Wildfire briefing, September 4, 2014

Kilauea lava flow in Hawaii emerges again from ground crack, continues advancing eastward, ignites forest

The following photos and videos were released by the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (USGS) (Dated September 3, 2014 and September 1, 2014) .

Lava flow

This view looks east at the far end of the June 27th lava flow. In the center of the photograph is an isolated pad of lava which came out of ground crack last week. Further movement of lava within ground cracks has enabled the flow front to advance farther east, with lava issuing from a ground crack in the upper left portion of the photograph, where plumes of smoke mark the location of lava burning forest. (USGS)

Lava flow

One small portion of the flow front was quite vigorous, with an open stream of lava moving through the forest. (USGS)

More information about the lava flow.

Woman who bragged about setting fire, sentenced to prison

The woman who posted on Facebook about setting a fire was sentenced to more than a year in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Marco Hernandez on Wednesday. She was also ordered to perform 200 hours of community service in the fire-damaged area.

“You owe them much more than that,” Judge Hernandez told her.

Sadie Renee Johnson said she was suffering from alcohol and drug problems and told the judge she would turn her life around.

On July 22, 2013, two days after throwing a firecracker into vegetation to start a fire so her firefighter friends would not be “bored”, Ms. Johnson, 23, wrote on her Facebook page: “Like my fire?”

It grew to become the 51,480-acre Sunnyside Turnoff Fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, the 15th largest fire in the United States in 2013.

Ms. Johnson pleaded guilty on May 19 to the crime of setting brush and timber on fire.

Another insurance company offers homeowners proactive protection from ongoing fires

The Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company has expanded its wildfire program to include response services, which may include the application of gel or retardant solutions to a policyholder’s home and surrounding vegetation. The Wildfire Response Program, which already included wildfire assessments and extensive wildfire preparation for homes and land, now provides a complimentary additional layer of protection to eligible Prestige Home℠ policyholders who enroll.

During a wildfire, actions to defend a home may include:

  • Removal of combustible materials from around the home
  • Set-up of a perimeter sprinkler system
  • Spray the home or surrounding property with a fire-blocking solution.

The Wildfire Response Program is currently offered in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

LA County brings on an Air-Crane and two scoopers

As they have done for the last 21 fire seasons, the Los Angeles County Fire Department has contracted for two water-scooping air tankers. The CL-415s, leased from the Quebec government, started at the first of this month and will be able to carry up to 1,620 gallons of water with each drop. Due to numerous fires late in 2013 and the Colby Fire in January, 2014, they worked several weeks beyond their planned December termination date last year.

The department also brought on a Helitanker, an Erickson Air-Crane S-64F that can hold 2,650 gallons of water or retardant.

More information and photos are at Fire Aviation.

Colorado’s multi-mission aircraft is in service

The state of Colorado has a temporary version of their multi-mission aircraft officially in service while the two they purchased are being outfitted and configured. It is being operated and maintained by Bode Aviation under contract to Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). Until the Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) personnel have completed their training, SNC will be providing qualified “Sensor Operators.

Today, for training purposes, the aircraft and crew are using its sensors to detect and map a prescribed fire near Gypsum, Colorado.

More information and a photo are at Fire Aviation.



Woman who bragged on Facebook about starting a fire faces prison sentence

Sunnyside Turnoff Fire

A burnout on the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire in 2013. InciWeb photo.

It turns out that bragging on social media about starting a wildfire can lead to a prison sentence.

On July 22, 2013, two days after throwing a firecracker into vegetation to start a fire so her firefighter friends would not be “bored”, Sadie Renee Johnson, 23, wrote on her Facebook page: “Like my fire?”
Sadie Johnson
It grew to become the 51,480-acre Sunnyside Turnoff Fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, the 15th largest fire in the United States in 2013.

Ms. Johnson pleaded guilty on May 19 to the crime of setting brush and timber on fire.

The Department of Justice said she admitted that she was riding as passenger in a car on Route 3 near Sunnyside Drive when she used a lighter to light a small firework, then tossed it out the passenger window into the brush along the side of the road.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported that the estimated costs of suppressing the fire was $4 million. Prosecutors said the approximate cost for the Bureau of Indian Affairs was $7,901,973. According to the law, Ms. Johnson is required to pay full restitution.

Ms. Johnson is being held at the Columbia County Jail, awaiting sentencing scheduled for September 3. Prosecutors said Johnson faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release.


Girl, 13, to stand trial for starting Cocos Fire in San Marcos, California

A judge has ruled that a 13-year old girl is competent to stand trial after being accused of starting the Cocos Fire. In May the blaze burned about 1,995 acres and destroyed 36 homes in San Marcos, California, north of San Diego. The judge announced his decision in a hearing where the girl pleaded not guilty to four arson-related felony charges.

The Cocos Fire was one of at least 10 fires that burned in San Diego County during the same time period in mid-May.

During the proceeding the Deputy District Attorney told San Diego Superior Court Judge Rod Shelton that the girl’s parents, who were present in the courtroom, could be ordered to pay restitution in the case. County fire officials have estimated the costs of property damage and fire suppression to be about $12 million.

map Cocos Fire

Map showing the Cocos Fire. The dark red squares represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:27 p.m. PDT, May 15, 2014. The location of the icons can be as much as a mile in error.


Three men arrested for starting unauthorized backfire

Three men in Washington have been arrested and charged with arson for setting unauthorized backfires last month.

The Spokesman-Review reported that firefighters told two of the men not to light the fire. They did anyway and the fire damaged private and federal property.

In another similar incident, a third man lit a fire in July that “went the wrong way” and nearly trapped firefighters in a canyon, who called law enforcement after escaping the near-entrapment.

A fourth person is being investigated for arson-related charges.


Rattlesnake Fire, 61 years ago

Stanford Patton Rattlesnake FireIt was 61 years ago today that Stanford Pattan threw a match into some brush on the Mendocino National Forest in northern California. A matter of hours later 15 firefighters that were working on the Rattlesnake Fire were dead.

ForestHistory.org has a copy of a very interesting article that appeared in American Forests in 1953 describing Mr. Pattan, the struggles he faced, his earlier attempt to start a major fire that day, and his movements before and after he started the fire. The article includes one graphic photo.

Below is a brief summary of the incident from our Infamous Wildland Fires Around the World publication.

On July 9, 1953 a New Tribes Mission firefighting crew under the direction of U.S. Forest Service overhead was trapped by flames as they worked on a brush covered hillside in Powderhouse Canyon on the Mendocino National Forest. The crew was working on a spot fire in a narrow canyon covered with 40 year-old Chaparral brush. They had just completed construction of a hand line around their spot fire when a sudden wind shift caused another spot fire to flare-up. This other spot fire was located up-canyon from the crew. However, the unusually strong down-canyon wind pushed the uncontrolled spot fire toward the crew’s location. Within 30 minutes the fire had run more than a mile down canyon, catching the crew while they attempted to fight their way through the heavy brush to safety. Fifteen firefighters perished on the Rattlesnake Fire that day. Nine fellow crewmembers barely escaped.


Bloodhounds help find arsonists in West Virginia

Bloodhounds are credited with helping to reduce the number of arson fires in West Virginia.

An excerpt from an article in the Charleston Gazette:

…“We’ve had great success at apprehending arsonists,”  [John Bird, an investigator for the state Division of Forestry] said. “And the word has gotten out. It doesn’t matter if people are on foot, riding four-wheelers or inside vehicles. The dogs can track them back to their homes. Once people realize that, they tend to be a whole lot less inclined to go out and start fires.”

With noses more than a million times more sensitive than those of their human handlers, the agency’s bloodhounds have proven themselves capable of some amazing olfactory feats.

“We’ve tracked some suspects for miles,” Bird said. “We’ve had cases where the suspect had set fires from his vehicle and the dog was still able to track him. We even had one case in which the dog tracked seven different people to their homes. It turned out that all of them were involved in a single arson. Every time we harness these dogs, they do something that amazes us.”