Wildfire potential, March through June

On March 1 the Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for March through June. The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the ten Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.

Below are the highlights of their report. Following that are NIFC’s graphical outlooks for April through June, NOAA’s temperature and precipitation forecasts, and the NOAA/USDA Drought Monitor.

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“A typical transition of fire season activity is expected this spring beginning with the southern tier of the country. Fire activity will increase across portions of the southern plains and along the Atlantic Coast from the Carolinas south through Florida where the heavy loading of dry fuels coupled with warmer and drier than normal conditions is expected to create a potential for above normal fire activity. The increase in fire activity will be most noticed during high wind and low humidity weather events brought on by the seasonal transition from winter to spring. Other locations across the nation will see an increase in pre-green up fire activity as well, but this is not unusual. Southeastern Georgia and Florida may show a more significant increase in fire activity due to the emergence of long term drought conditions. Wetter than normal conditions across the Lower Mississippi River and Tennessee River Valleys are expected to lead to below normal fire potential during March. Look for the areas with below normal potential to be scaled back to mainly Tennessee and Kentucky from April onward as precipitation amounts received decrease to normal levels.

“Entering the latter periods of the outlook, Florida and Southeastern Georgia will remain in an elevated state for fire potential as drought lingers. The Southwestern and Alaskan fire seasons will begin in May as is typical. While normal fire season activity is expected across a majority of both regions, there are areas within both regions where an elevated potential for fire activity exists. Areas along and east of the Continental Divide in New Mexico have been and are expected to experience warmer and drier than normal conditions. In Alaska, the south central portion of the state has been abnormally dry which has resulted in a winter snowpack that is below normal. Given expected warm and dry conditions in May and June, an above normal potential for fire activity is expected to exist. Below normal fire potential is expected across the Central Rockies and the Sierra Mountains along the California-Nevada State line where the abundant winter snowpack should translate to a later than normal melt-off which could delay the start of the western fire season in the higher elevations.”

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wildfire potential April 2017 wildfire potential May June 2017

**** Continue reading “Wildfire potential, March through June”

Wildfire probability Feb. 28 – March 5

The above map is a National Weather Service product that is new to me. According to meteorologist Nick Nauslar it is derived strictly from a fire history database. It is plotted on a 40km grid with some smoothing and it does not take fuels or weather into account. It is not available online yet, but there is an expectation that it will be soon.

And below apparently is the same data displayed in a different manner.

wildfire occurrence

Use an app to send precipitation observations to the NWS

Many areas where wildland firefighters are working do not have great coverage from weather radar because of the distance from the transmitter or steep terrain blocking the signals. You can help the National Weather Service produce better forecasts by using an app on your phone that can let them know what is happening at your location.

The message below from the National Weather Service in Rapid City uses local examples, but the principles are relevant in other areas:

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Want to be a citizen scientist and help us determine what type of precipitation (snow, rain, sleet, hail, etc.) is falling?

Download the mPING app and use it to report various precipitation types as they occur. This data is incredibly helpful, especially because the terrain in SD and WY impacts radar coverage (can make it difficult to know what is happening at the surface far from the radar location in New Underwood, SD). Determining precipitation type can be rather tricky without observations at the surface. This is especially true when the temperature is just right that some places receive rain, while others get snow. That’s where the power of mPING comes in handy!

All reports are anonymous – only the location (latitude/longitude), time, and precipitation type are recorded.

The app can be downloaded on Android and iOS devices. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us or check out the mPING FAQ. We appreciate your willingness to help!

Links to the app here: http://mping.nssl.noaa.gov/

mPING FAQ: http://mping.nssl.noaa.gov/faq.php

Cancer and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department

Above: Screenshot from Jason Curtis’ film about San Diego firefighters and the occurrence of cancer.

The San Diego Fireman’s Relief Association has produced a short 8-minute documentary about the occurrence of cancer within the membership of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, interviewing 15 firefighters who talked about their job and the disease. Many of them looked back knowing what they know now, and wished they had done some things differently.

(UPDATE March 2, 2017: the film was available at the website of the company hired to make the film, but it has been removed until the cancer awareness program associated with it has been rolled out. It may be available again on YouTube or another site in two to three months, according to Robert Bunsold, a board member of the Relief Association.)

The San Diego FD primarily deals with structure fires. The mix of by-products of combustion they are exposed to is different from what a wildland firefighter works in, but unfortunately we don’t know what the significance of that difference is, if any. There are carcinogens in wood smoke but much work still needs to be done to determine the short and long-term effects on wildland firefighters.

Structural firefighters generally wear breathing apparatus (BA) when they are making an interior attack on a structure, and often when they are on the exterior. But wildland firefighters never wear BAs on a vegetation fire because it is not practical. They can be working on a fire miles from their truck for up to 16 hours, but the air bottles only last for minutes.

Some wildland firefighters wear a bandana or dust mask over their nose and mouth, thinking, incorrectly, that they provide some level of protection from particulates. And they have no effect on carbon monoxide and other dangerous gasses.

The smallest and most dangerous particulates in vegetation fire smoke are so small that if one was near an 8-foot high ceiling in a room with perfectly still air, it would take 8 hours for it to fall to the floor. These particles can easily go through a bandana or a cheap mask and make their way to the lungs. Much more expensive respirators with certain types of replaceable filters could provide better air, but they are hot to wear and create too much resistance as the air is forced through the apparatus.

wildfire firefighter smoke
A firefighter works in the smoke on the Water Tower Fire in Hot Springs, SD March 1, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

There is no registry that tracks their exposure or health during and after their careers. Another bill was introduced in Washington this month to create a registry, but the one introduced a year ago died a quick death, and this newest one has far fewer co-sponsors and so far looks unlikely to pass.

Climate change and the wildfires in Chile

During the current statistical period which runs from July through June wildfires in Chile have burned 601,367Ha (1.5 million acres) which is 924 percent of average for the entire 12-month period. That fact alone does not prove anything but it can trigger a need to look at the factors involved.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Huffington Post:

Santiago, Chile and Los Angeles, California lie roughly the same distance from the equator and are subject to the same climatological forces. Both areas have endured years of record-breaking drought that has thinned forests and desiccated farms. In the summer heat, when winds pick up, fires can start easily and spread rapidly through dried vegetation.

For this, blame climate change. Heat-trapping carbon pollution is driving temperatures up across the globe, setting the conditions for severe heat, persistent dry spells and a high risk of fire. A recent study found that 25 percent of central Chile’s rainfall deficit could be attributed to human-caused climate change. Consistent with planetary warming, Chile is breaking heat records right and left. California is doing the same.

In looking at the chart above, increased emissions of greenhouse gasses did not CAUSE the fires in Chile, but it is possible that their effects created an environment that made it possible for wildfires, once ignited, to spread more quickly than they would have otherwise, and were more resistant to control.

Two New Jersey fire departments use social media to recruit and spread safety message

Above: A screenshot from the video shot produced by Carolyn Rizza about texting and driving.

At least two fire departments in New Jersey are using social media in their efforts to recruit volunteers and spread messages about safety.

The website NJ.com has an article about how the Amwell Valley Fire Company and the Township of Clinton are tapping the powers of Facebook and YouTube to interact with their customers.

This first video, about texting and driving, was made by 20-year old Carolyn Rizza, a volunteer firefighter with the Amwell Valley Fire Company as part of a scholarship contest.

The Township of Clinton Division of Fire produced the next video in an effort to recruit new members.

This is a good time to revisit something we posted on February 1, 2017. It is a description of the culture of firefighting in Chile, a country where almost all of the firefighters are volunteers. It was written by “scpen” who left it as a comment below one of the articles we wrote about the 747 SuperTanker assisting the Chilean firefighters.

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“The tradition of the volunteer fire fighters in Chile is a very old one. To become a volunteer firefighter there is a waiting list in every single town and city across Chile, and it often takes years to get an open slot, typically another member must sponsor the person applying. It is seen as more important and patriotic than volunteering to join the military. It is for life. Even old firefighters that are no longer able to fight fires, still show-up for training and other activities, or help with administration. Often until they die.

At the core, is a sort of belief that fighting fires and rescuing people is such an honor, and so important, that a paid, “professional” group, of fire fighters would not take it so seriously (correct or mistaken). It is not something that can be trusted to the vagaries of government ministers, budget cuts, and so on.

That said, the volunteer departments equipment is mostly provided by the government. Simply the firefighters receive donations in yearly fund raising drives, that they divided between them and is viewed as a thank you for their service through-out the year.

They do receive professional level training. Experts from the around the World are brought in to for training. Firefighters join specialized brigades such as dealing with chemical hazards, high-rise rescues, and so on.

This is not just a bunch of guys standing on the street corner they pick-up, and hand them a garden hose.”