Wildfire briefing, February 23, 2015

Oregon negotiating to renew wildfire insurance

The state of Oregon has had an insurance policy with Lloyd’s of London since 1973 that helps to cover the cost of suppressing wildfires during busy fire seasons. The premium for that policy has been about $1-2 million. But before the state receives any payout from Lloyd’s they have to spend $20-25 million to cover the deductible, after which the insurance company will cover the additional costs up to $25 million. Two consecutive bad fire seasons has state officials thinking that they may have to pay more for that policy this year.

For the last two months the state has been negotiating with Lloyd’s over the terms of a new policy.

Below is an update from an article in the Bend Bulletin:

…The state sent its top forester, Doug Decker, across the Atlantic to meet face to face with brokers from Lloyd’s of London early this month. Even now, Decker says, the future is uncertain.

“They’ll be asking themselves the question what can they afford to provide, and we’ll be asking the question what can we afford to pay,” Decker said.

Lloyd’s officials said they don’t comment on individual policies, but Decker said about a dozen brokers are crunching numbers and other factors to see whether the company still finds Oregon worth insuring. They’re likely to take into account what the state says is its ability to extinguish about 95 percent of fires before they grow larger than 10 acres . They’ll consider the cameras Oregon places in remote areas to scout for fires.

But there’s another factor Lloyd’s may consider that is working against the state: snowpack. Right now, there isn’t much…

Light snowpack could mean busy fire season in Arizona

The snowpack in Arizona is about half of normal for this time of year.

Researchers study the effect of wildfires on bats

bat wildfireTwo Northern Arizona University researchers are learning more about how bats are faring in the post-wildfire Ponderosa pine forests, of which 3.2 million acres have been scorched during the past decade. Because bats help pollenate plants, aid in reforestation and maintain ecosystem balance by eating large quantities of insects, scientists believe it is imperative to understand the effects of wildfire on bat habitats.

“In the short term, it doesn’t appear that wildfire will have substantial impacts on maternity roost habitat,” graduate student Erin Saunders said. “However, as large high severity wildfires continue, paired with the added stress of climate change, we will likely see a decrease in available snags for habitat and possibly a shift in the forest composition.” Saunders added that their relatively short-term research should be continued in order to make stronger land management recommendations.

Firefighters unroll burning hay bale

The Muskogee Phoenix has an interesting photo of firefighters in Oklahoma unrolling a burning hay bale, explaining that they “spent the afternoon [on a 50-acre grass fire] unrolling burning hay bales before winds picked up. According to the Warner fire chief, a hay bale will burn for days unless it is unrolled.”


A confluence of wildfire and art

The Fires of Change exhibition is a collaborative science and art partnership among the Southwest Fire Science Consortium, Flagstaff Arts Council, and the Landscape Conservation Initiative. The exhibition will open at the Coconino Center for the Arts in September 2015 during the Flagstaff Festival of Science. This film documents the workshop the artists attended at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to learn about fire management. For more information about the project, the partnership, and the artists involved, visit the Flagstaff Arts Council web site.

I am really curious about what will be created out of this very intriguing project. If it works out the way it possibly could, it should be a travelling exhibition, or, other areas could conduct similar initiatives.


Wildfire briefing, December 4, 2014

Fires in U.S. and Australia determined to be caused by power lines

Map of Pfeiffer Fire

Map of Pfeiffer Fire at Big Sur, California, looking northwest, showing the fire perimeter at 10:34 p.m. PST, December 18, 2013. (Click to enlarge)

Two fires, in Western Australia and California, have recently been determined to be caused by electrical power lines.

The Pfeiffer Fire at Big Sur, California started on December 16, 2013 and burned 34 homes and 917 acres in the coastal community 23 miles south of Monterey. The U.S. Forest Service reported on Wednesday:

The cause of the fire was determined to be high resistance heating of the Pfeiffer Ridge Mutual Water Company electrical control wires immediately adjacent to a steel water pipe line. The high resistance heating of the electrical control wires created a competent ignition source for this fire. The first fuel ignited was accumulated dried leaves and redwood needles.

The other fire was in Western Australia. Below is an excerpt from an article in Western Australia Today:

A rotted power pole infested with termites has been blamed for the Parkerville bushfire which destroyed more than 40 homes this year. But EnergySafety director Ken Bowron said the organisation would not take action against Western Power or the landowner.

The EnergySafety report into the cause of the fire on January 12 was released on Thursday and found the bushfire originated from a private pole at 180 Granite Road, Parkerville.

“There was no evidence to suggest the work performed by Western Power to replace the surface aerial seven months before the incident, or the work to replace the adjacent pole two day before the bushfires, causes the PA pole to fail,” Mr Bowron said.

“Based on the available evidence and legal advice, EnergySafety will not be taking any legal action against any party. The clear finding of the report is that the pole failed because it was rotten and had been infested by termites.

Hearing in Prescott on Granite Mountain Hotshots’ retroactive retirement benefits

From the Daily Courier in Prescott, Arizona:

Now nearly a year and a half after 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire, the matter of retroactive retirement benefits continues to play out at Prescott City Hall.

With its earlier decision granting retirement benefits to the family of fallen Hotshot Andrew Ashcraft still under appeal, the local fire retirement board will take on two new retirement cases today.

During a 9 a.m. Thursday hearing at Prescott City Hall, the Prescott Board of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System Board will turn to the retirement claims by the families of Sean Misner and William Warneke, and whether the scope of the actual hearings on the claims should be limited…

Tree ring researcher at the University of Arizona honored

Thomas Swetnam

Thomas W. Swetnam with tree-ring specimens in the UA’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. (Photo courtesy of Michaela Kane/Arizona Daily Wildcat)

Thomas W. Swetnam, Regents’ Professor of dendrochronology and director of the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.

As part of the Section on Geology and Geography, Swetnam was elected as an AAAS Fellow for his investigations of tree rings as a record of past changes in climate, allowing scientists to predict future forest-fire frequencies in the Southwest.

Mr. Swetnam specializes in analyzing climate changes through history and prehistory, dangerous insect outbreaks and forest fires. In recent years, enormous blazes, some 10 times greater than those that firefighters have been accustomed to seeing in California and Arizona, have forced scholars to attempt to understand this phenomenon. The conclusions from Swetnam’s studies of these so-called megafires and their alarming size, duration and frequency have made the scientific community, governments throughout the world and media to pay close attention. Swetnam has appeared on programs such as PBS’ “NewsHour” and CBS’ “60 Minutes.”


Firefighters suppress two fires north of Flagstaff

Kenrick 2 Fire

Kendrick 2 Fire, USFS photo by Jim Burton.

Firefighters on the Coconino National Forest have contained two fires north of Flagstaff, Arizona. The 509-acre Kendrick 2 Fire, about 20 miles northwest of Flagstaff on Highway 180 Near Kendrick Mountain, has a fireline around it, meeting the definition of containment, but the incident commander is calling it only 50 percent contained Monday morning.

Highway 180 remains closed in both directions Monday morning. Fire managers expect to recommend reopening the highway later today.

map wildfire Kendrick 2

Map showing the approximate location of the Kendrick 2 Fire.

The other fire was 12 miles north of the Flagstaff Mall on the west side of Hwy 89 near Forest Service Road 418. It was named for its location at milepost 431 on Hwy 89. The fire was contained after burning 204 acres.

Kendrick 2 Fire, November 30, 2014, USFS photo.

Kendrick 2 Fire, November 30, 2014, USFS photo.