Last week’s federal budget deal did not address wildland fire

The President’s recommended FY 19 budget reportedly includes a fix to funding wildfire suppression

dollar signLast week when the federal budget deal was being hurriedly thrown together as the government shutdown approached, there was an effort to include a provision to fix the fire borrowing fiasco, where funds are taken from other functions to pay for wildfire suppression. The legislation the President signed increased the debt limit and appropriated an additional $165 billion for the Department of Defense, but there was nothing earthshaking in the bill specifically related to wildland fire. However it included more money for most federal agencies, including the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. Some of those funds may find their way into fire budgets in the next few months.

Today President Trump is releasing his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019 which begins in October. One of our sources said it includes the fire funding fix. But expecting Congress to pass a traditional year-long budget has become a quaint idea.

Exhibition of Kari Greer’s wildfire photography at the University of Idaho

Kari Greer’s photography will be featured during a two-month exhibit in Moscow, ID

Our favorite wildfire photographer is being honored with her own exhibit in Moscow, Idaho from February 16 through April 14. Kari Greer’s work will be displayed in the Prichard Art Gallery of the Bruce M. Pitman Center on the campus of the University of Idaho (map). A former firefighter, she maintains a Red Card while working on the fireline as a photographer under contract with NIFC.

We have featured her photos many times, which earned her her own “tag” on Wildfire Today.

Here is the announcement about the exhibit from the university:

“Facing the Inferno, the Wildfire Photography of Kari Greer,” will go in display Friday, Feb. 16, at the Prichard Art Gallery. An opening reception is 5-7 p.m. Friday. Greer, who works as a photographer for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, will speak about her work during a lecture at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, in the Borah Theater of the Bruce M. Pitman Center on campus.

Greer, a former firefighter, specializes in wildland fire photography and editorial photojournalism. She has unprecedented access to aerial operations and accompanies fire crews working side-by-side on attack lines throughout the Western fire season. Her work examines the heighted fire activity seen across Idaho, Montana and Wyoming at a time when people are traveling further into the woods and the land surrounding wildfires is increasingly contested.

Congratulations Kari!

Below are a few samples of Kari’s photos we have used.

Firefighter Brian Head Fire
Firefighter on the Brian Head Fire in Utah. Photo by Kari Greer.
Idaho 9-3-2012 Photo by Kari Greer
Idaho September 3, 2012. Photo by Kari Greer.
Trinity Ridge fire, August 19, 2012, photo by Kari Greer for USFS
Trinity Ridge fire, August 19, 2012, photo by Kari Greer for USFS
Kari Greer
Kari Greer. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Information Officer wrangled race horses at Lilac Fire

Approximately 400 race horses at a training facility were freed from their stalls as the fire rapidly approached in December, 2017.

Above: The Lilac Fire, near Bonsall, California, spread in front of strong Santa Ana winds in December, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Peterson)

(Originally published at 1:32 p.m. MT February 10, 2018)

By Diana Fredlund, Public Affairs Officer, Stanislaus National Forest

When a wildfire ignites, a call to action is sounded and firefighting personnel converge to manage the incident. However, supporting a fire incident doesn’t always mean working on the fire line. There are many tasks that need to be done during a large fire event. For example, logistics, administration, dealing with the media and informing and assisting residents who have been impacted by a disaster are only a few examples of the support teams needed to properly handle the scale and scope of something as impactful as a wildfire.

Kimberly Peterson Lilac Fire horses
Kimberly Peterson, a biological science technician on the Stanislaus National Forest, greets one of the racehorses she cared for during the Lilac Fire in San Diego, December 2017. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Peterson)

When the Lilac Fire broke out in San Diego County, Kimberly Peterson, a biological science technician on the Stanislaus National Forest, answered the call for support as a public information officer trainee. Part of her duties were helping evacuated animals held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The Lilac Fire was a product of the strong Santa Ana winds so common in southern California. The blaze went on to burn 4,100 acres and destroy 157 buildings in December 2017, forcing many to either leave or move their animals to a safer location.

Peterson was helping families retrieve their animals after the evacuation orders were lifted and residents were allowed to return to their homes or businesses.

“This was an amazing assignment,” said Peterson. “I got to help folks load their animals, who had survived the fire, into their trailers to go home.”

Peterson, an avid horsewoman, was thrilled that her duties included helping out some of the 400 racehorses that had been evacuated from their stables at the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center when the fire swept through. She helped the horses settle in and tried to calm them, aided by a 20-pound bag of carrots given to her by the thoroughbreds’ trainers who told her to go make friends.

Kimberly Peterson Lilac Fire horses
Local residents brought supplies and equipment and volunteered countless hours helping out at the large animal evacuation center at Del Mar Fairground, Del Mar, California, during the Lilac Fire. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Peterson)

Lucas Spelman, a member of CAL FIRE and Peterson’s public information officer within the incident command, knew her skills working with large animals.

“I try whenever possible to match members of my team with their skill sets. She was tasked [to manage] the Red Cross shelters and large animal rescues,” said Spelman. “Kimberly was able to inform and console victims that had been displaced and even those who had lost their homes or their animals.”

Working with her Lilac Fire team was very satisfying, Peterson said.

“I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with the CAL FIRE Incident Management Team 1 again. I have learned so much from both Lucas Spelman and Richard Cordova on how to be a better [public information officer]. We come together from a variety of fire agencies with one purpose: to serve the public during an incredibly difficult time,” said Peterson. “There have been times when I did not feel as much a part of the team, but Richard and Lucas really make you feel like you are not just part of the team, but family.”

Peterson comforted more than horses and other animals temporarily housed at the fairgrounds.

“Often the public information officers are the only ones these folks get to talk to. I was comforting some residents who lost their homes or their animals,” Peterson said. “It was important that they knew someone cared and was there who understood what they were going through and just offer a shoulder to lean on, or an ear to listen to them, even if it was just for a few minutes.”

She was stunned by the response from residents, who brought tons of supplies and equipment.

“The response from the community was amazing. Members of the public brought truckloads of feed, bedding, tools and equipment in huge quantities,” said Peterson. “They were there to help clean out stalls or corrals – anything that needed doing, they were always right there to help out in any way they could.”

Peterson’s public affairs tasks were more than working at the evacuation centers.

“I went to one of the hardest hit areas of the Lilac Fire to assist residents as they learned for the first time whether they still had a home or not. I would supply them with gloves, a face mask and a screen to help sift through the ash,” said Peterson. “I was there to give out hugs, food and water – and to just listen to them. I would ask them if they needed anything and gave them information about [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and other resources to help them through their loss. I also delivered Red Cross kits, which included a washcloth, soap, toothpaste and toothbrush, in case they needed it to clean up.”

After several days on evacuation duty, the Lilac Fire was finally being contained and Peterson was called on to assist with the growing threat of the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties as an equipment manager trainee.

All sorts of jobs and tasks need to be done during a major fire incident and Peterson is like most U.S. Forest Service employees who step up to help support the massive effort. They see a need and know people need help during and after such a destructive event. Every fire support assignment is different and employees support the fire effort in a myriad of ways, some standing on the front line face-to-face with the flames or offering a shoulder to lean on or even providing care to frightened animals. All are equally important and are critical to those affected who look for solace and a way forward after the deadly impact of a fire.

From Bill Gabbert:

As the Lilac Fire quickly approached, hundreds of race horses at the San Luis Rey Downs training facility east of Bonsall were turned loose to fend for themselves since there wasn’t enough time to load all of them into trucks or trailers and transport them to safety. Not all of them survived.

Map Lilac Fire
Map of the Lilac Fire at 12:01 a.m. PST December 8, 2017. Wildfire Today/NASA/USFS/Google Earth.

Articles on Wildfire Today about the Lilac Fire.

Teenager accused of starting Eagle Creek Fire likely to get probation

The fire burned over 48,000 acres in Columbia River Gorge in September, 2017

Above:  Photo of the Eagle Creek Fire posted September 5, 2017.

(Originally published at 12:53 p.m. MT February 10, 2018)

February 16 is the sentencing date for the boy who was 15 years old when he allegedly started the Eagle Creek Fire near the Washington/Oregon border in the Columbia River Gorge. A witness reported seeing the Vancouver juvenile throw a “smoke bomb” into vegetation near the Eagle Creek trail on September 2, 2017. In less than 24 hours the fire grew to 3,000 acres and to 20,000 acres by the morning of September 5.

Eventually burning 48,831 acres, it required the extended closure of Interstate 84, forced hundreds to evacuate, and poured smoke into Portland.

Eagle Creek Fire
A view across the Eagle Creek suspension bridge after a support cable pulled free during or after the fire. The bridge and cables hang near the stream. It will probably be removed before it causes more resource damage.

Because the boy is a juvenile, Oregon Live reports, the options for sentencing include years of probation, probably less than eight days of detention, or about a year in a juvenile correctional facility.

If the judge requires restitution for the costs of suppressing and rehabbing the fire, which are reportedly more than $18 million, the boy will likely only be able to pay a small fraction of the total.

Eagle Creek Fire
The Oneonta Tunnel burned during the Eagle Creek Fire. Rocks are falling from the burned slopes above onto Hwy. 30 and the trail, creating a hazard that will grow worse with winter rains.
Eagle Creek Fire
There is some fire damage near the Multnomah Falls, but the main falls area was mostly spared. Rocks falling in the vicinity of the falls and lodge are concerns.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Eagle Creek Fire”.

(All photos are from InciWeb)

Firefighter in South Africa killed while battling wildfire

The firefighter was killed while working on a wildfire in the Simonsberg Mountain area

Makelepe Cedric Seokoma
Makelepe Cedric Seokoma

A firefighter in South Africa was killed  February 5 while working on a wildfire in South Africa. Makelepe Cedric Seokoma was a Base Manager for Working on Fire.

Mr. Seokoma passed away while working to contain a wildfire in the Simonsberg Mountain area near Klapmuts in the Western Cape.

Originally from the Limpopo Province, Mr. Seokoma leaves behind his wife and children. He started at Working on Fire in 2004 and moved up the ranks to the crew leader position, then Instructor. At the time of his untimely passing, he was the the Base Manager in the Western Cape.

The organization employs 5,000 young men and women trained as veld and wildland firefighters stationed in over 200 bases throughout South Africa.

On January 29 another firefighter in South Africa died while on duty. Candice (Ashley) Kruger was helping to suppress a wildfire on the lower slopes of Table Mountain when she collapsed and later passed away in a hospital. She was in her ninth year with the Fire and Rescue Service in Cape Town and was assigned to the Roeland Street Fire Station.

Study shows firefighters’ exposure to smoke increases disease risk

Depending on the type of work performed and the number of years of exposure, the increased risk can be 22 to 39 percent.

Above: Smoky conditions on the Legion Lake Fire in Custer State Park in South Dakota, December 12, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Originally published at 6:02 p.m. MT, February 6, 2018.

After collecting data from wildland firefighters in the field, a group of researchers concluded that firefighters’ exposure to smoke can increase the risk of mortality from lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. In this first section we cover what is in vegetation fire smoke, and after that we have details about the additional mortality risk faced by firefighters who can’t help but breathe the toxic substances.

What is in the air that firefighters breathe?

There have been many studies about smoke dating back to the 1988 NIOSH project at the fires in Yellowstone National Park. Most of them confirmed that yes, wildland firefighters ARE exposed to smoke and in most cases they quantified the amount.

In 2004 Timothy E. Reinhardt and Roger D. Ottmar  found a witches’ brew of methyl ethyl bad stuff that firefighters are breathing. All of these are hazardous to your health:

  • Aldehydes (volatile organic compounds); can cause immediate irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, and inhalation can cause inflammation of the lungs. Short-term effects include cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain. The most abundant aldehyde in smoke is formaldehyde. When formaldehyde enters the body, it is converted to formic acid, which also is toxic.
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO²); causes severe irritation of the eyes, skin, upper respiratory tract, and mucous membranes, and also can cause bronchoconstriction. It forms sulfuric acid in the presence of water vapor and has been shown to damage the airways of humans.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO); As CO is inhaled it displaces O2 as it attaches to red blood cells and forms COHb. COHb reduces the ability of the blood to carry oxygen and causes hypoxia (a condition in which the body does not receive sufficient oxygen). Due to their strenuous work, wildland firefighters often have increased respiratory rates, which will increase the amount of CO being inhaled when smoke is present. COHb has a half-life (the time it takes half of the COHb to dissipate from the body) of about 5 hours. Symptoms of CO exposure include headaches, dizziness, nausea, loss of mental acuity, and fatigue. Prolonged, high exposure can cause confusion and loss of consciousness
  • Particulate matter; Respirable particulates are a major concern as they can be inhaled into the deeper recesses of the lungs, the alveolar region. These particles carry absorbed and condensed toxicants into the lungs
  • Acrolein; may increase the possibility of respiratory infections. It can cause irritation of the nose, throat, and lungs. Long-term effects can include chronic respiratory irritation and permanent loss of lung function if exposure occurs over many years.
  • Benzene; can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and respiratory tract irritation. Although the human body can often recover and repair damage caused by irritants, prolonged exposure from extended work shifts and poorly ventilated fire camps can overwhelm the ability to repair damage to genes and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
  • Crystalline silica; can cause silicosis, a noncancerous lung disease that affects lung function. But OSHA classifies it as a carcinogen.
  • Intermediate chemicals; have been shown to cause a variety of health problems including bronchopulmonary carcinogenesis, fibrogenesis, pulmonary injury, respiratory distress, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and inflammation.

One of the more recent research efforts, from 2009 to 2012, was led by George Broyles of the U.S. Forest Service, National Technology and Development Program, in Boise, Idaho. They collected data in 11 fuel models in 17 states on initial attack, prescribed burns, and large project fires. The group measured carbon monoxide (CO) with electronic datalogging dosimeters and particulate matter using air pumps and filters.

carbon monoxide exposure firefighters
Data from the 2009-2012 wildland firefighter study led by George Broyles. “TWA” stands for Time Weighted Average. CO is carbon monoxide. OEL is Occupational Exposure Limits.

Monitoring carbon monoxide (CO) can be important, and is also fairly easy to do and not terribly expensive. Researchers have found that it can be a surrogate for the primary irritants of concern in wildland smoke near the combustion source. If CO is present, it’s almost certain that the smorgasbord of nasty stuff is in the air.

wildfire smoke monitoring firefighters
Jon Richert displays the various devices the National Technology Development Center research crews use to measure the amount of smoke firefighters deal with during wildfire suppression. This equipment was used in 2016 in a different but similar study than the one described in this article.
Diffusion tube
Diffusion tube.

Electronic CO monitors are available for $100 to $300. Another option is the little disposable CO monitors called diffusion tubes. With the holder they are about the size of a dry erase marker. Many are made by Drager, and for eight hours can record the cumulative CO. You can’t get an instantaneous reading, but the total hourly exposure can be monitored. They cost about $13 each. If one or two people on the crew carry them it can provide a heads up if the air quality is really bad.

What are the health effects of smoke exposure on a wildland fire?

Employers in most if not all workplaces are required to minimize hazards and provide a safe working environment. But of course it is impossible to totally eliminate all risks to firefighters. A cynic might assume that leadership in the wildland fire community may be hesitant to ask the question if they don’t want to hear the answer.

In spite of numerous studies confirming that yes, there is smoke where wildland firefighters work, there has been little in the literature that quantifies the effects on a person’s health. A new study published in August, 2017 contains a preliminary analysis addressing that question.

It is titled Wildland Fire Smoke Health Effects on Wildland Firefighters and the Public – Final Report to the Joint Fire Science Program. The authors are Joe Domitrovich, George Broyles, Roger D. Ottmar, Timothy E. Reinhardt, Luke P. Naeher, Michael T. Kleinman, Kathleen M. Navarro, Christopher E. Mackay, and Olorunfemi Adetona.

They used the field data collected in the 2009 to 2012 George Broyles study to extrapolate the physical and health effects on humans. The authors actually came up with numbers that indicate firefighters’ relative mortality risk for lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, and cardiovascular disease.
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