Firefighter fatality on the Ferguson Fire west of Yosemite National Park in California

We regret to have to report that a firefighter died this morning, July 14, on the Ferguson Fire west of Yosemite National Park. CAL FIRE announced this afternoon that Heavy Fire Equipment Operator Braden Varney was tragically killed while battling the fire. Mr Varney leaves behind a wife and two small children.

One of the firefighters on the fire reported this morning that he thought there was a dozer rollover, and just in case, he wanted to get medical help started to the scene. It turned out that the dozer had rolled several times and ended up in a location that was very difficult to access by foot or see from an aircraft.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Ferguson Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Just after 1 p.m. local time CAL FIRE made the official announcement about the fatality.

We send out our sincere condolences to Mr. Varney’s family, coworkers, and friends.Varney fatality

Ferguson Fire burning west of Yosemite National Park

Above: map showing heat on the Ferguson Fire detected by a satellite at 3 a.m. PDT July 14, 2018.

(UPDATED at 3:15 p.m. PDT July 14, 2018)

For a while late Saturday morning, smoke and impaired visibility grounded all air tankers on the Ferguson Fire, but by early afternoon the smoke had cleared enough to bring them back to drop retardant.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Ferguson Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Now we are hearing that the fire has spotted across the South Fork of the Merced River on the west side of the fire. There is an effort to have the air tankers pretreat a ridge in an attempt to slow down the fire in that area.


(UPDATED at 2:02 p.m. PDT July 14, 2018)

We regret to have to report that a firefighter died this morning on the Ferguson Fire west of Yosemite National Park. CAL FIRE announced this afternoon that Heavy Fire Equipment Operator Braden Varney was tragically killed while battling the fire. Mr Varney leaves behind a wife and two small children.

One of the firefighters on the fire reported this morning that he thought there was a dozer rollover, and just in case, he wanted to get medical help started to the scene. It turned out that the dozer had rolled several times and ended up in a location that was very difficult to access by foot or see from an aircraft.

Just after 1 p.m. local time CAL FIRE made the official announcement about the fatality.

We send out our sincere condolences to Mr. Varney’s family, coworkers, and friends.


(UPDATED at 9:26 a.m. PDT July 14, 2018)

At 9:26 a.m. PDT Air Attack said the Ferguson Fire was holding at about 150 acres. The terrain, smoke, and power lines are challenges for the air tankers working the fire.

aircraft ferguson fire
At 9 a.m. PDT flight tracking showed two S2T air tankers and an Air Attack aircraft over the Ferguson Fire. The green line was the approximate track of the Air Attack ship.

(Originally published at 7:44 a.m. PDT July 14, 2018)

Highway 140, one of the three highways that lead into Yosemite Valley in California, is closed due to a new wildfire. The Ferguson Fire was reported at 10:35 p.m. Friday and at last report had burned about 75 acres. The fire is just off Highway 140 near Hite Cove and has high potential to grow. Since firefighters were working under electrical lines the power in the area has been shut off, which may affect Yosemite National Park. The area around Savages Trading Post has been evacuated.

The fire is spreading in steep terrain in the Sierra National Forest 7 miles west of El Portal. The incident commander has requested four fixed wing air tankers, of any type, to attack the fire early Saturday morning if possible. They also requested dozers, helicopters, water tenders, and hand crews.

Iconic photo of Hot Shots

I can’t stop looking at this photo. I am biased, having been a Hot Shot for five years, but to me this is an iconic photo of a Hot Shot crew. It shows a fire crew and flames, but the flames are friendly and controlled. Taken by Kyle Miller, it shows the Wyoming Hot Shots at the end of a shift on the 2016 Snake Fire on the Wyoming/Colorado border.

I can imagine that these tactical athletes are tired, but feeling good about what they accomplished over the last 16 hours — together — and are hoping for another good day tomorrow. They are happy to be resting and decompressing with their buddies.

On their Facebook Page they described the photo:


“Thursday throwback to one of my favorite fire pictures. I recently saw a post asking what being a wildland firefighter means to people. This to me is what it’s about. The camaraderie you have with your crew. The nights spent out at a remote spike camp, sitting around a campfire after a long shift talking like you haven’t been around each other 24/7 the whole summer. Jokingly complaining about how awful the line, food, coffee or hike in or out was, but looking back and being satisfied with the progress the crew has made.

“More and more I feel like firefighters are being told they’re glamorous, adrenaline fueled heroes doing an extremely dangerous job, battling the forces of nature and more and more inexperienced firefighters are believing it and thinking that’s what this job is about. It’s sad and about as far from the truth as you can get. It’s all about teamwork, camaraderie, and a few clear, calm decisions to solve evolving problems.”

A fire in steep terrain

Above: photo by BC Wildfire Service

The British Columbia Wildfire Service reports that this 8 hectare (20 acre) fire is burning in steep terrain by the headwaters of the North Klinaklini River. They have assessed the lightning caused fire and will monitor the growth within natural boundaries. No communities are threatened, they said.

Colorado developing drone system to enhance situational awareness

The state of Colorado is working on a system that would use drones to provide live video of wildfires to wildland firefighters’ cell phones. The Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting is beta testing a DVI Mavic drone that would push the real time video to firefighters using software developed by the military, Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK).

The program has the capability of displaying data from tracking devices carried by soldiers, or firefighters, and identifying their location on a map, which in this case could also show the fire in real time.

If they are successful in developing and implementing a system that can provide to fire managers real time information about the location of a wildfire AND firefighting resources, it would achieve what we call the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighter Safety — knowing those two elements of information.

The DJI Mavic can only stay in the air for 20 to 30 minutes before having to return to base to replace the battery. So this beta test is probably only a proof of concept attempt, perhaps leading to a more robust drone, rotor or fixed wing, that could stay in the air for a much longer period of time.

Colorado's Pilatus PC12 N327F
“http://wildfiretoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/PilatusPC12.jpg”> One of the two State of Colorado’s Pilatus PC12’s, was photographed in March of 2016 in Sacramento.[/captio
Colorado already has the ability to transmit near real time imagery of fires from their two MultiMission Aircraft, Pilatus PC12’s. They are integrated with the Colorado Wildfire Information System, a geospatial database that displays incident images and details to local fire managers through a web based application.

Calm before the storm?

 Above: Estimated precipitation July 4 to July 11, 2018. Intellicast

We have entered a relatively quiet period of wildfire activity in the western United States. On today’s national Situation Report, more fires decreased in size than increased. Of the fires that had changes of more than 100 acres, only three got larger, while five actually decreased. The reported size getting smaller is a result of more accurate mapping.

The seasonal monsoonal flow has been bringing precipitation to not only the Southwest, but it has been pushing north into parts of Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. And the typical July thunderstorms have been affecting other areas as well.

wildfire potential july 2018

As a reminder, the National Interagency Fire Center predicted July 1 that fire activity would increase this month in parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. California has had some large fires, Utah has had several, and the Martin Fire in Northern Nevada has burned almost 440,000 acres. We’ll see what happens during the second half of the month.

The updated precipitation and temperature outlooks for the next six to ten days predict higher than normal temperatures in the far west and dry conditions in the Northwest and Northern Rockies.

precipitation outlook temperature outlook