The Bear Mountain and Black Hat Handcrews are considered Type 2 Initial Attack handcrews and are comprised of 22 firefighters each. The primary function of the crews is hazardous fuels reduction on state and private lands within the Black Hills of South Dakota. The crews are available for in and out-of-state dispatch assignments, and have responded to various all risk incidents throughout the United States since their inception.
The fire burned from Great Smoky Mountains National Park into Gatlinburg, Tennessee November 28.
Above: Chimney Tops 2 Fire November 27, 2016. Photo by Brett Bevill.
On December 13 the National Park Service delivered a verbal statement and released two documents about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire.
The fire killed 14 people and destroyed 2,013 homes and 53 commercial structures. An additional 244 homes were damaged.
At a news conference on Tuesday Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan read a 13 minute statement covering the day by day events from the time the fire was ignited by teenaged arsonists on November 23 to when it burned into Gatlinburg on November 28.
Mr. Jordan said, “On Saturday [November 27 two days before the fire burned into Gatlinburg] we requested a four-day near-term analysis from the U.S. Forest Service at the Rocky Mountain Research Station.” He went on to say, “Their analysis modeled low fire growth downhill over the next couple of days as the fire approached the containment boundary. This analysis did not forecast the behavior the fire generated on Monday.”
Mr. Jordan said Monday morning, November 29, spot fires created by lofted burning embers had occurred “as far as one-half to a mile from the main fire burning on Chimney Top.”
He concluded his presentation by saying:
We believe there is no way we could have controlled this fire prior to the wind event. The reality is we believe there is no number of firefighters or fire engines that could have stopped the spread of this fire in such extreme wind conditions.
We will continue to explore lessons learned from this incident and we appreciate the outpouring of support and resources that we have received from across the nation to help us fight this fire.
Below is a video recording of Mr. Jordan’s statement.
The presentation has a map showing the location of 911 calls, which is interesting.
From our interviews with people associated with the fire and the information released yesterday, it is clear that no action was taken by ground-based firefighters to actively suppress or stop the spread of the fire until Sunday, November 27, four days after the fire started. The activity that day involved constructing fire line and improving the natural boundaries of containment lines about half a mile away from the fire.
The chronology document released on December 13 implied that three large Type 1 helicopters dropped water on the fire “throughout the day” on Sunday November 27. But the information we obtained, which was confirmed by Mr. Jordan’s presentation yesterday, showed that the drops only occurred in the afternoon. This was the first time any direct suppression occurred on the fire up to that point.
That afternoon a Chinook Type 1 helicopter began dropping water on the fire, refilling at Fontana Lake 13 miles to the southwest, according to a source we talked to who didn’t want their name disclosed because they were not authorized to speak on the subject. The helicopter worked until it had to refuel and then two other Type 1 helicopters took its place until dark. Sunset that day was at 5:21 p.m. which would have allowed them to drop on the fire until 5:51 p.m., 30 minutes after sunset. This 26-mile round trip to refill with water greatly reduced the amount of water delivered to the fire, compared to how much could have been dropped if a closer water source had been used.
During the previous four days no nearby helicopter water sources were identified or created. Often on structure and wildland fires portable, collapsable water tanks are quickly set up for engines or helicopters to draft from or dip into with their buckets. Some of the larger tanks, such as the Heliwell, can hold almost 15,000 gallons. These tanks can be kept full if connected to a fire hydrant or filled with a water tender shuttle.
If a good water source had been created or identified on day two of the fire and helicopters had been ordered then instead of day five, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water could have been dropped on the fire in the four days before the wind increased on Monday, November 28.
Aircraft dropping water or fire retardant on a fire cannot put it out. However, if huge amounts of water are applied to a relatively small fire in a “wash the fire off the hill” approach, it can have a very positive effect.
Under normal circumstances limited amounts of liquids dropped from the air can be most effective if firefighters on the ground can move in quickly to take advantage of the short term change in fire behavior by constructing firelines, stopping the spread at that location. In this case, there were no firefighters in a position to take direct action.
For two weeks in numerous documents and presentations the NPS has been saying that wind gusts up to 87 mph were recorded at the Cove Mountain weather station 8 miles northwest of the fire’s origin and 4.5 miles west of downtown Gatlinburg. We have been attempting to obtain a copy of the data recorded by that station before it shut down at about 9 p.m. on November 28 when it lost electrical power. On December 15 we were told by GRSM spokesperson Dana Soehn that the data will not be released for at least two to three months because it has to go through a quality control process by multiple agencies. So in other words, they are not sure the data is accurate, but are very comfortable cherry picking one number and repeating it over and over.
However, weather data from numerous other stations is readily available.
At 2 a.m. Monday November 28, the day the fire burned into Gatlinburg, the wind speeds recorded at the Indian Grave weather station 18 miles west of the fire began increasing and the direction became more consistently out of the south and southwest. Until 1 p.m. sustained speeds were 4 to 6 mph with gusts at 12 to 19 mph. Between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. they increased to 7 to 15 mph with gusts of 22 to 32 mph — all generally out of the south, blowing toward Gatlinburg. From 7 p.m. until midnight sustained winds were at 13 to 17 mph with gusts from 34 to 49.
This data from Indian Grave was not very different from the forecast issued the day before, Sunday November 27 at 7:29 a.m. That Spot Forecast, specifically for the fire area, predicted strong winds all day on Monday — at 7 a.m. 12 mph gusting to 25 and increasing throughout the day to 20 mph gusting to 40 by 6 p.m.
We were not able to find a Spot Forecast for the fire that was requested or issued on Monday, November 28.
The video above shows a Aircrane helicopter scooping water and then dropping on a wildfire north of Sydney, New South Wales. As the aircraft flew over the ocean it lowered a pipe into the water with a scoop on the end, forcing about 2,500 gallons into its tank.
Below we see infrared video of the fire shot from a NSW Rural Fire Service aircraft, apparently in the early stages when the blaze was much smaller.
Above: The chance of above median maximum temperature in Australia, December through February.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology is predicting that the eastern half of their country will experience a summer that is warmer and dryer than normal. That season is just beginning; their highest temperatures usually occur in January and February, but Tuesday produced the hottest December day in Sydney in the last 11 years, hitting 39.2C (102.5F) at Sydney Airport.
Below is an excerpt from an article at Australia’s ABC News about how Tuesday’s weather could affect wildfires:
Fire danger warnings are in place across a large part of Australia, with hot temperatures and windy weather expected, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says. Fire authorities are on alert in the south-eastern states, with total fire bans in place in regions of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, and a high danger in Tasmania.
Temperatures were forecast to reach the mid-30s in the southern states, with a maximum of 36C in Sydney and Adelaide, 34C in Melbourne and 33C in Canberra.
In Darwin, the maximum expected temperature was 34C, 29C in Hobart. Perth’s forecast top was a cooler 26C and Brisbane 29C.
High temperatures in several capital cities at the same time is “a bit different”, senior BOM meteorologist Claire Yeo said.
“Those hot temperatures ahead of that wind change [are] increasing the fire dangers into that very, very high to severe range,” Ms Yeo said
“But there is also an added impact that we don’t necessarily or aren’t necessarily able to reflect in the fire danger rating, and that’s the way the atmosphere behaves in these kinds of conditions.
“Today is a classic example where if a fire was to start in your particular area, the atmosphere is primed for [it]. If a smoke plume develops over that fire, it can get to quite an extensive height … and we see very erratic fire conditions and fire behaviour in that kind of atmospheric condition.”
Ms Yeo said more frequent fire danger ratings were expected in coming days.
.@NSWRFS Very Large Air Tanker assists over the Oaklands fire ground this afternoon. Fire under control at 4000ha. Pic:Splitters Creek RFB. pic.twitter.com/xh56aIEiMW
Above: the Aurora national bushfire prediction, detection, simulation and early warning system.
Researchers in Australia are designing a wildfire modeling system that firefighters can access on a portable device in the field even if they are not connected to the internet. The Australis Wildfire Simulator is intended to be part of Aurora, a national fire prediction, detection, simulation and early warning system that simulates bushfires in real time and rapidly communicates the spread predictions via the web, email and the National Telephone Early Warning System (NTEWS).
Researchers at The University of Western Australia are developing the new touchscreen device that can be mounted in a fire truck to help firefighters predict where and when a bushfire will spread.
The researchers are modifying bushfire simulation software Australis into a high-end tablet to provide accurate predictions of fire behaviour more rapidly than current methods.
Professor George Milne from UWA’s School of Computer Science and Software Engineering said the technology could protect lives, homes, crops and livestock in Western Australia’s bushfire prone areas.
“Having the Australis fire prediction technology in the cab of a fire truck or a farmer’s ute will enable first-responders to get the best information necessary to create appropriate firefighting and evacuation strategies,” Professor Milne said.
“This can happen in the very early stages of a bushfire, when time-critical responses are required.”
Professor Milne said the touchscreen device would complement the Aurora system used by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) which currently runs the simulator from one central location for all fires in WA.
“On a day where there are several bushfires across the state, it may take too long to predict each individual fire’s progress using a single system in the central headquarters,” Professor Milne said.
“The advantage to local brigades with access to this technology is that it will give them location-specific information about which communities are at risk and which need to be evacuated.”
The Australis system analyses data including geographical topography, vegetation types, WA bushfire prone hotspots, time since last burn, rate of spread, fuel accumulation and forecasted weather.
In a matter of minutes, and without internet connectivity, it can accurately predict where the fire could be from 30 minutes to 24 hours into the future.
Professor Milne said WA is unique in the world; it has bushfires burning every day of the year, from the north during the winter dry to the south in summer.
“This technology could significantly minimise the impact of bushfires, the loss of lives and homes, by predicting the direction, intensity and rate of bushfire spread in real time,” he said.
Funding is still required to get the technology off the ground and made available to local bushfire brigades.
Along with DFES, Department of Parks and Wildlife and Landgate, the University of Western Australia has an application for Royalty for Regions funding under consideration by the WA State Government.
Above: Structures damaged or destroyed in the Chimney Tops 2 Fire and other fires in the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area.
Fire suppression activities on the Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Gatlinburg, Tennessee are winding down as firefighters continue to increase their control of the 17,006-acre fire that burned into the nearby communities. The fire resulted in the deaths of 14 people and damaged or destroyed 2,460 structures.
The park opened several roads to the public on Friday including US 441, Newfound Gap Road from the Gatlinburg Entrance to Cherokee, NC, Little River Road, the Spur between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, and the Gatlinburg Bypass.