Firefighter fatality map

NIOSH has created an interactive mapping system that enables a web site visitor to configure and view a map showing the locations of firefighter fatalities. The U.S. Fire Administration data, for the years 1994 through 2013, can be manipulated with numerous variables, including wildland fire and the year.

Unfortunately, the way the data is displayed is not consistent. Some multiple-fatality incidents are represented by a purple arrow with the number of fatalities. A quick look found, for example, that the 14 fatalities on the 1994 South Canyon Fire are represented by an icon that usually indicates a single fatality, and it does not include a number. In addition, it is not placed in the correct location in west-central Colorado.

Maybe it is a work in progress.

Below are a couple of examples of maps that can be produced. The first shows wildland fire fatalities in 2013 and the next is from 1994 through 2013.

NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Map, 2013 NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Map, 1994- 2013In spite of the bugs, which hopefully will get worked out, NIOSH should be congratulated for putting together this tool which could be very useful.

 

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Historic newsreels about wildland fire

Daniel Godwin was kind enough to send us information about numerous historic newsreels about wildland fire that have been converted to digital videos. The short films that we list below are a small portion of the 85,000 recorded by British Pathé  between 1896 and 1976 that were recently posted on YouTube.

In case you are not familiar with newsreels, here is how they are described on Wikipidia:

newsreel is a form of short documentary film prevalent in the first half of the twentieth century, regularly released in a public presentation place and containing filmed news stories and items of topical interest. It was a source of news, current affairs, and entertainment for millions of moviegoers until television supplanted its role in the 1950s. Newsreels are now considered significant historical documents, since they are often the only audiovisual record of historical and cultural events of those times.

Newsreels were typically featured as short subjects preceding the main feature film into the 1960s. There were dedicated newsreel theaters in many major cities in the 1930s and 1940s, and some large city cinemas also included a smaller theaterette where newsreels were screened continuously throughout the day.

British Pathé’s YouTube channel with the 85,000 videos can be found here.

Below we have embedded four of the videos, and below those are links to others about wildland fire.

Minnesota burning, 1936:

NorCal, 1965:

French Riviera, 1957:

Bremerton, 1938, using US Navy for suppression:

 

Thanks Daniel!

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The true cost of wildfire

White Draw Fire, June 29, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Firefighters arrive at the White Draw Fire near Edgemont, SD, June 29, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A conference in Glenwood Springs, Colorado on Wednesday and Thursday of this week explored a topic that does not make the news very often. It was titled The True Cost of Wildfire.

Usually the costs we hear associated with wildfires are what firefighters run up during the suppression phase. The National Incident Management Situation Report provides those daily for most ongoing large fires.

But other costs may be many times that of just suppression, and can include structures burned, crops and pastures ruined, economic losses from decreased tourism, medical treatment for the effects of smoke, salaries of law enforcement and highway maintenance personnel, counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, costs incurred by evacuees, infrastructure shutdowns, rehab of denuded slopes, flood and debris flow prevention, and repairing damage to reservoirs filled with silt.

And of course we can’t put a monetary value on the lives that are lost in wildfires. In Colorado alone, fires since 2000 have killed 8 residents and 12 firefighters.

The total cost of a wildfire can be mitigated by fire-adaptive communities, hazard fuel mitigation, fire prevention campaigns, and prompt and aggressive initial attack of new fires with overwhelming force by ground and air resources. Investments in these areas can save large sums of money. And, it can save lives, something we don’t hear about very often when it comes to wildfire prevention and mitigation; or spending money on adequate fire suppression resources.

Below are some excerpts from a report on the conference that appeared in the Grand Junction Sentinel:

[Fire ecologist Robert] Gray said the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire in New Mexico ended up having a total estimated cost of $906 million, of which suppression accounted for only 3 percent.

Creede Mayor Eric Grossman said the [West Fork Complex] in the vicinity of that town last summer didn’t damage one structure other than a pumphouse. But the damage to its tourism-based economy was immense.

“We’re a three-, four-month (seasonal tourism) economy and once that fire started everybody left, and rightfully so, but the problem was they didn’t come back,” he said.

A lot of the consequences can play out over years or even decades, Gray said.

He cited a damaging wildfire in Slave Lake, in Alberta, Canada, where post-traumatic stress disorder in children didn’t surface until a year afterward. Yet thanks to the damage to homes from the fire there were fewer medical professionals still available in the town to treat them.

“You’re dealing with a grieving process” in the case of landowners who have lost homes, said Carol Ekarius, who as executive director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte has dealt with watershed and other issues in the wake of the 2002 Hayman Fire and other Front Range fires.

The Hayman Fire was well over 100,000 acres in size and Ekarius has estimated its total costs at more than $2,000 an acre. That’s partly due to denuded slopes that were vulnerable to flooding, led to silt getting in reservoirs and required rehabilitation work.

“With big fires always come big floods and big debris flows,” Ekarius said.

Gray said measures such as mitigating fire danger through more forest thinning can reduce the risks. The 2013 Rim Fire in California caused $1.8 billion in environmental and property damage, or $7,800 an acre, he said.

“We can do an awful lot of treatment at $7,800 an acre and actually save money,” he said.

Bill Hahnenberg, who has served as incident commander on several fires, said many destructive fires are human-caused because humans live in the wildland-urban interface.

“That’s why I think we should maybe pay more attention to fire prevention,” he said.

Just how large the potential consequences of fire can be was demonstrated in Glenwood Springs’ Coal Seam Fire. In that case the incident commander was close to evacuating the entire town, Hahnenberg said.

“How would that play (out)?” he said. “I’m not just picking on Glenwood, it’s a question for many communities. How would you do that?”

He suggested it’s a scenario communities would do well to prepare for in advance.

The chart below from EcoWest.org shows that federal spending per wildfire has exceeded $100,000 on an annual basis several times since 2002. Since 2008 the cost per acre has varied between $500 and $1,000. These numbers do not include most of the other associated costs we listed above. (click on the chart to see a larger version)

Cost per wildfire acre

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Iowa prescribed fire escapes, burns private property

Burned property in Iowa

Glen Dale Geiger examines his property that burned during an escaped prescribed fire in Iowa. Photo from KCRG.

A prescribed fire conducted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources escaped on April 12 and burned onto three nearby properties. One of the victims was Glen Dale Geiger who lost three structures containing farm equipment and his pride and joy, a 1960 convertible that burned exactly 54 years to the day after he bought it. Mr. Geiger said other equipment lost included, “My corn picker, corn planter, my baler, feed wagons, my other wagon sitting outside, my camper in the corn crib, snow blower, bicycles,”

At first the DNR said the National Weather Service gave them “the wrong forecast”, but they later backtracked from that, saying the DNR did not follow protocol in checking the weather for the site of the prescribed fire.
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Chip.

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The cost of prescribed fire in Oklahoma

Black lining on the Dillon Prescribed fire

Black lining on the Dillon Prescribed fire at Badlands National Park in South Dakota, October 10, 2002. NPS photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Noble Foundation kept track of the costs of conducting prescribed fires in 1996 on the Noble Foundation D. Joyce Coffey Resource and Demonstration Ranch west of Marietta, Oklahoma. A report they prepared also took into account the costs of burning on properties belonging to Terry Stuart Forst, a Noble Foundation cooperator. The lands have a variety of topographical features and plant communities from which to evaluate the costs and effects of prescribed fires.

The costs per acre listed below are from activities in 1996, so an adjustment will have to be made to consider them in current day dollars. According to The Inflation Calculator, the difference between 1996 dollars and 2013 costs is plus 46 to 67 percent.

  • Timber, Coffey Ranch: $4.64/acre
  • Grassland, Stuart Ranch: $0.23/acre
  • Timber/grassland, Stuart Ranch: $0.35/acre
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Rocky Chesser receives USFWS Fire Safety Award

Rocky Chesser, receives award

Rocky Chesser (center), Maintenance Supervisor at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge receives the USFWS National Fire Safety Award for 2013 from John Segar, Chief, Branch of Fire Management (right), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Service Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner (left). USFWS photo.

The following information was released by John Segar, Chief, Branch of Fire Management for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

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“I am very proud to announce that Rocky Chesser from Okefenokee NWR was awarded the Service’s first Annual Fire Safety Award. Rocky is being recognized for his consistent leadership, professionalism, longstanding safety record, and significant contributions to the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge Fire Management Program. Specifically:

  • During the Honey Prairie Fire, Rocky was engaged for the entire year, from the first day to the last in roles from Resource Advisor to Incident Commander. During this marathon incident Rocky provided calm, consistent leadership and was able to maintain fire safety from early initial attack to large scale management roles as the fire progressed.
  • Rocky’s proactive approach prior to the fire working with the GOAL partners and the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) were key to assuring the refuge was prepared for supporting such a large scale fire event.
  • Rocky was instrumental in coordinating large scale rehab projects such as hazardous tree removal project of approximately 50 miles of canoe and boating trails in the wilderness. He worked with contractors in promoting a safety culture and assured that all safety standards were maintained.
  • Rocky is one of the region’s most knowledgeable heavy equipment instructors and hosts annual training. He is the “go to expert” on assuring that equipment meets all safety standards and is ready for safe fire operations. When the refuge fire program underwent a major transition and the district FMO position was moved off site, Rocky stepped up more than ever to keep the fire program running strong and safe. His leadership, positive attitude, and commitment to safety helped the program adapt well through this transition.
  • Rocky also coordinates annual Fire Refresher Training between state, private, and federal firefighters and equipment operators in the Okefenokee area.”

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You may remember the Honey Prairie Fire. Started by a lightning strike, it burned 309,200 acres between April 30, 2011 and April 16, 2012 in southern Georgia and northern Florida. In one six-day period in May, 2011 it grew by 81,000 acres.

Honey Prairie Fire April 29

Honey Prairie Fire May 1, 2011, one day after it started. USF&WS photo.

Firefighters conducting firing operations

Firefighters conducting firing operations on the Honey Prairie Fire. USFWS photo.

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