Wildfire news, August 31, 2008

More about the fatal Boise fire

The local newspaper is providing more analysis of Tuesday’s fire in Boise that destroyed 10 houses, damaged many more and killed Mary Ellen Ryder.

As soon as the first houses caught on fire, the still-burning grasses were nearly irrelevant. From then on, the trees, shrubs and wooden roofs within the subdivisions became the fuels for the fire, and the wind direction and ability of the local firefighters to respond determined which houses would survive. 

The Oregon Trail Fire showed that in a dense urban-wildland interface, it may not be enough that a few individual homeowners do all the right fire-safe things. If one neighbor doesn’t, every home could be in danger.

A collaborative program called “firewise” and state and city codes have evolved in the years since a wildfire burned through Oakland, Calif., neighborhoods in 1991. The guidelines recommend residents remove fuel, such as dead grass, and other entry points, including cedar-shake roofs, that bring wildland fires into urban landscapes.

But the rules are voluntary, and if a few people decide not to participate, an entire subdivision can be threatened.

The above is from the Idaho Statesman

This is consistent with the Wildfire Today story from July 23:

Researchers determined that of the 199 homes destroyed in last October’s Grass Valley fire near Lake Arrowhead, California, only 6 of them were directly hit by the fire. The other 193 homes ignited and burned due to surface fire contacting the home, firebrands accumulating on the home, or an adjacent burning structure. The report, by Jack Coen and Richard Stratton, concludes:

In general, the home destruction resulted from residential fire characteristics. The ignition vulnerable homes burning in close proximity to one another continued the fire spread through the residential area without the wildfire as a factor. This implies that similar fire destruction might occur without a wildfire. A house fire at an upwind location at the same time and under the same conditions as the wildfire could have resulted in significant fire spread within the community. 

The complete report can be found HERE. Links to other reports by Jack Cohen on similar subjects are HERE.

BLM provides satellite phones to ranchers

In southwest Idaho there are large gaps in cell phone coverage, making it impossible to quickly report new lightning fires. The Bureau of Land Management and the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security are supplying satellite phones to some ranchers in very remote areas. Here is an excerpt from an AP article:

A year ago, however, wildfires blazed across 3,000 square miles of Idaho — an area three times the size of Rhode Island. 

It took three weeks to contain one of those wildfires, a lightning-caused complex of blazes that covered nearly 1,000 square miles, killing wildlife and livestock, blackening grazing ground and charring habitat for seasons to come for sensitive species such as sage grouse. It was the largest single fire ever fought by the BLM in Idaho. As the embers were barely cool, BLM managers and ranchers began discussions last fall about improving communication before the next conflagration.

For an initial agency investment of $10,000, the seven Iridium satellite phones seemed a reasonable bargain, said Janet Peterson, the BLM’s safety manager in Boise — especially considering that 1,000-square-mile complex alone cost more than $13 million to fight and will likely set taxpayers back $34 million more to restore the blackened landscape.

“The ranchers are a pretty key partner,” she said. “They know the country.”

Should one of Idaho’s cowboys spot a fire and place a call, firefighting planes could be scrambled out of the Boise Airport about 50 miles northeast of Silver City. The ranchers have been told to use the phones in medical emergencies, too. The state’s disaster agency, the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, is chipping in for the service costs.

“If you see a fire and have no connectivity, you can’t tell anybody,” said Col. Bill Shawver, the agency’s director. “To have a satellite phone with you, you can make that immediate call and get firefighters mobilized.”

The phones were distributed to ranchers based on where they run their cattle and the existing grid of cell phone service. Cowboys call in once a month, to make sure the phones are working.

Hurricane Gustav response

Update at 7:30 p.m. MT, Saturday, Aug. 30

Here are the hurricane models as of 6:00 p.m. MT today that predict the track for Gustav:


As of 3:45 p.m. MT the hurricane has increased to a Category 4 storm, just shy of Cat. 5, and after it crosses Cuba is expected to reach Cat. 5 Cat. 4 status as it moves across the Gulf of Mexico. The forecast models still call for it to make landfall in the Louisiana area around mid-day on Monday.

Three National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) teams are being pre-positioned. Whitney’s and Cable’s teams will be staged in Dallas, and Custer’s will be in Atlanta. The National Park Service has activated one of their All Hazard teams to report to Jacksonville.

FEMA has deployed Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMAT) to Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. An Advanced Emergency Response Team (ERT-A) has been deployed to Alabama and a “Warm Cell”” team is already active in the Louisiana Emergency Operations Center. FEMA has ordered 18 urban search and rescue teams, including one from Liverpool, England, as Firegeezer reports.

They have the following supplies and equipment already pre-positioned:

  • More than 2.4 million liters of water (137 truckloads).
  • More than 4 million meals (203 truckloads).
  • 478 emergency generators.
  • 141 truckloads of tarps.
  • 267 truckloads of blankets and cots.

Organizations in Texas are making preparations:

The U.S. Forest Service is working with FEMA and has placed personnel in the FEMA Region VI headquarters in Denton, Texas in addition to several planning personnel at the State Operations Center in Austin. Texas Forest Service has received several assignments from the GDEM. The Lone Star State Incident Management Team has been activated and is awaiting instructions for deployment. Five Type III local government teams, led by TFS personnel, have also been activated. TFS aviation personnel have been requested to Galveston Island to assist with the possible airlift of patients from the University of Texas Medical Branch this weekend.

HERE is a link to a satellite loop that shows Gustav moving across Cuba. It is expected to rebuild over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters to Cat. 5 strength and head toward Louisiana.

Some hurricanes originate over the continent of Africa. This photo from WeatherUnderground on Thursday shows easterly waves moving from east to west that may develop into tropical storms or hurricanes after they move off the coast of Africa. If some of them do, the next week or two are going to be busy in the Atlantic.

Wildfire news, August 30, 2008

Gunbarrel fire update

This fire between Yellowstone National Park and Cody, Wyoming has not made any major advances in the last couple of days. It has burned 61,433 acres and is being managed as a Confine/Contain fire. Paul Broyles’ Type 1 Incident Management Team reports this morning:

Yesterday’s Activity
Fire activity was again moderate with little perimeter growth. Most of the active fire behavior was in the Jim Creek and Trout Creek areas where the fire burned out some interior pockets of bug-killed trees. Firefighters successfully burned out an area between Elephant Head and Goff Lodges and secured fire lines in the vicinity of Star Hill Ranch. The northeastern flank of the fire advanced up the Robbers’ Roost Creek Drainage some distance, but remains several miles east of the Rattlesnake and Dead Indian Creek drainages. 

Today’s Planned Activity
Firefighters will focus efforts on securing fire line in the Robbers’ Roost Creek drainage to stop its northward spread. Crews will mop-up and finish securing fire lines near Elephant Head and Goff Lodges and the Star Hill Ranch. Structure protection efforts will remain in place in all areas of the fire as needed. Helicopter support will aid their efforts as wind conditions permit. Crews will begin retrieving pumps and hoses from areas of the fire where they are no longer needed and will be available for initial attack response.

Today’s Forecasted Weather
Temperatures: Mid 80’s
Humidities: 9-16%
Winds: Out of the southeast at 20-30 mph.

Wildfire news, August 29, 2008

Jet Skis used again on a wildland fire

On August 19 Wildfire Today covered the story of a wildland fire in Hawaii where jet skis were used to evacuate tourists. Yesterday the San Francisco Fire Department used jet skis to transport hose from their fire boat to Yerba Buena Island where a fire was burning in an area with difficult access. Yerba Buena Island is in San Francisco Bay near the Bay Bridge.

They used two jet skis each with one firefighter aboard to carry the hose to the island, which had no roads near the three-acre fire.
View Larger Map

Crew finds pipe bomb

Damn. Another thing for crews to be heads up about. Hopefully, this is a very isolated incident. From The Western News in Libby, Montana:

During the course of a chainsaw tree-thinning operation on Swede Mountain this past weekend, U.S. Forest Service personnel saw their efforts come to a halt – and not because of bad weather or malfuctioning equipment. Late on Sunday afternoon in a ravine near Williams Creek, the crew came across a pipe bomb. 

“You look at them and have every reason to believe it’s live,” Lincoln County detective Jim Sweet said. “They’re so highly dangerous when they throw them in a ditch like that. If anybody had been near it (if exploded) it could’ve been lethal.”

The bomb was indeed live and by its weathered appearance, could’ve been sitting in that spot for some time. Sweet said the Forest Service crew knew right away what they had found and reported its location.

Through an agreement with Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, a bomb disposal unit was called in to take care of the device. Not long after arriving on Monday, the unit cleared the scene and soon thereafter exploded the bomb.

Hurricane Gustav response

It may strike in the vicinity of Louisiana on Tuesday morning as a Category 3 hurricane. The Southern Geographic Area has been tasked by FEMA to provide aviation overhead resources to be positioned across the southeast. These resources will be used to help FEMA aviation personnel transport evacuees. So far they have received FEMA Mission Assignments that cover TX, LA, MS, and AL.

61,000 acre fire in Montana

The Great Falls Tribune has more information about the Dunn fire, 40 miles northeast of Billings:

Calmer weather on Thursday allowed firefighters to resume their fight against a central Montana wildfire that has charred an estimated 61,000 acres — or more than 95 square miles. 

But crews remained wary as winds picked up late in the day, threatening to again send the Dunn fire racing through dry scrub brush about 40 miles north and east of Billings.

“Right now things are all right, but the winds are getting a little stiff,” said fire information officer Dwayne Andrews. “They’re working real hard to contain it.”

Although the size of the blaze was double a late Wednesday estimate, fire officials said it had not grown significantly in the last 24 hours. They attributed the change to better mapping attained through an aerial survey of the area Thursday morning.

Nine ranch houses were threatened and a bridge along Railroad Creek Road in Yellowstone County was destroyed. No evacuations have been ordered.

Strong winds had caused the blaze to expand rapidly Tuesday and Wednesday through a mixture of grasslands, sage brush and ponderosa pine stands. That forced firefighters to suspend efforts to put it out.

But lighter winds slowed that expansion by Thursday, and crews stepped up their attack on the fire, Andrews said. Winds of 5 to 15 miles per hour were forecast, with gusts possible up to 40 miles per hour.

“It’s full bore today,” he said. “We’ve got 25 wildland fire engines working on hot spots.”

The front of the east-moving blaze was roughly 5 miles north of Pompeys Pillar National Monument. The monument, on the far side of the Yellowstone River, was not considered threatened.

The Dunn dire started last Friday, possibly by a lightning strike in the Bull Mountains. Crews thought they had contained the blaze at about 600 acres over the weekend, until a burning tree fell across fire lines sometime Monday.

Wildfire news, August 28, 2008

Cause of fatal Boise fire revealed

The cause of Monday’s fire in Boise that burned ten homes, and may have caused the death of one resident, has been determined.

Boise Fire investigators said Thursday that an electrical connection on a powerpole, called a hot tap stirrup, arched causing molten metal to fall to the dry grass below, igniting a wildfire that took only minutes to burn ten homes and damage nine others in a southeast Boise neighborhood Monday. 

Lisa Grow, vice president of delivery operations and engineering for Idaho Power, said during the storm that blew through Boise Monday evening, just before 7 p.m. a tree branch fell into a powerline along Boise Avenue about five miles from the fire scene. That caused a break in the power distribution, forcing a stronger current to the hot tap stirrup miles away.

She says the 50 mph winds, plus the extra current, caused the arch that ignited the fire in the Oregon Trail Heights subdivision. The last time the connection was inspected was in 2006. According to Idaho Power, they are inspected every three years.

From KTVB.com

Update: air tanker pilot’s injuries minor

Yesterday we covered the crash of the single engine air tanker (SEAT) in northwest Colorado. Thankfully, we can now report that the injuries to the pilot were minor. The SEAT went down at 3 p.m. Wednesday about 20 miles northwest of Meeker, CO. The pilot’s name has not been released. The BLM says he walked away from the crash while working on a fire on BLM land and was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Grand Junction.

Ammo depot in Ukraine burns in forest fire

KIEV, August 28–Artillery shells and other ammunition at a storage site in Ukraine exploded after a forest fire spread to the facility, prompting an evacuation, emergency officials say.

The prime minister was quoted as saying nobody was seriously injured.

The Defense Ministry said the fire broke out in a forest near the town of Lozovaya, some 500 kms (300 miles) east of the capital Kiev.

Firefighters couldn’t handle the blaze, and it spread to the arsenal, which contains some 100 tons of ammunition on a 1,235-acre (500-hectare) site, it said.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said that there were no casualties, adding that 1,400 people had been evacuated and a total of 6,000 would be evacuated from the area around the facility.


Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko

About 1,400 people had been evacuated and 6,000 would be evacuated from the area around the facility, officials said.

Lidya, a local resident, said: “They told us on radio and TV we should take documents and personal belongings and leave our houses to wait near bus stops.”

“People waited and waited but no transportation was provided. So people started to run, all, including disabled people and old people. I was standing here and saw everything – it was scary, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Nikolai Tityursky, a spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces, said: “We have conducted a helicopter reconnaissance flight to detect the locations where the burning process is still under way, where there are still rounds of ammunition that can detonate.”

“After the explosions finish, we’ll send five tanks to help put out the blaze.”

Ukrainian defense officials have warned that dozens of large ammunition depots inherited from the former Soviet Union are poorly maintained and represent a serious public hazard.

A fire and explosions at a munitions depot in southern Ukraine in 2004 killed five people. It took days to put the blaze out.

From Alalam.ir


Some of the materials in the middle of the fire are 94,000 tons of missiles, 60 tons of propellant explosive, and Luna-M tactical missiles.


File photo of Luna-M missile on transporter.

HERE is a link to a page that has two different videos of the ammo dump burning and exploding.

from the Earth Times:

The nighttime blaze near the town Lozova in Ukraine’s Kharkiv province had produced hundreds of detonations so far, threatening firefighters with shrapnel and making quick control of the fire impossible, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said. 

Two storage buildings the Soviet-era artillery shell and rocket dump were burning, and 120-millimetre mortar rounds were detonating “almost every minute” said Viktor Baloga, a government spokesman.

Emergency workers evacuated more than 6,500 residents of Lozova and surrounding villages five kilometres or less from the fire’s epicentre.

One military service member was injured as a result of the fire. Windows were broken throughout Lozova and houses damaged as far as three kilometres from the fire, an army spokesman said.

A massive government effort to bring the blaze under control was in progress. Some 200 vehicles and 1,000 firefighting personnel drawn from both the military and civilian sectors were participating, said Volodymyr Shandra, Ukraine Emergency Situations Minister.

USFS diverts funds to cover fire expenses

There are a number of local stories around the nation about the U. S. Forest Service ordering Forests to take money that was planned for other uses to cover mas
sive firefighting expenses
. Here is a brief excerpt from one of the stories, this one about the Cleveland National Forest in southern California from the Union-Tribune.

Campground bathrooms and roads in the Cleveland National Forest will suffer because the U.S. Forest Service is cutting at least $400 million in programs nationwide so it has enough money to fight fires in September. 

“It’s all those types of things that users typically see,” said Brian Harris, a spokesman for the agency in Rancho Bernardo.

National forests in California are on the hook to lose $33 million, and they could give up more if the Forest Service has to battle a massive wildfire. That money would have been used for removal of hazardous trees, roof repairs, new vehicles and other needs.

In the 438,000-acre Cleveland National Forest, the funding hit is estimated at $1.3 million – or roughly 5 percent of the forest’s annual budget. The forest, which stretches across San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties, is a major recreation area that gets about 850,000 visits a year.

If you can’t get enough of this fiscal stuff, here are more articles about this in other parts of the country: Montana, Oregon, Wyoming & South Dakota, West Virginia, and Colorado.

Gunbarrel fire, west of Cody, Wyoming

From the Powell Tribune

“The winds are just howling,” Clint Dawson said Wednesday, describing the wind’s rate around the Gunbarrel Fire. 

Dawson is the zone fire manager for Shoshone National Forest.

In the valley — in the vicinity of the newly-relocated Gunbarrel Fire camp at Buffalo Bill State Park — the wind was gusting to 40-60 mph in the early afternoon on Wednesday. The new incident command camp is just above the reservoir west of Cody.

An aircraft flying over the fire Wednesday reported winds reaching 115 mph at 11,000 feet, Dawson said. (some of the peaks in the fire area are at about 10,000 feet-bg)

The fire was was spotting on the east side of 12,000-foot high Trout Peak, according to an incident report.

Wind often is the rule rather than the exception in the hills and mountains above the reservoir, but Dawson described these fierce winds as “abnormal.”

A red-flag warning was issued for the fire area again on Wednesday. That means low humidity and windy conditions likely will translate to potential fire growth and extreme fire behavior, said Mark Giacoletto, Shoshone Forest fire management officer.

As of Wednesday morning, the Gunbarrel Fire was roughly 10-12 miles west of Cody and north of U.S. 14-16-20. It had grown by 3,424 acres since Monday to a total of 57,384 acres and extended about 24 miles roughly from east to west. Lightning ignited the fire about 38 miles west of Cody on July 26.

At-risk structures on both ends of the fire were being closely monitored and defended by firefighters on the scene.

The price of managing and fighting the fire also is mounting. On Monday, the cost was an even $6.6 million. By Wednesday morning — before Wednesday’s fierce winds — the price tag had grown to a little over $7.6 million.

Members of the Great Basin Type 1 Incident Management Team arrived Tuesday. Official transfer of command occurred Wednesday morning.

Goats gobble grass–and brush

In the 1980’s we conducted some experiments using goats for fuel management on the Cleveland National Forest east of Pine Valley, California. They did a fine job of eating all of the grass and almost every leaf on every plant in a brush field. If they were brought back months later, or the following year (or two) the brush would eventually die. This was less risky than prescribed fire in an urban interface area. There were no bulldozers chewing up the ground, and it did not contaminate the air or ground with smoke or pesticides.

But goat-proof fences and drinking water had to be in place, and usually a goat-herder had to remain on site, so it was a high-maintenance operation.

In the last few years fuel management by goats has become more popular. The News Review has an article about a goat-herding family. Here are some excerpts.

Terry and Vera Adams waded through a small sea of Billy goats at their Corning ranchette last week, trying to think of just exactly how many of the animals they own. 

All summer long, most of the herd—their female (nanny) goats and babies (kids)—have been on the go, transported from location to location throughout Northern California, eating down grasses, weeds, brush and other vegetation. Counting the male goats surrounding them in a large fenced pasture back at the couple’s home, they figured their stock is up to about 1,400-or-so animals.

It’s been a good year for T&V Livestock, the Adams’ family-run business that contracts with private landowners and public agencies in need of vegetation control. And with today’s focus on health and the environment, they’re bound to get busier.

“The public really goes for it. They like the idea of no sprays and burning,” said Terry of his goats (and a few sheep). “It’s a pretty environmentally friendly way of doing things.”

Dale Shippelhoute of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agrees, which is one of the reasons he contracted with the couple to bring the animals to several federally owned properties over the summer.

Currently, goats are chomping their way through vegetation at the Stone Lakes refuge just 10 miles south of Sacramento, along a wildland-urban interface in Elk Grove. Residents in towns bordering the FWS site have been receptive to the project, which, unlike prescribed burning, doesn’t adversely affect air quality.

Aided these days by their two kids (children, not goats)—Marly, 14, and Terrance, 9—the Adamses have run T&V Livestock for nearly a decade, learning the ins and outs of an operation that is much more complicated than it may sound.

Caring for the creatures means transporting them, along with everything they need to thrive: water, supplements and other supplies. They also have hired help live on site in a trailer and specially trained guard dogs, Anatolian shepherds, to protect them from predators.

Business is strong this year, but Vera says some seasons have been pretty thin. She also warns that goats are tricky to care for; they are susceptible to parasites and cold weather.

While the creatures require a lot of time and effort, Vera insists the family likes having them.

Air tanker crashes in Colorado

From Myfoxcolorado:

A firefighting plane battling one of many lightning-caused fires in northwestern Colorado crashed Wednesday, injuring the pilot.

The single-engine air tanker went down at 3 p.m. about 20 miles northwest of Meeker, or 170 miles northwest of Denver.

Bureau of Land Management spokesman David Boyd said the pilot was conscious and able to move. He was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Grand Junction. The pilot’s name was not released.

The cause of the crash was under investigation, Boyd said. The pilot was working on a small blaze called the Flat Bush fire that was reported Wednesday morning and was burning in pinyon-juniper and sage on BLM land.

It was one of more than 30 lightning-caused fires in northwestern Colorado, the BLM said. Most were estimated at less than an acre in size. There have been no reports of damage to the 30 gas wells in the area.

The largest is the 27,000-acre Mayberry fire on BLM and private land about 30 miles northwest of Craig. More than 75 firefighters had contained about 50 percent of the blaze, the agency said. The Prong fire, about 20 miles northwest of Craig, jumped containment lines Tuesday night and grew to 5,150 acres.

Firefighters stopped its growth and were working to secure fire lines Wednesday afternoon, the BLM said.

The Lone fire, burning on BLM and private land about 15 miles north of Elk Springs in Moffat County, was about 75 percent contained. It charred 950 acres.

Crews from Maybell, Meeker, Moffat County, the Colorado State Forest Service, the BLM, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service were working together to manage the fires.

Wednesday’s crash was the second wreck of a firefighting plane in Colorado this year.

In April, firefighting pilot Gert Marais of Fort Benton, Mont., was killed when his single-engine plane crashed after dumping fire-retardant slurry on a wildfire in a remote part of Fort Carson. Marais worked for a Sterling company that supplies aerial firefighting services to the state Forest Service.