South Dakota: Prescribed fire at Wind Cave NP

Today we were graciously allowed to observe a prescribed fire at Wind Cave National Park in southwest South Dakota. The projected surrounded a campground, Elk Mountain Campground, and comprises 93 acres. We watched while the National Park Service firefighters skillfully burned around campsites and structures. We shot a couple of hundred photos…. here are 33 of them.

A big THANKS to the Fire Management and Interpretive staffs at Wind Cave.

(Click on the arrow button to start the slide show. To manually advance the photos, after the show starts click on the pause button ( || ) at the bottom of the photo then click the left or right arrows at the bottom to advance to another photo. If you click on the middle of a photo after the slide show starts, you’ll be taken to the photo album at Picassa Web Albums, where you can view the photos in a larger format.)

Wildfire news, October 29, 2008

California: firefighter convicted of arson


WOODLAND, Calif. –A reserve firefighter has been found guilty of intentionally starting wildfires that he later battled. 

Robert Eric Eason, 30, was convicted of 14 counts of arson. Eason was accused of setting a series of 16 wildland fires in the Capay Valley from 2005 to 2006, the district attorney’s office said.

Many of the fires caused considerable damage to farmland and livestock, including one blaze that killed several hundred sheep.

A jury reached its verdict after just one day of deliberation. Eason faces up to 50 years in prison.

Researchers: Sierra fires becoming larger and more damaging

From the LA Times:

Forest fires in the (California) Sierra Nevada have grown larger, more frequent and more damaging in the last two decades, according to a study that suggests much of the blame rests with the government’s century-long war on wildfire. 

The study, published online this month in the journal Ecosystems, found that between 1984 and 2006, the proportion of burned areas where no trees survived increased, on average, to nearly 30%, from 17%.

Climate is playing some role, the study said. But it blamed a bigger factor: Federal efforts to quench most blazes quickly have thwarted the Sierra Nevada’s natural cycle of frequent, house-cleaning fires and left forests packed with fuel.

“This just blind effort to continue to put everything out is probably backfiring on us,” said Hugh Safford, a U.S. Forest Service ecologist and one of the study’s authors. “We’ve created our own nightmare.”

Blazes in mid- and low-elevation forests have grown more severe in large part because there is more to burn. A jump in average annual precipitation across the range since 1908 has promoted forest growth, while a rise in temperature is diminishing the mountain snowpack and lengthening the fire season.

The study, based on satellite imagery of the Sierra and southern Cascade ranges, also found that the average size of severely burned forest patches caused by individual fires has roughly doubled in recent decades.

“It may simply be that most low- and middle-elevation forest lands in the study region are ready and primed to burn,” the researchers wrote.

Presentation on the fire caused by U.S. Rep. Henry Brown

On June 4 and September 18 Wildfire Today covered the fire caused by U.S. Rep. Henry Brown in South Carolina. Briefly, a controlled burn by Brown in 2004 escaped and burned 20 acres of U.S. Forest Service land. He was ordered to pay restitution but initially refused. Eventually he paid a reduced fine of $4,747 in April, but only after ensnaring dozens of federal employees in a conflict that cost the government an estimated $100,000 to resolve. Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey was accused of making decisions about the case based on politics.

But, according to the MyrtleBeachOnline:

Jack Gregory, a 36-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service, will speak in Myrtle Beach at 2 p.m. today about the fire set by U.S. Rep. Henry Brown in 2004 that burned down 20 acres of Francis Marion National Forest. Gregory will appear at Nance Plaza in downtown Myrtle Beach, across from the former Pavilion site. 

Brown is running for re-election, for a fifth term, and this fire has become an issue in the campaign. His opponent, Linda Ketner, has a TV ad that features the fire and Brown has demanded that Ketner stop showing the ad. Ketner has refused.

From the Miami Herald:

[…] Brown’s campaign manager Rod Shealy said Brown had a burn permit and the Forest Service was also starting burns. In both cases, the burns were designed to clear away underbrush that, if allowed to build up, could provide fuel for even larger fires. The alert wasn’t issued until late in the day when Brown’s fire was already ignited, he said. 

Ketner has posted a whistleblower report from the U.S. Forest Service on her campaign web site that said a state Forestry Commission officer had told Brown earlier in the day that he should not burn, despite the permit.

The report also says Brown told U.S. Forest Service officials shortly afterward their programs might get more scrutiny if they pursued the fine. Brown is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

The dispute was resolved earlier this year, and Brown paid almost $5,000. The government also revised its policy on controlled burns.

Brown said he fought the fine because the law needed to be changed.

Under the old law, if a fire spread from Forest Service property to private land, landowners had to prove government neglect to get compensated. But fires spreading from private land to a national forest were automatically an offense, he said.

“We got that changed,” Brown told Ketner during a debate last week.

But Ketner said that in the previous year 15 people were fined for fires spreading to the forest and all paid.

“It would have been so much better if you had done it on behalf of them instead of yourself,” she said.

Australia: NSW fatality

The New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service has released information about a firefighter fatality. Bryce Laut died while fighting a fire in Kumbatine National Park near Kempsey. According to a release from the agency, he was killed when a ” burnt-out tree fell directly onto Bryce”.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Macleay Argus:

The National Parks and Wildlife officer from Port Macquarie was fighting a fire, suspected of being deliberately lit, in the Kumbatine National Park, about 26km south-west of Kempsey.


He was killed instantly about 6pm on Sunday when a tree fell on him as he was assisting a back burning operation in the remote national park.

The national park covers 13,000ha and is a protected area. Following the death, police have warned arsonists they face 14 years in jail if convicted of deliberately lighting a fire.

Police were conducting inquiries into the man’s death with a report to be prepared for the NSW Coroner’s office. Specialist investigators are expected to examine the cause of the bushfire.

Our condolences to the family and coworkers of Mr. Laut.


Extra-large Air Tanker news

NASA studies the DC-10 and 747 air tankers

(From the Victorville Daily Press)

The firefighting DC-10 Supertanker, based at Southern California Logistics Airport, is being studied by NASA in what could pave the way for the plane’s first federal contracts.

The jet’s owner, 10 Tanker Air Carrier, has been trying for some time to get a contract with the U.S. Forest Service that would allow the agency to fight fires on federal land, managing partner Rick Hatton said. The Forest Service approached NASA for help in determining the best use for the plane.

“They came to see us in Victorville with six or seven people last month,” Hatton said. “We briefed them on the plane and how effective it’s been for the state of California and how effective it could be for the federal agencies.”

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, about 30 miles northwest of Victorville, will be studying the supertanker to determine its “safe flight envelope.” The team will then recommend operational use regimes, policies and procedures for the aircraft.

The NASA team has spent the past few days in Miami, Hatton said, using an advanced DC-10 flight simulator to perform some preliminary tests.

“We hope to get the NASA team on the DC-10 in a fire environment,” Hatton said, so the company can show NASA what the plane can do.

If not, he said they’ll do mock drops with water in a remote place over the desert, hopefully within the next few weeks.

“The entire team is very excited about helping the Forest Service with this effort,” said Mark Dickerson, project manager for Dryden. “It is a bit different from our typical research projects, but we all enjoy being able to help find new tools to fight wildfires.”

NASA is also studying a Boeing 747 owned by Evergreen International Aviation.

Hatton said his company has hope that the final report will be done in the next few months.

Contract extended for DC-10 Air Tanker

Though the DC-10’s Supertanker’s contract with Cal Fire would have ended Oct. 15, 10 Tanker Air Carrier managing partner Rick Hatton said it’s been extended through the end of October. Santa Ana winds picking up and the dangerously dry conditions are rattling some nerves.

“It’s been a weird season,” Hatton said. “It was very busy early in the summer. We flew more mission in June and July than all of ‘07. But it’s been quiet for August and September. Now there’s this huge fear that all hell could break lose.”

The tanker was used to fight the Porter Ranch fire that engulfed parts of Los Angeles two weeks ago, but the plane has been grounded for the past few days. Last year, during its first year under contract with Cal Fire, the tanker flew 106 missions in fighting more than a dozen large wildfires.

Hatton said a recently completed second DC-10 is ready to come on line soon, with plans to get contracts in place for next year’s fire season.

Wildfire news, October 27, 2008

Remembering the crew of Engine 57

Last weekend our thoughts were for the crew of Engine 57 that died on the Esperanza fire two years ago on October 26, 2006.

From the IAWF Wildland Fire Events Calendar:

Five U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighters were entrapped and died on the Esperanza fire near Cabazon, California on October 26, 2006. Killed were engine Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 44, of Idyllwild; engine operator Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; assistant engine operator Jason McKay, 27, of Phelan; and firefighter Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto. A fifth firefighter Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley, who was injured along with the other four, passed away on October 31. 

The five firefighters comprised the crew of a wildland engine, Engine 57, from the San Bernardino National Forest. They were assigned to a state managed fire approximately 60 miles east of Los Angeles and were entrapped while protecting a structure.

The final report is at the Lessons Learned Center.

The Press Enterprise has an article about the fire.

Nevada: Peterson fire


Aerial attacks will resume and federal firefighters will arrive this morning to battle the 1,000-acre wildfire north of Cold Springs after it neared U.S. 395 Sunday night. 

Four 20-member crews, one from the Tahoe Basin and three from the Nevada Division of Forestry, were to arrive at 8 a.m. to fight the Peterson Ridge Fire, which started about 1:30 p.m. in Crystal Canyon. No structures were threatened or injuries reported.

Firefighters stopped the blaze from reaching U.S. 395 just before 7 p.m. and held it on the west side of the freeway. Traffic was not affected, officials said.

About 150 firefighters were battling the fast-moving blaze fanned by 15 mph winds that grew from 5 acres to about 200 acres in about two hours, from a staging area at the California Department of Agriculture station near the state line.

SCBA, revolutionary new design

Firegeezer has the scoop on a revolutionary redesign of the air tank for a self-contained breathing apparatus. In the International Association of Firefighters’ design being tested, the weight has been reduced from 30 pounds to 8, and it is only 1.5 inches thick.

Wildfire news, October 26, 2008

California: Ventura County, evacuate or stay?

Ventura County Fire Department in southern California is implementing a procedure they call “Leave Early or Stay and Defend (LEOSAD)”. Many jurisdictions are adopting a similar program. In some areas it is called “Shelter in Place”, or as Wildfire Today reported concerning a Montana program, here and here, “Prepare, Stay, and Defend”.

This is the way it is described by the Ventura County FD:

The first part requires every property owner within the Wildland Urban Interface zone to adequately prepare their property against the threat of a wildfire. This includes weed abatement, the use of fire-resistant building materials and the use of fire-safe landscaping. Many aspects of this portion of the strategy are already required or recommended. The big change in the program comes in the second phase.

After homeowners have made the necessary preparations to their property, we are asking every homeowner to carefully consider their personal answer to the question: Should I leave early, or stay and defend my property?

Their “Wildfire Action Plan” can be downloaded here.

New Jersey: update on Salders Ditch fire

The fire, at 1,950 acres and 70% containment, has not grown for a couple of days but it is still producing a lot of smoke due to the peat soils. On Friday the smoke caused the closure of several schools. Some rain on Saturday eased the problem for a while, but until they can get massive quantities of water pumped into the peat, the next inversion may again result in closed highways and schools. Rain, unless in hurricane-induced quantities, will not put it out.

An article in the Press of Atlantic City says the Wharton State Forest, where the fire is located, does not yet have, what is called in most areas, a fire management plan. This plan, when completed, could allow for prescribed fires which would manage the fuels, making large dangerous wildfires less likely. Some other state owned lands in New Jersey are treated with prescribed fires on a regular, rotating basis.

California: Red Flag Warning

The Red Flag Warning in southern California continues through 8 p.m. Sunday. This is caused by a weak Santa Ana wind that is preventing the normal diurnal (or daily) sea breeze from bringing in cool, moist air–instead, replacing it with hot, very dry air. In some areas, single-digit relative humidities are predicted through Monday.

Here is the forecast for Riverside, California covering the period Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m., to Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. It shows, top to bottom, temperature, wind speed and direction, and relative humidity. Click on it to see a larger version.