New Poll about videos

You may have noticed that we have put a few YouTube videos on the blog. I have an attention span shorter than that of a newt and can’t get into long videos unless they are EXTREMELY interesting. So we try to be very selective and generally choose outstanding, short, videos. And we’ll try to be sure at least 90% of them are about wildland fire….. or SOME kind of fire…. or 50,000 fire-breathing rockets. Having said that, I totally could not resist posting the one about the lighter than air, jellyfish-like, mesmerizing, unmanned aerial vehicle. Did I mention that it is mesmerizing?

But perhaps not everyone likes videos. And some companies or agencies block YouTube on their computer networks.

So we ask you–to find about 4 seconds in your day and let us know what YOU think–by taking the poll on the right.

Insurance company will pay $500,000 for Arizona fire

On June 1, 2006 an employee of a fence company started the La Barranca fire by grinding on a metal fence post south of Sedona, Arizona. Six days later the fire was 95% contained after burning 836 acres and 3 houses. At the time, the Coconino National Forest reported that the estimated fire suppression costs were $1.2 million.

The fence company’s insurance company just agreed to pay $500,000 to the US Forest Service to cover a portion of the suppression costs.

HERE is a link to the InciWeb data about the fire.

John Maclean's forward for Stephen Pyne's book

John Maclean has written three books about wildland fire: “Fire on the Mountain”, “Fire and Ashes”, and “The Thirtymile Fire”. Recently he wrote a foreword to Stephen J. Pyne’s “Year of the Fires: The Story of the Great Fires of 1910”, first published in 2001, which is being reissued in 2008 by Mountain Press in Missoula.

We have permission from John and Mountain Press to reprint the foreword here. In the excerpt below, John writes about the fires of 1910 and the cabin at Seely Lake, Montana that has been in his family for generations. The entire foreword is worth a read.

“This summer a palpable cloak of heat and expectation hung over the landscape as though the predictable and cherished past had been replaced by an unfamiliar monster. Make no mistake, northwestern Montana is fire country and has been for centuries. The marks of fire, discovered in tree rings when one of the giant larch trees finally thunders to the ground, show that for centuries fire occurred along the shores of Seeley Lake every quarter century or so – until our forebears stopped the cycle in the wake of the Great Fires of 1910, the subject of Stephen Pyne’s Year of the Fires. When I was growing up, the Forest Service, the agency responsible for the federal land around the cabin, did not allow us to cut a tree and even discouraged clearing brush. The offset was the promise that the Forest Service would contain any fire that threatened the area under the full suppression policy that was adopted in response to the 1910 calamity.

That full suppression policy now has been formally abandoned – along with the rule forbidding the cutting of trees around Seeley Lake. In recent years, the Forest Service itself undertook a forest thinning and light burning project in the area. The treated zones provoked complaints in the first year or two because they looked rough, but they have become a glorious sight since then. Densely packed stands of “dog hair” lodgepole pine have been opened up, disclosing centuries-old trees. The big trees, whose growth was stunted in recent decades because they were deprived of moisture and light, now can take their place as giants and future giants. Fuzzy new trees and low brush carpet the forest floor. Wildlife can move freely. Humans can hike or snowmobile through the stands without battling brush. The forest is not fire proof, but a low-intensity fire would likely burn through here without catastrophic damage. Regular clearing by fire is what allowed the giants to grow big in the first place.

During the summer, I mowed down the tall grass near the cabin, felled a couple of dead lodgepole pines, and cleared a year’s accumulation of duff from near the cabin. Then I left the place to its rendezvous with fire – which was not long in coming.”

Maclean’s and Pyne’s books can be found at the International Association of Wildland Fire Books page.

Smoke plumes in the southeast

NOAA is now generating maps that not only show heat from vegetation fires detected by satellites, but now they have maps that show graphic depictions of smoke plumes from fires. On the map below, the red dots are heat sources, but not all are necessarily vegetation fires. The gray smoke plumes are visible from the larger fires.

Florida has a number of fires going including two fires that burned together forming a 3,500 acre fire that is burning grass islands in Lake Okeechobee. Arson is suspected as the cause of those fires. The names of the fires are “Myakka Cut” and “Grassy Island”.

Below is a photo of the fire on a grass island in Lake Okeechobee. Photo courtesy of CBS.

Yakima Herald-Republic's editorial about Thirtymile plea bargain

The Yakima Herald-Republic has always taken the position that Ellreese Daniels and others should be punished severely for the errors in judgment that led to the deaths of the four firefighters on the Thirtymile fire in 2001. They are not pleased with the recent plea bargain in the case, according to their editorial published yesterday:

“In a New Year’s Eve editorial on the last day of 2006, we were willing to concede at the time that “four manslaughter charges brought against a U.S. Forest Service crew boss nearly 51/2 years after the deadly Thirtymile Fire in Okanogan County could finally be proof that justice delayed is not necessarily justice denied.”

That hope has been dashed now that a plea-bargaining deal has led to fire crew chief Ellreese Daniels pleading guilty in U.S. District Court in Spokane Tuesday to two misdemeanor charges of making false statements to investigators.

The magnitude of the reduction in charges is staggering: In exchange, the government dropped four felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and seven felony counts of making false statements.

Sentencing is set for July 23 August 18.

“Like all plea agreements, there was a recognition of the evidence and the law as it exists,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice said in an Associated Press report out of Spokane. “We feel this is an appropriate disposition of the case.”

Really? Will there ever be “appropriate disposition” of a case in which so many nagging doubts and unanswered questions remain? Four people died and the only person charged in the incident gets a plea-bargaining slap on the wrist and won’t have to face trial — during which a more complete story of what happened up to and during that fateful day could unfold during testimony.

Frankly, we’ve been less than impressed from the start with the federal government’s handling, at all levels, of the Thirtymile incident.

We also take note of the fact that Daniels was the only one to face criminal charges out of the fire near Winthrop that killed four Central Washington firefighters on July 10, 2001: Tom Craven of Ellensburg, and Karen FitzPatrick, Jessica Johnson and Devin Weaver, all from Yakima.

We remain convinced that Daniels must answer in part for the tragedy because he was directly responsible for the safety of his crew. But we also maintain that the blame for the Thirtymile debacle involves much more than just what happened on the fire line that day. Blame must also extend further up the chain of command and include a culture of stonewalling and cover-up so prevalent in the U.S. Forest Service at the time.

In addition, a September 2001 investigation by this newspaper revealed that the Forest Service broke more than a dozen of its own safety rules. Federal investigators came to an even more damning conclusion: The Forest Service had 28 rules in place to keep crews safe. At Thirtymile, 20 of them were broken, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The negligence, according to the original charges, included Daniels failing to prepare the crew for the possibility of being overrun by flames.

The fact he was singled out prompts memories of the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq when Iraqi prisoners were mistreated by United States military personnel. Of 10 people convicted out of that debacle, none ranked higher than staff sergeant. That in a system noted for its chain of command that demands the following of orders.

Reforms within the agency were supposed to ensure a tragedy such as Thirtymile never happened again. Yet, seven firefighters have been fatally trapped since by forest fires in Idaho and California.

That’s not to simply say the lessons of Thirtymile have not been heeded. After all, we’re talking about a very dangerous line of work, one in which every possible step must be taken to ensure the safety of firefighters on the line.

But we also don’t totally agree with the fears of many in the firefighting community that the unprecedented prosecution of Daniels might send a chilling message into the ranks of his colleagues across the nation — that they could face felony charges if something similar happened on their watches.

Anyone responsible for neglect of duty that leads to tragic consequences should face such charges. In our system of justice, whether such charges are justified is determined in a trial with all the pertinent facts on display, not with plea bargaining.

The plea deal may have technically closed the books on the prosecutorial phase of Thirtymile. But the nagging question remains: Will justice ever be completely, and adequately, served in this case?”