has being encouraged in Gregoire. Prairie Creek has a population of 500 people and Gregoire 4,000. The mayor is currently meeting with emergency operations to prepare a plan…

Wildfire potential, May through July

On May 1 the Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for May through August, 2016. The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the ten Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.

If their forecast is correct, the northwest and Rocky Mountain areas will avoid unusually high wildfire activity while some locations in the Southwest, California, Nevada and southern Idaho could be busy at times in June, July, and August.

Here are the highlights. Following that are maps for June through August.

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“Conditions in the mid-Atlantic and Appalachian region were dry enough through April to see increased fire activity at the end of the month. Greenup and increases in precipitation will decrease much potential through May.

“Heavy fine fuel loadings are expected across the Southwest and Great Basin, and lower elevation areas of southern and central California. This will likely increase fire activity in these areas throughout fire season especially when associated with dry and windy periods.  Fire activity will begin in May and June across the Southwest and transition northward as usual throughout the June and July.

“Warm April conditions depleted some of the mountain snowpack. Remaining snowpack should continue to melt off but remain long enough for a normal to slightly delayed onset of higher elevation fire activity. Nearly all higher elevation timbered areas are expected to see normal fire activity throughout the Outlook period.

“Poor seasonal snowpack and early snowmelt in South Central Alaska will likely to lead to above normal conditions in May, especially in the populated corridors.

“Significant moisture across the Central U.S. is expected to produce below normal significant fire potential, especially coupled with green-up occurring throughout this area.

“Most other areas of the U.S. are expected to see normal significant fire potential throughout the summer fire season. It is important to note that normal fire activity still represents a number of significant fires occurring and acres burned.”

Outlook-June

Outlook_July-Aug

Member of Parliament protests cuts to Alberta’s firefighting budget

In this video, Member of Parliament Arnold Viersen speaks out against the $15 million reduction in Alberta’s provincial budget for wildfire suppression. The funds allotted for air tankers was cut by $5.1 million while the base wildfire management budget was slashed by $9.6 million.

Paul Lane, the vice president of the air tanker company Air Spray said the company’s contract was cut by 25 per cent in the recent budget.

From CBCnews:

“The province has reduced the operating contracts, for not just us but the other air tanker operator, from 123 days to 93 days,” [Mr. Lane] said.

“Effectively that will mean that all the air tanker assets in Alberta will come up contract by August 16. The province has no guarantee of availability after that period of those air tanker assets.”

From the Edmonton Journal:

With dry conditions and dozens of blazes already burning across Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday her government’s decision to slash the wildfire budget by $15 million this year won’t impact the province’s firefighting efforts.

Notley chalked the matter up to simple budgetary practices that has the province earmark base funding, with the understanding firefighting efforts are covered in the province’s emergency budget.

“In no way, shape or form are we suggesting that we wouldn’t put every bit of resources that are required to ensure that fires are appropriately fought as they arise,” Notley told reporters at a Red Deer news conference. “This is the way these kinds of emergent and non-predictable costs are typically budgeted.”

Last year, the province spent $375 million fighting wildfires; none of that money was earmarked in the budget, but instead came directly from emergency funding.

After [the air tanker] contracts expire Aug. 16, the province will hire planes on case by case basis as needed, but critics say that could leave the government in a vulnerable position if companies look for longer-term contracts elsewhere.

Mexican citizens fighting America’s fires

Above: a screen grab from The Atlantic’s documentary about a fire crew from Mexico that assists a U.S. National Park.

The Atlantic produced this seven-minute documentary about Mexican citizens, Los Diablos, that help Big Bend National Park in southern Texas conduct prescribed fires and suppress wildfires. The crew assisted with the Powerline Fire that burned about 1,800 acres in Big Bend in February.

Here is how The Atlantic describes the video:

In Texas, Mexican firefighters are saving the Rio Grande. Known as Los Diablos, or “the devils,” the elite firefighting crew is hired by the National Park Service to fight wildfires and conduct controlled burns along the border. The river provides water to more than 5 million people in the U.S. and Mexico, and sustaining its flow is vital. The water in the Rio Grande is already 150% over-allocated. In this short documentary, The Atlantic follows the group’s conservation efforts to rid the river of giant cane, an invasive plant that narrows the river and threatens native plants and fish.

Below are more screen grabs from the video.

Los Diablos Los Diablos

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bill.

Brush fire in Boston

A brush fire in a marshy area, or fen, in Boston received a lot of attention Thursday afternoon when dense black smoke affected much of the metropolitan area.

The fire was knocked down after a couple of hours. A police officer at the scene was transported to a hospital, but no information was provided about the officer’s condition or the nature of the injury.

Apparently reporters in the Boston area, and possibly fire department spokesmen, are not often tasked with covering vegetation fires:

From the Boston Herald:

According to Boston Fire spokesman Steve MacDonald, the fire was reported at about 2:15 p.m. and appears to have been caused by weeds and leaves that are burning along the Muddy River.

And from WCVB:

After the flames were knocked down, firefighters were seen trekking through the scorched brush with hoses.

CAL FIRE’s Butte Fire investigation blames power company for poor line maintenance

CAL FIRE is seeking $90 million in restitution from Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Map Butte Fire
CAL FIRE’s map of the Butte Fire dated September 12, 2016

An investigation of last September’s 70,868-acre Butte Fire by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection determined that poor maintenance of a power line led to a tree contacting the line, causing the blaze. The fire destroyed a total of 921 structures, including; 549 homes, 368 outbuildings, and 4 commercial properties. Only five other fires in California have destroyed more structures.

Two residents were killed in the fire.

In addition to the $90 million that CAL FIRE is seeking from PG&E, 17 law firms are representing 1,800 people who expect to be reimbursed for damages.

And that is not all of the lawsuits. Below is an excerpt from an article in the Sacramento Bee:

…Calaveras County supervisors say they will seek “hundreds of millions in compensation” from PG&E for the fire, estimated to have caused more than $1 billion in damage in that county.

The county expects to file a civil lawsuit in Superior Court, seeking to recover the county’s costs of responding to the fire, cleanup efforts, and losses of public property, county officials said.

“We are shocked and dismayed by the extent of PG&E’s negligence and will actively seek justice for Calaveras County and its citizens,” said Cliff Edson, chair of the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors.

The county will also ask the California Public Utilities Commission to investigate PG&E’s role in the fire, much like the agency did following the fatal 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno, said county counsel Megan Stedtfeld. The San Bruno blast killed eight people and destroyed a neighborhood, leading the commission to order the utility to make $1.5 billion in payments to the state and customers and for safety improvements…

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged Butte Fire.