Firefighters describe the current wildfire conditions in the Southwest

In this very interesting video posted on June 22, 2017 several firefighters in the southwest part of Utah (where the Brian Head Fire is burning) talk about the current weather and vegetation conditions and how they deal with the extreme heat as they battle wildfires in the Southwest United States. It was produced by Community Education Channel, which “provides students of Dixie State University hands on learning experiences while producing quality Television and LIVE stream community content”.

Brian Head Fire slowed Sunday, but strong winds predicted for Monday

The spread of the Brian Head Fire east of Cedar City, Utah slowed on Sunday adding only 636 acres which was much less than in recent days. It has now burned a total of 43,436 acres.

The fire was still advancing Sunday on the north and south sides. The east flank has moved into lighter fuels (vegetation) which offers less resistance to control than heavier fuels found on the north and south sides. The west flank in the Brian Head area has been fairly stable for a couple of days except for an area northeast of town inside the Dixie National Forest.

red flag warning utah wildfire
Red Flag Warnings are in effect Monday for areas in Utah and five other states.

The weather will change on Monday, with Red Flag Warnings in effect for southwest winds gusting up to 39 mph in the afternoon while the relative humidity bottoms out at 12 percent. This could challenge firefighters on the north side and test the contingency lines constructed in that area on Sunday.

Evacuations are still in place for many areas. Highway 143 is closed from the cemetery in Parowan to milepost 50 outside of Panguitch. Mammoth Creek Road is closed at the junction with Highway 143.

The crew in the photo below is from Colorado and usually consists of only five people.

Red Flag Warnings in six states, June 26, 2017

The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag Warnings for areas in California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and Montana. A Fire Weather Watch is in effect for some areas in Colorado.

The area where the Brian Head Fire is burning east of Cedar City, Utah could see southwest winds gusting up to 39 mph Monday afternoon while the relative humidity bottoms out at 12 percent. This could challenge firefighters and test the contingency lines constructed northeast of the fire on Sunday.

The map was current as of 9:50 a.m. MDT on Monday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts.

Area Command Team ordered for southeast Arizona fires

Rowdy Muir’s Area Command Team (ACT) has been mobilized to the Coronado National Forest. This is somewhat surprising because ACT’s have, in my opinion, been significantly underutilized for the last several years.

The June 26 National Situation Report listed two large fires on the Coronado.

coronado national forest fires

The Saddle Fire, not listed above, has burned almost 5,000 acres 19 miles northeast of Douglas since it started June 24.

In the 24 hour period that ended Sunday morning approximately 392 lightning strikes were detected in the Forest.

National Forests R3
Map showing the Coronado National Forest in southeast Arizona and the other Forests in the Southwest Geographic Area.
Even last year when there were many large fires burning in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina, no ACT’s were mobilized. You might wonder if any of the fires would have turned out differently if there had been a group of highly skilled personnel looking at the big picture, helping to obtain resources, analyzing the weather forecast, and utilizing short and long range fire behavior predictions.

An ACT may be used to oversee the management of large incidents or those to which multiple Incident Management Teams have been assigned. They can take some of the workload off the local administrative unit when they have multiple incidents going at the same time. Your typical Forest or Park is not usually staffed to supervise two or more Incident Management Teams fighting fire in their area. An ACT can provide decision support to Multi-Agency Coordination Groups for allocating scarce resources and help mitigate the span of control for the local Agency Administrator. They also ensure that incidents are properly managed, coordinate team transitions, and evaluate Incident Management Teams.

National ACTs are managed by the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) and are comprised of the following:

  • Area Commander (ACDR);
  • Assistant Area Commander, Planning (AAPC);
  • Assistant Area Commander, Logistics (AALC);
  • Area Command Aviation Coordinator (ACAC); and
  • Two trainees.

They usually have an additional 2 to 15 specialists, including Fire Information, Situation Unit Leader, Resource Unit Leader, and sometimes others such as Safety, and Long Term Planning, or assistants in Planning, Logistics, or Aviation.

In 2015 the number of ACT’s was cut from four to three.

This year, besides Rowdy Muir, the other two Area Commanders of the teams are Joe Stutler and Tim Sexton.

The brain needs sleep to perform nightly maintenance — for firefighters and everyone else

At the top of the article: USFS photo.

The brain uses a quarter of the body’s entire energy supply, yet only accounts for about two percent of the body’s mass. So how does this unique organ receive and, perhaps more importantly, rid itself of waste? New research suggests it has to do with sleep.

In the TedMed video above, neuroscientist Jeff Iliff explains the connection between sleep and brain function.

A study of almost 7,000 firefighters from municipal fire departments found that 37 percent screened positive for common sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and shift work disorder.

The researchers found that compared with sound sleepers, those with a sleep disorder were about twice as likely to have a motor vehicle crash, to nod off while driving, and to have cardiovascular disease or diabetes. They were more than three times as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

Wildland firefighters usually work 8-hour shifts —  except when they don’t. While on fires their shift schedules and sleep routines are often disrupted. The 8-hour shift can be extended to 12 to 16 hours, and their usual sleeping and waking times may be changed and sometimes shortened; not unlike the jet lag of traveling to a different time zone. The first shift on a fire may be longer than 16 hours and a crew used to working during the day can be placed on a night shift.

A firefighter sleep study conducted by the Missoula Technology Development Center between 2006 and 2008 found that sleep deprivation contributed to fatigue, stress, and impaired performance of Incident Management Team members.

I talked with pilots and other personnel that traveled with an air tanker to a new assignment. Depending on their original location, they flew across two to four time zones and after arrival, they started work about two hours earlier than usual. So the net change was four to six hours worth of jet lag when taking the new work schedule into account. After a couple of days at the new site two crewmembers told me that they were really tired, even though they were not physically working much harder than normal. Their supervisor eventually recognized this and made sure they got a day off.

That kind of disruption in a work/sleep/wake schedule is common among wildland firefighters, especially those that travel long distances to an assignment. It is possible that wildland fire managers do not recognize this and the negative effect it can have, or if they do, may feel there is little they can do to mitigate the problem.

Crew supervisors and incident management teams should at least strive to give firefighters an opportunity to get an adequate amount of quality sleep.

We have written before about the importance of sleep for wildland firefighters. Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “sleep”.

Brian Head Fire expands across Highway 143

Above: The red line on the map represents the perimeter of the Brian Head Fire at 2:30 a.m. MDT June 25, 2017. The white line was the perimeter about 28 hours earlier.

(UPDATED at 9:28 p.m. MDT Sunday June 25, 2017)

There was only minimal growth Sunday on the Brian Head Fire east of Cedar City, Utah. The weather cooperated with firefighters who were able to work on securing firelines.

Incident Commander Tim Roide described the activity on the fire today:

It was a good day for firefighters, who were able to have success securing areas of particular concern, including the many structures affected by the Brian Head Fire.

A Red Flag Warning is in effect for southwest Utah through 10 p.m Monday night.

With the weather forecast for Monday predicting southwest winds of 12 to 15 mph with gusts in the mid-20’s and humidities in the mid-teens, the Incident Management team made the decision to use dozers to build indirect contingency firelines out ahead of what could be additional growth in the Horse Valley area. Air tankers bolstered those new lines by dropping fire retardant adjacent to the dozer lines expecting that if the fire makes a run in that direction the combination of the bare dirt line and the retardant would increase their chances of preventing the fire from crossing their freshly prepared defenses.

Fire retardant is normally wet, of course, and if conditions are right with few airborne embers travelling far in advance of the main fire front, retardant can slow the spread, giving firefighters on the ground a chance to move in and take direct action. But even when it has dried, the chemicals still interfere with the process of combustion and can affect the rate of spread of the flames.

The plans for crews on Monday include continuing to secure the southern perimeter of the fire to slow its progression toward Mammoth Creek.

Kim Martin’s Type 1 Incident Management Team will assume command Monday morning of the east half of the fire. The existing Type 2 Team will remain on the West side working out of Parowan.

Evacuations are still in place for many areas. Highway 143 is closed from the cemetery in Parowan to milepost 50 outside of Panguitch and Mammoth Creek Road is closed at the junction with Highway 143.


(UPDATED at 12:24 p.m. MDT Sunday June 25, 2017)

The Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah continued to grow on Saturday, adding another 5,000 acres, to bring the total to 42,800 acres. Evacuations are still in effect for several areas.

A significant development Saturday was the spread of the fire across Highway 143 in two places burning approximately 700 acres south of the highway as of 2:30 a.m. on Sunday. No doubt the firefighters were counting on using the highway as a fireline, hoping to stop it at that point. One factor in their favor is that east of the 406/050 road and south of Highway 143 the fuel (vegetation) is sparse in many areas and is not continuous. West of that road and south of Highway 143 more fuel is available and the fire will offer more resistance to control.

Sunday morning the Incident Management Team provided some information about the spread of the fire across the highway:

Firefighters quickly responded and minimized the spread of these fires. Through the night, resources continued work on containment of these spot fires.

Brian Head Fire
In this photo of the Brian Head Fire, Yankee Meadows is at the top-right. We believe this photo was taken by the Incident Management Team.

There has been no change in the number of structures reportedly destroyed; it remains at 26.

Either on Sunday or Monday a Type 1 Incident Management Team will assume command of the eastern half of the fire. The Type 2 Team will remain in Parowan and the Type 1 Team will be based at the Triple C Arena in Panguitch. The two organizations will work together to protect the values at risk and coordinate the full suppression of the fire.

Brian Head Fire map
Satellite photo of the Brian Head Fire, June 24, 2017.

Resources assigned to the fire include 29 hand crews, 41 engines, 10 helicopters, a variable number of air tankers, and a total of 996 personnel.

Brian Head Fire Pilatus PC12 Colorado Utah
One of Colorado’s Pilatus PC12’s, N327F, was orbiting the Brian Head Fire June 25, 2016. The aircraft has multiple sensing systems and can transmit live video to firefighters on the ground.
Colorado's Pilatus PC12 N327F
One of the two Pilatus PC12’s owned by Colorado, N327F, was photographed in March of 2016 in Sacramento. Today, June 25, 2017, it is assisting at the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah.