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.”


Historic wooden bridge burns in wildland fire near Moab, UT

From the Aspen Times Weekly:

Ace Stryker
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
April 7, 2008


MOAB, Utah — A 92-year-old wooden suspension bridge across the Colorado River near Moab was destroyed by a fire that began with a boy playing with matches.

“It’s too bad. It was really kind of a historical marker for this area,” Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland said. “People are pretty upset because the bridge was still in pretty good shape.”

Dewey Bridge, about 30 miles northeast of Moab, was in the path of a fire that crawled up the riverbank Sunday from a campground about a quarter-mile away, Nyland said.

A 7-year-old boy camping with his parents had gone down to the river and started a brush fire with matches, the sheriff said.

A strong breeze spread the flames over 10 acres, igniting the old bridge, searing the underside of a concrete bridge and blackening more than a half-mile of riverbed. Campers were evacuated but no one was injured.

“It threatened one home at one point, but (firefighters) were able to keep it from that,” said Lynn Jackson, associate field director at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s office in Moab.

Built in 1916, Dewey Bridge had not been used for cars for years. But it was a well-known foot bridge and part of the 140-mile Kokopelli Trail bike route from Moab to Loma, Colo.

It recently got a new paint job by the same community members who helped get the bridge on the National Register of Historic Places, Nyland said.

All that remained Monday were charred scraps of wood and steel cables dragging in the current. A boat traveling down the Colorado had to be turned away because the debris made the river impassable.

“It created quite a public-safety hazard,” Jackson said.

County and federal authorities were investigating the fire for possible charges. The family is from Grand Junction, Colo. No names were released.

Loss of the bridge caused a stir in the area, about 250 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.

“There aren’t many bridges out in this part of the country like that,” Jackson said.

Retention in the US Forest Service in California

The San Bernardino Sun has an article about retention of US Forest Service employees, especially firefighters, in California. The headline of the article is “Burning Questions”. Every time someone writes that as the title of an article or book, they think they are the first one to think of it.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

“Burning Questions

U.S. firefighter report raises concerns

Jason Pesick, Staff Writer

Federal lawmakers from California think Washington doesn’t know how to put out fires.

“With a fire, for God’s sake, you’ve got to be able to respond and respond effectively and have that response led by people who understand the forest,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands.

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the national forests and fights wildland fires, responded to federal legislation requesting a report on federal firefighter pay and personnel policies with proposals to increase recruitment and retention in the Southern California national forests.

The report, released two months late at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing, had little in common with a draft produced by agency officials in California.

“The upshot of the new report is that – `Problem? What problem?’ It seems to be disconnected from the situation on the ground,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, who served a stint as a seasonal firefighter with the Forest Service in the ’80s.

According to the final report, the idea that there is a recruitment and retention problem in Southern California is “hard to substantiate based on data.”

The eight-page report – trimmed down from a 22-page draft originally crafted by California-based Forest Service officials – also said recruitment is more than making up for attrition and was scant on specific recommendations.

In their draft, officials painted a very different picture, recommending that firefighter pay, facilities, leadership, training and communications be improved and that perks such as providing day care and more government houses be considered. They also recommended examining job titles for the firefighters, who are classified as forestry technicians.

“This is a critical issue. The lives and property of many Californians are at stake,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who requested the report, said in a statement, “and we must have a competent, professional and adequate firefighting force.”

She said she’d send the draft to a senior-level Agriculture Department official to get further feedback.

According to the report, the Forest Service in Southern California lost 9.4 percent of its firefighters in 2007. The rate was 46.6 percent for a certain class of junior firefighters.

“When you’re losing half your people in the first year, I think you’re delusional not to realize you’ve got a problem,” Schiff said.

The attrition rates for the San Bernardino and Angeles national forests were the worst in Southern California, according to the report, with 61 percent of those departing last year going to state and local fire departments, which pay higher salaries.”

Wildland Fire Conferences

There are a couple of interesting conferences on the horizon for wildland firefighters:

Aerial Firefighting Conference, October 21-22, 2008, Athens, Greece
As far as I know this is the first major conference in many years that is specifically dedicated to aerial firefighting. Quite a few vendors and users of wildland fire aircraft from several continents are already committed to participating.

“The ’88 Fires: Yellowstone and Beyond”, September 22-27, 2008, will commemorate the fires 20 years ago in the greater Yellowstone and northern Rockies area. The deadline for submission of abstracts and special sessions is April 15.