Wildfire news, October 5, 2008

“Wildfire” vehicle

In searching for information about fires, we ran across this vehicle, a 3-wheeled vehicle, called “Wildfire”. It’s main selling point is gas mileage…. 60-70 mpg. It looks like it would be pretty scary…. scarier than being ON a wildfire.

Here’s a video that explores it in more detail.

An engine made by Wildfire

And we also found this wildland fire engine made by Wildfire Manufacturing. Very different from the 3-wheeled piece of crap above, but an interesting design. It looks like it would have very easy access to the equipment, a fairly low center of gravity, but very little storage space. It may also weigh less than the maximum allowable GVW, which is a serious issue with many wildland engines.

California: 9 injured on Chalk fire

From the Monterey County Herald:

Nine firefighters sustained minor injuries in three unrelated vehicular accidents Friday and Saturday as personnel continued to battle the Chalk Fire in Los Padres National Forest, about 22 miles southwest of King City. The most serious injury was a possible broken nose. All of the injured were evaluated at a local hospital and released.

The fire, which started Sept. 27, was 30 percent contained, but was burning on more than 12,168 acres. CalFire and the National Forest Service expect to have the blaze contained by Oct. 17.

Overnight rain helped Saturday’s effort, and properties at Dempsey Flat, Biere, Nacaruby and Alms had been removed from the list of threatened areas. A total of 19 residences and 30 outbuildings were still threatened. No structures had been destroyed.

A total of 1,334 firefighters were on the scene Saturday in 30 crews. Equipment included 73 engines, eight air tankers, nine dozers and 12 helicopters.

CalFire reported the fire’s west flank had reached Highway 1 near Limekiln and Hare Canyon. Crews established containment lines Saturday south of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to the junction of South Coast Ridge Road and McKern Road.

As conditions allow, crews will hold the containment line and begin structure-protection preparation at Merle Ranch. Crews will build a direct line north from Highway 1 toward Cone Peak, and will improve lines on the McKern Trail and Slick Rock.

Wildfire news, October 4, 2008

Texans plead guilty of starting X Fire near Grand Canyon

On May 2, Wildfire Today brought you the story of the three Texans that were accused of starting the X fire near the Grand Canyon. Cron.com reports that they plead guilty in federal court this week.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Three Texans accused of accidentally starting a 2,000-acre wildfire near the Grand Canyon in April have pleaded guilty to leaving a campfire unattended. 

Daniel Alan Burroughs of Tatum, Michael Zachary Dunn of Allen, and Lindsey Jo McKinley of Gilmer pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count in U.S. District Court in Flagstaff on Wednesday. Dunn and McKinley are 24, Burroughs is 23.

Three other misdemeanor counts were dismissed as part of a plea deal.

They will be on probation for a year and have to do 100 hours of community service or complete and then teach a course on using wildlands without damage.

The trio were camping in the forest south of the Grand Canyon in late April and had an evening campfire. Burroughs told Magistrate Judge Mark E. Aspey that the fire appeared out when they left the following afternoon.

But high winds kicked up embers, triggering the blaze.

“We made the faulty assumption it was out,” Burroughs said in court. “The fire did appear to be out.”

Fire in northern Arizona’s dry climate can have serious consequences, Aspey told them.

“I think you’ve learned a hard lesson,” Aspey said. “A very hard lesson.”

Aspey said the government did not seek criminal fines, but could later sue the three for the nearly $500,000 cost to fight the fire.

Camille Bibles, the assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case, said she did not know if the office’s civil division would sue.

San Diego preemptive power outage gets mixed reviews

The plan by San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) to turn off electricity to large portions of the county during periods of strong winds and low fuel moisture is being applauded by some and criticized by others. The company’s power lines have been blamed for starting numerous large fires over the last 40 years and they are probably very concerned about their liability and how it will affect their profits.

They have several options:

  1. Reduce the chances that the power lines will start fires by ensuring that wooden poles, fuses and switches are in satisfactory condition, replacing some wooden poles with metal poles, putting some lines underground, improving their tree-trimming programs along the lines, and inspecting the lines more frequently.
  2. Implement the preemptive power outage program during Santa Ana wind events. This risks receiving heavy criticism from their customers who need power for medical equipment, traffic lights, telephones, garage door openers, and water systems. Convince tens of thousands of individuals, companies, and agencies to purchase and install emergency backup power systems, or have SDG&E pay for the systems. Option #2 may result in them getting sued.
  3. Do nothing, and continue to have their power lines start fires. They will continue to get sued if they choose this option.

As far as we know, this is an unprecedented plan, turning off power to large areas because the lines may start a fire during strong winds. They may be hoping that by scaring the public about losing their power, the state legislature will exempt the company from liability.

The scare-the-public tactic works for the Bush administration. It may work for SDG&E.

Wildfire news, October 3, 2008

Corrections officer dies on Arizona fire

From the Arizona Capitol Times:

A corrections officer working with an inmate hotshot crew died Oct. 1, shortly after the crew began working to contain a fire near Lake Havasu City, according the Arizona Department of Corrections.

The officer, Douglas Falconer, 46, apparently died of natural causes, the agency said in a statement released Oct. 2. No more details were available.

“Officers and inmates alike responded immediately, and emergency medical assistance made every effort to revive Officer Falconer,” according to the statement.

Falconer was assigned to the Arizona State Prison Phoenix-Globe inmate wildland fire crew. The crew is stationed at the prison in Globe. Falconer become a state corrections officer in 2004, working with the hotshot crew since July 2007.

On the field, two corrections officers and a sergeant team up to oversee each of the prison system’s 15 hotshot crews. The Globe crew was working on a fire line to contain the Sacramento Fire near the California border at the time of Falconer’s death.

The crew had responded to seven previous wildfires in the past two seasons, DOC officials said.

Falconer is survived by his wife. Flags at state facilities will be lowered to half-staff the day of Falconer’s funeral services, which have not yet been arranged.

Our condolences to the family of Douglas Falconer.

Power company to shut off electricity to lines during extreme fire danger

The San Diego Gas and Electric Company, whose power lines are blamed for starting the 1970 Laguna fire and the 2007 Witch Creek fire, both over 100,000 acres, plans to de-energize some power lines during periods of extreme weather. From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

The proposal was outlined in a letter that the utility plans to send Friday to about 45,000 customers living in the highest fire-risk areas. The letter also outlines other steps the utility, which has 1.4 million customers, has taken to reduce the potential for wildfires.

A report released by Cal Fire in July said that arcing SDG&E lines ignited the Witch Creek, Guejito and Rice Canyon fires, three of the most devastating wildfires that raced across the county last October.

The letter said that five conditions would have to be met before power is turned off, and the utility anticipates that would happen “as infrequently as one time or less per year.” An estimated 1,000 to 10,000 customers would likely be affected at one time, and outages generally would be 12 to 72 hours, although that could be as short as several hours, the letter said.

The five conditions are:

  • The National Weather Service issues a red-flag warning indicating that conditions are highly conducive to wildfires.
  • Sustained winds are greater than 35 mph or wind gusts are greater than 55 mph.
  • Relative humidity is less than 20 percent.
  • The moisture level in “non-living” materials such as sticks, twigs and leaves is less than 6 percent as determined by the National Weather Service.
  • The moisture level in “living” plants and bushes is less than or equal to 75 percent as determined by Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service.

A fire already burning would not be a condition for activating the shut-down program, the utility said.

SDG&E said it would attempt to contact customers before shutting down power, but that in some cases there might not be time to do so. Customers also could be notified by the county’s Office of Emergency Services reverse 9-1-1 system. Customers can register for reverse 9-1-1 system online at ReadySanDiego.org.

The utility said other steps it has taken to reduce the potential for wildfires include replacing more than 300 wood poles with steel poles; using heavier wire in some rural areas; expanding aerial inspections of transmission lines; and adding new high-resolution cameras to inspect lines.

75 years ago today, 29 firefighters were killed on the Griffith Park fire near Los Angeles.

This was the deadliest fire for wildland firefighters in American history.

The Griffith Park Fire occurred at 2:26 p.m. October 3, 1933 in Block 36, Dam Canyon in the Mineral Wells Canyon area near the old Los Angeles Zoo. A group of 3,780 men were employed clearing brush as part of the Los Angeles County welfare relief program. A small fire had started at the bottom of a slope and a number of men were ordered or volunteered to fight the fire. A sudden wind change sent a shaft of flame up the slopes of Dam Canyon killing 29 workers of thermal burns and injuring more than 150 others. Engine 56, Hose 27 along with 50 Mountain Patrolmen responded and contained the fire to 46.83 acres.

From the IAWF Wildland Fire Event Calendar

Wildfire news, October 2, 2008

2nd-graders get up-close view of the fire zone
Beartooth Nature Center leading tours through Cascade fire burn area

Of The Billings Gazette Staff
The day the Cascade fire started, Red Lodge second-grader Anna Dye remembers looking at the column of smoke developing over the West Fork of Rock Creek and asking her parents, “Is that a cloud or is that a fire?”

In the hectic adult world of firefighting, children’s concerns can be overlooked as grown-ups tune into news accounts, respond to evacuations and talk to neighbors about what might be lost to flames.

Now, through the Beartooth Nature Center Connections program, children are getting their own look into the burn area and finding out what happened during the fire.

Wednesday, 23 second-graders from Mountain View Elementary toured the Cascade fire burn area under the guidance of Marc Swanson, who designed the program to teach fire ecology.
Most of the Red Lodge students vividly remember the blaze, which started July 26 and burned more than 10,000 acres in the West Fork of Rock Creek drainage. However, for many of the children, the field trip was their first opportunity to see where the fire burned.

Swanson was a teacher in Alaska villages for 26 years before moving to Red Lodge. He launched the BTN Connections program a year ago, and until the Cascade fire presented him with an open-air classroom, most of his educational outreach was in schools. His program topics include winter ecology, mammal skeletons and stream data collection for habitat analysis.

Like all BTN Connections activities, the Cascade fire field trips are paid for through grants and are available to schools throughout the area, but so far the only students who have visited have been from Carbon County schools. Swanson has led 11 tours and has four more scheduled in the next week.

Swanson tailors his presentation to the age of the students and works with teachers to meet their educational objectives.

Unlike other areas burned by wildfire, the Cascade fire zone presented an ideal place to teach fire ecology, Swanson said. The burn is accessible by bus, and there are many developed campgrounds and recreation areas where children can tackle hands-on activities.

“Every stop opens a new window on the fire,” Swanson said.

More of the article is at the Gazette site.

Man admits starting fire that burned 53 homes

From KNBC.com

One of five men accused of starting a wildfire in Malibu (the Zaca fire) that destroyed 53 homes admitted Wednesday that he and his friends accidentally touched off the blaze, and then agreed not to tell authorities.

Brian David Franks, 27, of Los Angeles, pleaded no contest to a felony charge of recklessly causing a fire. He is expected to be placed on five years probation and be ordered to perform 300 hours of community service when he is sentenced Nov. 3 by Van Nuys Superior Leslie A. Dunn.

In a statement read by his attorney, Franks said he and two carloads of friends rekindled an abandoned campfire in a “party cave” in Malibu’s Corral Canyon on Nov. 24, 2007.

According to Franks’ statement, he and his friends drank beer and vodka at the campsite, then fellow defendant Brian Alan Anderson, 22, of Los Angeles, threw a burning pillow at Franks.

Partygoers also kicked logs that were on the campfire, scattering embers that Franks attempted to stomp out, he said.

Franks said he believed that he and his friends had extinguished all of the embers from the pillow and the campfire, but the night was exceptionally windy. He estimated that gusts were up to 60 mph.

The next day, while watching the news on TV, the partygoers saw that a wildfire had been started and believed that they had caused it, Franks said. They then agreed to keep silent about what had happened, he said.

The wildfire consumed 53 homes and severely damaged another 23.

Along with Franks and Anderson, three other people were charged in the case: William Thomas Coppock, 23, of Los Angeles; Dean Allen Lavorante, 19, of Culver City; and Eric Matthew Ullman, 18, also of Culver City.

As part of his plea deal, Franks will be required to be available to testify against the other defendants.

Bhutan: Forest fires and the Incident Command System

On January 28 we wrote about some representatives from the United States providing some advice to the Kingdom of Bhutan about the ICS. That group included Professor Ronald Wakimoto from the University of Montana, Deanne Shulman, the first female smokejumper in the U.S., and Alissa Roeder, the Superintendent of the Pike Shot Shots.

Now, according to a press release from Bap Tandy, the Fire Focal Person of the Forest Fire Management Section, Department of Forest in Bhutan, they are using volunteers and the ICS in suppressing their fires. (HERE is a link to a map of Bhutan.)

Forest fire is a major threat that has implication on human lives and property, forest resources and the environment. In five years (2003-2008), forest fires affected 96,155 acres of forest land and damage valuable timber and wildlife resources. There have also been instances where human lives and property were also lost to forest fires. (Director, DoF)

The Department of Forests has been trying its best to manage forest fires with its limited and thinly spread out human resources across the country. In this endeavor, the Department had received continuous support and cooperation from the Armed Forces, Dzongkhag Administration and local communities in forest fire suppression.

Since the Department of Forests alone is not in a position to prevent, suppress and control forest fires, and it is not always possible to get the support of the Armed Forces and public everywhere, the Department realized the need to start a Forest Fire Volunteer (FFV) program to solicit support from the general public including business communities, private agencies and the civil service.

Since the Forest Fire Volunteer Program started in April 2008: initiated by Forest Fire Management Section have conducted several workshops, meetings and basic training on fire fighting techniques and safety measures to all the registered forest fire volunteers and to the representative from Armed forces. Further the Department will be conducting the same training to newly registered fire volunteers and armed forces (Gopal Mahat, JD, FPUD)

The Department of Forests felt very important to construct and developed a well coordinated forest fire coordination mechanism which is also known as Incident Command System (ICS); since numbers of stake holders will be engaged during the forest fire incidences. This mechanism shall have single standardize incident management system which shall be used by all the emergency response disciplines. This program will also provide accurate information,accountability and cost effective operations and logistical support for any incident.

Accordingly, the Forest Fire Management Section under the Forest Protection and Utilization Division in collaboration with the Thimphu Forest Division have developed an Incident Command System (ICS)/coordination mechanism and presented on 22nd September 2008 (presented by Bap Tandy, karma Jigme and Ugyen Tenzin) to the Department, representative from Armed Forces, Dzongkhag Administration, Dzongkhag Forestry and the group leaders from the forest fire volunteers. The draft coordination mechanism was agreed to be implemented during the up-coming forest fire season. The same program may be replicated in all th
e fire prone Dzongkhags af
ter evaluating the effectiveness of the program in Thimphu.

Wildfire news, September 30, 2008

Think tank: reducing bureaucracy could reduce fire risk

From npca.org

Federal mismanagement of U.S. forests has increased the number, size and cost of wildfires over the past decade. Overcrowding has left 60 percent of national forest land facing abnormal fire hazards. The culprit: bureaucratic paralysis — due in part to judges or politicians beholden to environmental lobbyists overriding the decisions of professional foresters, says the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

For instance:


  • When a wildfire struck Storrie, Calif., in August 2000, more than 55,000 acres burned, including 28,000 acres in the Plumas National Forest, 27,000 acres in the Lassen National Forest and 3,200 acres of private forestland.
  • Following the fire, only 181 of more than 28,000 acres in the Plumas National Forest were replanted; in the Lassen National Forest, only 1,206 acres were cleared and 230 acres replanted.
  • By contrast, on the privately owned land, forest managers reduced wildfire by removing 30,633 tons of dry material, enough to fuel 3,600 homes for a year.
  • They harvested enough larger dead trees to build 4,300 homes.
  • They spent millions of dollars to reforest burned land and increase the number of different tree species.

Even though federal legislation has specifically allowed the forest service to log to reduce fire risk, environmentalists’ lawsuits have delayed those plans. Instead, the government should introduce market competition in the management of the nation’s forests, concludes NCPA.

Private forest owners and managers would have the incentive to minimize wildfires and improve forest health. Unhindered by bureaucratic federal rules, they would be better able to prevent and treat infestations that kill forests, says the NCPA

Oregon: Inquiry into escaped prescribed fire

From the Bend Bulletin:

U.S. Forest Service officials from Oregon and the regional office will begin investigating today why a prescribed fire outside of Camp Sherman burned out of control, jumping from a 31-acre planned burn Wednesday to the now-1,150-acre Wizard Fire.

“It’s obvious that things did not go as planned, so we’ll be conducting a review,” said Bill Anthony, district ranger for the Sisters Ranger District.

No one wants controlled burns to escape, he said, and fire managers with the Forest Service are concerned when one does.

“We’re going to step back and take a good, hard look at why this fire escaped our control,” Anthony said, “and come to an understanding about what procedures we need to change and fix.”

Agency officials said the problem didn’t stem from the burn itself, but from the monitoring period after the prescribed fire had burned down a bit.

“The first day after the burn the winds picked up, and we didn’t pick (the new fire) up during our patrol procedures, and it escaped,” Anthony said.

After controlled burns, staff are supposed to patrol or monitor the areas by walking or driving the perimeter of a fire.

“They survey the perimeter of the fire, look into it to make sure nothing is jeopardizing the ability to keep the burn within its perimeter,” Anthony said. “Something did not happen (after last week’s fire), and we have to figure out why.”

He said that he did not yet have the whole story about what had occurred during the patrol period, and would wait for the review, which will be conducted by people from the Forest Service’s Region 6 district office, which includes Washington and Oregon, other national forests in Oregon as well as local agency staffers, to discuss what did or didn’t happen and how to fix it.