A briefing in New South Wales

Above photo by New South Wales Rural Fire Service

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service, in the middle of their down under bushfire season, posted this photo yesterday with the following description:

Multi-agency briefing held this morning at NSW RFS State Operations Centre, ensuring all involved are aware and sharing details of current situation and latest weather forecasts for today. Currently we have 18 fires across NSW, 5 of which are yet to be contained. There are are over 60 vehicles and 200 personnel deployed, as well as 4 Rapid Aerial Response Teams (RART) and 20 aircraft tasked to assist.

UPDATE January 18, 2017: here is a better photo of the NSW RFS State Operations Center on January 18, 2017:

New South Wales State Operations Center
New South Wales State Operations Center, January 18, 2017. Photo by NSW RFS.

Tallac Hotshots

Above: Photo by Tallac Hotshots

We were not familiar with the Tallac Hotshots until yesterday when we ran across this recently taken photo. The crew, based near Lake Tahoe in California, was officially certified in 2014.

Below is an excerpt from their website:

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Crew Profile

On June 19, 2014, the Tallac Hotshots completed the extensive certification process to become the first Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC) from Lake Tahoe. Formerly, the Tallac Hand Crew, the Tallac Hotshot Crew joins an exclusive group of roughly 2,000 firefighters in the country. The Tallac Hand Crew was established in 2001 as part of a nationwide buildup of resources for a maximum efficiency level of preparedness as direct by the National fire Plan. The original intent of the crew was to perform fuels management projects along with resource management objectives and to be availalbe for wildland fire response. The crew evolved through extensive training, recruitment, and retention of leadership to become a highly skilled 20 person crew. The crew completed the 2-day certification process, which covered all the standards for IHC operations.

Forest Organization Overview

The Tallac Hotshots are based on the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and are one of three federally funded, Forest Service 20 person, fire suppression and fuels management crews in the Tahoe Basin. There are two on call organized crews O.C 36 and O.C 37. The Lake Tahoe Basin also has four type 3 engines, four fire prevention staff, a VUFF Staff Officer, Forest Fire Management Officer (Chief 1), one Assistant Forest Fire Management Officer (Chief 2), one Fuels Battalion (Battalion Chief 42)and Fuels Division (Division 4). Everything is overseen by Forest Supervisor and Deputy Forest Supervisor. ECC Dispatch is located at Camino on the Eldorado NF.”

Chad Fisher selected for NPS Fire Operations Leader

He had been the acting Fire Operations Program Leader for most of the last three years.

Chad Fisher.
Chad Fisher. NPS photo.

Chad Fisher has been selected as the National Park Service’s Wildland Fire Operations Program Leader for the Branch of Wildland Fire. In this position he will lead the team responsible for operations, safety, facilities, equipment, training, and wildland fire qualifications.

Fisher began his wildland fire career in 1990 at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina after graduating from Haywood Community College with an Associate’s Degree in Fish and Wildlife Management. Chad worked seven seasons at the refuge as a firefighter and helicopter manager. In 1992 he began to spend his summers in the west working on the Payette National Forest. Chad left Pocosin Lakes for a position on the NPS Alpine Interagency Hotshot Crew and to return to school at the University of Montana where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Resource Conservation in 1997.

While in college, he worked as a smokejumper and helitack crew leader. Upon graduation he received his first permanent appointment on the Lewis and Clark National Forest and then spent four years as the assistant leader and leader of the Great Smoky Mountains Fire Use Module.

In 2001, Chad moved to the National Interagency Fire Center as a wildland fire training specialist with the NPS. In the mid 2000’s he spent a little more than two years as the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s fire management national training specialist. Chad has been the wildland fire safety program manager with the National Park Service since 2008 and has been the acting operations program leader for much of the last three years. In 2013, he was a recipient of the Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award for his work with the Dutch Creek mitigations.

“I look forward to officially leading the Wildland Fire Operations Program” Fisher said. “I feel it is our responsibility to set others up for success. The Operations Program is comprised of accomplished employees. I’m confident our group will continue to be responsive to the field while also being strategic in our work and looking for ways to improve. It is important we do the right work so all NPS employees go home physically and mentally well at the end of each shift.”

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Art Prints

Incident Management Team from Colorado assisted with the Chimney Tops 2 Fire

The following article, written by Phil Daniels, is from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control and describes an assignment of the “Gray Team” on the fire that burned into Gatlinburg, Tennessee in late November.

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“The Southern Area of the US had been suffering from significant drought for most of 2016.  Early in November, the George Washington / Jefferson National Forest requested our crew to respond to Virginia to be available for fires which may occur.  They didn’t have to wait long! During their over two week assignment, the crew worked on two large fires in addition to their being pre-positioned for new fires.

Later that month, the USFS requested that we deploy our Multi Mission Aircraft to South Carolina to assist in the detection of new fires and provide mapping and other services to existing fires.  The MMA flew missions daily across all of the southern states for over three weeks.

Finally, on the week of Thanksgiving, the Southern Area again asked for our assistance; this time requesting a Type 3 Incident Management Team to preposition to Eastern Tennessee in case of a large fire needing a higher level of management.  Our Team departed for Johnson City, TN, on November 27, but before they could arrive they were diverted to the Great Smoky National Park to manage the Chimney Tops 2 fire just South of Gatlinburg.

Our arrival coincided with the mass evacuation of Gatlinburg and the team members got to experience first hand the chaos associated with moving 25,000 people down a single road in advance of an inferno.

For the next two weeks, our team and the Southern Area “Red Team” (a type 1 IMT) assisted the Park and the surrounding communities in suppressing the wildland fires and returning their lives to as close normal as possible.

The team consisted of experts in the area of incident management from DFPC, Boulder Rural Fire Rescue, Pagosa Fire Department, and the BLM.  Each of the team members were able to have a positive impact on their counterparts in the towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.”

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The fire spread into Gatlinburg, killing 14 people, burning 2,013 homes and 53 commercial structures, and causing more than $500 million in damage.

For the most current information about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Gatlinburg, see our articles tagged “Chimney 2 Fire”.

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Former Fire Management Officer fought off the Chimney Tops 2 Fire, saving his home

It had been a year since David Loveland retired as Fire Management Officer at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On November 28, 2016 when the Chimney Tops 2 Fire burned from the park into Gatlinburg, he had been living in his home for 10 years. His goal had been to reduce the vegetation, the fuel, on the entire three acres to make it as fire resistant as possible.

When the fire approached the property between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg the clearing project was not complete, but the work he had done combined with his efforts as the fire burned around the structure meant he still had a place to live when the smoke finally cleared.

He tried to evacuate but the road was blocked by a tree that fell during the strong winds. He and his wife returned to the house and fought off the fire with a battery powered leaf blower and used a hose until the loss of power shut down the water system. His experience fighting fires in Yosemite National Park and other areas out west was in the back of his mind as he labored in the smoke.

His story was documented in the Knoxville News Sentinel. Below is a brief excerpt.

…Homes dotting the top of the ridge were soon ablaze. Other residences below them were also on fire. Smoke was everywhere.

More problems. A tree limb fell over the power lines, knocking out electricity to the home and plunging the interior into darkness. The smoke detectors were going bonkers, adding to the overall chaos as Kathaleen Loveland raced about the home trying to get important items and documents together.

“I had a backup generator, but I had a problem with it that I didn’t know about until then,” David Loveland said. “I had only the water pressure that was left in the hose, and I needed that to protect the propane tank.”

That left Loveland with a leaf blower with three batteries, a hoe and a nearly powerless water hose. But, he had also prepared…

About 20 homes in Mr. Loveland’s neighborhood were destroyed. His was one of four that survived.

The fire continued to spread, killing 14 people, burning 2,013 homes and 53 commercial structures, and causing more than $500 million in damage.

For the most current information about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Gatlinburg, see our articles tagged “Chimney 2 Fire”.

Researchers find tree-bark thickness is affected by fire occurrence

The researchers found that the bark thickness of closely related species is linked to whether the species lived in a fire-prone or non-fire-prone region, which provided further evidence that bark thickness is an evolutionary adaptation to fire.

Above: firefighters mop up hot spots near a residence on the Eiler Fire in northern California, August 6, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Researchers have determined that the thickness of bark on a tree can be affected by the frequency of fires within the region. Findings released in a paper today suggest that bark thickness could help predict which forests and savannas will survive a warmer climate in which wildfires are expected to increase in frequency.

Trees in regions where fire is common, such as savannas and the forests of western North America, tend to have thicker bark, while trees in tropical rainforests have thinner bark, researchers at Princeton University and collaborating institutions reported Jan. 11 in the journal Ecology Letters. Bark protects the inside of the trunk from overheating and is one of a handful of adaptations that trees use to survive fire.

“We found large-scale evidence that bark thickness is a fire-tolerance trait, and we showed this is the case not just in a particular biome such as a savanna, but across different types of forests, across regions and across continents,” said first author Adam Pellegrini, a NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University who led the study while a graduate student in Princeton’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

The research suggests that the link between bark thickness and fire resistance should be included in global climate models, Pellegrini said. “Trees from regions that burn frequently could still become vulnerable if the risk of fire increases,” he said. “The open question is whether the bark is thick enough to help trees survive.”

Pellegrini and his colleagues looked at 572 tree species in regions across the globe. They compared bark thickness from trees in areas that experience frequent wildfires — and where rain falls only seasonally — to trees in regions where fires are rare, such as tropical rainforests. They found that in areas where fires are frequent, most trees, no matter the species, have thicker bark than closely related tree species growing in low-fire areas.

The study suggests that tropical rainforests — which are mostly composed of thin-barked trees — may have a more difficult time recovering from fire, whereas savannas and seasonal forests with thickly barked trees should be able to better withstand fire. A savanna was defined as land with continuous grass cover that is 20 to 80 percent trees, while a forest was defined as having complete tree coverage and little to no grass.

Periodic fires are necessary for the health of some types of savannas and forests. Fires burn off excess plant matter such as dead wood and grass — as well as competing fire-sensitive species — and rejuvenate the soil so that the dominant, fire-resistant plant species can flourish. However, fires also can be detrimental to the environment by releasing stored carbon back into the atmosphere, and causing the decades-long loss of a valuable carbon-storage system.

North Pole Fire
North Pole Fire, west of Custer, South Dakota March 10, 2015. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The researchers also addressed the question of where thick-barked trees come from: Did they evolve to have thick bark in response to living in a fire-prone region, or do thick-barked trees come from plant families with species that all tended to develop thick bark irrespective of fire activity? Continue reading “Researchers find tree-bark thickness is affected by fire occurrence”