Wildfire news, August 19, 2008

Ellreese Daniels’ sentencing

A reminder…. the sentencing is tomorrow,Wednesday, August 20 at 10 a.m. in Spokane. Daniels plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of making false statements to investigators for actions on the Thirtymile fire.

We will have the results of the sentencing here as soon as it is available.

August 20, a big day in wildland fire

Not only will Ellreese be sentenced, but…

It is 20 years after the single biggest day on the Yellowstone Area Fires. From the IAWF’s Wildland Fire Event Calendar:

In the summer of 1988 numerous fires burned 793,000 acres of Yellowstone National Park as well as large tracts of land surrounding the park. 

Half of the acres burned inside the park resulted from fires that started outside the boundary. Nine of the fires were human-caused, and 42 were started by lightning.

On the worst single day, August 20, 1988, tremendous winds pushed fire across more than 150,000 acres. Throughout August and early September, some park roads and facilities were closed to the public, and residents of nearby towns outside the park feared for their property and their lives.

Yellowstone’s fire management policy was the topic of heated debate, from the restaurants of park border towns to the halls of Congress. Following this event, the National Park Service and other federal land management agencies rewrote their policies affecting how they managed fires with less than full suppression strategies.

And, it is 98 years after the Big Blowup of 1910 in the northwest:

As the fires scaled up, the fledgling U.S. Forest Service, barely five years old, tried to match them. It rounded up whatever men it could beg, borrow, or buy and shipped them into the backcountry. The crews established camps, cut firelines along ridgetops, and backfired. 

Over and again, one refrain after another, the saga continued of fires contained, of fires escaping, of new trenches laid down. Then the Big Blownp of 20-21 August shredded it all. Farms, mining camps, trestles, hobo camps, and whole towns cracked and burned. Those on the lines heard that savage thunder and felt a heat that could melt iron and buffeted in winds that could scatter whole trees like leaves and stared, senseless, into smoke too dense to see their own hands before them. Crews dropped their saws and mattocks and fled.

That day seventy-eight firefighters died.

Bridge Creek fire

This wildland fire use fire in central Oregon that blew out on Saturday and Sunday, burning outside the Ochoco National Forest, slowed on Monday due to more moderate weather. The incident management team is calling it 3,000 acres.

Redding Jumpers set record

The Redding smoke jumpers have done 562 individual jumps as of Monday, which breaks the previous season record of 523

“We have been busy — consistently busy,” said Scott Smith, a smoke jumper at the base. “Normally there is a lull.” 

Not this year, jumpers said.

The California Smokejumper base, the only smoke-jumper base in the state and one of only nine in the country, has a regular staff of about 40 jumpers during the fire season. That number goes up and down depending on the amount of fire activity. In June, it went way up.

“At one point during the summer we had 140,” Bente said of the jumpers working out of the base.

Those extra jumpers came from Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington — from all of the eight other bases in the country.

Hawaii tourists evacuated from fire via watercraft

A vegetation fire on the Hawaiian island of Kauai trapped 35 hikers who had to be evacuated by firefighters using jet skis and a Zodiac boat. The fire which started early Sunday morning has burned about 50 acres. More details are HERE.

iPod “wildfires”

According to Register Hardware:

The long dry* summer wears on, rendering habitats parched and flammable as tinder. Pockets containing iPods are one such habitat and the annual outbreak of gadgetry-related conflagrations is under way. 

A particularly severe pocket wildfire epidemic is raging at this moment in Japan, where Reuters reports that roaring infernos have erupted following terrifying iPod-centred meltdowns on at least three recent occasions.

Nobody was injured during the three fires, leading to speculation that these occasions may have seen the partly-nibbled-fruit branded musical gizmos docked, lying artfully strewn on coffee tables or perhaps pocketed in robust, flame-resistant Nipponese garments of some sort. However, it appeared that on at least two other occasions iPod users had suffered “minor burns”, presumably to the trouser region – though this was not confirmed.

The latter incidents bring to mind the horrific, eye-watering incident last year in which an inferno gutted the underpants of an airport worker in Atlanta, with the flames “reaching his chest”, according to his distraught mother. On that occasion, with smoke belching from his trousers in an airport, iPod owner Danny Williams was considered fortunate not to be mistaken for a suicide bomber and riddled with bullets by jumpy plods.

Returning to this week’s gadget fireball outbreak, it appears that a “semi-governmental” Japanese agency specialising in incidents of this type will look into the matter in cooperation with Apple. It seems that certain iPod Nanos sold in Japan from September 2005 to September 2006 have been fingered ahead of the probe.

Flooding in Grand Canyon, update

The Grand Canyon National Park helitack crew was heavily involved in this massive rescue. From the National Park Service:

The evacuation of people from Supai Canyon following this weekend’s serious floods continued yesterday. Another 85 people were airlifted from Supai Village to the Hualapai Hilltop area on Monday morning, while other drove to the American Red Cross evacuation center located at the tribal gymnasium in Peach Springs. Seven helicopters from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the National Park Service and the Arizona National Guard were employed in the operation. 

Rescuers are continuing their efforts to determine if anyone is still missing and are conducting extensive air and ground searches in efforts to locate everyone. Supai remains closed to all campers and tourists.

It’s believed that a number of weather-related events contributed to the flash floods in the canyon. According to the National Weather Service, the Coconino Plateau experienced significant rainfall on Friday afternoon, Saturday afternoon, and again on Sunday afternoon.

It appears that the flooding in Supai late Saturday night and early Sunday was the result of heavy rainfall on Saturday afternoon. Water levels in the canyon remained high through Monday morning due to additional rainfall that fell on Sunday. Total rainfall for the period of Friday through Sunday was relatively light in the Supai area, but as high as six inches 20 to 40 miles upstream.

Montana: Canyon Creek Fire, 20 years later

The Great Falls Trib
une has an excellent artic
le about this historic, if not legendary, fire. Orville Daniels, who was the Forest Supervisor of the Lolo National Forest at the time, has been very open about the fire, making presentations and answering questions from reporters. The article is HERE.

The rest of the story: 230 homes burned, not 80

On Monday Wildfire Today covered the fire on Travis Air Force base northeast of San Francisco that officials said burned 80 unoccupied homes. Apparently they were wrong, according to the AP.

The military says a wind-whipped fire at a California air base damaged more vacant homes than previously thought — at least 230. Air Force Maj. Vanessa Hillman said Sunday that the 190 homes and 40 duplexes burned in the fire at Travis Air Force Base were slated for demolition anyway. 

The blaze started as a grass fire Saturday and quickly spread to a development that once housed service members. Officials had said at least 80 vacant homes burned. Residents of nearby homes were not evacuated, but Hillman says some buildings were still lacked natural gas service Sunday.

The blaze scorched more than 10 acres of the base about 40 miles southwest of Sacramento.

A 10-acre fire and 230 structures slated for demolition burn. And the military at first says 80 houses burned, and then it turns out that three times that many burned. Hmmmmm. It makes you wonder WTF is going on.

Weather Planner

We just added a pretty cool gadget to the web site. It is a “weather planner”. You can enter a date and a location in the United States, and it will give you the probability of precipitation, and the probability that the temperature will be above or below a temperature that you specify.

You can find it permanently on the right side of this page… scroll down. But we’ll put a working example in this post also.

Choose Rain or Temperature, make your other choices, and then click on the “?”. I could waste a lot of time playing with this thing.

Wildfire news, August 18, 2008

Several media outlets are jumping into the suppression or fire use issue. The latest is the Salt Lake Tribune.

The New York Times explores the contractor vs. federal employee issue. Along with others, they point out that of the nine that died in the August 8 helicopter crash, only one was a regular government employee. The other eight were contractors.

Activity on the Gunbarrel fire east of Yellowstone NP is expected to increase over the next few days, due to higher temperatures and lower humidities. This fire use fire, the largest ever in the Rocky Mountain area, has burned 42,148 acres.

A reminder….. the CBS Evening News is expected to run a story tonight, Monday night, about the bear cub that was rescued in a fire in northern California. The piece was scheduled to air August 14, but got bumped due to breaking news stories. HERE is a link to a blog about the bear. OK, so now we have an excuse to run the photo of Lil’ Smokey again.

Late breaking news this afternoon— a vegetation fire has spread to as many as eight homes on the north side of Reno, Nevada. KRNV says the vegetation fire is knocked down but the homes are still burning. A video report is HERE. A photographer wrote this on the KRNV site:

We were over getting ready to cover Wolf Pack football practice when we saw the smoke. Photographer Chuck King and I drove over to investigate and were the first crew on the scene. 

I’ve never seen anything like that fire. It went from two homes to six+ in just minutes. Much credit has to go to the neighbors who were trying to help and the firefighters who risked their lives to keep this disaster as limited as they could.

UPDATE @ 8:25 P.M., August 18
The fire in Reno destroyed six houses and seriously damaged a seventh but only burned two acres. Some juveniles were seen running from the area about the time the fire started. The fire was in the Ridgecrest neighborhood where a fire destroyed four homes and damaged a fifth in 2004. That blaze was started by a pair of boys playing with fireworks.

Oregon: Bridge Creek Fire Use fire burns onto private land

Update, 3:20 P.M., August 18
The fire, plume dominated, was very active on Sunday. One recent report, supposedly accurate as of Sunday night, pegged the size at 2,966 acres. The acreage is difficult to track because some reports include the other fires in the Ochoco Complex in the total.

The fire burned over a mile outside the National Forest in the White Butte area 4.7 miles southwest of Mitchell, Oregon. The fire has been less active on Monday due to milder weather and cloud cover.

8:27 A.M., August 18
The Bridge Creek fire is a fire use fire that started on the Ochoco National Forest in central Oregon, 10 miles southwest of Dayville. For several days it didn’t do much, burning about 1/2 acre. But between 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday morning it grew from 2.5 acres to over 5,000 acres. Saturday night’s southeast winds together with low RHs and an unstable atmosphere (Haines 6) drove the fire outside the Maximum Manageable Area boundary and onto private land.

The Central Oregon incident management team assumed command of the fire at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Here is a portion of a news release about the fire from August 15:

The Northwest Fire Use Management Team is managing four small fires in three wildernesses on the Ochoco National Forest northeast and east of Prineville, Oregon. These fires are one acre to about 75 acres in size and are burning in three wildernesses: Mill Creek, Bridge Creek and Black Canyon.

These lightning fires provide the opportunity to use Wildland Fire Use to achieve resource management objectives, including allow fire to play its natural role in these ecosystems, where private property and social values can be protected.

The Northwest Fire Use Management Team specializes in management of Wildland Fire Use. While this is only the 3rd year for the team, individual members have decades of fire experience in eastern Oregon. The team is led by Matt Reidy and has members from throughout the Pacific Northwest. Presently the team has 35 people working on the four fires on the Ochoco National Forest. This includes a specially trained 10-member “Fire Use Module” that actively monitors the fires in the forests and takes management action when needed to meet objectives.

Flood in Grand Canyon; hundreds flown out by helicopter

Updated 7:50 a.m., August 18

Rescuers will return to the Grand Canyon Monday morning after an earthen dam burst Sunday morning prompting helicopter evacuations at the Grand Canyon and Supai, a village where about 400 members of the Havasupai tribe live.

The Arizona National Guard, the National Park Service and the Department of Public safety airlifted about 170 residents, campers and river runners. Initially, crews anticipated evacuating nearly 500 people, but the majority chose not to be evacuated.

The helicopter in the video is, I believe, the Grand Canyon’s no tail rotor helicopter.

Rescue operations continued into Sunday night for campers and residents at the Grand Canyon caught in flood waters after an earthen dam weakened by heavy rains broke 45 miles upstream, said Maureen Oltrogge of the Grand Canyon National Park.

KPHO-TV in Phoenix reported that the Redlands Dam ruptured around 6 a.m. Sunday, triggering flooding near Supai, at the bottom of the canyon, Oltrogge said. Supai is home to about 400 Havasupai Reservation tribal members. The town is located about 30 miles northwest of Grand Canyon Village, a popular tourist area on the canyon’s south rim.

The town was not flooded, but there were an estimated 247 campers at a nearby campground, Oltrogge said. The National Guard provided three Black Hawk helicopters and the Arizona Department of Public Safety is dedicating all four of its helicopters to the rescue efforts, Oltrogge said. (The National Park Service also used their helicopter during the rescue.)

Evacuees were being taken to a Red Cross shelter in Peach Springs, about 60 miles southwest of Supai, Oltrogge said. The shelter is located at the Hualapai Tribal gym off Diamond Creek Road in Peach Springs. The shelter will provide an array of support services, including meals, a safe sleeping place and counseling, said Tracey Kiest of the Arizona chapter of the American Red Cross.

Oltrogge said 16 people were left stranded Saturday night on a ledge where Havasu Creek and the Colorado River join after flood waters carried their raft away. Each person was being flown one at a time to the other side of the Colorado River where they will board a helicopter and be flown to the Hualapai Hilltop. Those evacuees will also be transported to the American Red Cross shelter in Peach Springs.

Officers, sheriff’s deputies and rescuers from eight public safety agencies are working to coordinate the evacuation in Supai Canyon, said Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil. National Park Service employees are trying to contact members of rafting parties who have not yet reached the confluence, which is located at about river mile 157, in an effort to inform them of the flooding that has occurred in that area, Pribil said.

West-central Coconino County had been under a flash flood warning early Sunday. Supai police reported foot bridges and hiking trails were washed out and trees uprooted.

The threat of severe storms continued to plague central Coconino County Sunday afternoon, meteorologists said.

In the above photo released by the the National Park Service (NPS), a stranded rafter is lowered to shore by an NPS employee after being short hauled across the Colorado River Sunday Aug. 17, 2008 in the Grand Canyon.

Supai Village, file photo

Courtesy of KMBC