Carpet cleaner puts out vegetation fire in Phoenix

Above: Jared Aiton uses his carpet cleaning equipment to put out a fire along a Phoenix highway. ADOT photo.

A man who cleans carpets for a living saw a small brush fire on the side of the Loop 303 in north Phoenix Wednesday. Jared Aiton, a technician for Zerorez, said he wished there was something he could do to help, then remembered he had a tank of water in his vehicle. So he pulled over and used a reel hose to stop the spread. By the time the fire department arrived all the flames had been knocked down.

An Arizona Department of Transportation highway camera documented Mr. Aiton’s efforts.

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Growth of the Pinal Fire south of Globe, Arizona slows

Above:  Most of the activity on the Pinal Fire Saturday was a firing operation on Divisions A and D as the Payson and Prescott Hotshots were conducting burning operations along the ridge tops. The photo looks south from the western part of Globe, Arizona towards the Pinal Mountains.

The Pinal fire five miles south of south of Globe Arizona slowed on Saturday, adding about 200 acres to bring the total to 6,610 acres. On Sunday the fire was active on the north side six miles south of the community of Miami.

Firefighters have been conducting burning operations along Forest Road (FR) 651 to help keep the fire within the planned perimeter and lessen the impacts of post-fire effects. If conditions allow, the controlled burning will likely last about three to five more days.

All of the photos were taken by Tom Story during the afternoon of May 27, 2017.

Pinal Fire Arizona Globe
Members of the Escudilla Fire Crew hike along a ridge above homes in Kellner Canyon. The Type 2 crew was clearing brush around the residences as part of structure protection efforts on the Pinal Fire.
Pinal Fire Arizona Globe
Homeowner Jarom Lewis clears brush on his property adjacent to the Tonto National Forest on Kellner Canyon Road. The area south of the Globe City Limits along Kellner and Ice House Canyons was under a pre-evacuation order near the Pinal Fire south of town.
Pinal Fire Arizona Globe
The Escudilla Fire Crew clears brush along the Tonto National Forest boundary above homes in Kellner Canyon as part of structure protection efforts in an area under a pre-evacuation alert near the Pinal Fire in the mountains south of Globe, AZ.

Drones interfere with aviation operations on Pinal Fire

Above: Undated Inciweb photo of the Pinal Fire.

Four separate incidents involving hobbyists flying drones are hindering operations on the 4,991-acre Pinal Fire since the fire was detected May 8 in the Tonto National Forest five miles south of Globe, Arizona.

The latest drone sighting occurred May 24, 2017. An air tanker flying over the fire was forced to release its retardant at a higher altitude for safety reasons. The higher drop reduced the retardant’s effectiveness on the fire. Subsequently, aviation operations were suspended until the drone issue was resolved.

On May 20, 2017, a law enforcement officer cited a hobbyist for flying a drone near the Pinal Fire.

Pinal Fire map
Map showing heat detected by a satellite over the Pinal Fire. The red dots are the most recent, from 3:15 a.m. MDT May 26, 2017.

Forest Service officials continue to emphasize that flying drones over or in close proximity to wildfires is illegal, endangers aviators as well as crews on the ground, and slows operations which potentially could result in the fire increasing in size.

Deputy Forest Supervisor Tom Torres, Tonto National Forest, explained that flying a drone near a wildfire is, in fact, breaking the law.

“The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations 43 CFR 9212.1(f) – indicates that it is illegal to resist or interfere with the efforts of firefighter(s) to extinguish a fire,” Torres said. “Doing so can result in a significant fine and/or a mandatory court appearance.

Drone operators determined to have endangered manned aircraft or people on the ground and/or interfered with wildfire suppression may be subject to civil penalties, including fines of up to $25,000, and potentially criminal prosecution.

Management of the fire

The Pinal Fire is being managed, not aggressively suppressed. One of the objectives is to create a continuous fuel break between the Pinal Mountains and the town of Globe five miles to the north.

Firefighters are involved in preparation and defense of structures and infrastructure along the indirect control lines from which firing operations could be conducted where necessary to maintain low intensity fire conditions and prevent unwanted impacts to the values at risk.

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

Granite Mountain Hotshots’ park has received thousands of visitors

Above: The parking lot at the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park trailhead southwest of Yarnell, Arizona was about half full at 3 p.m. on May 19, 2017.

The new Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park that opened November 30, 2016 is receiving so much use that often visitors are turned away when the small parking lot is full. Arizona State Parks reports that approximately 10,500 people have visited the site, more than the small parking lot can handle at times.

The park honors the 19 wildland firefighters that were killed on June 30, 2013 when they were overrun by the suddenly very active Yarnell Hill Fire near Yarnell, Arizona, 90 miles northwest of Phoenix.

Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park
Interpretive panels and stairway leading to the trail at the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park.

The park consists of a trailhead on U.S. Highway 89 approximately two miles west of Yarnell and a 3.6-mile trail leading to the fatality site. Along the trail are 19 stone plaques honoring each of the fallen Hotshots and six interpretive signs that tell their story.

The trail is fairly steep with quite a bit of elevation change, up and down, and can take four to six hours round-trip for the casual hiker.

The trailhead is located on an east-west section of the highway where the road contours across a very steep mountain. The highway is divided at that point with the eastbound lane several hundred feet below the westbound lane.

If you are driving east toward Yarnell you will not pass directly by the trailhead — you will see it only if you are heading west. However the state built a new road connecting the two opposing lanes about a quarter of a mile to the east. Signs direct eastbound travelers to turn left to get on the connecting road. Upon reaching the westbound lane, you turn left again and drive down to the parking lot and trailhead.

When I was there on May 19 about half of the 17 parking places were taken. According to an article in the Daily Courier the parking lot often being full has motivated park managers and locals to find a way to keep folks from being turned away. One idea being tossed around is to offer a shuttle.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

The group’s idea is to create a shuttle system that would take visitors from an overflow lot in Yarnell to the state park south of town. The group is looking into grant opportunities to help fund the shuttle, Lechner said.
Along with relieving the traffic frustrations for visitors, Lechner said the shuttle also could help the Yarnell businesses by bringing more the visitors into town.

“The best way to honor the sacrifice made by the Hotshots is to make Yarnell the most wonderful, thriving community as possible,” she said.

Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park
The fatality site at Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park. Photo by Arizona State Parks.

Drones to help crews combat future Grand Canyon wildfires

Above: A drone is used to assist wildlfire operations, as shown in this file photo from Bill Gabbert.

Wildland firefighters at Grand Canyon National Park have added drones to their toolkits, marking the latest iteration of unmanned aircraft systems’ love-hate relationship when it comes to wildfire. 

Rangers have started using drones to scout fires from above, the Grand Canyon News reported. From the article published Tuesday:

Justin Jager, interagency aviation officer for Grand Canyon National Park, Kaibab and Coconino National Forests and Flagstaff and Verde Valley Area National Monuments, said the drones are utilized in conjunction with traditional methods. Operators use the devices to scout fire lines, or communicate information to other personnel in the area.

The unmanned systems aren’t replacing fixed-wing scouting planes. Rather, they’re being used to search a fire’s outer edges and providing intelligence that can help establish stronger fire lines.

Also from the Grand Canyon News: 

“We’re taking what we’re learning and creating a guide for other agencies, like BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or other national parks to create their own programs,” Jager said. “I think they can all benefit from adding this tool.”

Drones and the Grand Canyon have been in the news for other reasons of late, most recently in assisting search and rescue operations for LouAnn Merrell and her step-grandson Jackson Standefer. Both went missing in April while on a hike — the boy’s body has since been recovered, though the woman has not yet been located.

Grand Canyon National Park is the only park with its own fleet of unmanned aircraft that can be used for locating people who have gotten lost, stranded, injured or killed. Under a program that began last fall, it has five drones and four certified operators, the Associated Press reported. 

The drones are about 18 inches across and 10 inches high, with a battery life of about 20 minutes. Drone operators watch the video in real time and then analyze it again at the end of the day.

As fire season revs up, so will conversations about the crossroads of the devices and wildfire. While crews have successfully used drones for recon and to aid in igniting prescribed burns, it’s only a matter of time until a curious hobbyist — once again — flies too close to firefighting operations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has come out in the past supporting the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service in their simple message to drone operators: If you fly; we can’t.

“Flying a drone near aerial firefighting aircraft doesn’t just pose a hazard to the pilots,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “When aircraft are grounded because an unmanned aircraft is in the vicinity, lives are put at greater risk.”

That didn’t matter. After a string of incidents last year, the FAA warned in a mass email to recreational drone operators that those “who interfere with wildfire suppression efforts are subject to civil penalties of up to $27,500 and possible criminal prosecution.”

Looking for more about the intersection of drones and wildfire? This dated, yet relevant, Smithsonian video below documents the use of the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator Drone in the August, 2013, Rim Fire in California.

Firefighters make progress on the Sawmill Fire in Arizona

Above: Map of the Sawmill Fire east of Green Valley, Arizona as of April 26, 2017. 

Firefighters battling the 46,954-acre Sawmill Fire 23 miles southeast of Tucson have been able to slow the spread over the last two days in spite of strong winds. Satellite imagery from early Friday morning did not show any large concentrations of heat over the previous 24 hours. This does not mean the fire is out, and there is no doubt a lot of line building and mopup work still has to be accomplished.

For the last two days the Sawmill Fire has been most active on the northeast side where aircraft have been assisting firefighters on the ground to slow the spread.

A Red Flag Warning for strong winds is still in place for the fire area as well as most of southern Arizona and southwest New Mexico.

On Thursday the Arizona Department of Transportation reopened Arizona Highway 83 south of Interstate 10.

The Pima County Office of Emergency Management has lifted the pre-evacuation order for residents on the west side of Arizona Highway 83. Residents in the Hilton Ranch area remain under pre-evacuation notice. An evacuation order remains in place for Rain Valley.