Congressman pays for forest fire–finally

“WASHINGTON, DC – June 4 – For more than four years, a prominent Republican congressman refused to pay charges assessed by the U.S. Forest Service for a fire he set which burned out of control, according to agency records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Political intervention repeatedly delayed both billing and collecting from U.S. Representative Henry Brown (R-South Carolina), including a delinquent payment demand that was retracted this March, only to be re-issued in April with more than $1,000 in penalties waived.

“Due to political meddling, the Forest Service has spent well more than $100,000 in staff time to collect less than $5,000 from Congressman Brown,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Representative Brown got more than kid glove treatment in this case; he was handled with asbestos mitts by a Forest Service petrified of its political bosses.”

The original incident was back on March 5, 2004, when Rep. Brown set a prescribed burn on his property on a day in which a “Red Flag Alert” was issued due to high winds. The fire quickly burned more than 200 acres of Brown’s land and crossed over into the Francis Marion National Forest, burning another 20 acres there. The Forest Service needed a helicopter, three fire engines and a bulldozer to bring the fire under control. A Forest Service review of the fire found that Brown was negligent:

“Mr. Brown was not adequately prepared to detect, or adequately equipped to suppress, the escaped fire on 5 March 2004 with only two men, a bucket of water, and no means of delivery of that water to the escaped fire.”

Agency policy requires collection of all costs of fire suppression, but U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey blocked that assessment after meeting with Rep. Brown. In fact, the agency did not even issue a criminal notice of violation (a $250 fine) for six months and did so only after Forest Service law enforcement agents filed a whistleblower complaint that was publicized by PEER. Brown paid that fine, after the ticket was hand delivered to his Capitol office in September 2004.

At that time, Undersecretary Rey directed the Forest Service to re-examine its civil collection practices before proceeding any further against Rep. Brown. Following that ordered review, on January 28, 2005 the Forest Service sent Rep. Brown a bill for $4747.18 but the congressman refused to pay.”

The above is from Click HERE to read the rest of the article.

Coal dust fire burns child

An 8-year-old boy suffered burns on his foot when he walked into an area of Golden Hills park in Colorado Springs, CO that was covered in coal dust. The dust, left over from coal mining operations about 80 years earlier, was on fire, smoldering, and it melted the boy’s plastic shoe and gave him second degree burns. If the boy had not “discovered” the fire, it would have spread into nearby vegetation. The cause of the fire was unknown.

The temperature of the coal dust was 800 degrees. An engineer with the Colorado Division of Reclamation said the dust must have been dumped on the surface, and it was not a deep-seated underground coal seam burning. Crews put out the fire, installed fences, and planned to put dirt over the dust and revegetate the area.

Fire season outlook for Washington

The Wenatchee World web site has an interesting story about the outlook for fire activity in north central Washington state this year.

Officials say other than a late start to the season, there are no strong indicators for predicting this year’s season.

“We’re always going to have a fire season. And it’s always going to depend on how receptive (fuels) are to ignition, and then, do we get ignition,” said Bobbie Scopa, fire management officer for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests.

Scopa said the season will partly depend on June rains, although lots of rain can mean high grasses, which dry out quickly in hot weather and allow for a fast-spreading fire. Mostly, she said, it will depend on the number of fires started by lightning storms, escaped campfires or vehicles and equipment without spark arresters.

Scopa said snowpack may help determine when the fire season will start but isn’t always an indicator of the severity of the season. She pointed to 2005, one of the driest winters on record, when North Central Washington saw little fire activity. That was followed by 2006, when a winter with heavy snowpack melted into a summer with the 175,000-acre Tripod Fire — the largest wildfire in the region’s history.

“It’s pretty tough to make too big a prediction,” she said.

However, Rick Ochoa, a meteorologist working at NICC in Boise, said:

“…the cooler spring weather and heavy snowpack do mean that overall there’s a slimmer chance that the Northwest will have numerous large fires.”

Ochoa further goes out on a limb to predict:

“…the Northwest will see 473 fires, burning 17,873 acres by the end of June. That’s compared with an average for June 30 of 605 fires burning 24,508 acres.”

Holy crap! I wonder where he pulled those numbers out of? I have never seen a prediction like that. Personally, I like the statements attributed to FMO Bobbie Scopa a lot better.

As I have said in other posts, I am convinced that the severity of the fire season is mostly determined by the weather during the fire season, and less so by the amount of precipitation during the winter.

More information is at the Wenachee World web site.

Get Your Smokey On

This morning an updated Smokey Bear campaign launched, featuring a new round of television, radio, print, outdoor, and Web ads. The ads were created pro bono, by Draftfcb, the same advertising agency that has been creating the advertising for Smokey Bear since 1944. Here’s a new 30 second video that has Smokey on a mountain bike:

They added a new twist this time. Some of the ads ask that young adults step in and intervene if others act carelessly. The voice of Sam Elliot encourages audiences to “Get Your Smokey On”. And Smokey asks that you prevent “wildfires”, not “forest fires”. I think that change was made a few years ago.

A second series of ads produced by the Walt Disney Company is also launching this week featuring characters from the film Sleeping Beauty.

The Smokey Bear website has also been redesigned.

UPDATE: Due to a controversy, the video campaign was cancelled. More info.

UC Davis begins Aviation Safety Certificate program

The University of California at Davis is beginning a program to certify those involved in emergency response aviation. It appears that the curriculum is designed for individuals who manage aviation, and not necessarily pilots. They will cater to:

“aviation safety officers, emergency services pilots, forest firefighter aviators, border patrol aviators, medical-air transport personnel, law enforcement, homeland security officers and anyone involved in the field of emergency response aviation.”

The program consists of six courses, offered between October, 2008, and February, 2009:

• Aircraft Health Management
• Communications: Program Management
• Communications: Operations Management
• Aviation Leadership
• Human Factors and Operational Risk Management
• Safety Program Management

The certificate program focuses on:

“monitoring aircraft health, developing effective communication strategies, and instituting the principles of safe aviation operations”.

The courses will be held at the U. S. Forest Service training facility at McClellan Park, Sacramento, CA. UC Davis brags that the facility has

“high-tech resources and equipment, including a 10-megawatt nuclear reactor.”

I always prefer to conduct training at a classroom that has access to a nuclear reactor too.

More information can be found HERE.

Receive Wildfire Today on Twitter

The first 140 characters of our blog posts are now being distributed by Twitter. You can receive them by instant message, as a text message on your cell phone, or on your Twitter web page . Our twitter name is: wildfiretoday

We just started this, so there may be a few bugs to work out. We’ll have to concentrate on putting the most important information in the first 140 characters. In most cases, you’ll have to come here to read the whole story since obviously we can’t tell you everything in 140 characters.

The Twitter web site is rather pathetic, so if you want to know more about it, check out the Wikipedia entry for Twitter. But here’s a quote from the Twitter site:

The New York Times calls Twitter “one of the fastest-growing phenomena on the Internet.” TIME Magazine says, “Twitter is on its way to becoming the next killer app,” and Newsweek noted that “Suddenly, it seems as though all the world’s a-twitter.”