Rainfall in western states slows wildfire season in many areas

Rainfall last 2 weeks washington oregon
Rainfall last 2 weeks, Washington and Oregon

Rainfall over the last two weeks has slowed or in some cases, ended the wildfire season in some areas.

On October 19 we ran the numbers for the accumulated precipitation for the last 14 days in the western states. These maps show amounts that exceeded 0.05 inches at some of the Interagency Remote Automatic Weather Stations (RAWS).

Washington, Oregon, and northern California have received a good soaking and I would imagine that local fire officials may be declaring an end to the fire season. Of course this is not unusual for these areas this time of the year, and some locations had already seen their season end. But what IS unusual, is the high amount of moisture that occurred in just two weeks.

You can click on the images to see larger versions.

Rainfall last 2 weeks, northern California
Rainfall last 2 weeks, northern California
Rainfall last 2 weeks central California
Rainfall last 2 weeks, central California

Continue to see maps for the other western states.
Continue reading “Rainfall in western states slows wildfire season in many areas”

A few more details released about fire shelter deployment on the Cedar Fire

On Sunday the Bureau of Indian Affairs released a “72-hour report” that contains a few more details about the entrapment of six firefighters and deployment of their fire shelters on the Cedar Fire south of Show Low, Arizona.

The new information includes mentions of a large fire whirl and three lookouts that were posted.

Below is the press release version of the 72-hour report. The formal memo-style document is HERE. They contain approximately the same information.

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“On June 28, a large fire whirl formed near six members of the Navajo Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC), entrapping them. In response to the intense heat, flying ash and woody debris, the firefighters deployed their fire shelters.

Throughout the 15 minute event, the crew maintained radio communication with each other and agency personnel. Aviation and safety resources were immediately dispatched to assist the crew.

After the fire whirl passed, the IHC walked out of the fire area and were transported to Summit Healthcare in Show Low, Arizona. Two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and all six firefighters were released from the hospital that evening. After the crew was released, a Critical Incident Stress Management Team was made available to the crew.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs initiated an Interageny Serious Accident Investigation (SAI) that evening. On June 30, the SAI Team members, led by Clark Richins, Team Leader, Bureau of Indian Affairs, reported to Western Region, Fort Apache Agency. Members of the SAI Team include: Chief Investigator, Safety Officer, Personal Protective Equipment Specialist, Long Term Fire Analyst, Hotshot Crew Representative, Public Information Officer, Writer/ Editor, and Regional and National Agency Liaisons.

The investigation will collect evidence, which includes conducting personnel interviews, inspecting equipment and analyzing photographs, weather and voice data. On June 30, the SAI Team completed their interviews of the IHC, which allowed the crew to return home.

According to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group Terminology Glossary, a fire whirl is a spinning vortex column of ascending hot air and gases rising from a fire and carrying aloft smoke, debris, and flame. Fire whirls may range in size from less than one foot to over 500 feet in diameter and have the intensity of a small tornado.

Prior to the event, the crew was working along the western flank of the uncontained fireline where they had previously been assigned for several days. At 12:00p.m three nearby lookouts observed low intensity surface fire, but by 2:00p.m., as the day got warmer, the fire behavior increased. These lookouts and an additional firefighter scouting the fireline witnessed the large fire whirl.

While managing wildland fires is inherently dangerous, all firefighters are trained to minimize the risk they take on every assignment. In the rare circumstance firefighters are faced with an impending entrapment, they are trained to consider all options to insure the safety of all crew members. This includes deploying fire shelters for protection from smoke, heat, and embers. The Navajo Interageny Hotshot Crew executed their training, which resulted in a successful outcome to a hazardous wildfire anomaly.

As a highly reliable organization, the wildland fire community strives to learn and transfer lessons learned on a continual basis. In the spirit of this culture, the BIA Western Region will provide the Factual Report to the Lessons Learned Center when the Report is finalized.”

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Thanks and a tip of the hat goes out to Jonah.

Update on the condition of the firefighters who deployed fire shelters on the Cedar Fire

(UPDATED at 12:52 p.m. MDT June 30, 2016)

Today the BIA released a “24 Hour Report” about the fire shelter deployment on the Cedar Fire. It provided a few facts that were not previously disclosed by the agency.

The six firefighters deployed their shelters in an area that had already burned, and they were evaluated in the hospital for “smoke inhalation”.

The Serious Accident Investigation Team will be led by Jon Rollins, Chief Investigator for the National Park Service.

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(Originally published at 9:52 p.m. MDT, June 29, 2016)

The Bureau of Indian Affairs provided more information today about the six firefighters on the Cedar Fire south of Show Low, Arizona who on June 28 found themselves in a situation where they had to deploy fire shelters. The firefighters, all from the Navajo Interagency Hotshot Crew, walked away from the site and were transported to Summit Healthcare in Show Low where they were treated and released that evening.

A Serious Accident Investigation Team has been formed and will investigate the circumstances surrounding the deployment.

We don’t know why or how the incident occurred, but if recent history holds true, we may never know, thanks to the unintended consequences of Senator Maria Cantwell’s and Representative Doc Hastings’ hastily conceived Public Law 107-203 signed into law in 2002.

But putting aside the unknown details of fire behavior, decisions made on the fireline, and the strategy and tactics being used on the Cedar Fire yesterday, there a few things that we do know.

  • The Type 1 Incident Management Team issued an update titled “Final Cedar Fire Update” on Monday, June 27. It said in part, “While 554 firefighters are working on the fire [Monday] morning, only the Team itself will remain by Tuesday afternoon. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) will assume command of the fire at 6 A.M. Tuesday.” That Monday update said the fire received rainfall on Sunday and more rain was expected on Monday.
  • The Type 1 Team turned the fire over to the Fort Apache Agency at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, June 28. There was no mention of a Type 2 or Type 3 Incident Management Team.
  • The Fort Apache Agency posted a fire update on Facebook at 1:05 p.m. on Tuesday, June 28 saying the resources on the fire that day were, “Navajo Hotshots, 3 Type 6 Engines, Fort Apache Fuels Type 2 IA Crew.” And, “Fire Personnel will continue to hold and mop up the fire.” These two crews and three engines probably amounted to a maximum of 50 people, plus miscellaneous overhead. This was down from 554 the previous day, a 91 percent reduction in personnel overnight.
  • Candy Lupe, a Public Information Officer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Fort Apache Agency, told Wildfire Today that she was not sure exactly when the incident occurred but estimated it happened around 3 p.m. Arizona time on Tuesday, June 28.
  • The infrared scan of the fire conducted very early Monday morning, June 27, showed “scattered” and “isolated” heat over much of the fire. There was no record of an infrared scan prior to the day shift on Tuesday June 28, but they had been completed every day from June 17 through June 27.

We’re not pointing fingers or attempting to lay blame on anyone. Hopefully the investigation will bring to light some lessons that can be learned.

Carl WilsonThe incident brings to mind the Common Denominators of Fatal and Near-Fatal Fires, developed by Carl Wilson in 1976. Mr. Wilson put two lists together, a four-item list based on his studies of 61 fatal fires, and a five-item list that included an additional 31 near-fatal fires. More information about these lists is in our February 1, 2016 article, Are there 4 or 5 common denominators of fire behavior on fatal fires? Almost all recent wildland fire publications, if they publish the list, only have the four-item list.

These lists are not intended as a quick and easy checklist for investigators, nor are they rules or guidelines that must be followed. They are simply interesting commonalities seen on many fatal and near-fatal fires. Things to think about, not rules that must be adhered to.

Here is the five-item list that includes data from fatal and near-fatal fires:

  1. Most of the incidents occurred on relatively small fires or isolated sectors of larger fires.
  2. Most of the fires were innocent in appearance prior to the “flare-ups” or “blow-ups”. In some cases, the fatalities occurred in the mop-up stage.
  3. Flare-ups occurred in deceptively light fuels.
  4. Fires ran uphill in chimneys, gullies, or on steep slopes.
  5. Suppression tools, such as helicopters or air tankers, can adversely modify fire behavior. (Helicopter and air tanker vortices have been known to cause flare-ups.)”

Fire shelters deployed on the Cedar Fire — firefighters injured

(Originally published at 8:58 MDT June 28, 2016)

Today six firefighters deployed fire shelters on the Cedar Fire south of Show Low, Arizona.

Candy Lupe, a Public Information Officer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Fort Apache Agency, said all six were transported to area hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. Other than that she was not able to answer questions about the nature or extent of the injuries. After the fire in the area cooled, the firefighters were able to walk away from the accident site. Medical, air, and ground resources were deployed to the area to provide assistance. The six firefighters were described as “a portion of the crew” that was working near a flare up on the remaining uncontrolled fire line of the Cedar Fire. 

Ms. Lupe was not sure exactly when the incident occurred but estimated it happened around 3 p.m. Arizona time today, June 28.

Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. the Type 1 Incident Management Team demobilized and transitioned command to the Fort Apache Agency.

The “Final Cedar Fire Update” from Southwest Incident Management Team #2 was posted on InciWeb on June 27. At that time the fire was listed as being 45,977 acres, 75 percent contained, with 546 personnel assigned. The fire received rainfall on Sunday and more rain was expected on Monday. The report stated:

While 554 firefighters are working on the fire [Monday] morning, only the Team itself will remain by Tuesday afternoon. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) will assume command of the fire at 6 A.M. Tuesday.

An update on the fire that was posted on the Fort Apache Agency’s Facebook page around noon on Tuesday said:

The Southwest portion of the fire will continue to produce smoke as well as the interior of the fire.

Much of the rest of the update was devoted to fire rehabilitation activites.

Map Cedar Fire
This map shows the locations of heat detected on the Cedar Fire by a fixed wing aircraft at 2:43 a.m. June 27, 2016.

At 3 p.m. on June 28 the RAWS weather station “IRAWS 5 (Hwy 60 flat)(MST)” on the west side of the Cedar Fire recorded 90 degrees, 19 percent RH, and winds at 3 to 5 mph. Between 9 a.m. and and 5 p.m. the wind direction was very inconsistent, from the south, southwest, and northwest with variable gusts from 9 to 15 mph.

Our earlier primary article about the suppression of the Cedar Fire.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

A virtual aerial tour of the site of the Cedar Fire in Arizona

This is virtual flyover of the site of the Cedar Fire 10 miles south of Show Low, Arizona, showing the fire perimeter as of 10 p.m. MDT June 17. There is also a quick stop at the Show Low Airport with photos of the helicopters that assisted firefighters on the ground by dropping water.

Cedar Fire near Show Low, Arizona

(UPDATED at 10 a.m. MDT June 24, 2016)

cedar fire helicopter
Helicopter refilling water bucket on Cedar Fire. Undated & uncredited photo from InciWeb.

The Cedar Fire south of Show Low, Arizona continues to spread across the Arizona landscape. The Incident Management Team reports that it has burned 45,918 acres, an increase of about 5,000 acres over the last two days. Firefighters still have miles of open fire perimeter and have been working on constructing firelines and conducting burnouts on the east and west flanks.

Map Cedar Fire
Map of the Cedar Fire perimeter at 9 p.m. MDT June 23, 2016.

SR-60 between Carrizo and Show Low remains closed due to smoke conditions as firefighters actively work near the highway. SR-73 through Whiteriver remains open from Carrizo to Hon-Dah.

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(UPDATED at 9:42 a.m. MDT June 22, 2016)

3-D Map Cedar Fire
3-D Map of the Cedar Fire at 10 p.m. MDT June 21, 2016. Looking north.Click to enlarge.

The Cedar Fire south of Show Low Arizona added another 5,000 acres on Tuesday to bring the number acres burned up to 40,340, according to the Southwest Geographic Area Coordination Center. Most of the growth was on the east side, and on the west side near Highway 60.

The southern perimeter is still approximately 1 1⁄2 miles north of Highway 73, and approximately 2 miles north of the Cedar Creek community. The north side of the fire remains fairly quiet.

Map Cedar Fire
The brown shaded areas show the additional growth of the Cedar Fire as of 10 p.m. MDT June 21, 2016. The white line is the perimeter from 24 hours before. Click to enlarge.
Progression map Cedar Fire
Progression map of the Cedar Fire, June 21, 2016. Click to enlarge.

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(UPDATED at 8:20 a.m. MDT, June 21, 2016)

map Cedar Fire
The red line was the perimeter of the Cedar Fire at 4:13 a.m. MDT June 21, 2016. The white line was the perimeter from about 24 hours before. Click to enlarge.

The Cedar Fire south of Show Low, Arizona continued to grow substantially on Monday adding another 9,000 acres to bring the total burned area up to about 35,000 acres. The fire was active on the southwest and south sides, but was extremely active on the east side where it spread over two miles further east.

The Incident Management Team (IMT) has posted a video briefing on the fire that was recorded on Monday.

Continue reading “Cedar Fire near Show Low, Arizona”