California: Schwarzenegger's fire preparedness

The California governor seems to be concerned about the wildfire potential this summer. In a press conference he was talking about the fire hazards around his home:

“I was not aware of it until an expert from the fire department told me that, ‘This is terrible. This is a fire hazard all around your house — you are living in the middle of it, get rid of this grass, get rid of these shrubs or you are going to be in trouble.’

He issued a lengthy Executive Order that detailed numerous policies that will affect CalFire this year. Here are some of the highlights:

Staff additional fire crews, fire engines, helitack crews, fire bulldozers, equipment and aviation resources as warranted based on fire threat conditions.

Assign a crew of four firefighters to selected CAL FIRE fire engines as warranted based on fire threat conditions.

Provide for immediate availability and utilization of the Supertanker aircraft.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the California National Guard prepare its aviation assets, and pre-position ground support equipment, as appropriate for immediate response to major wildfires and report to OES weekly on the status of all aircraft.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that CAL FIRE shall provide educational information to homeowners on defensible space and California Building and Fire Codes ignition-resistant building materials, and shall develop training for defensible space inspection and building ignitability in consultation with the Department of Insurance, OES, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that CAL FIRE shall conduct vigorous defensible space inspections, and shall impose fines and/or liens pursuant to applicable authority if necessary.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that to assist landowners to meet their 100-foot defensible space requirements to reduce hazardous vegetation and landscaping, CALFIRE, in consultation with the California Biomass/Biofuel Collaborative, may enter into contracts, agreements, and arrangements for the chipping, hauling, burning, or other methods of disposal of hazardous vegetation removed by landowners as required by Public Resources Code section 4291 and Government Code section 51182.

1,470 piece tool set

Need a tool kit for your fire apparatus? Sears will sell you a 1,470 piece set for $8,599.90 (click on the photo to see it a little larger)

If you have been staring at the photo for more than 45 seconds, you probably already have too many tools. Put DOWN the credit card and back away!

I wonder how long it took to set up the tools for the photograph?

“Frank… that 1/4″ drive, 3/16″ socket needs to be moved back about 1/32” inch. NO, the 3/16″ socket, you ninny!”

Arizona: Fuels and fire behavior advisory

Posted at the Southwest Coordination Center web site:

Subject: Heavy Fine Fuel Loads Have Created the Potential for More Active Fire Behavior

Discussion: Above-average rains during the summers of 2006 and 2007 have created heavier than normal fine fuel loads in southern Arizona, especially in desert areas infested with Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare).

Many grassland areas in southeastern Arizona (above 3,500’) have had above average precipitation the past two summers, creating a heavy crop of grass. Historically, this situation has been followed by a year with large fires.

In addition, buffelgrass continues to increase in desert areas. Buffelgrass is a noxious, non-native grass that is roughly doubling each year in Pima County. Fuel loads can be 5-20 times greater than annual grasses like red brome. Because it is increasing so rapidly, firefighters may find thick grass in places that traditionally had little. Because the fuel load is so heavy, it can generate fireline intensity and flame length much more extreme than usual for the desert. Strategies and tactics normally used on desert fires may not succeed on buffelgrass fires.

Common denominators of tragedy fires are potentially present in deserts and grasslands: relatively small fires or deceptively quiet areas of large fires; relatively light fuels, such as grass, herbs, and light brush; unexpected shift in wind direction or in wind speed; fire responds to topographic conditions and runs uphill.

Concerns to Firefighters and the Public:

• Flame length in grass can exceed 4 feet at almost any time of year, exceeding capability of hand tools. Flame lengths can exceed 8 feet during fire season, exceeding the capability of light engines.

• Grass fuels can be continuous, creating wide flaming fronts.

• Greater fireline intensity can lead to increased torching of shrubs and increased spot fires.

• Anticipate fire whirls because of a combination of fuel loading, terrain, and unstable atmosphere.

• Heavier fuel load raises moisture of extinction, and active burning may occur throughout the night.

• Normally bare, rocky areas and steep, south-facing slopes may have enough grass to carry a fire.

• Washes and trails that formerly served as fuel breaks may no longer be effective.

• Retardant may be less effective at stopping fires where grass is thick.

• Greater fireline intensity and flame length increase threat to structures, power poles, and other improvements.

• Some Wildland Urban Interface areas are infested with buffelgrass. Increased fire behavior increases risk to structures, improvements, and public safety, and there is potential for more human-caused fires.

• Increased fuel loading increases radiant heat output, therefore increasing the risk of thermal burns.

• The outlook for April-June is for above average temperatures and below average rainfall, exacerbating the problem.

Mitigation Measures:

• Indirect tactics may have to be used more often.

• Maintain situational awareness of fuel conditions and fire behavior.

• Safety zone size may need to be larger than usual for the desert. Safety zones may be harder to find.

• Use of Nomex face shrouds helps protect the face and airways.

Area of Concern: Desert


Whole-house fire shelters

It’s incredible what you can find on the Internet.

Many of us are familiar with the practice of wrapping a house that will be threatened by a wildland fire with “fire shelter wrap“… similar to the material used in personal fire shelters–as in the picture below, taken on the Big Fish fire in Colorado in 2002. (It worked, by the way.)

But a number of patents have been issued for devices or systems that would wrap an entire house, theoretically in short order, by one-piece units or systems that would deploy the fire resistant material mechanically.

The unit below, patent #5,860,251, issued January 19, 1999, uses inflatable tubes to erect the flexible fabric over an entire structure. Many large fires are wind-driven. I wonder what the effect of a 50 MPH wind would be on the inflatable structure? It would probably end up in the next county.

The system in the photo below, patent #5,829,200, issued November 3, 1998, uses winches, rollers, and pulleys pre-installed on the house to deploy fire resistant material stored on rolls.

I have no idea if these two systems have ever been developed or manufactured, but you have to admit they are, uh, interesting.

New Poll about videos

You may have noticed that we have put a few YouTube videos on the blog. I have an attention span shorter than that of a newt and can’t get into long videos unless they are EXTREMELY interesting. So we try to be very selective and generally choose outstanding, short, videos. And we’ll try to be sure at least 90% of them are about wildland fire….. or SOME kind of fire…. or 50,000 fire-breathing rockets. Having said that, I totally could not resist posting the one about the lighter than air, jellyfish-like, mesmerizing, unmanned aerial vehicle. Did I mention that it is mesmerizing?

But perhaps not everyone likes videos. And some companies or agencies block YouTube on their computer networks.

So we ask you–to find about 4 seconds in your day and let us know what YOU think–by taking the poll on the right.

Insurance company will pay $500,000 for Arizona fire

On June 1, 2006 an employee of a fence company started the La Barranca fire by grinding on a metal fence post south of Sedona, Arizona. Six days later the fire was 95% contained after burning 836 acres and 3 houses. At the time, the Coconino National Forest reported that the estimated fire suppression costs were $1.2 million.

The fence company’s insurance company just agreed to pay $500,000 to the US Forest Service to cover a portion of the suppression costs.

HERE is a link to the InciWeb data about the fire.