Smoke maps and Red Flag Warnings, September 1, 2015

AIRPACT smoke forecast

AIRPACT smoke forecast (PM2.5) for the Northwest, for 5 p.m. PT, September 1, 2015.

NOAA smoke forecast

NOAA smoke forecast for 5 p.m. PT, September 1, 2015.

Smoke conditions

Smoke conditions, morning of September 1, 2015. The brown circular icons represent the locations of wildfires. AIRNOW.

wildfire Red Flag Warnings 9-1-2015

The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag Warnings or Fire Weather Watches for areas in California, Nevada, Wyoming, and Montana.

The map was current as of 9 a.m. MDT on Tuesday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts and maps. For the most current data visit this NWS site or this NWS site.

Portraits of firefighters taken at their place of work

Mayson Lisonbee, 21, sawyer

Mayson Lisonbee, 21, sawyer on the Salt Lake Unified Fire Authority crew. National Geographic photo by Mark Thiessen used with permission.

Regular readers of Wildfire Today are familiar with some of the work of photographer Mark Thiessen. The fact that he works for National Geographic should tell you a lot about his skill with a camera. Mark recently posted an article that included portraits of wildland firefighters.

Portraits are frequently taken in a studio, or for a couple about to get married, they can be shot outside in nice, clean, pretty places. One reason for that is that the conditions need to be carefully controlled if you want predictable, good quality, well-lit photographs. The environment where wildland firefighters work does not have anything in common with a photographer’s studio or a city park, but Mark did not let that stop him from hauling lighting equipment out to the fireline where he took portraits of members of the Salt Lake Unified Fire Authority crew, a Type 2 Initial Attack Crew, where they were working on the Fork Complex of fires near Hayfork, California.

In a second article he describes how he shoots the photos and the equipment he hauls around.

Here’s an excerpt from Mark’s article:

On the last day [of their 21-day assignment], Cody Werder, a Los Angeles city firefighter said, “We have a new appreciation for how hard these handcrews work. It’s unbelievable how hard they work and are so knowledgeable.” He jokes, “fighting structure fires is like child’s play.”

Be sure and check out the other members of the crew in the first article.

The Yarnell Hill Fire lone survivor: Interview with Brendan McDonough

© 2015 Bill Gabbert

It has been two years since Brendan McDonough lost his 19-member firefighter family. On June 30, 2013 the Yarnell Hill Fire claimed their lives when a firestorm roared through brush 90 miles northwest of Phoenix, leaving McDonough the only survivor of the 20-man Granite Mountain Hotshot crew.

The day before, he had been sent home sick by Jesse Steed, Captain and second in command of the crew The next day on the fire near Yarnell, Steed, as the acting Superintendent may have thought that McDonough was not quite 100 percent recovered when he assigned him to serve as a lookout for the crew staying in one spot observing the fire, taking weather observations, and updating the rest of the crew on the status of the fire and where it was in relation to their location.

As the other 19 firefighters inexplicably left the safety of a previously burned area and hiked through unburned brush toward a ranch previously identified as a safe place a sudden wind shift turned the fire in their direction. Pushed by strong winds created by a passing thunderstorm, the fire burned over the crew, killing them all, even though they sought protection inside their emergency fire shelters.

McDonough, in a different location, escaped uninjured after getting a ride out of the area in a  utility task vehicle (UTV) driven by a firefighter from another hotshot crew.

He now lives in Prescott, Arizona with his girlfriend, his four-year-old daughter, and the girlfriends three-year-old daughter. He likes Prescott, he says, but acknowledges that its tough for him to live there. Every sticker, every shirt, every corner is a memory,he says. But Prescott is such a loving town that I couldnt leave. Im really rooted here; I love it here.

L-R: Brendon's daughter Michaela, Brendon, Ali, and her daughter Zoe.

L-R: Brendan’s daughter Michaela, Brendon, Ali, and her daughter Zoe. Photo courtesy of Brendon McDonough.


McDonough was not a first-round pick when he was hired on with the crew. Three guys washed out,he says, Eric Marsh told me, If you can keep up, well keep you.’”

The hotshot crew was the best thing that ever happened to me. It saved my life. I probably would have continued doing drugs, I probably would have ended up in prison or with an overdose or dead. I was a dad before I got hired. I felt like a failure because I couldnt support my daughter, because no one wanted to hire a felon. I couldnt even get a job at McDonalds flipping burgers. It was a dark period in my life.

McDonough says hes thankful for the others on the crew who taught him about being both a dad and a hotshot. They taught me all they knew, and they also taught me how to be a man, a well-rounded man. Family life. Thats what the brotherhood is really about.

That is what I lost that day,he adds. Not just a hotshot crew or nineteen fire brothers. I lost my family.

Superintendent Eric Marsh had been assigned as Division Supervisor that day, in charge of the part of the fire that included the Granite Mountain crew, temporarily supervised by Steed. When the fire shifted and moved toward McDonough, the rate of spread increased dramatically. Hey, its about time for you to get out of there,said Steed over the radio. McDonough agreed.

He said his evacuation from the area was a close call but not chaotic. Walking out, he met up with a member of the Blue Ridge Hotshots, who gave him a ride out.

Do you know why the crew left the safety of a previously burned black area and decided to walk through unburned brush toward the ranch?

Continue reading

Wildfire smoke map, August 31, 2015

Wildfire Smoke Map,

Wildfire Smoke Map, morning of August 31, 2015. WeatherUnderground.

Monday morning’s map shows some of the smoke produced by the fires in California and the northwestern states is moving northeast into Montana and Canada. New fires in west Texas north of Pecos are producing copious amounts of smoke spreading northeast all the way to the Great Lakes area.

There are no Red Flag Warnings in effect today in the United States.

Firefighters on the Sheep Fire incorporate train into their suppression tactics

The Sheep Fire, burning near the BNSF railroad tracks just south of Essex, Montana, has caused the intermittent closure of the tracks to Amtrak and BNSF trains. Since it is in the best interests of the railroad and the firefighters to suppress the fire as quickly as possible, BNSF is cooperating in various ways, including transporting fire personnel in a caboose car and using a crane and flat cars to remove slash from a shaded fuel break being constructed by feller-bunchers.

The Sheep Fire, part of the Thompson-Divide Complex, has burned about 2,100 acres on the Flathead National Forest.

Below is a video showing the feller-bunchers in action, and after that is a slide show of photos taken by Jonathan Moor of the Information organization on the fire. Mr. Moor also shot the video.

Wildland firefighters called “tactical athletes”

El Cariso Hot Shots, 1972

“Tactical athletes”, also known as the 1972 version of the El Cariso Hotshots (missing  Superintendent Ron Campbell, and Bill Gabbert who was behind the camera). Click to enlarge.

Charles Palmer, who spent 20 years as a firefighter and smokejumper, describes wildland firefighters as “tactical athletes”.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Seattle Times.

…Physically and mentally, the demands of the profession are such that Charles Palmer, an associate professor at The University of Montana who studies performance psychology of wildland firefighters, considers such workers “tactical athletes.”

“These aren’t people who ride around trucks and squirt water on stuff — this is really demanding from a lot of different angels,” Palmer said. “You travel around, you have to perform, they’re getting very little downtime, they have nutritional challenges … physically you have to perform really well.”

In one study, Palmer screened wildland firefighters for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He said about 20 percent tested above the established cutoff score.

“It’s very possible a high percentage of folks who work as wildland firefighters have ADHD,” he said. “If you start thinking about a profile, people with ADHD are very comfortable with risk. They like fast-paced environments. They like activity. They like moving around.”

Front-line firefighters burn between 4,000 and 6,500 calories each day and need 7-10 liters of water each day, said Brent Ruby, director of the University of Montana’s work physiology department.

“Perhaps the top 10-15 percent of the average population can do this job based on fitness levels,” said Joe Domitrovich, an exercise physiologist with the National Forest Service.

But the Marshawn Lynch comparisons only go so far.

“They don’t get paid like a professional athlete would,” Palmer said. A 2013 National Parks brochure advertises pay of about $10-17 an hour to firefighters, before overtime or hazard pay, but base pay varies widely. Base pay for entry-level state Department of Natural Resources wildland firefighters starts at $12.50…