Wildfire briefing, September 12, 2013

Live streaming of memorial service for Token Adams

The memorial service for Token Adams, the firefighter who was killed in an apparent ATV accident while scouting a fire in New Mexico, will begin at 10 a.m. MDT today, Thursday, at KRQE and also KOBT.

Inmate firefighter truck rolls over in Arizona

An Arizona Department of Corrections crew carrier transporting a wildland fire crew rolled over Wednesday afternoon on State Route 79 near Florence, Arizona. Several inmates and one corrections officer were injured, but none of the injuries were considered life-threatening. It is unclear what caused the accident but authorities are looking for a newer white Chevrolet Tahoe or Suburban that may have been involved. The older male driver of the SUV is believed to have left the scene traveling south.

Deceased person found in Clover Fire in Northern California

On September 10, 2013 during the late evening hours, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office located a deceased person inside the Clover Fire perimeter on Coal Pit Road in the community of Igo, California while conducting a welfare check. Next of kin was notified and the person has been identified as Brian Stanley Henry, 56. We send out our sincere condolences to the family of Mr. Henry.

Survey says voters have strong connection to national forests

A recent survey of voters commissioned by the National Forest Foundation concluded that they have a strong personal connection to National Forests. These connections are so strong that four in five voters polled said despite federal budget problems, funding to safeguard National Forests should not be cut. Seventy-two percent of voters surveyed would support additional funding to maintain and restore National Forest lands even if it meant a small tax increase.

Such supporters include groups that are traditionally more tax sensitive: 63 percent of seniors and 56 percent of conservatives said they would support additional funding even if it meant a small tax increase.
wildfire serious problem
Forty-four percent (44%) of voters see uncontrollable wildfires as a serious problem. Just under half (44%) of U.S. voters say “uncontrollable wildfires that destroy property and forests” “is a serious problem, facing the nation” – with one-in-four calling it an “extremely” or “very” serious problem. This is the highest proportion to register this view since 2007. Concerns about this issue are drastically different by region, with 67% of voters in the West saying wildfires are an extremely or very serious problem and two-thirds deeming them to be at least somewhat serious.

Distribution of federal disaster aid to states

Elected representatives of some of the states that received the most federal disaster aid for wildfires, crop insurance, and storm damage, voted against federal aid for victims of superstorm Sandy.

Thief hit fire stations while firefighters fought wildfire

While crews in Walnut Creek were out fighting the Morgan Fire east of Berkeley, California Sunday night, a thief broke into Fire Station No. 7 and rummaged through lockers, desks and gym bags making off with money, an iPad, two firefighters’ wedding bands, and a watch. A second firehouse was also targeted, but a sleeping firefighter scared away the thief.

Since then, firefighters say they’ve received endless food donations, hundreds of dollars in gift cards, and offers from multiple jewelry stores to replace the stolen rings.

Tanker 131 certified

T 131 taxiing
T 131 taxiing. Photo by Dan Megna.

Coulson’s Air Tanker 131, a converted C-130Q, has been fully certified by the FAA, the Interagency AirTanker Board, and the U.S. Forest Service. The 3,500-gallon aircraft was carded on Tuesday and the pilot check rides occurred Wednesday. It should be ready to drop retardant on fires today, Thursday.

Conair begins flight testing their BAe Avro RJ85 air tanker 

Conair RJ85 first flight
Conair’s BAe Avro RJ85 first flight. BAE Systems photo.

Conair Group of Abbotsford, British Columbia has started flight testing their BAe Avro RJ85, identified as Tanker 160, which is being converted from a jet-powered airliner into an air tanker. The RJ85 is a derivative of the BAe-146, but with improved engines. The 146 first flew in 1981 while the RJ85 was first delivered in 1993. Conair is the largest air tanker operator in the world with a fleet of around 50 fixed-wing special mission aircraft, including Convair 580s, Conair Firecats, Douglas DC-6s, and Lockheed Electra air tankers.

Tanker 160 first flight
Conair’s Tanker 160, a BAe Avro RJ85 after first flight, August 21, 2013. Photo by Coastal Pacific Aviation.

The aircraft still has to be certified by the FAA, the Interagency AirTanker Board, and the U.S. Forest Service before it can be used on federal fires in the United States, a process which could take days, weeks, or months.

More information about the BAe conversion projects going on at four different companies.

Fire department packs up Granite Mountain Hotshots memorial fence

From The Daily Courier:

The chain-link fence in front of Prescott’s Fire Station 7 stood bare Tuesday morning for the first time since soon after 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died in the line of duty more than two months ago.

In an effort to move forward from the June 30 Yarnell Hill wildfire tragedy, the Prescott Fire Department called for the removal this week of the thousands of items that materialized on the fence in the days and weeks after the Hotshots’ deaths.

Several dozen firefighters from around the area were on hand at the Sixth Street station to work with about 30 volunteers in taking down and packing up the curtain of interwoven flags, T-shirts, signs, and photos that had shrouded the fire station.

Wildfire briefing, September 6, 2013

Scientists expect fire risk in the U.S. to escalate by the end of the century

Map elevated wildfire risk, climate changeHot and dry conditions lead to more fires. Those were the findings presented in 2012 by a team of researchers that used NASA satellite data and climate models to predict fire activity in the United States. Now, a new animation shows how dry conditions will cause different parts of the U.S., Canada and Mexico to experience an increased risk of fire by the end of the century. By mapping projected values for a measure of dryness known as the potential evaporation—a calculation that’s based on temperature, rainfall and wind speed estimates—scientists are able to interpret how fire activity will be influenced by future climates. Changes in dryness relative to 1980 levels are shown in the animation using colors, where reds represent an increase in dryness and blues represent a decrease. Watch the video to see how dry conditions are expected to spread across North America by the year 2100.

Another firefighter fatality in Portugal

A seventh firefighter in a month passed away in a hospital in Portugal after suffering burn injuries on a wildland fire last week.

MAFFS demobilized

Five military Modular Airborne FireFighting System C-130 air tankers were released  from fire suppression duty yesterday. Since the year’s initial activation June 11, MAFFS crews have flown 572 missions and made 535 drops using 1,375,981 gallons of fire retardant. That works out to 2,406 gallons per mission.

Granite Mountain Hotshots memorial items to be removed

Soon after 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, mourners began placing memorial items on the fence surrounding their compound at the Prescott Fire Department. Now over two months later the city decided they have to do something with the hundreds of objects which include T-shirts, photos, posters, and other items. The City announced Thursday that the Fire Department and area volunteers would begin to remove them on Sept. 10.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Daily Courier:

Now, officials say, it is time to begin packing away the items for preservation, and possible inclusion in a more permanent memorial in the future.

“Items that are able to be preserved will be temporarily stored until plans are finalized for the future permanent memorial,” the city’s new release stated.

City officials have noted that the outdoor elements have taken a toll on many of the items. Flowers, cardboard signs, and other perishable items were earlier removed. Many of the T-shirts from fire departments around the country have faded from dark-blue to gray.


Wildfire briefing, September 1, 2013

Rim Fire becomes fourth largest in California history

Yosemite Valley's Half Dome obscured by smoke
Yosemite Valley’s Half Dome, normally seen in this view, was obscured by smoke at 8:36 a.m. September 1, 2013

Our main article about the Rim Fire is updated daily but here are a few recent facts about the fire. On Saturday it continued to grow, adding another 3,000 acres to become at 222,77 acres the fourth largest fire in California history. Winds that shifted to come out of the west over the last two days have blown smoke into downtown Yosemite National Park, into the heavily visited Yosemite Valley. Compare these two photos of the valley; the one above was taken Sunday morning by a web cam, and the photo below we took on a day when the air was much cleaner. The fire is still eight to ten miles away from Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Valley January, 1997
Yosemite Valley January, 1997, a few days after a flood caused major damage to National Park Service facilities in the valley. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The 5,115 personnel assigned to the fire are fighting it by constructing direct fireline along the fire’s edge, and by indirect methods including burning out the fuel ahead of the fire. The smoke has limited the use of air tankers and helicopters for the last two days.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the fire may have been caused by activities at an illegal marijuana farm.

“We don’t know the exact cause,” Todd McNeal, fire chief in Twain Harte, a town that has been in the path of the flames, said on Friday. But he told a community meeting that it was “highly suspect that there might have been some sort of illicit grove, a marijuana-grow-type thing.”

“We know it’s human caused. There was no lightning in the area,” he said.

LA Times article about the Rim Fire

Julie Cart, who with Bettina Boxall wrote a series of Pulitzer Prize winning articles in 2008 about wildfires for the Los Angeles Times, has a new article about the Rim Fire. She mentions how firefighting policy differs between the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, but greatly over-simplifies to the point of distortion the concept of “fire use” fires which are not aggressively and immediately suppressed.

Reuters: how budgets affect fires

Reuters has an article about how federal budgets may be contributing to the occurrence of larger fires by reducing the number of fuel treatment projects and prescribed fires. They have a quote from Jonathan B. Jarvis, the Director of the National Park Service:

Part of the problem, experts and many fire officials say, is that funding has been low for the controlled burns and forest-thinning work that makes it harder for a wildfire to spread.

“We’ve got to invest up front in terms of controlling and managing these fires,” said Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service from his smoke-filled post in Yosemite National Park. “Just waiting for the big fire and then throwing everything you’ve got at it makes no sense.”

In recent years, Jarvis said, the trend has been to shift money from fire prevention to firefighting.

Montana Supreme Court will decide case about firefighting strategy

The Montana Supreme Court will make a decision by November that could have an effect on how firefighters select a strategy for suppressing a fire. A Montana rancher who said firefighters’ backfires ruined his ranch won a suit against the state of Montana in 2012 which is being appealed to the Supreme Court. A jury awarded Fred and Joan Weaver $730,000 in a trial over the strategy and tactics that were used on the Ryan Gulch fire in 2000 – $150,000 was for the loss of timber, $200,000 for rehabilitation of pasture land, and the balance was for the mental suffering and anguish of seeing their ranch threatened by the fire. About 900 acres of the Weaver’s land burned during the fire.

The heart of the Weavers’ case was their contention that firefighters who usually fought fire in the flat, wet southeast United States used poor judgement in selecting and implementing an indirect strategy of backfiring, rather than constructing direct fireline on the edge of the fire. In the process, they argued, more land burned than was necessary, including 900 acres of their ranch.

We wrote an analysis of the 2012 court decision last year.

Recent articles at Fire Aviation

Prescott’s Granite Mountain Hotshot crew nearly paid for itself

When the Granite Mountain Hotshots worked on federal fires the terms were established by their contract or agreement with the U.S. Forest Service. The Prescott Fire Department paid the personnel on the crew around $12 an hour according to The Daily Courier, but the department was reimbursed by the federal government at the rate of $39.50 an hour. Below is an excerpt from the article:

In fiscal year 2012, the city estimated that the crew brought in $1,375,191, and had $1,437,444 in operating expenses – for a difference of $62,253.

On June 30 of this year 19 members of the crew were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire near Prescott, Arizona. A controversy is brewing in Prescott and the state of Arizona about the differences in compensation for the survivors of the seasonal and permanent firefighters on the crew.

It is not unusual for firefighting resources that are contracted to the federal government through local fire departments to be compensated at rates far higher than those at which federal firefighters are paid.


Thanks go out to Dick

City of Prescott refuses to do the right thing

Yarnell Hill Fire, morning of June 30, 2013
Yarnell Hill Fire, morning of June 30, 2013. Photo by Joy Collura.

Paul Whitefield has written an editorial for the Los Angeles Times that criticizes the City of Prescott for giving full survivor benefits to the families of only 6 of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots that died in the employ of the city while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30.

Below is an excerpt, but you should read the entire well-written editorial.


“…As my Times colleague Cindy Carcamo writes:

It would cost the city an estimated $51 million over the next 60 years and would mean cuts to vital services to the people of Prescott, city spokesman Peter Wertheim said Thursday in a statement.

If the city were to make a one-time lump-sum payment of $24 million, it would be three times the entire budget of the Prescott Fire Department.

Excuse me, but when exactly did Prescott, Ariz., turn into Bangladesh? Brave young men die doing dangerous work protecting public and private property, and Prescott can’t “afford” to take care of their survivors? If that’s the case, then I’d say Prescott can’t “afford” to send such folks out to fight fires either.

And about that affordability explanation: If you’re so inclined, you can visit the city’s website and check out its financial position. For 2014, the city says it has about $230 million available; it’s budgeted about $173 million for expenditures. Hmmm. Is it just me, or does it appear the city could cough up a few bucks for some widows and their kids?”


More information about this issue is in an article we published on August 15, 2013.


Thanks go out to Dick

Municipal issues still linger in Prescott after Yarnell Hill Fire

Granite Mountain Hotshots hike
Granite Mountain Hotshots hike to the Yarnell Hill fire June 30, 2013. Photo by Joy Collura.

The city of Prescott is being barraged with many questions about the different levels of compensation for the families of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots that were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30. According to the Daily Courier, the city has hired the marketing consultant firm Up Agency for “pre-litigation strategic communications services to the City of Prescott.” The newspaper has a lengthy article that covers the financial issues, legislation being drafted to address some of the issues, and the reaction of Juliann Ashcraft, the widow of Hotshot Andrew Ashcraft.

The Daily Courier also has an article about a three-person fuels crew the city has hired that will be using grant money, some of which earlier went to fund the Granite Mountain Hotshots, to continue doing some of the fuels work in the city that the Hotshots had been conducting for years.

AZCentral has an article about the difficulty the city may face in continuing to obtain insurance coverage if they decide to rebuild the Hotshot crew. The city had been self-insured for years, but on June 1, less than a month before the fatalities, they obtained liability and workers’ compensation insurance through the Arizona Municipal Risk Retention Pool.

Interview with Brendan McDonough, Granite Mountain Hotshots survivor

The Prescott Daily Courier spent about an hour talking with Brendan McDonough, the only member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots to survive the Yarnell Hill Fire; 19 of them died on June 30 in Arizona when they were overrun by the fire.

In these two videos, each about eight minutes long, he seems to be dealing pretty well with the life-changing tragedy he is still experiencing. In them, and in the article at the Daily Courier, he provides a few more details than were previously known about the events that occurred before the entrapment. He talked about how he got to his lookout location (he was closer to the fire than the crew), his interaction with the Blue Ridge Hotshots, the warning they received about the weather changing, and moving the crew’s vehicles to a safe spot.

In the second video he said:

There was no bad decision made. No one’s at fault for what happened. And I’ll never forget that day… I was there. I know what happened. And there’s a lot of other people that were there that knew what happened — and it was just an accident. These things happen. It’s horrible that it happened, but it happened. This isn’t the first time a storm has come over and killed multiple firefighters.

The first video is about the fire. The other is more about his personal story.

In a related story, a video at Arizona Central describes the tense relationship between the families of the Granite Mountain 19 and the City of Prescott.



Thanks go out to Dick