Pile burning on the Inyo National Forest

pile burning Inyo National Forest

The Inyo National Forest in California posted some snapshots on their Facebook page this morning. Here is how they described them:

Sometimes, just getting to our burn piles is an adventure. Here are a handful of photos from both Reds Meadow and the Sawmill Piles. Crews plan to continue with ignitions on Reds Meadow today, weather and air quality conditions permitting.

pile burning Inyo National Forest

pile burning Inyo National Forest


Major storm hits northern California

rainfall northern california

The map above shows some very impressive precipitation amounts in northern California through noon today, December 11. Upwards of eight inches have fallen in some areas, including near the Shasta and Russian Rivers.

The weather system is bringing localized flooding and power outages in some areas. PG&E reported approximately 80,000 customers without power in San Francisco at mid-morning Thursday, with about 90 percent of those customers expected to have their power restored by noon. The weather service also said heavy rain and an unusually high tide would mean flooding along the San Francisco Bay coast, including the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

An excerpt from an article in the LA Times:

…The storm, billed as the one of the most powerful to hit the state in years, was living up to the hype Thursday, with powerful winds uprooting trees and rain pouring over the northern half of the state. Forecasters said a wind gust at Mount Lincoln, northwest of Lake Tahoe, was clocked at 107 mph.

The storm is working its way into the southern part of the state.

storm radar californiaOn Wednesday the day before the storm hit, crews on the Sequoia National Forest were able to prescribed burn 300 acres in the area around White River near California Hot Springs.

sequoia national forest prescribed fire.

Prescribed fire on the Sequoia National Forest, Wednesday December 10, 2014. USFS photo.



Study says California’s drought more natural than man-made

From Bloomberg:

California’s worst drought in four decades, which has threatened agriculture and exacerbated wildfire risk, has been driven primarily by natural atmospheric patterns, according to a U.S. government-sponsored study.

A recurring high-pressure ridge off the West Coast influenced by varying sea surface temperatures blocked wet-season storms over the past three years, causing the least winter precipitation since 1974-1977 for the world’s eighth-largest economy, according to the report released today.

The study was conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory and International Research Institute for Climate and Society and at NASA and theNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which sponsored the work.

While models project that the southwestern portion of North America as a whole will become more arid because of rising greenhouse gas emissions, determining the impact of human-induced climate change from the observational record is difficult, they concluded.


Government attorneys try to remove Sierra Pacific attorneys off the Moonlight Fire case

Moonlight Fire

Moonlight Fire as viewed from Highway 36 on the first day, Sept. 3, 2007. Wikipedia.

Attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice have asked for the lawyers representing Sierra Pacific to be removed from the case about the responsibility for the Moonlight Fire, alleging unlawful and unethical tactics. CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service claimed the company was responsible for starting the fire that burned about 65,000 acres in 2007 (map), including 46,000 acres in the Plumas and Lassen National Forests in the northern part of the state.

Below is an excerpt from an opinion article in the New York Observer:

EXCLUSIVE: Those who dared expose government corruption in the Moonlight Fire case have just been met with a furious motion to disqualify all counsel and everyone who has even read the affidavit of former Assistant United States Attorney E. Robert Wright.

David Shelledy, Civil Division Chief for the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of California and new counsel to the case, Matthew Segal, have moved to disqualify all of the defense attorneys for Sierra Pacific and related defendants in the now infamous “Moonlight Fire” case. Ironically, Mr. Shelledy himself is the one who should be disqualified—from representing the government—if not disbarred. Mr. Shelledy is squarely implicated in the unethical and possibly criminal government misconduct he seeks to hide.

The Department of Justice through the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California extracted a $55 Million settlement from Sierra Pacific following a massive civil prosecution blaming the timber company for a wildfire that destroyed thousands of acres of forest land. The agreement also required Sierra Pacific to give the government 22,500 acres of land.

Sierra Pacific, which has always maintained it did not start the fire, was complying with the federal settlement while also dealing with litigation against it in the California state courts. In the state case, California Judge Leslie Nichols entered a blistering order in February, awarding $32 million in attorneys’ fees to Sierra Pacific and imposed the ultimate sanction—termination of the case. He found that the state agency, Cal Fire, “withheld some documents, destroyed other evidence and ‘engaged in a systematic campaign of misdirection with the purpose of recovering money’ from Sierra Pacific.”

Judge Nichols’ fiery order caught the attention of former Assistant United States Attorney E. Robert Wright, who felt compelled to come forward. Turns out that Mr. Wright had been the lead Assistant United States Attorney and filed the case against Sierra Pacific—until his superior, Civil Division head David Shelledy removed him from the case after they had a dispute about a clear ethical rule that requires the government to disclose evidence adverse to the government’s case to the defense attorneys in another fire case…

Other articles about the latest developments in the Moonlight Fire litigation:


California: Report released on Bernardo Fire

Bernardo Fire

Bernardo Fire. Screen grab from live video from NBC7 at about 4 p.m. PDT, May 13, 2014.

The Bernardo Fire that started May 13, 2014 was one of the first in a series of 12 large wildfires that occurred in San Diego County during a 10-day period in mid-May. No homes were destroyed, in spite of the fact that it burned through and adjacent to dense housing developments. This was a testament to the community planning and preparedness that is evident in many areas in California.

A 72-page report has been released on the 1,548-acre fire which identified lessons learned and recommendations for change. Examples include:

  • Outfit five Type 1 engines for immediate deployment during high risk wildland fire days. The engines would have all radios, pagers, MDC, EMS equipment (short narcotics) on board. Storage could possibly be within the Repair Facility.
  • Purchase and make available additional radios and batteries to meet the needs of large-scale incidents.
  • Direct Division/Group Supervisors to identify supply Drop Points and Staging Areas within their geographic divisions and/or functional groups.
  • Increase the number of City fire/rescue medium-lift helicopters to three (3) to insure SDFD’s ability to provide aerial fire suppression and rescue.
  • Request funding to hire additional brush management inspectors. A total of 22 positions are required to conduct annual inspections of the 42,505 private parcels in the wildland/urban interface within the City of San Diego. The Department currently has 6 positions dedicated to these inspections.
  • Train additional Department personnel to fill all IMT, DOC, and EOC positions to a minimum three-deep roster. Consideration should be given to using non-uniformed staff for incident support positions to free uniformed staff for key skills or fire line assignments.
  • Ensure that only one ICP is being utilized. One of the benefits may be that angled drafting tables, large-scale maps, and overlays would be made available by one of the other agencies in UC. Purchase and make available the drafting tables, large scale maps, printers and plotters and install in the CIMU vehicles.
  • Consider including redlines and foam pro systems in future fire engine specifications.
  • Consider assigning water tenders to each strike team and task force.
  • Issue each individual SDPD officer their own vegetation fire PPE so that they are equipped with the necessary safety equipment upon arrival at a vegetation fire.
  • Adoption of Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS) as a geospatial communications and collaborations tool should be discussed at a regional level.
  • Provide display processing equipment at the ICP to include hardware and tools necessary to provide a large format, bright, clear picture for collaboration should be determined and purchased. Provide command vehicles both paper backup large format topographical or satellite maps and a digital map display solution. Ideally, a “Google Earth-like” solution on a large format touch screen monitor should be run. NICS provides the basis for this type of map display collaboration and markup. Properly paired with the correct hardware either in command vehicles or support vehicles will allow incident managers better awareness.
  • Consider extending capability to track additional support vehicles (and staff) utilizing existing GPS technology tracking hardware/services.

Wildfire briefing, December 4, 2014

Fires in U.S. and Australia determined to be caused by power lines

Map of Pfeiffer Fire

Map of Pfeiffer Fire at Big Sur, California, looking northwest, showing the fire perimeter at 10:34 p.m. PST, December 18, 2013. (Click to enlarge)

Two fires, in Western Australia and California, have recently been determined to be caused by electrical power lines.

The Pfeiffer Fire at Big Sur, California started on December 16, 2013 and burned 34 homes and 917 acres in the coastal community 23 miles south of Monterey. The U.S. Forest Service reported on Wednesday:

The cause of the fire was determined to be high resistance heating of the Pfeiffer Ridge Mutual Water Company electrical control wires immediately adjacent to a steel water pipe line. The high resistance heating of the electrical control wires created a competent ignition source for this fire. The first fuel ignited was accumulated dried leaves and redwood needles.

The other fire was in Western Australia. Below is an excerpt from an article in Western Australia Today:

A rotted power pole infested with termites has been blamed for the Parkerville bushfire which destroyed more than 40 homes this year. But EnergySafety director Ken Bowron said the organisation would not take action against Western Power or the landowner.

The EnergySafety report into the cause of the fire on January 12 was released on Thursday and found the bushfire originated from a private pole at 180 Granite Road, Parkerville.

“There was no evidence to suggest the work performed by Western Power to replace the surface aerial seven months before the incident, or the work to replace the adjacent pole two day before the bushfires, causes the PA pole to fail,” Mr Bowron said.

“Based on the available evidence and legal advice, EnergySafety will not be taking any legal action against any party. The clear finding of the report is that the pole failed because it was rotten and had been infested by termites.

Hearing in Prescott on Granite Mountain Hotshots’ retroactive retirement benefits

From the Daily Courier in Prescott, Arizona:

Now nearly a year and a half after 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire, the matter of retroactive retirement benefits continues to play out at Prescott City Hall.

With its earlier decision granting retirement benefits to the family of fallen Hotshot Andrew Ashcraft still under appeal, the local fire retirement board will take on two new retirement cases today.

During a 9 a.m. Thursday hearing at Prescott City Hall, the Prescott Board of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System Board will turn to the retirement claims by the families of Sean Misner and William Warneke, and whether the scope of the actual hearings on the claims should be limited…

Tree ring researcher at the University of Arizona honored

Thomas Swetnam

Thomas W. Swetnam with tree-ring specimens in the UA’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. (Photo courtesy of Michaela Kane/Arizona Daily Wildcat)

Thomas W. Swetnam, Regents’ Professor of dendrochronology and director of the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.

As part of the Section on Geology and Geography, Swetnam was elected as an AAAS Fellow for his investigations of tree rings as a record of past changes in climate, allowing scientists to predict future forest-fire frequencies in the Southwest.

Mr. Swetnam specializes in analyzing climate changes through history and prehistory, dangerous insect outbreaks and forest fires. In recent years, enormous blazes, some 10 times greater than those that firefighters have been accustomed to seeing in California and Arizona, have forced scholars to attempt to understand this phenomenon. The conclusions from Swetnam’s studies of these so-called megafires and their alarming size, duration and frequency have made the scientific community, governments throughout the world and media to pay close attention. Swetnam has appeared on programs such as PBS’ “NewsHour” and CBS’ “60 Minutes.”