Canyon 2 Fire caused by ember from previous fire

The Canyon 2 Fire destroyed approximately 15 homes and damaged 45 others in Anaheim, California

Canyon Fire map
The red dots represent heat detected on the Canyon 2 Fire by a satellite at 2:54 a.m. October 10. The yellow dots were detected at 12:54 p.m. October 9. The Canyon Fire started September 25, and the spread was stopped a few days later. Click to enlarge.

The Canyon 2 Fire that burned 9,200 acres and destroyed or damaged 60 homes started from an ember that blew from the previous Canyon Fire that blackened 4,300 acres south of the 91 Freeway between Anaheim and Corona, California.

The cause of the Canyon 2 Fire was released Monday by Anaheim Fire & Rescue Chief Randy Bruegman. According to the LA Times, Chief Bruegmann said the ember originated about 20 feet inside the fireline of the first fire, the Canyon Fire, and was blown about 50 feet into brush outside the line.

The Canyon fire damaged four homes and started July 25 when a Caltrans road flare was knocked off the 91 Freeway into grass by a passing vehicle. The Canyon 2 Fire began October 9.

Interim Chief of the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), Patrick McIntosh revealed October 25 that the first full dispatch of fire suppression equipment to the Canyon 2 Fire occurred 71 minutes after the first report of “smoke and flames”. By the time the first units arrived, the new fire was well established. The Chief said he would recommend to the County Board of Supervisors an independent review be conducted of how the fire was handled.

The OCFA has the responsibility under a contract for suppressing vegetation fires within Anaheim city limits. Monday the LA Times reported Anaheim Chief Bruegman said that arrangement is currently under review.

Our Opinion

Of course hindsight is always 20/20, and investigations could confirm this or not — but a person could argue that if the OCFA had done two things differently, there may have been a vastly different outcome for the Canyon 2 Fire.

  1. Thorough mopup of the first fire, the Canyon Fire. Most wildfires are completely extinguished hundreds of feet inside the fireline or perimeter. The ember that the wind blew from the fire 15 days after it started, was only 20 feet from the perimeter.
  2. A reasonably quick and aggressive attack of the new fire, the Canyon 2 Fire, rather than a 71 minute delay.

RIP Stan Stewart

Stan Stewart
Stan Stewart. Photo from YouCaring.

A long-time wildland firefighter well known by many passed away Saturday night, November 4, with his wife, Allison, and son, Shane by his side. Stan Stewart lost his nine-year battle with cancer after spending his last days in a hospice in Santa Barbara, California.

As the Superintendent of the Los Padres Hotshots he became a mentor and father figure for decades of firefighters. Stan dedicated his life to training personnel and striving to improve the safety of boots on the ground. Many have have crossed paths with Stan at some point in his thirty-five year tenure with the L.P. Hotshots.

A fundraiser has been posted on YouCaring to help pay for Stan’s hospice care and other costs that were not covered by his health insurance. The site explains that his wife and 14-year old son have accumulated an overwhelming amount of medical bills.

Our sincere condolences go out to Allison, Shane, other members of his family, his friends, and co-workers.

Sonoma County officials criticized for inadequate warning about approaching wildfires

A system that can send emergency notifications to every cell phone in a designated area was not used.

Soon after the Pocket, Tubbs, and Nuns Fires burned thousands of homes in northern California in the days following the October 8 wind event, local residents began asking why they received no emergency notifications on their cell phones.

The day before, all cell phones in Rincon Valley east of Santa Rosa loudly blared with a message about a child abduction in San Francisco about 48 air miles to the south, but the Amber Alert system was not used as the wildfires bore down on the densely packed communities in Sonoma County.

Photo by Jeff Zimmerman
Tubbs Fire. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

Officials did use two other systems, Nixle and SoCo Alert, to send messages to less than 35,000 cell phone users. Those programs require people to opt-in or sign up in advance.

But most residents in Sonoma County did not receive any notifications by phone as the fires approached between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. They found out as neighbors knocked on their doors or police drove around blasting sirens.

At least 23 people in Sonoma County died in the fires.

Below are excerpts from an article in the Press Democrat:

“I’m emotional when it comes to this, and I’m a rational guy,” said Patrick McCallum, who fled the fires with his wife, Judy Sakaki, president of Sonoma State University.

They burned their bare feet and ran for their lives as flames tore through their Fountaingrove neighborhood. By that point, about 4 a.m., the Tubbs fire, which started outside Calistoga 9 miles to the east, had been burning more than six hours. McCallum, however, was only awakened by a smoke alarm and the couple’s home already was on fire. The landline phone in the bedroom never rang.

The [Amber Alert] program is available to the Sonoma County Emergency Services division, housed within the county fire department. Emergency officials have said publicly they opted against using the program because they didn’t want alerts to go out countywide and cause mass evacuations that could have prevented first responders from reaching affected areas.

“In this rushed environment to inform as many people as possible, we were worried that notification would go out too broadly, and potentially clog roads,” Sonoma County spokeswoman Hannah Euser said.

But state emergency officials have said the system can send messages to smaller geographic areas.

Inadequate notification of residents also occurred in November of last year as the Chimney Tops 2 Fire burned into Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Fourteen people died as a result of the wildfires and nearly 2,500 structures were damaged or destroyed by flames that charred more than 17,000 acres in and around Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Suicide rate among wildland firefighters is “astronomical”

From 2015 to 2016, 52 wildland firefighters took their own lives.

The number of wildland firefighters who have resorted to suicide is shocking — 52 in a two year period, 2015 to 2016. According to Nelda St. Clair of the Bureau of Land Management so far this year there have been another 16.

Wildland firefighting is a niche within the firefighting world. High rates of structural firefighters taking their own lives have been known for years, but these kinds of “astronomical” numbers, as described by Ms. St. Clair, in a much smaller population is stunning. There are only about 13,000 wildland firefighters in the five major federal land management agencies, along with several thousand others working for state and local agencies. It is likely that most of them personally know a firefighting brother or sister who succumbed to what might be called an epidemic.

Assuming for a moment that there are 17,000 wildland firefighters in the United States, approximately 0.3 percent of them took their own lives in 2015 and 2016 — a shocking percentage.

Most firefighters in general, and in particular, wildland firefighters, have a macho, can-do attitude, regardless of their gender. Just give them an objective, and they will figure out how to get it done, with little or no outside help. This can carry over into their personal lives and mental state. When the fire season is over their environment may shift from being part of a close brotherhood working with their buddies for long hours toward a common goal, to something completely different. The reduction in adrenalin and accomplishment of important tasks is more difficult for some to adjust to than others. Suicide rates can rise during the wildland fire off-season.

The fact that a national publication, The Atlantic, has published an in-depth article on the issue is an indicator of the seriousness of this problem. I suggest you read the entire article, but here is an excerpt:

…It’s hard to quantify both completed and attempted suicide rates in populations that aren’t prone to talk about mental health, but both factors are known to be high among “structure” firefighters—those who fight fires in buildings—and members of the military who face similar traumatic, high-stress situations as wildland firefighters. Jeff Dill, a captain at a fire station in Inverness, Illinois, and the founder of the Firefighter Behavioral-Health Alliance, which tracks firefighter suicides, says firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. In a 2015 study on suicide risk in firefighters, half of those who responded reported that they’d contemplated suicide.

Those concepts align with the wildland reports: St. Clair says they’ve lost five smoke jumpers to suicide in the last seven years, and had two in-the-line-of-duty deaths in the same period. But while structure and wildland firefighters are similar, the groups aren’t perfect analogs, which is why it’s particularly hard to address some of the most insidious risks for wildland firefighters. Urban firefighters, and people who fight structure fires, will usually have year-round work, health insurance, and mandatory trauma training. Their support system is fundamentally different…

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center’s Spring 2017 edition of Two More Chains was dedicated to this issue. An excerpt:

…In researching suicide in the wildland fire service for this issue of Two More Chains, it has been brought to our attention that, in some cases, a stigma regarding employee suicide has been observed not so much among young firefighters—who, it is said, are more open to addressing their emotions—but among some more senior wildland fire and agency managers who are apparently uncomfortable addressing the topic of mental health.

Unfortunately, we have learned that, in at least one instance, a fire manager believed that a firefighter who had died by suicide should not be entitled to an honor guard or a memorial stone in the Wildland Firefighter Foundation monument at NIFC, “because it would dishonor those who died innocently.” Similarly, we have heard about fire managers who have declined offers of free critical stress debriefings for their staff after a coworker suicide—without even asking their staff.

It’s also been brought to our attention that employees have been directed not to send emails that contain information about someone dying by suicide or to mention it in staff meetings—even though the victim’s family has been open about their family member’s cause of death.

We hope and believe that these are isolated incidents. That they are exceptions to the positive efforts that our fire agencies are currently pursuing—reflected throughout the input from our agency SMEs that is shared in this issue’s “SME Insights and Info” document.

By openly addressing the topic of mental health among our employees we can embrace the notion that this issue is no different than any other injury or disease.

We need to help ensure that all of our managers and senior leaders are on board with this enlightened perspective. We should not blame the victim, or treat the person in pain as “weak,” or otherwise refuse to acknowledge their mental health problems.

To be sure, if safety is truly our top priority, then it is our duty to take care of all of our people…

Two More Chains highlights work that is being done on this issue by several people, some of whom are intimately familiar with wildland firefighting. Patty O’Brien worked for 10 years on the Lolo Interagency Hotshot Crew and has a total of 15 years’ experience as a wildland firefighter. She is a fifth year PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Montana.

Kim Lightley writes about how she experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after nine of her fellow crewmembers of the Prineville Hotshots were killed on the 1994 South Canyon Fire along with five other firefighters. After dealing with depression and survivor’s guilt for two years she sought counseling, which helped.

She wrote in Two More Chains:

When I was in the depths of PTSD—because I had all the symptoms—it would have been really awesome if somebody would have come up to me and said: ‘Hey, what you’re experiencing right now is normal, because what you experienced is very abnormal’. If I had heard that, I think I would have felt less crazy.

Today she is the Critical Incident Response Program Management Specialist for the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire and Aviation Management program.

Amanda Marsh’s husband Eric Marsh was one of the 19 firefighters that perished on the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. She established the Eric Marsh Foundation which is committed to serving those directly affected by wildland line-of-duty deaths, as well as living wildland firefighters and their families. We asked for her insight:

It saddens me greatly knowing that our wildland firefighters are suffering. In 2015 I came very close to ending my life. I have PTSD and we are not talking about this enough in the fire service, wildland or structure.

PTSD is cumulative. Every traumatic event builds upon the last one, creating a situation where sometimes we feel so hopeless and so helpless that taking our lives seems like the only way out.

At the end of the season the fire family often disburses and the support that was so available during the fire season is no longer present in the way it was. We must begin talking about PTSD in every department, every agency. Our wildland firefighters deserve better, they deserve the ability to discuss openly and without fear of judgement when the stresses of the job begin to compound. I am talking about PTSD, I am talking about suicide openly because it is the right thing to do.

There is help out there. Call the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255). We also offer help through the Eric Marsh Foundation for Wildland Firefighters by helping wildland firefighters get treatment for PTSD. You are not alone. There are many of us who know how you feel. You are loved and you are seen and you are valid.

Further reading

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center solicited and received insight from six wildland fire agency subject matter experts about the wildland firefighter suicide issue.

Help

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Brian.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Wildfire potential, November through February

On November 1 the Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for November through February. The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the ten Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.

If the prediction is accurate, Southern California should see higher than normal wildfire activity well into next year.

Below are:

  • The highlights of the NIFC report;
  • NIFC’s graphical outlooks;
  • NOAA’s long range temperature and precipitation forecasts; and
  • Drought Monitor.

“Warm and dry conditions continued across California and the Southwest in October. Several easterly, multi-day wind events coupled with high heat and very low humidity values contributed to significant bursts of fire activity California mid-month. A passing front at the end of the third week of the month brought much needed moisture to the dry fuels across the northern half of the state. The southern half of the Great Basin also saw an increase in grass fire activity during the month due to the warm, dry, and occasionally breezy conditions.

“Looking elsewhere, most of the rest of the nation exited the core fire season though occasional activity was observed along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana and Wyoming. The autumn fire season in the Southeast was much quieter than the previous year due to the passage of several wet cold fronts that brought timely and occasionally abundant moisture.

“Temperatures across the East, Southwest, and California were generally above average for the month with some locations along both the East and West Coasts reaching as much as fifteen degrees above average at points. The Pacific Northwest, Northern Rockies, northern Great Basin, and central Rockies generally experienced cooler-than-average conditions though a warming trend developed near month’s end. Alaska was generally colder and wetter than average.

“Precipitation departures from average showed significant dryness across the southwestern quarter of the nation and across much of Texas. Significantly wet conditions were observed across the Northwestern quarter of the country as several very wet systems impacted the region during the middle to latter half of the month. Another wet signal for the month was observed across the Great Lakes Region and the Ohio and Tennessee River Valleys.

“Latest forecast data suggests that California will remain the focus of periodic bursts in fire activity through November and possibly into December. Portions of the Deep South may also exhibit increased activity in between precipitation events as well. By February, the focus will shift to the southern Great Plains as the antecedent dry conditions begin to take its toll.”


wildfire potential december, 2017

january february 2018 wildfire potential Continue reading “Wildfire potential, November through February”

37 million fire extinguishers may not work — Kidde issues recall

Today the Consumer Products Safety Commission announced a massive recall of 37.8 million Kidde fire extinguishers in the United States. The safety related issues are the plastic handles and nozzles that can break, become clogged, or require excessive force to discharge, and they may fail to activate during a fire emergency. In addition, the nozzle can detach with enough force to pose an impact hazard. About 2.7 million of the extinguishers were also sold in Canada.

The recall applies to some Kidde models manufactured during the last 43 years.

The CPSC points to the death of a person in 2014 who died after his car crashed and burned. Police attempted to use two of the suspect extinguishers, but both failed.

The CPSC website has a list of the models that are affected. Consumers having one of the extinguishers should immediately contact Kidde to request a free replacement and for instructions on returning the recalled unit, as it may not work properly when needed during an emergency.

Someone spending time trying to get a defective extinguisher to work would be much better off escaping from the fire.

Kidde fire extinguisher recall