Last night I went to a party in Idaho Springs, Colorado, to recognize the wildland fire career of L. Dean Clark (on the left in the photo). On January 3 Dean retired from the National Park Service as Deputy Fire Management Officer for the Intermountain Region, working out of Denver. He began his career in California (a long time ago!). He worked at Yosemite, Pinnacles, Yellowstone, Bandelier, and many other locations. One thing he is remembered most for is his acceptance of an assignment at Bandelier National Monument shortly after the May, 2004 2000 Cerro Grande fire which resulted from an escaped prescribed fire, ultimately spreading into the town of Los Alamos, destroying 235 structures. Dean rebuilt the wildland fire program. A couple of years ago he took the Regional office position, but in November Bandelier conducted their first prescribed fire since 2004, showing that confidence in their fire program has been reestablished within the National Park Service as well as in the local area.
The large crowd at the gathering passed the boot to collect donations for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Dean pledged to match a portion of the funds collected. Here is a 5 minute video that describes what the WFF does.
According to TampaBay.com, the prescribed fire in Florida that escaped and may have added smoke to existing fog, contributing to Wednesday’s 50+ vehicle pileup, experienced an unexpected 30% drop in relative humidity. A spokesman said the minimum RH was forecasted to be 60%, but it dropped to 30% in the morning an hour after they started the Rx burn.
“A weather forecast from the forestry staff showed that the humidity would not drop below 60 percent all day, a crucial factor in determining whether to proceed with a burn. If humidity dropped to 30 percent or below, the Division of Forestry would have denied the permit.
A form that Burger filled out to document the controlled burn showed that the humidity measured 63 percent at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, so he and a crew of five other employees started the burn at 10:15 a.m. They expected to be finished by noon.
“They do a lot of prescribed burning, and they do a good job at it,” said Department of Agriculture spokesman Terry McElroy. “But something apparently went awry.”
To the crew’s dismay, within an hour after they started the fire, the humidity abruptly dropped to 30 percent, Morse said. That wasn’t part of the forecast, he said.”
Montana Senator Max Baucus used the US Forest Service’s DC-7 jump plane as a backdrop as he made a speech on Monday outlining two bills related to wildland fire:
The Stable Fire Funding Act, which would establish a trust fund with $600 million in seed money for the Forest Service and $200 million in seed money for the Bureau of Land Management.
Baucus included a provision in the America’s Climate Security Act which was passed in December to provide up to $1.1 billion every year to combat catastrophic fires. The provision is intended to cover the annual cost to the federal government of the largest 1 percent of “escaped” fires, which currently account for 85 percent of wildfire suppression costs.
On May 15, 2007, a New Jersey Air National Guard F-16 ejected a flare during a low-level pass on a training flight, starting a fire which grew to 17,000 acres. The fire destroyed four homes in two senior citizen housing developments, and damaged 37 others. Some 6,000 people were evacuated. Ocean County agencies will receive $320,000 from the Air Force as reimbursements for their costs during the fire. The Air Force has already paid nearly $2 million in private property claims and other losses, but many claims are still unsettled.
There are conflicting reports about the role smoke from a prescribed fire may have played in the massive vehicle crashes on I-40 I-4 in Florida yesterday. Some law enforcement officials are saying that smoke and fog combined to cause low visibility. Others are saying smoke was not a problem, that it was only dense fog. Describing the current activities on the fire, the Division of Forestry said:
“Smoke is going to continue to be our number one concern until this is over.”
The prescribed fire was conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who started it at 9 a.m. on Tuesday in an area called the Green Swamp. Within three hours it was out of control. Now it is 500 acres and 90% contained.
The Leger has more information about the escaped prescribed fire:
“As the flames picked up, Division of Forestry firefighter John Wurster arrived to help Fish and Wildlife workers. The workers were equipped with a bulldozer that was cutting a fireline in an attempt to stop the flames from spreading.
Conditions suddenly worsened. The wind changed, humidity dropped, and flames increased, Wurster said.
Ten minutes later, Wurster’s fellow firefighter had been burned on his hand and face, the Division of Forestry had lost a $150,000 bulldozer, and firefighters were running from flames.
By late evening, nine Division of Forestry workers helped contain 90 percent of the fire. Smoke continued to billow from the swamp into the morning.”
The death toll has now risen to four. It’s probably going to be long time before the investigation reports (and the civil suits) are complete. Smoke from the escaped prescribed fire may or may not have contributed to the visibility problem. It seems clear that there was some smoke, and some fog, but in what combinations? Here is what the Orlando Sentinel is saying this afternoon:
“But news of a possible problem had been brewing since the night before.
The Division of Forestry notified the FHP at 7:03 p.m. Tuesday night of potential smoke problems from the controlled burn, as part of a formalized interagency agreement. FHP said they would monitor I-4 and close it if needed. FHP also notified the state Department of Transportation, which put out signs with flashing lights that warned of the smoke.
The National Weather Service in Melbourne this morning issued a special weather report warning commuters that visibility in the Polk County area would be down to zero because of smoke from brush fires and fog.
Throughout the day, officials disagreed about the role the smoke and fog played in the crash.
FHP Sgt. Jorge Delahoz said the smoke from the fire may have had some impact, but at the time of the crash it was the fog that reduced visibility in the area. He said people were probably driving at 50 or 70 miles per hour or faster.
A forestry official said he would not say conclusively what caused the pileup until his investigators issued a final report, possibly in the coming week. But the official cautioned that his team could be on scene of the burn for weeks, even months.”