California: Summit fire, south of San Jose

The Summit fire started early Thursday morning about 12 miles south of San Jose, California and over the course of the day grew to 3,000 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains. By 5 PM local time on Thursday at least 10 structures had burned and 350 residents had been forced to evacuate with another 1,400 asked to leave their homes voluntarily. Heavy brush and timber along with winds gusting up to 50 mph were complicating firefighting efforts.

There was a report that it has the potential to grow to 10,000 acres. The cause is under investigation but a local resident said that she had seen someone burning debris piles recently near where the fire started and last week the piles were still smoldering.

The map below of the Summit fire shows heat in red as detected by satellites on Thursday.
Google has some interesting maps and photos of the fire.

Photo courtesy of Mercury News.

Arizona: Frye Mesa fire

This fire started out as a 100-acre prescribed fire in the Pinaleno mountains south of Safford, Arizona on the Coronado National Forest, but on Tuesday it escaped control. Strong winds and red flag conditions on Wednesday caused it to blow out on all sides and by Thursday it was 2,500 acres. Small’s Eastern Arizona Incident Management Team assumed command at 1800 on Wednesday. As of Thursday afternoon rain was falling on the fire and no homes were threatened.

Photo, Wednesday evening, May 21, by David Peters, BLM

Report released on fatal Charleston furniture store fire

We routinely write about wildland fires here, but there are some lessons to be learned that would apply to wildland fire in the long awaited report on last June’s fire in Charleston, SC that claimed the lives of nine firefighters at the Sofa Super Store. It contains some startling information:

  • Fighting a well-established fire in a large furniture store with booster lines.
  • The fire department routinely did not use any large diameter hose. The largest hose on the pumpers was 2 1/2″.
  • There was inadequate water supply at the fire.
  • A lack of command and control at the fire scene.
  • A lack of accountability of firefighters at the fire scene.
  • The trapped firefighters’ mayday radio calls were not heard by anyone at the fire.
  • Improper ventilation at the fire may have contributed to the fatalities.
  • Truck companies in the fire department had ceased being used for ventilation on fires, perform rescues, or conduct salvage or overhaul. They had become “taxis”, transporting extra firefighters to fires.
  • “The Charleston Fire Department was inadequately staffed, inadequately trained, insufficiently equipped, and organizationally unprepared to conduct an operation of this complexity.”
  • “The fire chief became directly involved in supervising tactical operations in the vicinity of the loading dock and the warehouse during the critical phase of the incident. This should not be the role of the Incident Commander.”
  • The policy of the fire department was to not refill SCBA air tanks unless they were less than 2/3 full. This had the effect of the low pressure alarms going off after only 6-7 minutes of use.

On Wednesday, Fire Chief Rusty Thomas announced that he is retiring, effective June 27.

More information, including a photo, is at Firegeezer. has a lengthy story about the report.

National Geographic cover story about wildland fire

The July issue of National Geographic, which will be mailed on June 16-17 to subscribers, will have a major cover story about wildland fire. They are planning a 28-page spread with many photos of wildland fire from around the country. The title of the story is “The Fire Season”, written by Neil Shea and Photographer Mark Thiessen.

According to Frank Carroll, the Planning and Public Affairs Staff Officer for the Black Hills National Forest who provided this information, it will star firefighters from across the country. We know that they shot some photos last summer in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and also at the fire in California that started east of Malibu, burned to the west and stopped where many fires are stopped, at the Pacific Ocean.

National Geographic does photo stories on wildland fire about every 10 years, but this one is supposed to be one of the best in a long time.

I think it was in 1972 that Tom Sadowski and I sent some of our fire photos and a proposal to National Geographic for something similar. We received a very nice declination letter from someone there named, and I have not forgotten this, “Smokey”. Smokey explained that they liked our photos, but that they had done a wildland fire story 3-4 years before and it was too soon to do another one.


UPDATE July 21, 2011:

We received an update on this today from Frank Carroll:

Mark Thiessen won first place in the international Pictures Of the Year International (POYi) Awards in the magazine division, “Issue Reporting Picture Story,” for National Geographic’s “Under Fire” that you mentioned in this 2009 piece. It turned out better than we described it in your story!


Another military jet starts a fire

The pilot of an F/A-18 Super Hornet meant for his laser guided bomb to land on a Florida bombing range on Tuesday, but he missed it by a mile–exactly–starting a fire in a national forest. Today U.S. Forest Service firefighters are mopping up the 250-acre fire started by the bomb outside the Pinecastle target range about 60 miles northwest of Orlando.

While inert bombs occasionally land outside the bombing range, a Navy spokesman said this is the first time a live bomb has missed the range. Thankfully no one was hurt when the 500-pound bomb exploded.

I thought a laser-guided bomb could be guided through a window in an outhouse…..but missing the entire bombing range?

Other military aircraft have started vegetation fires in the last 12 months:

On March 25, 2008 Wildfire Today reported on a B-1 bomber that caught fire while in flight near Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City and apparently started several vegetation fires from falling debris before landing safely at Ellsworth.

Wildfire Today told you about how 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.