Wildfire briefing, March 30, 2014

Prescribed fire smoke in Manhattan, Kansas

Prescribed fire smoke in Manhattan, Kansas, March 29, 2014. Photo by Eric Ward.

Prescribed fire smoke in the Flint Hills

In light of the discussion on Wildfire Today about prescribed fire as a tourist attraction in the Flint Hills of Kansas, Eric Ward sent us the above photo that he took Saturday afternoon in smoky Manhattan, Kansas. He explained that many of the ranchers in the area conduct extensive burning projects this time of the year in order to enhance weight gains of cattle if they plan to stock pastures in May. On days when the relative humidity and wind speed are within an acceptable range, the evidence of the burning is very visible in the atmosphere, especially if weather for the previous week or so has been bouncing between snow and red flag weather conditions, as it has this year.

Colorado report recommends contracting for air tankers and helicopters

Colorado Firefighting Air CorpsA long-awaited report about aerial firefighting by state agencies in Colorado was released Friday by the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC). Some of the more significant recommendations include:

  • Increase the number of Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) on exclusive use contracts from two to four.
  • Contract for the exclusive use of four Type 3 or larger rotor-wing aircraft. (Type 3 helicopters can carry 100 to 300 gallons.)
  • Contract for the exclusive use of two Type 2 or larger air tankers. (Type 2 air tankers can carry 1,800 to 3,000 gallons). The contingency, if the State is unable to contract for two air tankers, is to contract for two helitankers, or a combination of one fixed-wing air tanker and one helitanker.

More details are at Fire Aviation.

Arizona seeks to immunize the state from liability from wildfires

A bill that was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee, House Bill 2343, would exempt the state and state employees from prosecution for harm resulting from the action, or inaction by state employees on state lands. Hundreds of millions of dollars in claims have been filed by the families of the 19 firefighters killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire and by property owners whose homes burned. The fire was managed by the state of Arizona in June, 2013.

Firefighters assisting with Oso landslide

Personnel that usually can be found at wildfires are helping to manage the response to the tragic landslide at Oso, Washington. We have reports that some of the resources assisting include Washington Incident Management Team #4 (a Type 2 team), miscellaneous overhead, and some Washington Department of Natural Resources chain saw teams. The IMTeam was dispatched on March 27.

New topic from “Safety Matters”

The “Safety Matters” group has released their “Topic #5″, and they are seeking input from wildland firefighters. Below is an excerpt:

…2014 marks the 20th Anniversary of South Canyon and the 38th Anniversary of Battlement Creek. Both fires fit the model of firefighters dying in a brush fuel type, on a slope, during hot and dry conditions.

The loss of the Granite Mountain Hotshots indicates that a significant accident occurs every 18 to 20 years. Is there a reoccurring cycle, and if so why? Could it be related to a cyclic turnover of firefighter culture, training and attitude? What are the thoughts of Safety Matters readers?

Bushfire season ends in New South Wales

The bushfire season has reached its official end in New South Wales.

Tribute to author Norman Maclean

The Daily Beast has reprinted an excellent essay that Pete Dexter wrote for Esquire in 1981 about Norman Maclean. It explores a side of of the author that is not revealed in his book about firefighters, Young Men and Fire. Mr. Dexter spent quite a bit of time with Mr. Maclean, who at that time was writing the final chapter. Mr. Maclean also wrote A River Runs Through It, which was made into a movie starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. The Esperanza Fire, a book written by his son John N. Maclean, is working its way towards becoming a movie.

U.S. National Guard assists with fire in Puerto Rico

From the AP:

Puerto Rico has enlisted the U.S. National Guard to help extinguish a fire that has ravaged a forest in the island’s central region. Firefighting Chief Angel Crespo says that about 40 percent of the Modelo Forest in the town of Adjuntas has been destroyed. Authorities say they believe the fire was intentionally set and that it has consumed up to 290 acres (117 hectares). A U.S. National Guard helicopter helped dump water over the area on Friday.

Fantastic photo


Coal mine fire under control in Victoria

Helicopter drop on Hazlewood coal fire. CFA photo.

The fire at the Hazelwood open cut coal mine that we told you about on March 5 is now under control after firefighters battled it for 29 days. It is not out, but they hope to obtain that status by this weekend if the predicted rain occurs.

It is believed the fire started when two bush fires burned close to the mine and spotted into the coal. The suspected cause of at least one of the fires is arson.

Helicopters have been used to drop water on the fire, while ground forces use sprinklers and master streams from fire engines. They have been using Class A foam from the beginning, but when experiments with compressed air foam were successful, they began using those systems from the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and a Tasmanian crew on the northern batters to smother the fire with thick foam and help reduce the amount of smoke affecting Morwell.

CFA personnel have also been using an airborne heat-detecting infrared line scanner to fly over the fire to produce a map showing firefighters where the heat still remains and where they should concentrate their efforts. Infrared mapping systems are frequently used on vegetation fires in Australia and the United States.

All of the photos are from the CFA.

Hazlewood coal fire infrared image. CFA image.

Helicopter drop on Hazlewood coal fire. CFA photo.


Coal mine fire in Australia being fought with helicopters

Coal mine fire, Morwell, Victoria. CFA photo by Keith Pakenham.

Coal mine fire, Morwell, Victoria. CFA photo by Keith Pakenham.

A massive fire at a coal mine at Morwell, Victoria in Australia is being fought with massive quantities of water and helicopters that are normally used for fighting bushfires. The fire, which has burning for three weeks, was most likely the result of a bushfire started by an arsonist. The town of Morwell, 150 km east of Melbourne, has been inundated with smoke and officials think it could take months to put out the fire.

Water pumped onto coal mine fire

Massive amounts of water are being pumped onto the fire at the coal mine. CFA photo by Keith Pakenham.

Helicopter fights coal mine fire

Helicopter fights coal mine fire. CFA photo by Keith Pakenham.

Wildfire Today has numerous other articles about coal fires.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Darren


Eucalyptus and fire


Eucalyptus tereticornis’ buds, capsules, flowers and foliage, Rockhampton, Queensland. Photo by Ethel Aardvark.

Wildland firefighters in Australia and in some areas of California are very familiar with eucalyptus trees. They are native and very common in Australia and are planted as ornamentals in the United States. The leaves produce a volatile highly combustible oil, and the ground beneath the trees is covered with large amounts of litter which is high in phenolics, preventing its breakdown by fungi. Wildfires burn rapidly under them and through the tree crowns. It has been estimated that other than the 2,449 homes that burned in the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire in California, about 70 percent of the energy released was through the combustion of eucalyptus.

Eucalyptus is one of three similar genera that are commonly referred to as “eucalypts”.

Jon Henley, a reporter who covered the numerous large bushfires a year ago in Australia, has written a book about fire down under, titled “Firestorm: Surviving the Tasmanian bushfire”. Below is an excerpt:


“…Gum trees, as eucalypts are known, ‘are like weeds that come up on bombed-out blocks’, adds Jamie Kirkpatrick, professor of geography and environmental studies at the university. ‘They’re fantastically fast growers and great colonisers, but not great competitors.’

Eucalypts typically let through a lot of light, allowing other vegetation types such as scrub and grass to grow beneath them. They can live for maybe 700 years. But they won’t regenerate, Kirkpatrick explains, if what is growing beneath them over the years becomes too dense. Most eucalypt species, therefore — there are more than 600 in Australia, between 30 and 40 in Tasmania — have evolved traits that allow them to survive and prosper in the fires that will clear that undergrowth.

Some, like the mighty, 100-metre-tall Eucalyptus regnans — also known as the mountain ash, stringy gum or Tasmanian oak — hold their seeds inside small, hard capsules; a fire will instantly trigger a massive drop of seeds to the newly fertilised ground.

The myriad bright green buds that sprout spectacularly from the trunks of other eucalypts in the aftermath of a big fire are another kind of regeneration mechanism, bursting through the scorched and blackened bark within weeks of a blaze.

Within five or six years, ‘a burned forest will be looking pretty good’, Kirkpatrick says. ‘And a large proportion of Tasmania’s flora fits into this fire ecology. Pea plants, wattles — their germination is stimulated by heat and smoke. Fire is really, really important in Tasmania.’

At the centre of it all, though, is the eucalypt. Because these trees do not just resist fire, they actively encourage it. ‘They withstand fire, they need fire; to some extent, they create fire,’ Bowman says. ‘The leaves, the bark, don’t decompose. They’re highly, highly flammable. And on a hot day, you can smell their oils.’

The bark and leaves of eucalypts seem almost made to promote fire. Some are known as stringyor candle-barks: long, easily lit strips hang loosely off their trunks and, once alight, whirl blazing up into the flammable canopy above, or are carried by the wind many kilometres ahead of a fire to speed its advance.”

This is an edited extract from Firestorm: Surviving the Tasmanian bushfire by Jon Henley (Guardian Shorts £1.99 / $2.99)

Get it from Amazon Kindle or directly from Guardian Shorts.


Wildfire briefing, February 27, 2014

Dynamic Aviation Citation lead plane

Dynamic Aviation’s Citation CJ lead plane. Photo courtesy of Dynamic Aviation.

BLM awards contract for first jet-powered lead plane

The Bureau of Land Management has awarded a contract for the first jet-powered lead plane in the United States. Lead planes fly ahead of the much larger air tankers that drop retardant on fires. They identify the targets and evaluate the fire and wind conditions. Dynamic Aviation, with headquarters in Bridgewater, Virginia, will be supplying a Cessna Citation CJ to serve as a lead plane and Air Supervision Module (ASM) this fire season. With the jet-powered air tankers now in use, including DC-10s, BAe-146s, and MD-87s, there is a need for a lead plane that can keep up with the “next-generation” air tankers.

(More information is at Fire Aviation.)

Evacuations ordered in southern California fire areas before storm

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for about 1,000 homes that could be affected by debris flows out of recent wildfires in the Glendora and Azusa areas. The Colby Fire burned 1,952 acres of the hillsides above the communities on January 16, 2014.

Weather forecasters have predicted several inches of rain for some areas in southern California between Thursday and Saturday.

Map showing the approximate location of the Colby Fire at 10:37 a.m. PST, January 16, 2014

Map showing (in red) the approximate location of the Colby Fire at 10:37 a.m. PST, January 16, 2014. (click to enlarge)

“Ice makes a good firebreak”

From The Nature Conservancy, describing a prescribed fire in Oklahoma:

Crews use drip torches to start the 475-acre controlled burn at the Four Canyon Preserve

“We took advantage of a break in the weather on February 1 and completed a 475-acre prescribed burn at the Four Canyon Preserve. This work was funded by a ConocoPhillips and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, and it wouldn’t have been possible without their help,” said Chris Hise, Four Canyon Preserve Manager. “It’s very early in the season to be burning here, but we’re trying to stay ahead of a worsening drought situation. I had the odd experience of carrying a drip torch along the frozen banks of the Canadian River. Ice makes a good firebreak.”

More info, and photos, are at The Nature Conservancy’s website.

NASA photograph of a fire in Australia

A large fire burning in and around Grampians National Park in Victoria, Australia, was nearly contained when the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite acquired this image on January 19, 2014. The burned land is gray-brown in this natural-color image. Active fires were burning on the east side of the burn area, sending up plumes of smoke.

Bushfire in Grampians NP, Victoria, Australia

Bushfire in Grampians NP, Victoria, Australia. NASA photo.