NIFC releases 2016 fire season summary video

Last week the National Interagency Fire Center released a video that they say summarizes the 2016 wildland fire season. The short version is, the season underperformed compared to the early predictions.

The acronym seen in the film, “WFSTAR”, stands for Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher.

Fire season summaries on Wildfire Today are tagged fire season summary.

Editorial: Montana legislature fails to pass firefighter health bill

The following editorial was written by Dick Mangan.

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As someone who has been involved in wildland fire since the mid-1960s, and who is currently on the Missoula Rural Fire Board of Trustees, I’m really disgusted with the Republicans on the House Business and Labor Committee who voted to “table” the vote on SB 72 which would give Workers Comp coverage to firefighters who develop job-related cancer. For those of you unfamiliar with legislative terms, to “table” a Bill can be translated into “I don’t have the intestinal fortitude (Guts) to actually vote up or down on this issue, so I’ll vote to do nothing”.

Several of these Legislators offered meaningless “feel good” comments about firefighters, like Rep. Steve Gunderson of Libby who said “I take my hat off to firefighters” and Bigfork Rep Mark Noland who called firefighters “courageous….. so grateful for your service.” But then Noland went on to say “but they do know. They do enter this with their eyes open. This is what they chose.”

So, soldiers and police officers die in the line of duty, and that’s OK too? They know the risks, and make the choice, just like firefighters. Maybe we should extend that logic to State Legislators: JFK, RFK, George Wallace, Ronald Reagan and Gabby Giffords were politicians killed and/or wounded doing their jobs. So, if a Montana legislator should suffer a similar fate, should we just tell them and their families that “they entered with their eyes open”?

I must pause this blast to give credit to Republican Senator Pat Connell of Hamilton who introduced the Bill in the Senate (where it passed) and to Rep Sue Vinton of Billings, the only Republican House member to vote in its favor.

Firefighters, structural and wildland, volunteer and paid, frequently put their lives on the line to protect lives and property. Too bad some of our State Legislators can’t walk a mile in their fire boots.

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Dick Mangan retired from the U.S. Forest Service Technology & Development Center in Missoula, Montana in 2000 with more than 30 years wildfire experience. He is a past President of the International Association of Wildland Fire.

Montana legislature rejects firefighter health bill

One Senator who opposed it said “it is something they’re going into with their eyes wide open”.

Above: A firefighter works in smoke on the Water Tower Fire in South Dakota, March 16, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

On Wednesday a Montana legislative committee voted down a bill that would have provided benefits for firefighters who developed a lung disease on the job. Republican Mark Noland of Bigfork said firefighters “know what they’re doing”, and:

That is their profession, that is what they chose, and we do not want to, you know, slight them in any way, shape or form, but it is something they’re going into with their eyes wide open.

That is asinine, ridiculous, reprehensible, and irresponsible.

Rep. Mark Noland
Rep. Mark Noland of Bigfork, MT.

He is assuming that when firefighters began their careers they knew there was a good chance they would damage their lungs. If that is common knowledge now, or was 20 years ago when the firefighter signed up, why haven’t the employers already established coverage for presumptive diseases? There is a great deal we do not know about the effects of breathing contaminated air on structure, vehicle, and wildland fires.

Many agencies and government bodies have already established a list of presumptive diseases that will enable health coverage for firefighters. For example the British Columbia government recognizes at least nine “presumptive cancers” among firefighters, including leukemia, testicular cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer, bladder cancer, ureter cancer, colorectal cancer, and non-Hodgkins’s lymphoma.

The Montana legislation would have only covered one of these nine illnesses.

According to the Associated Press, Gov. Steve Bullock noted that 46 other states already have presumptive illness protections for firefighters.

When a person enlists in the military and they come home injured or permanently disabled, should we ignore them, saying they knew what they were getting into? Their “eyes were wide open”? How is treating firefighters injured on the job different? One could argue that they are both defending and protecting our homeland; one of them actually IN our homeland while the other may have been on the other side of the world.

Only one Republican on the House committee voted for the measure. Apparently in Montana treating firefighters injured on the job is a partisan issue.

The bill was previously passed by the Senate on a 33-14 vote. It is still possible that the bill could be brought up again by the House. If you want to follow the legislation, the text is HERE and you can track the progress HERE.

Krstofer Evans, 1971-2016

Krstofer Evans
Krstofer Evans. Photo from his website.

I’m a little late to the game here but just found out that a former hotshot firefighter died last year on June 29. Krstofer Evans was a sawyer on the Plumas Interagency Hotshot Crew in 2001 when the 6-foot 6-inch professional World Cup-level snowboard racer was struck by a falling 70-foot black locust snag. He was very seriously injured and never fought fires again.

According to an article in a 2011 edition of Two More Chains, the injury:

…breaks 15 of his ribs (all but three) and his left scapula and collarbone, smashes his brachial plexus—the network of nerve fibers running from the spine, through the neck, into the armpit area—collapses his left lung, lacerates his spleen, tears the four major ligaments of his right knee, gives him a concussion, and burst-fractures several of his spine’s vertebrae—resulting in paraplegia.

He almost died, but after two weeks in a coma, months in hospitals, and rehab, he did his best to move on from his injuries while paralyzed below the chest and confined to a wheelchair.

Last year Mr. Evans’ body was found in the burned rubble of  his Philomath, Oregon home after it caught fire. A neighbor reportedly heard several explosions and the initial reaction of Police Chief Ken Rueben was that “It looks like mishandling of fireworks”. There was speculation that Mr. Evans was making homemade fireworks.

In 2004 three years after the accident he began speaking to wildland firefighters about snag awareness in what became his “Don’t Be That Guy” snag and hazard tree awareness and prevention program.

In his journal posted on his website he wrote about one of his first presentations on the subject:

May 22, 2004 ‘Snag Awareness’ Poster Boy

I’m going up the hill tomorrow to see the [Plumas Hotshot] crew and give the “Lookout for Snags and Stuff” spiel I’ve been runnin’ around with this year. Did it for Ron Marley’s fire class at Shasta College twice already, then to the Redding IHC and Tahoe Hotshots this year. I haven’t seen most of the guys on Plumas since the morning of Oct. 31, 2001. So tomorrow might be a little weird. After I went over to see Tahoe, their Sup, Rick Cowell, sent this out to (damn near all) of the crews:

“On May 7th We had Krs Evans from the Plumas Hotshots give a presentation on snag awareness. It was good. You could hear a pin drop. I wrote him a $100 Govt. check, charged it off to training. Krs is willing to come to your station. His presentation takes about 1.5 hrs. It’s a strong message. It will make you and your cutters more aware. Krs has a van that he drives around, he doesn’t ask for anything except gas money.” Rick Cowell, Tahoe Hotshot Superintendent.”

It’s been all good so far. I never intended to be the “snag awareness” poster-boy, even after the injury. I guess it started with Ron Marley (Fire Chief/instructor, Shasta College) asking me to come up and talk to his students two years ago or so. He wanted to raise their awareness of [what] can happen out there on the line.

In addition to speaking to firefighters and others about safety in the woods, he developed a business making devices for firefighters. He designed and built a hose clamp for shutting off the water flow in small diameter hoses, such as “toy” hose, that fit in your pocket and was a bright color making it easy to see if dropped or left on the ground. He also made an adapter used for charging a cell phone off a hand-held radio clamshell battery. He didn’t make much money from this and the income was deducted from his monthly disability payments.

Burn bans and prescribed fires in Texas

Above: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department personnel who had been mobilized to conduct prescribed fires at the Matador Wildlife Management Area (map) reconfigured as a Strike Team of Type 6 engines after a series of very large wildfires broke out in the Texas panhandle. Photo by TPWD. 

On March 12 we wrote about the two Borger Fire Department firefighters who suffered burn injuries while working on a prescribed fire in the panhandle of Texas. One was seriously injured and the other was treated at a hospital and released.

Chris M. Schenck, the Statewide Fire Program Leader in the Wildlife Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department contacted us to clarify information about prescribed fire and burn bans in the state.

Here is a glossary of the acronyms used:

  • Rx: prescribed (fire)
  • TPWD: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
  • CIPBM: Certified Insured Prescribed Burn Managers
  • NWCG: National Wildfire Coordinating Group
  • TCEQ: Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ
  • NPS: National Park Service
  • DOD: Department of Defense

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By Chris M. Schenck

“Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) stood down our Rx Fire plans last week, though we were in prescription and had all contingency resources on location.  In fact we stood in the gap for  already committed Texas Forest Service resources.

Your comment:

“There was a burn ban in effect in Donley County but Texas law exempts prescribed fires from burn bans.”

Is correct, but may be a little simplified.  Here is link to the actual Texas State Statute.

Section D sec 352.081 (f.) [1.] & [2.] provide a little  clarification on Burn Bans and Rx Burning.

Essentially, only Certified Insured Prescribed Burn Managers (CIPBM) and Prescribed Burn Associations  may burn during a burn ban.

The State recognizes NWCG Burn Bosses as the equivalent of CIPBM as well.  Most of the time in my agency we are coordinating with the County Court of Commissioners  for a long time prior to burning.

State burning laws in Texas as in other states are fairly complex and a little tricky to follow.  Ray Hinnant a long CIPBM instructor wrote an article that is pretty helpful in understanding the rules.

In fact one of the first laws in  the Republic of Texas  shortly after 1845 prohibited “the burning of grass”.  This is still  essentially the case, then they go on to make exceptions.  Here is a link to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regulations.

We have a very fragile balance in prescribed burning here in Texas as we are a 98% private lands state.

The events of last week often set back programs, public perception and spawn legislation.

TPWD is the third largest land manager behind (your former employer) NPS and the DOD. Burning on public lands is very significant  for habitat restoration and resiliency.

We have a great opportunity in Texas to “Rekindle the Fire Culture” and get more appropriate and responsible Rx Fire on the land.

TPWD Wildlife Division, has the privilege of providing Technical Guidance to Land Owners for Rx Fire and other land management activities.  Here is a link to our fire page.”

Stories from the Oklahoma fire line

The three fires that started Monday March 6 during a wind event in Oklahoma and Kansas were managed as the NW Oklahoma Complex of Fires and burned over 833,941 acres.

The men in these two videos tell a part of the story as they saw it during the first couple of days. The videos were acquired and posted on the Oklahoma Forestry Services Facebook page by the Southern Area Red Team.

First, is Eric Bond of Knowles, Oklahoma.


Below is a transcript of the video above:

I’m Eric Bond. I’m on the Gate Volunteer Fire Department (18 years). We got paged out Monday the 6th, I believe, at noon or eleven. Something like that, and we went to Knowles and got a one ton brush rig and went to the fire as quick as I could and I was hearing on the radio it was already twenty miles ahead of us. We were trying to save some houses down in there. And my wife had called and wanted to know what she could do. I told her to get one of my boys out of school and to move some cows out of the river. We were trying to save some houses down in there. It was going right down the Cimarron River. And we went over there after a couple of tanks of water, and fought it off a neighbor’s house.

And north of us was a wall of fire but it was going east at the time. And I called my son and asked him he got out of there. And he said “yeah he did” but my wife was still down there trying to get two more cows. And about then the wind changed and that thing came down through there, down river, forty feet high. I told the guy with me “I have to go down there but you don’t have to, you ought to get out.” He said “no, I’m in”! So we went and it turned out there were like six people down there trying to get those cows. And the fire kind of over ran us. We kind of struggled a little getting out of there.

We got through my pasture to the neighbor’s other house and everything there was on fire except the house. And I told everybody to stay in the road because you know they won’t burn up in the road if the house catches on fire. And we just kind of kept it off that house. And another truck showed up eventually, and I don’t know he was but we left him there to watch that house and we went to my house.

And in the meantime, I heard my house burned down. And when we got where we could see it, it did look like it had. But when we got up there the house was ok, but everything else around it burned. All my machinery and trailers, and pretty well everything there, four out buildings, skid loaders, and…pretty well everything there. But the house was ok. And I talked to another guy on our department a while ago and there had been a truck up there. He didn’t know who it was before we got there, but it was there at one time before we got there.

We ended up burning nearly every square foot four miles north. We came out better than some. We lost some cows and some calves (34 cows and calves). The horses are singed a little, but they’re ok.

[How long were you out?] Oh, it was three days from the time they paged until I took my clothes off. And I was sure glad seeing everyone else showing up and kind of get a break, and see what’s left. I had another place in Harper County, and it burnt a little, a hay shed was burnt, 60 bales of hay, and a tractor. I’m pretty fortunate it didn’t burn near all that place.

Next is Charlie Starbuck, chief of the Slapout Fire Department. The largest of the three fires is named after him because he reported it.

Information about how to donate to organizations that are helping the victims of the fires. And here.