Protecting a historic site above the Arctic Circle

In recent weeks a wildfire in northern Yukon Territory on the Alaskan border threatened the Rampart House historic site. It occurred at 67 degrees North Latitude, which is about the same distance from the equator as the fires burning in Greenland.

Rampart House was the location of one of the first encounters of traders, missionaries, and police with the native people of the region. The archaeological resources and 21 historic structures are cooperatively owned and managed by the Yukon Government and the Vuntut Gwichin First Nation.

Rampart House

Doug Cote was assigned to the fire and sent us these photos along with this description:

A number of fires threatened the site over the two week period we were there.  Once our trigger points were breached we pulled out our fall back ignition plan which went off like text book. Aerial ignition from above and hand ignition on the ground for close to 2km along the base of the slopes above the site.  The area should be safe from fires for a good long while now.

There were a number of large fires burning north of the arctic circle in Alaska and Canada’s north west this summer with higher than average temperatures and higher than average amounts of lightning.  It would be real interesting to crunch the numbers and see the total burned area and how it compares to previous years and whether there is any evidence of an upwards trend.

Rampart House Rampart House

Thanks Doug!

TEDx: “Living (dangerously) in an era of megafires”

Why are fires getting bigger?

One of the talks at the TEDx hosted in Bend, Oregon in May was about wildfires. U.S. Forest Service Research Landscape Ecologist Paul F. Hessburg, Sr. gave a 15-minute presentation on megafires, explaining how fires have changed, and why, over the last 100 to 150 years.

Here is an excerpt from the official description of his talk:

Paul tells a fast-paced story of western US forests–unintentionally yet massively changed by a century of management. He relates how these changes, coupled with a seriously hotter climate, have set the stage for this modern era of megafires. He offers clear tools for changing course, a sense of urgency, and a thought-provoking call to community action…

If you live in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, or Utah you will have an opportunity to see in September and October a souped-up 70-minute, multi-media, traveling presentation on this subject, featuring Mr. Hessburg.

Eucalyptus trees contribute to Portugal’s wildfire problem

When numerous fires burned through large expanses of Portugal in June killing more than 60 people, they were fueled in some areas by monocultures of eucalyptus trees. Many areas around the world grow them in order to harvest the wood, leaves, and oil to make paper and medicine. But wildfires burn rapidly under the trees and through the crowns, fed by the stringy bark, oil, and the leaves and forest litter on the ground that do not decompose. Earlier this year we took this photo after a fire in Chile spread through a plantation.

wildfire eucalyptus plantation
The aftermath of a wildfire that burned through a eucalyptus plantation in Chile, February 2, 2017.

The New York Times published an article today that looks at how eucalyptus and other issues combine to create a wildfire environment in Portugal that is difficult to manage.

Here is an excerpt:

…Even so, Portugal’s wood industry no longer relies on native species like oak and pine. Instead, it is increasingly built on eucalyptus, which feeds a pulp and paper sector that makes up 10 percent of Portuguese exports. The area of eucalyptus planting has more than doubled since the 1980s.

Eucalyptus can be harvested in half the time needed for pine. And unlike other species, “you have absolutely no need for people on the ground” to supervise its growth, said João Camargo, an environmental engineer.

The tree, however, contains a highly flammable oil that helps fires erupt more easily, spread and intensify.

Yet after every fire, more landowners switch to eucalyptus, hoping that a shorter production cycle can allow them to recoup their losses faster and to harvest their trees before the next fire erupts.

It is an accelerating sequence that has turned Portugal “from a pretty diverse forest into a big eucalyptus monoculture,” Mr. Camargo said.

Eight firefighters injured in northern California vehicle accident

A crew truck from Firestorm Wildland Fire Suppression was involved in the one-vehicle accident.

firestormAt approximately 7:45 a.m. PDT, August 11, 2017, a Firestorm Wildland Fire Suppression Inc. contracted fire crew transport truck assigned to the Parker 2 Fire was involved in a single vehicle accident on Highway 299 near Cedarville, California. Eight firefighters were injured. Five were transported to local medical facilities by ambulance; three were transported by air ambulance. Seven of the firefighters have been treated and released, and one firefighter is still undergoing medical evaluation.

The cause of the accident is under investigation.

The Parker 2 Fire has burned almost 8,000 acres on the Modoc National Forest east of Alturas, California.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Rick.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

15,000 firefighters are battling 83 wildfires in the United States

Above: Map showing heat detected on wildfires in the northwest one-quarter of the U.S. by a satellite, August 10-11, 2017. NASA.

(Originally published at 12:34 p.m. MDT August 11, 2017)

Over 15,000 firefighters are assigned to 83 active wildfires in the United States which have burned a total of about 942,000 acres. In addition to fire overhead and incident command post personnel, they are staffing 369 hand crews, 678 fire engines, and 141 helicopters. So far this year over 6 million acres have burned in the country.

As you can see below, the air quality compromised by smoke is not getting any better. Again, four cities in Idaho and Washington are four of the top five locations in the country with forecasts for the worst air today.

smoke air quality index

wildfire smoke
Wildfire smoke, 5:16 a.m. MDT August 11, 2017.