Red Flag Warnings, March 11, 2015

Red Flag Warning, 3-11-2015

Red Flag Warnings have been issued for areas in Nebraska and South Dakota on Wednesday for relative humidity in the low teens and strong winds gusting at 30 to 35 mph.

The map was current as of 8:45 a.m. MDT on Wednesday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts. For the most current data visit this NWS site.

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Federal government files suit against railroad for starting fire in Indiana

fire in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

The fire in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on March 10, 2012. (screen grab from the video below).

For decades the railroads in northwest Indiana south of Lake Michigan have been starting fires on private and public land, including Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Caused mostly by poor maintenance of their spark arrestors, the railroad companies were rarely if ever held accountable for the damage they caused.

In one case that may be changing. According to the Chicago Tribune, the federal government has filed suit against the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad which goes through Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The railroad allegedly started what became a 391-acre fire on March 10, 2012 that spread seven miles across the park, forcing residents of the community of Ogden Dunes to evacuate.

Below is an excerpt from the article in the Chicago Tribune:

…The fire burned through 391 acres of the national lakeshore, including the lakeshore’s Karner blue butterfly habitat, where the park had been trying to reintroduce the endangered species and to study the best landscape variations to do so.

The fire destroyed the data from the research, according to the lawsuit, along with other park property.

The government says that evidence, including a video, shows that hot cinders from a passing Indiana Harbor train were ejected from the train, which the lawsuit claims started the brush fire.

It adds that two of the train’s spark arrestor carbon traps were plugged and that front exhaust stack opening showed moderate to heavy carbon accumulation.

The government is asking that Indiana Harbor pay for all the damages and forfeit two of its locomotives toward that cost.

The video below shows a portion of the fire that day in 2012.

We wrote about the 2012 fire HERE and HERE.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Joe.

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South Dakota: North Pole Fire

North Pole Fire

A Black Hills National Forest engine crew makes sure the North Pole Fire does not spread into the meadow near Highway 18 west of Custer, SD. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(UPDATE at 11:10 a.m. MDT, March 11, 2015)

The North Pole Fire west of Custer, South Dakota has not grown since late yesterday. The size is now reported to be 59.3 acres and is being held in check by hand firelines, dozer lines, and roads. Firefighters from multiple agencies staffed the fire overnight and a new shift has taken over today. There have been no reported injuries.

In something that is fairly new for South Dakota, yesterday and today inmates from the “Rapid City Minimum Unit” were assigned to the fire; 11 yesterday and 12 today.

State and federal investigators are attempting to determine the cause.

While there is a Red Flag Warning in effect for south-central South Dakota, the weather forecast is not as extreme for the area where the fire is in the Black Hills in the southwest part of the state. The spot weather forecast for the fire, which is 5,600′ above sea level, issued at 5:27 a.m. on Wednesday calls for sun, 62 degrees, 15 percent relative humidity, and afternoon west winds of 10 to 15 mph, gusting to 20. For Thursday they expect partly cloudy skies, 56 degrees, 27 percent RH, and winds out of the northwest at 5 to 10 mph.

The name of the fire came from the nearby North Pole Spring and North Pole Road, which is also known as FDR 288.

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When I arrived at the North Pole Fire six to eight miles west of Custer, South Dakota, (map) at about 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10, the firefighters had just about stopped the spread. It was burning in timber adjacent to a complex of cabins and had bumped up against a meadow on the southwest side near Highway 16. The sun was setting and I grabbed a few pictures like the one above before the light swung into near-night mode, which provided some opportunities for shots of firefighters illuminated by flames. Click on the images to see larger versions.

North Pole Fire

North Pole Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

North Pole Fire

North Pole Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Firefighters did a good job of protecting the structures seen in these photos.

The 8:31 p.m. update from the Great Plains Fire Information staff put the size at about 60 acres, on a combination of private and Black Hills National Forest land. Firefighters will be on the fire all night Tuesday and will have fresh crews on the fire Wednesday.

North Pole Fire

A firefighter uses a chain saw to buck a burning log on the North Pole Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

North Pole Fire

Embers fly as a firefighter with a Pulaski mops up the North Pole Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

North Pole Fire

As a firefighter throws a burning branch deeper into the North Pole Fire, embers streak through the air. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

It is not that unusual to have wildfires in the Black Hills in March and April. While it can snow in these months, the herbaceous vegetation is still dead and there are frequently dry spells between the precipitation events. Prescribed fires are often conducted this time of the year before green-up begins in May, however the weather in the spring is usually very variable and it can sometimes be difficult to squeeze in a prescribed fire in this season. The spring of 2014, for example, was wetter than normal and little to no broadcast burning occurred.

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Prosecution of girl accused of starting Cocos Fire hinges on an ember that may have traveled 0.44 miles

The trial began today for a girl who was 13 when she was accused of starting a fire last year in San Diego County. In May, 2014 the Cocos Fire burned 1,995 acres and destroyed 36 homes in San Marcos, California, north of San Diego.

The prosecution hinges on the theory that when the girl ignited a “branch” in her back yard, an ember from that fire traveled 0.44 miles to start the Cocos Fire west of Escondido and south of San Marcos. According to NBC 7 in San Diego the defense will have an investigator from CAL FIRE testify that the ember could not have traveled that far to start the fire.

The Cocos Fire, first called the Washingtonia Fire, was one of at least 10 fires that burned in San Diego County during the same time period in mid-May, 2014.

map Cocos Fire

Map showing the Cocos Fire. The dark red squares represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:27 p.m. PDT, May 15, 2014. The location of the icons can be as much as a mile in error.

Our May, 2014 coverage of the Cocos Fire.

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Critical fire on Wednesday in Nebraska

Critical fire danger 3-11-2015

The map showing critical fire weather and a Red Flag Warning in Nebraska for Wednesday looks like a bulls eye in the center of the country. Elevated fire danger is in the forecast for parts of South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.

Over the next couple of days portions of South Dakota and Nebraska are expecting highs in the 60s and 70s, winds 20 to 35 mph, and relative humidity of 20 to 35 percent.

elevated fire danger south dakota nebraska

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DOI to implement plan to address rangeland fire prevention, management, and restoration

The Department of the Interior continues to address the issue of restoring rangelands, with one of the primary objectives being to reduce the threats to the greater sage-grouse in the Great Basin.

On March 9 the Department released “SO 3336 — The Initial Report” which identifies actions to be implemented prior to the onset of the 2015 Western fire season. The BLM, Fire and Aviation will lead the development of all actions associated with the initiative.

Below is a list that summarizes some of those actions that are related to wildland fire management, and following that is the text of a message released on March 10 that provides more information. More details about each item are in “The Initial Report”.

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“Prior to the 2015 Western wildfire season, all units that manage priority greater sage-grouse habitat will complete the actions identified in this section of the Initial Report:

  • Increase the capabilities and use of rural/volunteer fire departments and RFPAs and enhance the development and use of veterans crews.
  • Ensure local, multi-agency coordination (MAC) groups are functional, and MAC plans are updated.
  • Ensure local, multi-agency coordination (MAC) groups are functional, and MAC plans are updated.
  • Apply a coordinated, risk-based approach to wildfire response to assure initial attack response to priority areas.
  • Develop a standardized set of briefing materials.
  • Review and update local plans and agreements for consistency and currency to ensure initial attack response to priority greater sage-grouse areas.
  • Develop supplemental guidance for the use of “severity funding.”
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of action plans.
  • Increase the availability of technology and technology transfer to fire management managers and suppression resources.
  • Improve the description and awareness of critical resource values threatened in various stages of the fire response process including large fire management.
  • Ensure compliance and evaluation of the implementation plan action items.”

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Below is information released by the DOI today, March 10:

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“Secretary Jewell Issues Strategy to Protect, Restore Sagebrush Lands for 2015 Fire Season.
Report advances work with Federal, state, Tribal and non-government partners to protect economic activity and wildlife habitat vital to the Western way of life.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today released the first of two reports developed by the Rangeland Fire Task Force. This initial report includes actions to be implemented by Interior’s bureaus to immediately address the threat of rangeland fire to Western sagebrush-steppe landscapes and improve fire management efforts before the start of the 2015 wildfire season.

“Cheatgrass and other invasive species have contributed to making rangeland fire one of the greatest threats in the Great Basin – not only to sagebrush habitat, but to wildlife, ranching, and other economic activities that depend on a healthy landscape,” Secretary Jewell said. “As we head into the 2015 fire season, the actions recommended in this report will help ensure that our preparedness, response and recovery strategies better align with the threats facing the West.”

Secretarial Order 3336, signed by Secretary Jewell on January 5, 2015, called for the development of a comprehensive, science-based strategy to reduce the size, severity and cost of rangeland fires; address the spread of cheatgrass and other invasive species; and position wildland fire management resources for more effective rangeland fire response. The Order called for the creation of an implementation plan, initial report, and final report. The Implementation Plan, completed on January 31, 2015, established a roadmap to accomplish the objectives of the Order. This initial report released today outlines actions and activities that the Department, in collaboration with partners and interested stakeholders, can take prior to the onset of the 2015 Western wildfire season. The goal is to protect, restore and conserve vital sagebrush landscapes and productive rangelands, particularly in the Great Basin region of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California.

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