It’s not often that you see any news or articles about fire weather forecasters. We have come to depend on them and we probably take them for granted, so it is refreshing to see them receive a little publicity. Here is an excerpt from a ScrippsNews article about Richard Thompson, from Oxnard, California.
“But a lot of it also involves forecasting that relies as much on hunches and knowledge of local weather patterns as on science.
“The conditions can be pretty primitive out there,” said Thompson, who works out of the National Weather Service office in Oxnard, “but it can also be very rewarding work.”
Unlike the forecasts he produces behind a desk in Oxnard, Thompson’s field work generates almost instant feedback from firefighters. “If your forecasts are accurate or bad, they’ll let you know about them right away,” he said.
Gary Montgomery, a rangeland management specialist in Los Padres National Forest, uses forecasts by incident meteorologists to decide where to send firefighters and equipment during wildfires.”
The Long Beach, California Press-Telegram has information about the fire on the island off the California coast last May which burned several structures, including one home:
“An Indiana man has been charged for allegedly starting the Santa Catalina Island fire in May, authorities said Tuesday.
Gary Dennis Hunt, 49, was charged with two felony counts in his arrest warrant: one for recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure and one for recklessly causing a fire to a structure or forest. Three Catalina Island addresses were listed in the counts.
According to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, Hunt was a subcontractor working on the island. Despite posted signs about extreme fire danger and prohibition of open flames, he allegedly used an open-flame torch on May 10 to cut the cables on the island’s radio tower, Ambrose said.
That allegedly started the fire, which burned 4,750 acres and cost $5 million to fight.”
Every spring the national wildland fire agencies produce and distribute a standardized training package designed to meet the requirements for 8 hours of refresher training for wildland firefighters. The training usually includes a description of unique incidents or near-misses that occurred in the previous season. This year the training will feature an entrapment of two firefighters on the Alabaugh fire in July of last year. On the fire, which started 5 miles southeast of Hot Springs, South Dakota, the firefighters escaped serious injuries by sharing one fire shelter.
In addition to the photo with this post, the photo in the header at the top of this page is of the Alabaugh fire. In December the producers of the refresher training shot some video interviews at the houses that you can see in the header photo. (Photo of Alabaugh fire by Bill Gabbert)
We all know that wildland fires are larger than they used to be. Almost every summer recently there are fires that exceed 100,000 acres. Before 1990 this was not common.
I analyzed some fire occurrence statistics obtained from the National Interagency Fire Center and the National Incident Information Center. The numbers for 2007 are through November 4, 2007. Usually when fire occurrence statistics are displayed you will see total acres and the number of fires by year. But when I computed the average size of fires for each decade, the 1970s through 2007, a trend is painfully obvious. During those four decades the average size of fires increased by 400%, while the average number of fires each year decreased by 44%. (Click on the graphs to make them larger.)
But why are fires larger? Some of the factors that could cause such an increase in the average size are:
Fire suppression for the last 100 years is catching up with us. Preventing naturally occurring fires to routinely reduce the fuel loads increases the amount of fuel, and the continuity of it, available when a fire starts. Fires burn more intensely and with more resistance to control.
Climate change. There is no doubt that temperatures in the last few decades have been higher that they were before this period. We can debate how this may have affected wildland fires. Many areas have had extended droughts, causing die back of brush and shrubs. Trees are stressed, making them more susceptible to insects and other pests. Do these higher temperatures have a direct effect on fire behavior on an hour by hour basis?
The Safety and Health Working Team, part of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, on January 15 released a “Safety Gram” listing the wildland fire related fatalities in 2007.
“Nine fatalities occurred in 2007 when employees were performing wildland fire management activities. This is a substantial decrease from the 24 fatalities that were reported in 2006. Also noteworthy is the absence of any entrapment or burnover related fatalities.
Aviation – 1: Fatality occurred when helicopter was performing logistical support.
Driving – 3: Fatalities occurred when firefighters were returning from a prescribed fire (1) and training (2).
Hazard Tree/Snag – 1: Fatality occurred when a tree fell on a firefighter during chain saw training.
Heart Attacks – 2: Fatalities occurred following the Work Capacity Test (pack test) and firefighting.
Other – 2: Fatalities occurred when a dozer rolled over while constructing fire line (1) and by electrocution (1).”