Fire simulator training in Prescott, AZ

Fire simulators can provide a very valuable opportunity to test and improve your firefighting skills. On the Cleveland National Forest we used to use four overhead projectors to produce images of the landscape, smoke, and fire on a rear projection screen, two 4-track reel-to-reel tape recorders and a mixing board for sound effects, and up to 10 people to run the simulation and act as role players. I have not seen the new computer-based simulator that is being used this year, but I hope it is at least as realistic as the earlier systems.

The Daily Courier in Prescot, AZ has a story about firefighters going through an exercise using a simulator and sand table.

Here is an excerpt:

Well aware that numerous agencies often come together suddenly to battle dangerous wildfires, Prescott-area agencies gather each year to brush up their skills before the traditional wildfire season begins.

Prescott fire training
“Firefighters from a variety of agencies look over a sand table model to plan their next action steps for the 1,200 acre fire they were responding to as part of the annual Basin Drill at the Prescott Fire Center. Photo courtesy of The Daily Courier, Les Stukenberg

“We’re testing ourselves to a level we’ve never tested before,” Prescott Fire Chief Darrel Willis said as he surveyed more than 50 people in the incident command center room alone. “Look at all the agencies here. There’s a comfort level when you see people you know. We know what we can expect from those people.”

Such training can save the lives of firefighters as well as citizens who live in wildfire-prone areas of the Prescott region.

“Communications are always going to be difficult,” Bentley said, so training helps immensely with smoothing out radio compatibility issues. Firefighters also learned some lessons about setting up an incident command system quickly so the span of control is clear, he said.

The sand tables are literally that – wooden tables covered with sand that firefighters mold to mimic the actual fire terrain. They add miniature trees, homes and fire trucks to the scene. They move red strings and cotton balls forward to represent an advancing wall of fire.

The Forest Service started making its computer simulator widely available just this year, Bentley said.

Fire instructors input U.S. Geological Survey computerized topographical maps into the simulator, then add as many as 20 types of homes along with local vegetation, roads, streams and even propane tanks.”

PLI insurance reimbursement available to federal "temporary fire managers"

On December 26, 2007, President Bush signed Public Law 110-161, the Consolidated Appropriation Act, 2008 which expands coverage for reimbursement of professional liability insurance to “temporary fire line managers.” The US Forest Service sent out three memos that provide more information for their firefighters. In part they say:

To qualify, these “temporary fire line managers” must meet one of the following three criteria:

1. Provide temporary supervision or management of personnel engaged in wildland or managed fire activities,
2. Provide analysis or information that affects a supervisor’s or manager’s decision about a wildland or managed fire, or
3. Direct the deployment of equipment for a wildland or managed fire.

I combined the three memos into one document, available HERE. (134 k Word document)

Santiago fire AAR released

Santiago fire AARThe Orange County Fire Authority has released their after action review on the October, 2007 Santiago fire, southeast of Los Angeles. The document is 138 pages long and 7.3 Mb. The fire burned 28,517 acres and destroyed 42 structures, including 14 homes, 4 commercial buildings, and 24 out buildings.

On a quick review, I did not see any earth-shaking revelations. There were some challenges with communications (i.e. 800 Mh vs. VHF systems) but have you ever seen an AAR for a large incident that did not mention problems with communications?

Some of the recommendations:

  • “…aggressively pursue adoption of Very High, High, and Moderate Fire Severity Zones” on the CalFire maps.
  • Develop a Wildland-Urban Interface Program that includes enforcement provisions, and commit the necessary resources.
  • Accelerate the purchase of new helicopters, and acquire night vision capability.
  • Establish a full-time, year-round hand crew, a 2nd seasonal handcrew, and a seasonal fly crew.
  • Increase staffing on Type 3 wildland engines to include a 4th firefighter.

Terry Barton re-sentenced today for starting Hayman Fire

hayman fire map
Scott C. Carter, Digital Data Services, Inc.,

Terry Barton was a Fire Prevention Technician for the US Forest Service when she started what became the 137,000-acre Hayman fire on the Pike National Forest in 2002.

Unless there are further legal proceedings, it appears that she will be out of prison in June.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

“Terry Barton, who set the worst fire in Colorado history, was re-sentenced to 15 years probation and 1,500 hours of community service today by 4th Judicial District Judge Thomas Kennedy.

Her first sentence on a state arson charge – 12 years in prison – was tossed out by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2004 because of issues with the way the original judge handled her case.

Barton is in a prison in Texas, serving out the remainder of a six-year sentence on federal charges for starting the Hayman fire. She’s scheduled to be released from prison in June, according to her attorney.

Once she’s released, she’ll have to check in with 4th Judicial District probation officials. Her new sentence on the state charge will be retroactive to 2003, meaning she’ll be on the hook for community service hours and probation check-ins until 2018.

In June 2002, Barton – a U.S. Forest Service employee – reported that a fire started in a campground northwest of Lake George. About a week later, she was arrested after admitting she accidentally started the fire by burning a letter from her estranged husband.

The fire burned 137,000 acres in the Pike National Forest and destroyed 133 homes.”
Earlier we covered other developments in this case.

UPDATE: March 28

In yesterdays’ court proceedings, district judge Thomas Kennedy ordered Barton to pay restitution — estimated to be at least $30 million — on top of the $14.6 million in restitution that is part of her six-year federal sentence.

More from the Denver Post today:

Barton, who began serving her federal sentence in 2003, is due to be released in June from prison in Texas. She must report to the El Paso County probation office within a week after leaving federal custody.

Barton’s 12-year state prison sentence was overturned in 2004 by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The appeals court found the judge failed to disclose that the Hayman fire forced him to evacuate and that he doubled the presumptive range of her sentence inappropriately because only a jury could find aggravating factors.

Prosecutors then argued that Barton’s appeal of her sentence violated the terms of the plea agreement, which allowed them to withdraw it.

In January, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled they could not withdraw from the agreement.

It said Barton would face only one count in one county, would serve any state sentence concurrently with the federal sentence, and she could not appeal any state sentence.

Newsome said the amount of restitution must be determined within 90 days, saying, “It will be at least $30 million.”

While the DAs understand the amount may never be paid, Newsome said state law requires a judge to impose restitution for actual losses and ensures victims’ right to pursue civil judgments.


Farmer dies on a fire in Colorado

From 7 News in Denver, March 26:

ORCHARD, Colo. — A farmer trying to control a fire on his property died Wednesday afternoon when the tractor he was driving flipped into an irrigation ditch.

Morgan County Sheriff Jim Crone said the man was driving his tractor on top of a ditch to get ahead of the fire when the ground shifted or partially collapsed, causing the tractor to flip and roll on top of the farmer. The farmer was killed instantly.

The man, who has not been identified, called for the fire department before his tractor flipped at 2:30 p.m. Deputies believe he was burning brush near the irrigation ditch and it got out of control.

About 100 acres were burned by the brush fire, located northwest of the town of Orchard, Colo.