We have often advocated the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighting, which is knowing the real time location of firefighters and the fire.
There are many different technologies and platforms for collecting and displaying data about the location of the fire, but the information collected has yet to become commonplace in the hands fireline supervisors on the ground.
A similar situation exists for tracking the location of firefighting resources — personnel and equipment. The technology has existed for years, but the “deciders” in the National and State capitals have not recognized its importance for providing situational awareness, so it is only being used in a few scattered areas.
The Colorado Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting (yes, they are still using that name) recently evaluated and tested two consumer-level personal tracking devices, the SPOT Gen3® and the Garmin inReach® (formerly known as the DeLorme inReach).
Wildland firefighters frequently operate in remote areas and are often a significant distance away from their supervisors or other nearby units. Additionally, wildland firefighters typically communicate with voice radios operating in analog mode, which does not facilitate location tracking or other digital situational awareness. One technology proposed to overcome these limitations and provide GPS location tracking and messaging for firefighters is satellite messengers. The Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting (CoE) was requested to conduct a study of these devices to analyze their utility for firefighters. This study illustrated the technical specifications of two consumer-grade satellite messengers, the SPOT Gen3® and the Garmin inReach® (formerly known as the DeLorme inReach), and provided information on service options and costs. The study also assessed the capabilities of the SOS feature common to both devices and employed field trials to evaluate the performance of the devices in various types of vegetation and terrain.
The CoE found that the SPOT device provides a one-way flow of information from the device user to others using predesignated email addresses, text messages, or website access. This device requires programming ahead of use to designate the time interval for location tracking, as well as the content of the three types of messages it can send. The inReach device provides a two-way flow of information, with others able to communicate with the device user via email, text message, or website.
The SPOT device successfully transmitted a test SOS message from a meadow with a clear view of the sky, which then led to the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control Duty Officer being notified of the SOS within 3 minutes. The SOS testing scenario was on a prescribed pile burn under the control of the area interagency fire management unit and the plan was for the Duty Officer to contact the interagency dispatch center regarding the SOS and have them establish radio contact with the unit in distress. Unfortunately, the phone system at the dispatch center was down during the test and no notification could be made. The CoE recommends that for mission-critical applications like wildland fire, the SOS feature be tied directly into relevant computer-aided dispatch systems—a complex requirement for interagency centers that frequently host firefighters from off-unit and from a variety of agencies.
To determine the utility of the satellite messengers for personnel tracking, six field trials were conducted—two each in minimal, moderate, and heavy forest canopy. For each level of canopy, one test was conducted in rolling terrain and one in rugged terrain. These tests sought to establish the rate at which the location of a firefighter walking the perimeter of a simulated 100-acre fire with both devices set on a 5-minute tracking interval would be known to a supervisor watching in real-time via an Internet connection.
The CoE determined that both devices can transmit location information successfully with minimal delays when used under minimal and moderate forest canopies. However, under a heavy forest canopy the devices experienced difficulties. The SPOT device failed to transmit 20% of points and the inReach device took more than 5 minutes to transmit 50% of points (and during one test, failed to transmit 35% of points). The CoE recommends shortening the tracking interval when operating under heavy forest canopies to increase the odds of successful transmissions and cautions against relying solely on these devices to achieve situational awareness for firefighters operating under heavy forest canopies.
The FBI released more information Monday about the January 5 shooting in Arizona that left one person deceased:
A Forest Service Officer stopped to render assistance to a vehicular traffic accident. An altercation occurred between the officer and the subject, Tyler Miller of Kansas. It was later determined the officer was injured and treated on the scene by EMS personnel. Miller was shot and transferred to a medical center and later declared deceased.
(UPDATED at 12:50 p.m. MST January 7, 2018)
According to KWCH, the person killed in the shooting that involved a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer January 5 has been identified as Tyler Miller. The uninjured USFS officer has not been named.
The FBI says 51-year-old Tyler Miller was injured and later died at a hospital. The officer’s name was not released, he suffered no injuries.
According to the office of the Kansas Secretary of State, Miller is the owner of TNT Bonding in Hutchinson [Kansas]. The family’s attorney, Matt Bretz, says Miller is a well-respected entrepreneur from Hutchinson.
The FBI says Miller was involved in a wreck earlier that evening.
(Originally published at 8:14 a.m. MST January 6, 2018)
A U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer was involved in a shooting Friday January 5 north of Sedona, Arizona. According to local media the officer was not injured but one person was transported and pronounced dead at a hospital.
State Route 89A was closed for about five hours as the FBI investigated the incident.
Ten years ago today I started a little blog where I could post my thoughts about what was happening in the world of wildland fire. It was hosted on Blogger.com but used our own domain name, WildfireToday.com. When registering the name I was surprised to find that it was still available. I was also surprised to find FireAviation.com still available in November 2012.
After a year or two at Blogger, I migrated the blog to a site that hosted about a dozen fire-related blogs. Our site maintained its own identity, but after a few months I became disenchanted with some of the rules and restrictions, and finally moved Wildfire Today to its own self-hosted site, where it has remained.
It is the readers and those who participate with intelligent, thought-provoking comments and questions that make this a destination for millions of visitors every year who are interested in an exchange of ideas. Of course, we owe a lot to the advertisers who support the site making it possible to pay the hosting expenses and even a stipend to our guest writers when I am unavailable.
If you are a regular visitor, an advertiser, or if you’re here for the first time — thank you for your support!
According to experience from Colorado’s Fourmile Canyon Fire, sometimes the answer is “No”.
When Dave Lasky was leading the effort in the Four Mile Fire Protection District not far from Boulder, Colorado conducting pre-fire mitigation near structures, he and others assumed that doing SOMETHING, cutting trees and building slash piles, would be better than doing nothing. They realized it would not be the total solution in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), but when the Fourmile Canyon Fire started on September 2, 2010 the Fire Protection District found out how wrong they were.
After the ashes cooled, Dr. Jack Cohen, a U.S. Forest Service fire researcher who has investigated the effects on structures at numerous WUI fires, found what he has seen many times before (more details here). Most of the damaged homes, 83 percent in this case, ignited from airborne fire embers or surface fire spreading to contact the structure; not from high intensity crown fire or direct flame impingement.
The fuel reduction along travel corridors may have helped residents to evacuate, but the unburned slash piles, Mr. Lasky said, could have been a problem:
In several areas, our crew’s piles were associated with complete stand mortality. We created ladders into the canopy. At best, these unburned piles represented a sad waste of money, and at worst, it is possible that if we hadn’t treated them, these stands might not have carried fire.
“Doing something is not better than doing nothing.
When the mitigation crew approached residents in the past, they often said, “I didn’t move up here to see my neighbors. I don’t want to cut trees.” In an effort to build momentum, we often performed work that we knew was not reflective of the best science, cutting fewer trees than we should have. This practice was in regard to both defensible space as well as shaded fuel-break projects. The hope was that as communities adjusted to the cosmetic changes, we’d be able to reenter and accomplish more.
“I still hear many colleagues say “let’s just get something done.” I believe this is wrong. We need to do it right or not do it at all. Half measures are proven to fail and engaging in them has great reputational costs. In the current climate of high-profile, catastrophic fires, I am not interested in fear mongering. But I am interested in applying our limited resources to only those communities that are fully committed.
“It’s not just about cutting trees in the wildland-urban interface.
Fuels crews are run by firefighters. Perhaps they should be run by architects. In retrospect, we spent far too much money on fuels reduction and not enough on assisting residents with the installation of fire-resistant building materials and landscaping. Few of the homes lost were directly impacted by crown fire; rather, embers undoubtedly ignited the fine fuels around them, which eventually led to the loss of entire structures. In many instances, residents would have been better served by our crew putting a decorative stone perimeter around the structure. Many residents are capable of cleaning gutters, but less can move tons of gravel. We had chainsaws, and we knew how to use them. We should have picked up our shovels instead.”
Some people learn or are stimulated most effectively by reading, or hearing someone talk about a subject. Others, like myself, respond better visually. For me, there is truth in the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. So I can appreciate well-thought-out graphics that tell a story.
Lauren Tierney started her job with the Washington Post’s graphics department in November and yesterday she had her first graphics story published. If you click on the image in the Tweet below, the perimeters of wildfires that burned last year in California will be superimposed around an outline of the District of Columbia.
The article at the Washington Post website has additional fire-related graphics. One shows all of the 2017 fires on a map of California, and another allows you to choose which city you’d like to compare to the Thomas Fire, which became the largest in the recorded history of the state.
Frankly, when a reporter compares the size of a fire to a city, like, “The XXX Fire is the larger than Pittsburgh”, that does not mean a lot to me. But these maps take it to a new level.
I had occasional problems getting all of the graphics to render properly using the Chrome web browser, but they worked fine with Firefox.