Fire at FEMA

Today there was a fire at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, DC. It was contained to an office on the first floor by automatic sprinklers and the fire department, but 200 employees evacuated for 50 minutes.

More FEMA news:

  • An internal FEMA evaluation gave themselves solid ratings in seven out of nine categories of readiness while raising concerns about coordinating federal resources and the agency’s ability to provide housing for displaced disaster victims. The coordination issue is not good news for state and federal agencies providing support for disasters through FEMA.
  • David Paulison, the FEMA Administrator, said yesterday that hurricane victims should not expect to receive free ice and generators during future FEMA-managed recovery efforts.
  • Paulison said that regardless of who is elected as our next President, he will resign before the new President takes office.

Group files second suit against USFS about retardant

From the Missoulian, an excerpt:

“An environmental watchdog group on Wednesday sued the U.S. Forest Service for a second time over the agency’s use of aerial fire retardants.

The Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, an Oregon-based nonprofit group, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Missoula.

The lawsuit is part of the group’s campaign to reform the Forest Service’s wildland firefighting mission.

The campaign includes banning retardant airdrops nationwide unless people or homes are threatened, focusing on fire prevention around communities, and allowing more remote wildfires to burn as a natural part of the ecosystem.

The lawsuit accuses the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service of failing to fully evaluate the environmental impact of the aerial retardants.

Studies show the ammonium-based retardants are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms, and promote the spread of flammable invasive weeds.

FSEEE won an earlier retardant-related lawsuit against the Forest Service when U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the agency had violated federal law by failing to properly review the environmental impact of retardants on national forests.

That lawsuit – which was filed in 2003, a year after a retardant airdrop killed 20,000 fish in an Oregon stream – was dismissed in February when the Forest Service complied with Molloy’s order to complete an environmental assessment of aerial retardants.

FSEEE’s latest lawsuit challenges the Forest Service’s assessment, which found that the chemical red slurry has no significant environmental impact.

In their biological opinions, the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service said retardants jeopardize 45 endangered or threatened fish, plant, insect, mussel and amphibian species and their critical habitats.

The lawsuit includes those two agencies because they said the Forest Service could avoid jeopardizing the environment if it followed “reasonable and prudent alternatives” when dropping retardants.


The new lawsuit challenges the three agencies’ environmental analyses, conclusions and decisions, saying they violate the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws.

FSEEE said the Forest Service should be forced to complete an environmental impact statement, which is more detailed than an environmental assessment, and that the “reasonable and prudent alternatives” do not prevent harm to the protected species and their critical habitat.”

The Flathead Beacon at Kalispell, Montana had this to say, in part:

“Nuts? Yep, yet FSEEE righteously claims its “mission is to forge a socially responsible value system for the U.S. Forest Service.” They intend to ram their retardant version of social responsibility through the courts, and just might.

Don’t be surprised if FSEEE files their case, and on some trivial technicality, an injunction comes down at the worst possible time. Some poor fire boss will have to announce: “Folks, we need to ground our air fleet and wash out the tanks today. We’re also pulling all our crews, as the bombers were the last chance we had of holding this line without killing someone. Sorry. The judge says a one in 5,000 chance of killing a few minnows overrides any of your trivial concerns. We hope you got your heirlooms and families out in time, have a nice day.”

Retardant justice, indeed.”

Photo courtesy of the Zion Helitack blog

El Cariso Hot Shot Reunion

My old crew, the El Cariso Hot Shots, is having a reunion April 11-12 at Temecula, CA. I won’t be able to attend, but I dug out some of my old photos from 1970-1972. If you click on them, you can see slightly enlarged versions.

Doing PT’s in 1971. We had to wear our boots while we ran. Don’t ask me why.

Dining at fire camp.

Taken in 1972 on the San Bernardino NF after we got chased out of the fire and hung out at a safety zone.

Barry Koncinsky running the chain saw.

A TBM making a drop near our fireline in 1972.

Below are some much more recent photos of El Cariso, from YouTube. Be warned it has some loud music.

Feel free to leave a comment below. You’ll have to register with Google, but it’s painless.

Montana: Legislative panel warns about increasing fire risk

A legislative committee in Montana submitted an interim report on Friday recognizing that fires are getting larger and more difficult to suppress. Here’s an excerpt from the Billings Gazette:

“A draft legislative report warns of the likelihood that towns will burn and people will be injured or killed if Montana does not change how it deals with wildland fires.

The report was released Friday by the Fire Suppression Interim Committee as lawmakers plan a series of meetings across the state to come up with better ways to fight fires.

Last year in Montana, more than 700,000 acres burned in 72 fires tracked by the federal government. Most were sparked by lightning.

The draft report predicted more bad fire seasons because of extended drought across much of the state, rising demand for firefighting resources and more homes built in rural areas prone to fire.

“With limited resources,” the report concludes, “it is likely that communities will burn and firefighters and members of the public will be injured or killed.”


The committee’s chairman, John Cobb, R-Augusta, said the dire warning was a call to action.

“Where we are going now, there are going to be hundreds of homes burned up,” Cobb said. “What can we do differently?”

Mary Sexton, director of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said agencies such as hers are trying adapt their firefighting strategies. But so far, she said, they have not kept pace with the threat.

“Because of the drought and the buildup of fuels, we just are not able to be as effective as we have been in the past,” Sexton said.”

House burned in fires in 2003 and 2007

The Associated Press has a story about a couple at Cuyamaca, California, east of San Diego, who lost their house in forest fires in 2003 and 2007, in the same spot. They are going to rebuild again. The photo shows the house that burned last October. Here is a small excerpt.

“The Millers lost their house to a wildfire in 2003, then rebuilt it, only to watch the replacement house burn to the ground last October in another wildfire. They were the only family in San Diego to lose a house twice on the same spot. Now they plan to build there a third time — only the house will be mostly underground this time.”

Photo from Associated Press

Robot proposed to put out fires; no need to update your resume yet

robot firefighterA German industrial design studio, apparently with no expertise in wildland fire, has developed a concept for a robot that would be pre-positioned in the wildland. When it’s sensors detect a fire from up to 1/2 mile away, it would wake up, extend it’s 6 legs, walk to the fire, and put it out using tanks of water and powdered fire-extinguishing agents.

Unless a fire is very small, it can take shit-loads of water to put one out, so unless these robots are going to carry 500-1,000 gallons of water, or unless there are going to be shit-loads of robots, your job is pretty secure. Oh… and the cost of each one is estimated at $125,000-$200,000.

The article at says the weight of the robots will be 150-200 pounds, which means they could hold about 5-15 gallons of water, depending on how much other fire extinguishing agent they carry.

Photo from