California firefighter honored as “unsung hero”

Above: Honoring “unsung heroes” at the Department of Agriculture. USDA photo.

Yesterday the office of Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, distributed by Twitter the photo above, saying:

It’s #PublicServiceRecognitionWeek, an occasion to acknowledge the fine work our @USDA career employees do every week of the year. Happy to speak at a ceremony to honor our “Unsung Heroes.” They’re the ones who help fulfill our mission to Do Right and Feed Everyone.

One of the honorees was a firefighter on the Los Padres National Forest in California, Division Chief Peter Harris. On December 11, 2017 he was shot in the neck and ear while driving a USFS vehicle in Monterey County, California.

Here is how the USFS, @R5_Fire_News, in a series of five tweets on May 10 described the incident:

On Dec 11, 2017 @LosPadresNF Div Chief Peter Harris was shot in the head &back while driving back to his station after a fire response. Harris radioed law enforcement & a medi-vac helicopter for himself. Covered in blood, but not knowing the extent of his own injuries, Harris determined it may take as long as 30 min for help to arrive in such a remote area of the forest. Instead of driving from harm, Harris used his vehicle to block the road & prevent the public from entering the area of the shooter. Today, @USDA @SecretarySonny honored Division Chief Harris & others as part of the @USDA “Unsung Hero” awards in Washington, DC.

Firefighter collapses, dies during first day of training

Anthony Colacino, 33, died
Anthony Colacino, 33, died during physical training April 21, 2018.

An inmate firefighter collapsed and died during physical training near Jamestown, California April 21. For Anthony Colacino it was his first day as a trainee firefighter on the Sierra Conservation Center fire crew. Just before 8 a.m., about 50 minutes into a one-hour training hike, Mr. Colacino collapsed.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the LA Times:

The on-duty fire captain, along with four other inmate firefighters, took Colacino to the center’s firehouse, where they tried to save him by doing CPR in the vehicle and at the facility until an ambulance arrived, said Krissi Khokhobashvili, a corrections spokeswoman. “Those inmate firefighters, they jumped into action,” she said. “They did what they’re supposed to do.”

Colacino — who had served more than a year of a four-year, four-month sentence out of Riverside County for two counts of evading a peace officer while driving recklessly, cruelty to animals and discharging a firearm with gross negligence — was pronounced dead soon after. Officials said foul play is not suspected in his death, but the Tuolumne County coroner will determine the cause of death.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Colacino’s friends, family, and coworkers.

At least two other very serious life-threatening injuries have occured to wildland firefighters in recent years during day one or two of physical training. They occurred in 2016 in South Dakota and the Northwest.

One was a Rhabdomyolysis (Rhabdo) injury after running for more than nine miles and doing uphill sprints on the first day.

The other was a heat stroke near the end of a seven-mile run on day two of their season. The employee was unconscious for several hours and spent four days in the hospital.

We are aware of five other California inmate line of duty fatalities in the last seven years:

  • January 4, 2012: Crisanto Leo Lionell, 54, was participating in a training exercise at the California National Guard’s Camp San Luis when he lost consciousness and later passed away.
  • August 19, 2012: Jimmy Randolf, 44, died seven hours after he was found unresponsive where he was sleeping at the Buck Fire. The cause of death was listed as anoxic encephalopathy combined with complications of heat stroke.
  • February 25, 2016: Shawna Lynn Jones, 22, died from major head injuries after being struck by a rolling boulder while fighting the Mulholland Fire near Malibu.
  • May 24, 2017: Matthew Beck, 26, was working on a county roads project with a crew in the Hoopa area. He suffered major head, neck and back injuries when a 120-foot tall tree uprooted and fell on him. He died before life-flight crews were able to reach him.
  • July 11, 2017: Frank Anaya, 22, was throwing cut brush during line construction operations on a fire near Lakeside when he lost his balance and fell into a running chainsaw. He suffered a severe cut to his upper right leg behind his chaps and succumbed to his injuries July 11, 2017.

California newspaper wins Pulitzer Prize for coverage of North Bay wildfires

Nine years ago the Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer for their series of “Explanatory Reporting” articles about the state of wildland fire management.

Above: Map showing the location of wildfires north of San Francisco, October 18, 2017. The Press Democrat’s offices are in Santa Rosa.

(Originally published at 12:33 p.m. MDT April 21, 2018)

The staff of The Press Democrat has won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting for their coverage of the huge wildfires north of San Francisco in October, 2017.

Here is an excerpt from one of the 10 articles that were submitted to the Pulitzer jury, titled, “Firestorm Nightmare: How we covered the early hours of California’s most destructive fire”. The article begins with the perspective of Kent Porter, a skilled photographer who has covered numerous wildfires in California.

ABOUT 10 P.M., SUNDAY, OCT. 8 » As the wind howls outside his Windsor home, photographer Kent Porter turns on his scanner and hears crews talking about a brush fire 13 miles away off Tubbs Lane on Highway 128 near Calistoga. He grabs his gear and takes off.

As he passes over Mark West Springs and Petrified Forest roads, he can see the glow of fire in the hills. “The wind was just going crazy,” he said later. “Grass was burning. Vineyards were burning. Power poles were going back and forth, and electrical lines were sparking. It was pandemonium.”

10:42 P.M. » One of Porter’s first photos is a ghostly image of a firefighter racing through the yard of a home near the origin of the Tubbs fire. The flames would soon begin devouring rural homes in the valleys bordering Napa and Sonoma counties, racing west toward the region’s largest city. “This thing is going all the way to Santa Rosa,” a fire official tells Porter.

11:50 P.M. » Porter sends a text message to Managing Editor Ted Appel: “Ted this is going to be in Santa Rosa in a few minutes. I strongly suggest you get a reporter out.” Appel begins waking up reporters and preparing the first story.

The fire burned into Santa Rosa, the city in which The Press Democrat is based and the home for many of their employees.

The 10 articles can be read at the Pulitzer website.

The New York Times, which was also considered for a Breaking News Pulitzer for their coverage of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, wrote about The Press Democrat:

The firestorm lasted 30 days, killing 40 people and destroying more than 6,100 homes. [Managing Editor Ted] Appel recalls an exhausting grind — part war zone, part marathon — that engulfed every member of his staff. The line between duty and safety soon blurred: Evacuated reporters slept in the newsroom, dogs and children ran between the desks.

“This wasn’t just a big news story for us,” Mr. Appel said. “This happened to people we knew, it happened to our town.”

The caption for the photo above: “Staff members of The Press Democrat, from left, Randi Rossmann, Julie Johnson, Martin Espinoza, JD Morris, Christi Warren and Mary Callahan, celebrate winning the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting for the coverage of the October fires in Sonoma County. Credit Kent Porter/The Press Democrat”

Nine years ago a series of articles about wildland fire won a Pulitzer Prize for authors Bettina Boxall and Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times. The articles about the state of wildfire management were extremely well written and exhaustively researched, due in part to their Freedom of Information Act request for cartons of U.S. Forest Service records.

The Pulitzer board, making the award in the Explanatory Reporting category, called the series a “fresh and painstaking exploration into the cost and effectiveness of attempts to combat the growing menace of wildfires.”

Moffat Fire burns hundreds of acres north of Lone Pine, CA

Above: Moffat Fire, April 19, 2018. Photo: CAL FIRE San Bernardino Unit.

(UPDATED at 9:43 a.m. PDT April 21, 2018)

CAL FIRE reports that more accurate mapping determined that the Moffat Fire burned 1,265 acres.


(UPDATED at 12:12 p.m. PDT April 20, 2018)

CAL FIRE reported Friday morning  that the Moffat Fire near Lone Pine, California has burned 1,050 acres. There was no increase in size overnight.


(Originally published at 6:24 p.m. PDT April 19, 2018)

A fire that started Thursday afternoon grew to approximately 300 acres five miles north of Lone Pine, California. The fire is east of Highway 395 which for a while was closed in both directions. Later it was open but with escorts.

Lone Pine is 100 air miles northeast of Bakersfield, California.

The name of the fire was originally “Spillway”.

Moffet Fire
Map of the Moffet Fire at 1:51 p.m. April 19, 2018.

Diversity of structure in a forest can make it more resilient to fire

Above: A slab of wood from the Stanislaus-Tuolumne Experimental Forest showing a history of very frequent fires, some of them as little as four years apart. Screen grab from the USFS video.

The U.S. Forest Service found some old research plots in the Sierras that have been measured over time dating back to the days of old growth. The evidence suggests that a diversity of species, density, and structure can make a forest more resilient to fire and attacks by insects.

California burn projects wrap up before major precipitation event

Above: Forecast published Thursday April 5 by the National Weather Service.

National Forests in California have been busy in recent days completing pile burning and prescribed fire projects as they prepare for heavy precipitation through Saturday.

Most areas in the northern part of the state should expect at least two inches with as much as three to five inches in some locations.

Thursday brought showers but the heaviest rain and snow will occur Friday, transitioning to light showers on Saturday.

rain forecast northern california
Forecast published Thursday April 5 by the NWS.