El Cariso Hot Shots, Photography, and Sadowski

The El Cariso Hot Shots are having a reunion today and tomorrow. I wish I could be there–I wish them well and congratulate them on a great history.

I recently re-established contact with another El Cariso veteran, Tom Sadowski, from the early 1970’s. We worked on the crew for 2 or 3 years together. A few weeks ago I started a project to digitize some of the thousands of slides I began taking a long time ago. I took the photo below of Tom in 1975 at Mt. Laguna, California.Tom (we sometimes called him Ski) is alive and well and living in Maine. He recently designed the commemorative logo (at the top of this post) for the crew. Tom taught me a lot about photography.

He was always interested in heavy-duty machinery. We were on a fire in Wyoming back then, and Tom had climbed on top of an old, beat-up water tender to check it out. I was taking a picture of him with my old beat-up Argus 35mm camera. When I pressed the shutter, I could hear and feel the guts of the camera come apart. I shook it and it rattled–never a good sign. I blamed Tom then for breaking my camera. I still do. I took a picture of him and he literally broke the damn camera.

Since then I have gone through many cameras. Minolta, Nikon, Canon, Nikon, Canon, Canon, Canon, and Canon. I’m planning on sticking with Canon, in case you didn’t guess. These days I’m using a Canon EOS-20D. I like it a lot, but it’s big and heavy as hell, at least with the EFS 17-85 lens that I usually have on it.

Garry Briese, new Regional Admin. for FEMA

Garry Briese was the Executive Director for the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) for 20 years until he resigned in February, 2007. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced this week that Briese has accepted a position as Regional Administrator for FEMA Region 8, which includes the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

The Democratic National Convention will be in Denver this summer, and no doubt he will be involved in some of the planning for that event.

After his position with the IAFC, on March 13, 2007 Briese began working for ICF International as a vice president for emergency management and homeland security. According to their web site:

“ICF International (Nasdaq: ICFI) partners with government and commercial clients to deliver consulting services and technology solutions in the energy, environment, transportation, social programs, defense, and homeland security markets.”

A blog called Disaster Zone, written by Eric Holdeman, a “principal” with ICF, said

“….Briese will be appointed to lead the (FEMA) region for the remainder of this administration.”

On September 27, 2007, Briese was appointed a Board member of the newly formed International Fire Service Research Center and Policy Institute which was established by the IAFC.

Western Governors advise Congress about fire funding

From the Western Governors Association today:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Gov. Janet Napolitano told the U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee today that federal funding to fight catastrophic wildland fires must not come at the expense of fire prevention programs.

The governor, testifying on behalf of the Western Governors’ Association, said the proposed Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act (FLAME Act) would help relieve the burden on the U.S. Forest Service’s already tight budget and the drain on wildfire prevention funding by creating a permanent fund for fighting the most catastrophic blazes.

“Large fires that used to burn hundreds of acres have been supplanted with mega-fires that burn tens of thousands of acres – sometimes in a single afternoon,” Napolitano said. “It is time to face reality and address the funding requirements to suppress these catastrophic fires.”

The governor said forests throughout the West are now in the midst of a “perfect storm” and there is “no time to waste” in addressing ever worsening catastrophic wildland fire activity.

“Decades of fuel accumulations and acres of beetle-killed timber, the rapid expansion of wildland/urban interface, and the overarching presence of drought and climate change have now combined to dramatically increase the numbers and size of mega-fires,” Napolitano said. Passage of the FLAME Act, she added, would “ensure that funding is not swept from vital restoration and prevention activities.”

The Governor noted that in the 1990s, wildfire suppression costs comprised 20 percent of the overall Forest Service budget. Today, with more catastrophic wildfires, suppression efforts consume more than half of the Forest Service budget. Recent fire seasons have cost upwards of one billion dollars, compared to $200 million a season in the ‘90s.

A copy of the Governor’s testimony is available on the WGA Web site at www.westgov.org.

Drought in Spain: more fires

From France 24:

Fires destroyed more than twice as much land in drought-hit Spain during the first three months of 2008 as over the corresponding period last year, the government said Tuesday.

17,364 acres (6,945 hectares) of land were lost between January and March as Spain endured its worst drought in decades, figures from the environment ministry showed.

However, the area of forest, scrub and pasture ravaged by flames during the first quarter was about 20 percent less than the average recorded over the past decade during the same period.

About 80 percent of land lost to fires was located in the northern regions of Asturias, Cantabria, Galicia, Leon, Zamora and the Basque Country.

Spain’s water reserves are at 47.6 percent capacity due to a lack of rainfall, the ministry added.

The drought has hurt crops and hydroelectric power production with the northeastern region of Catalonia especially hard hit.

The environment ministry has been trying to reduce the number of forest fires that affect Spain each year through preventative measures such as banning barbecues in the countryside in dry regions, and more effective campaigns to clear roadside garbage and forests of fallen leaves and branches.

Alabaugh Fire Staff Ride

It was a little surreal today standing in the snow trying to picture what a very intense fire was doing in that very spot 9 months ago. The 40 of us participating in a “Staff Ride” for the July, 2007, Alabaugh fire near Hot Springs, South Dakota, were recreating in our minds what two people entrapped by the fire were going through last summer.

(As usual, click on the photos to see larger versions.)

Alabaugh Fire, July 7, 2008. Photo by Bill Gabbert

The all-day experience began with a couple of hours of classroom time, where we got some information about staff rides in general, and some basic information about the Alabaugh fire, including a portion of the video segment about the fire that is in this year’s wildland fire refresher. We wrote about this year’s refresher training HERE on March 23 where I modestly mentioned that some of my photos of the fire are being used in the training.

Then we spent most of the rest of the day in the field, walking in the very footsteps of the people who on July 7, 2007, were fighting a very complex, rapidly developing, wildland-urban interface fire. Many of those firefighters were with us out there today, telling us what they saw, what they were thinking, and giving us the opportunity to experience the fire through their perceptions–but while standing in 2″ of snow, rather than 100+ degree temperatures, 7% relative humidity, and strong shifting winds gusting out of thunderstorm cells.

Al Stover, Initial Attack Incident Commander, showing us the point of origin. Photo by Bill Gabbert.


Jim Cook, Staff Ride Facilitator. Photo by Bill Gabbert
At the entrapment site. Photo by Bill Gabbert

Two firefighters had to share one fire shelter, since one of them forgot his line gear, leaving it in his vehicle while he got out to direct a structure protection operation. Then he became engaged in the some firing, got entrapped, and lived to tell about it.

This hard hat was blown off the head of one of the persons entrapped. It was left on the ground while he was sharing a fire shelter with another firefighter. Photo by Bill Gabbert

An interesting facet of the staff ride was that it served as the 8-hour annual wildland fire refresher that is now required by many agencies. And yes, we practiced getting into a fire shelter in 30 seconds….. with a twist. We all shared a shelter with one other person! WHAT? Yes, it’s true!

Illinois: prescribed fire training

I ran across a photo essay about what is apparently a rather informal prescribed fire by students at Knox College. Knox is in Galesburg, IL.

There are 11 photos on the web page that would be interesting to those who are used to having to follow certain, uh, policies, about safety and personal protective equipment. Here are a couple of the photos. You gotta love those safety glasses.

Maybe those firefighters among us who are usually encumbered by long sleeves, Nomex, and hard hats have been doing it wrong.
The web site says:

“More than 75 students worked at the (7 acre) burn, clearing tree limbs from the prairie and from trails through the extensive forest at Green Oaks.”