Time lapse of Norbeck prescribed fire

This time lapse video shot by the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division shows the final portion of the ignition of the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire, as the lines were tied in at the south end of the project on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. The GoPro camera placed on the Rankin Ridge Fire Lookout Tower in Wind Cave National Park was set to record an image every 30 seconds.

The camera is looking west at the intersection of Highway 87 and Rankin Ridge Road (391). Google Maps.

The project was a multiagency effort with state, federal, and local firefighter participation on state, federal, and private land.

More information about the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire.


South Dakota: Cold Brook prescribed fire

Alpine Hotshots

Members of the Alpine Hotshots walk to their assignment as the Cold Brook prescribed fire began. (Click on the photos to see larger versions.)

Today the National Park Service began igniting the 2,199-acre Cold Brook prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The project is in a wildland urban interface area with several private residences within a quarter mile of the site. The expectation was that Unit #1 would be burned today, October 23, and additional burning in Units #2 and/or #3 would occur on Friday. (See the map below.)

The goals are to reduce fuel loading in the ponderosa pine forest, decrease encroachment of young ponderosa pine into the prairie, and to decrease the wildfire threat for the nearby residences.

The project is adjacent to US Highway 385, which could be occasionally closed.

Cold Brook prescribed fire weather

Dan Swanson and Mike Prowatzke (L to R) use a chart to convert the wet and dry bulb temperatures to a relative humidity reading on the Cold Brook prescribed fire. It turned out to be 27 percent as this photo was taken at 11 a.m. on October 12, 2014.

Eric Allen, the Fire Management Officer for the NPS' Northern Great Plains Area, conducts the briefing (as the Burn Boss) before the Cold Brook prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park. NPS photo.

Eric Allen, the Fire Management Officer for the NPS’ Northern Great Plains Area, conducts the briefing (as the Burn Boss) for the Cold Brook prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park. NPS photo.

Cold Brook prescribed fire

Hunter “Snooki” Smith of the Alpine Hot Shots pauses while lighting the Cold Brook prescribed fire.

Alpine Hot Shots

I inevitably took several photos of Hunter “Snooki” Smith (above) of the Alpine Hotshots because I was on a road and he was lighting adjacent to the road. One of his fellow crew members gave him a hard time about being in so many pictures, and as this photo was taken he was explaining that, Hey, I’m just here and he is taking my picture. I then told the other crew members (jokingly) that Mr. Smith gave me a dollar to take his picture, which produced some laughter among the crew.

thermal infrared image

This is a thermal infrared image of three members of the Alpine Hotshots standing in front of some burning grass on the edge of the prescribed fire. I will write more about the thermal imagery in another article.

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Throwback Thursday: Time to think

On Throwback Thursday today, we’re reprising an article we wrote on August 9, 2008.


When I walked into Bill Supernaugh’s office one day in 1995 I found him looking out the window with his feet up on his desk. I was the Fire Management Officer and had an appointment with the Assistant Superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to brief him about the prescribed fire we were going to ignite in the park in a few days. I got along well with him and felt comfortable smiling and saying, “Oh sorry, I didn’t know you were busy–I’ll come back later” and half turned to walk away.

He pointed to a chair and told me to sit down. In the banter that we usually engaged in before getting around to business he explained that he was “thinking”, something that he felt was important for a manager in his position, supervising the Operations of a large workforce and a big chunk of public land. Taking time to think gave him the opportunity to mull over the issues of the day and strategize about the direction the park would take. He said a person in his position was more of a thinker than a doer.

I wanted to slink down into my chair and disappear, because what he said made perfect sense and I was giving him a hard time. I was there to brief him about a project I was going to DO, and he was going to take my information and THINK about it, then approve it, ask for more information, or give me advice about how to do it differently, or not at all.

At 5:00 a.m. on August 26, 1992 Hurricane Andrew made landfall, knocking the crap out of south Florida and four national parks including Everglades, Big Cypress, and Biscayne Bay. Early the next morning I was in a rental car south of Miami driving through Homestead trying to navigate on back roads while driving over downed power lines and other debris. The first power line was scary as hell, but then we realized there was no electricity anywhere. Navigation was difficult because all of the road and street signs and many of the usual landmarks were gone. Even someone with us that was familiar with the area was disoriented.

We were a Type 1 All-Hazard Incident Management Team with a mission to rescue park employees and restore the infrastructure. It was a huge job and after a few days as Planning Section Chief I felt a little overwhelmed, with lots to do and not enough time in the day to get it all done. In confessing my situation to our Incident Commander, Rick Gale, he said “Order the personnel you need to get the job done. You are paid to think, not do.”

After that, I made time, like Bill Supernaugh, to think. Occasionally I even put my feet up on a desk.

Until he retired from the day to day operations of Microsoft, Chairman Bill Gates scheduled a twice-yearly “Think Week” ritual, where he would take a helicopter or float plane to his secret lakeside cabin and… think….by himself….barring all outside visitors. He would rarely leave the cabin during the week except for an occasional walk on the beach, having a caretaker slip him two simple meals a day at the cabin. He subsisted on the two meals, Diet Coke, and Orange Crush.

Think Week was legendary in Microsoft. Gates would pore over about 100 papers written by company executives, researchers, managers, and developers, who hoped to obtain approval for their new project, or a new direction for the organization. Comments that Gates wrote on the papers could give the green light to a new technology that millions of people would use, or send Microsoft into new markets. He had to be careful what he wrote, after finding that a casual “Hey, cool, looks good” could result in 20 people being assigned to a project.

Barack Obama appears to understand how important it is to set aside time to think. Here is part of an accidentally-captured conversation between Obama and British Conservative Party Leader, David Cameron. Cameron asks Obama if he will be taking any time off for a vacation this summer:

Mr. Cameron: Do you have a break at all?

Mr. Obama: I have not. I am going to take a week in August. But I agree with you that somebody, somebody who had worked in the White House who — not Clinton himself, but somebody who had been close to the process — said that should we be successful, that actually the most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking. And the biggest mistake that a lot of these folks make is just feeling as if you have to be …

Mr. Cameron: These guys just chalk your diary up.

Mr. Obama: Right. … In 15 minute increments and …

Mr. Cameron: We call it the dentist waiting room. You have to scrap that because you’ve got to have time.

Yes. You have to have time to think. Those of us in the emergency management business too often see time to think as a luxury we don’t have. True, at times, when split second decisions can have life-long, or even life-dependent outcomes. But when initial attack becomes extended attack morphing into a long duration incident, thinking is not a luxury. It is a necessity.


Effective firefighter recruitment?

USFS recruitment

The U.S. Forest Service’s “USFS Fire-California” (@R5_Fire_News) Twitter account distributed this photo Tuesday, with the following text:

Picture yourself in a wildland fire career w/ the U.S. Forest Service fs.usda.gov/detail/r5/fire… #jobs #hiring

My first reaction? I could not picture myself in a photo like that. It reminds me of the photos you see at the Awkward Family Photos website.

I am certainly not criticizing the firefighters in the photo. I’m sure they are not responsible for how it turned out.

HERE is a photo of an engine crew where the firefighters look more comfortable, natural, and not quite so artificially posed.


Report released about entrapment of three firefighters on the Beaver Fire

Beaver Fire entrapment

Photo taken of the Beaver Fire the day after three firefighters were entrapped. It was shot from along the Klamath River about a mile west of the Incident Command Post, looking in the direction of the entrapment, which occurred beyond the smoke visible in this photo taken by Bill Gabbert.

A facilitated learning analysis has been released about the entrapment of three firefighters August 11, 2014 on the Beaver Fire northwest of Yreka, California.

Entrapped that day were a Dozer Operator (DZOP), a Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB), and a Heavy Equipment Boss Trainee (HEQBt). They all got inside fire shelters in a small deployment site that was not large enough to qualify as a safety zone. Their injuries included some first and second degree burns, but overnight hospitalization was not required.

The dozer operator’s story in his own words:

By the time I got off the dozer, the fire had closed in on two sides—and was closing in on my third and fourth sides. I worked as long as I could to get us more protection. I intended to push up more berms. Embers were falling everywhere. I spent too much time getting dug in. I backed the cat in. I should have deployed sooner. My intent was to get us all together under the dozer. I was not in the best position.

I tossed off my ball cap, put my hard hat on, grabbed my gloves and shelter. I had my web gear bungeed to the cage. I grabbed it quick and rolled in the dirt under the dozer. I pulled the shelter’s tabs, but they didn’t work. So I ripped at it to get it open.

It was a confined space so it took a while to get the shelter open. I had to physically unfold every fold to get it deployed. That’s when my leg got a little scorched. Overall, the shelter worked the way it was supposed to. Those shelters no doubt saved our lives.

The video below includes videos and still photos taken during the entrapment.

beaver fire convection column

Don Hall sent us this picture of a convection column over the Beaver fire, saying it was taken at about the same time the three firefighters were entrapped.

We first wrote about the entrapment on August 12.