Fire and Ice

Bear Mountain Crewmember

The South Dakota Wildland Fire Division tweeted this photo today, saying:

Some like it hot! BearMtnCrew member mitigating potential creeping fire from a pile last week at Mt. Rushmore.

Robert Frost thought about fire and ice.

Fire and Ice
By Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

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Northwest Fire District hoped the Ironwood Hotshots would be a moneymaker

On Tuesday the Northwest Fire District which serves the northwest metropolitan area of Tucson, Arizona announced they were disbanding their Ironwood Hotshot crew at the end of the 2014 wildland fire season. Various reasons for the decision were reported in the media, with representatives of the District quoted as saying it was mostly for financial considerations. John Hoellerich a firefighter on the Ironwood Hotshots who started a petition to retain the crew, said it was related to lawsuits filed against the Prescott Fire Department over the fatal Yarnell Hill Fire that killed 19 members of the Department’s Granite Mountain Hotshot crew.

Ironwood Hotshots

Ironwood Hotshots. Photo by Ironwood Hotshots.

When the concept of having a hotshot crew was sold to the Tucson community, one of the justifications was that the 20-person firefighting crew would make money for the district, or at least break even.

David Gephart, the District’s Finance Director, told Wildfire Today the crew is being disbanded for “financial and operational” reasons. He said one of the operational considerations is that the District has some vacant structural firefighting positions it needs to fill, and the seven permanent members of the crew will be offered those positions. Four of those seven have already been through the structural fire academy, while three have not but will be scheduled to receive the training.

When a firefighting resource, such as a hotshot crew or fire engine, from one agency helps to suppress a fire in another jurisdiction for an extended period of time, formal agreements usually stipulate that the lending agency is financially reimbursed for their expenses. The reimbursement amount is based on the crewperson hours worked. That rate is almost three times the actual hourly rate the District pays the firefighters, in order to cover other expenses related to the fire assignment. For example, the Prescott Fire Department was reimbursed for 95.5 percent of the total expenses of operating the Granite Mountain Hotshots in the 2012 fiscal year, according to an article in The Daily Courier.

Mr. Gephart provided figures for the fiscal years 2011 through 2013 showing that the operational expenses for the Ironwood Hotshots for that three year period were $7.3 million. They were reimbursed for $7.2 million, or, 98.6 percent of their costs.

Right now there is a positive balance in the Hotshots’ account of $1.2 million when considering payments the District expects to receive for fire assignments last year, Mr. Gephart said.

Ironwood Hotshots costs

We asked if the 200 other firefighters that the District employs were expected to generate their own funding, and Mr. Gephart said they were not.

He pointed out that there are other costs for maintaining the Hotshot crew that are are not included above which are more difficult to put on a spread sheet, including overhead, indirect, capital needs, and IT expenses.

Since the crew came within one percent of being self-supporting, we asked why the Hotshots were created in the first place. Mr. Gephart said they expected the crew to make money for the District, or in a worst case, break even. He went on to say future costs will have a negative effect on the crew’s financial situation, such as a new requirement that the 13 seasonal firefighters have health insurance, and increases in the cost of pensions.

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Coal mine fire in Australia being fought with helicopters

Coal mine fire, Morwell, Victoria. CFA photo by Keith Pakenham.

Coal mine fire, Morwell, Victoria. CFA photo by Keith Pakenham.

A massive fire at a coal mine at Morwell, Victoria in Australia is being fought with massive quantities of water and helicopters that are normally used for fighting bushfires. The fire, which has burning for three weeks, was most likely the result of a bushfire started by an arsonist. The town of Morwell, 150 km east of Melbourne, has been inundated with smoke and officials think it could take months to put out the fire.

Water pumped onto coal mine fire

Massive amounts of water are being pumped onto the fire at the coal mine. CFA photo by Keith Pakenham.

Helicopter fights coal mine fire

Helicopter fights coal mine fire. CFA photo by Keith Pakenham.

Wildfire Today has numerous other articles about coal fires.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Darren

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Prescribed fire as a hands-on tourist attraction

Flint Hills Rx

Prescribed fire ignited by tourists at the Flying W Ranch in Kansas. Screen shot from the video below.

A cattle ranch in the tall grass prairie of Kansas allows tourists to observe and if they want, to help ignite prescribed fires on their property. The Flying W Ranch in the Flint Hills supplements their income by charging ranch visitors $100 to help start the fires by dropping wooden matches in the grass. We counted approximately 30 tourists in one of the scenes in the video below. The admission fee also includes a steak dinner. Their next hands-on prescribed fire is scheduled for April 5.

We can think of a lot of positives about an activity like this. Many ranchers could use an additional $3,000 (before expenses) to supplement their income.  It could also provide an opportunity to educate the public about the benefits of prescribed fire, and how the process is essential for managing tall grass prairies and other vegetation types. In my experience as a Fire Management Officer, I learned that if you have a high-ranking manager in your organization that knows little about fire management, invite them to observe a prescribed fire. Loan them some personal protective equipment (PPE), and while under close supervision, let them operate a drip torch for five minutes. They will be hooked. (After seeing this video, a couple of matches could suffice.)

The negatives of a public hands-on prescribed fire are pretty obvious and revolve around the liability of the ranch owner and the safety of the participants who have no PPE or training, other than a briefing before the event. If there is an unexpected wind shift on a grass fire, experienced firefighters wearing PPE know that often they can find a place where they can step through the flames into a previously burned black area. Who knows what tourists, including children, might do.  It is hard to believe that an insurance company would issue a liability policy to cover an event like this.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Tristan

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Time lapse video, Yosemite National Park

To see a much larger image, click the full screen icon at bottom-right.

This video is a collaboration between Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty. All timelapses were shot on the Canon 5D Mark II with a variety of Canon L and Zeiss CP.2 Lenses.

You are welcome.

And here’s the sequel:

A 200+ mile backpacking experience through Yosemite National Park captured by Colin Delehanty and Sheldon Neill. This project was filmed over the course of 10 months. They spent a combined 45 days in the park capturing the images in this video.

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Ironwood Hotshots to be disbanded

Ironwood Hotshots

Ironwood Hotshots

UPDATE at 5:13 p.m. MST, March 5, 2014: today we reported more details in a new article about why the Fire District decided to disband the Ironwood Hotshots.

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(Originally published at 4:53 p.m. MST, March 4, 2014)

The Northwest Fire District announced today that they will disband their Hotshot Crew, the Ironwood Hotshots, at the end of the 2014 wildfire season. The District serves the northwest metropolitan area of Tucson, Arizona, and is one of the very few organizations employing a hotshot crew that is not a federal or state land management agency. Another was the city of Prescott, Arizona, whose Granite Mountain Hotshot crew was virtually wiped out when 19 members of the crew were entrapped and killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire June 30, 2013.

The Fire District said the reason for eliminating the Ironwood Hotshots, according to Tucson News Now, was financial.

Financial and operational reasons were given for the decision to disband. Financially, the fire district said the hotshots cost money, including indirect costs that are not reimbursed by the federal government. Operationally, the crews are sent all over the country and by disbanding the crew, Northwest Fire can improve service locally and lower the tax rate.

A petition at Change.org that encourages the retention of the crew, cites fear of lawsuits, such as those filed against the City of Prescott following their disaster last year.

…In the wake of this terrible tragedy a series of lawsuits were filed against Prescott Fire Department, and State and Federal agencies. It was in direct result of these pending suits that the leadership of Northwest Fire District has hastily decided to abolish the Ironwood Hotshots, who provide a core function in the protection of the cities of Tucson, Marana and surrounding communities against the threat of Wildland fires…

When a firefighting resource, such as a hotshot crew or fire engine, from one agency travels and helps to suppress a fire in another jurisdiction for an extended period of time, formal agreements usually stipulate that the lending agency is financially reimbursed for their expenses. For example, the Prescott Fire Department paid the personnel on the Granite Mountain Hotshots around $12 an hour according to The Daily Courier, but the department was reimbursed by the federal government at the rate of $39.50 an hour.

In fiscal year 2012, the city estimated that the crew brought in $1,375,191, and had $1,437,444 in operating expenses – for a difference of $62,253.

In 2012, payments for fighting fire paid for 95.5 percent of the cost of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. While they were not assigned to a fire, they sometimes spent time on projects for the city, including hazard fuel mitigation — removing vegetation to reduce the chance that fires approaching residential areas would destroy the homes of city residents. And of course, much of the year they were available for fighting wildland fires in and near the city of Prescott.

We have a report that the Ironwood Hotshots have been doing even better financially and the crew is not a monetary burden on the Fire District. They are reimbursed at about $40 per crewperson hour, which covers not only salary but some other routine expenses while firefighting the fire. The starting pay for a new crewperson is about $13 an hour. Even though the crew recently purchased and paid for $500,000 worth of new crew carriers, they still have a positive balance in their hotshot crew account of several hundred thousand dollars.

Last September another hotshot crew, El Cariso, established 60 years before, was disbanded. The Ironwood Hotshots first attained Type 1 Interagency Hotshot Crew certification in 2009.

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