15 instructors at CAL FIRE’s Ione academy fired or disciplined

Orville Fleming

Orville Fleming

The investigation into the murder of the girlfriend of a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection instructor who worked at the state’s fire academy has resulted in a series of dominoes falling. Two firefighters have been fired, the resignation of a third was accepted, and 13 others will be disciplined. Of the 16 firefighters, 15 were instructors at the academy and the other worked in the field.

Battalion Chief Orville Fleming was found and arrested in October after a 16-day manhunt. An instructor at the agency’s training academy at Ione, California, the 55-year old BC had been charged in the May 1 stabbing death of 26-year old Sarah Jane Douglas, his live-in girlfriend.

Mr. Fleming’s wife had said he and other firefighters had engaged in sex with prostitutes at the academy and said she had seen a tape of such activities. However investigators were not able to find any evidence of the tape.

After the murder Mr. Fleming ditched his CAL FIRE truck and disappeared but was found 16 days later when he left his hideout near his home and boarded a bus to obtain food.

More details are at the Sacramento Bee.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick.

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Report on Upper Lyons Prescribed Fire Entrapment and Fire Shelter Deployment

Fire shelter deployment site

Fire shelter deployment site. Photo from the FLA.

The Wildland fire Lessons Learned Center has published a facilitated learning analysis for an entrapment and fire shelter deployment that occurred on the Upper Lyons prescribed fire last October in Redwood National Park in northern California.

Below is the one-page summary of  the 27-page document, which can be read in full HERE (1.3MB).

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“Number and type of injuries

One individual with second degree burns to the left hand and first degree burns to the right hand and face.

Narrative Summary

On October 13, 2014, firefighters were conducting a prescribed fire in the Bald Hills Area of Redwood National Park.

Crews were burning off of a handline when a combination of factors aligned to cause several spot fires in heavy fuels outside the unit. These spot fires burned together to form multiple slopovers.

A decision was made to suspend ignition until an assessment of the slopovers could be completed. At approximately that same time, a firefighter who was hiking up the fireline became entrapped due to intense heat and dense smoke. As a result, this firefighter deployed their fire shelter on the handline.

The firefighter was quickly located and escorted a short distance out of the smoke and heat. The firefighter, immediately assessed by an onsite paramedic, was able to walk—with some assistance by others—to an area where a vehicle was waiting to transport them to a landing zone.

The firefighter, accompanied by a flight nurse, was airlifted to Shasta Regional Hospital for treatment. The firefighter was released a short time later and referred to the University of California Davis Burn Center for follow-up the next day.

The diagnosis from the specialist at the burn center was second degree burns to the left hand and first degree burns to the right hand and face. Over the next several weeks, the firefighter received follow-up treatment at the burn center.

Significant Note

During the Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA) process, the firefighter continued to emphasize the profound role that previous fire shelter training played in the successful deployment of the firefighter’s shelter during this event.”

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Video explores the 2013 Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park

Firefighter and a Giant Sequoia

Firefighter and a fire-scarred Giant Sequoia. Still image from the NPS video.

We are pleased to see that some federal agencies, especially the National Park Service, are producing professional-quality films that interpret for the general public the science of wildland fire. We have written previously about successful video projects produced by Everglades National Park, and now Yosemite National Park has released their second film about the science of the 2013 Rim Fire that burned 254,685 acres in and near the Park. Their first one featured Fire Ecologist Gus Smith, and a second with the inspired title of “Rim Fire” was uploaded today on YouTube. It is embedded below and emphasizes the importance of reintroducing fire into the forest while treating your eyes to excellent photography.

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Forest Service represented in the Rose Parade

The U.S. Forest Service had quite a few representatives in the Rose Parade in Pasadena on New Years Day.

USFS firefighters mules

Their entry was a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the historic role of packers in supporting wildland firefighters and other backcountry operations, and appreciation of the outstanding contributions made by national forest volunteers.

The all-mule equestrian entry included an entourage of Forest Service Rangers in period uniforms anchored by three mule pack strings. The mule pack strings were guided by California-based U.S. Forest Service packers Michael Morse, Lee Roeser and Ken Graves, who have an average of 37 years of experience each in the saddle.

Forest Service Rose Parade

USFS firefighters hiked the five-mile parade route.

Forest Service Rose Parade

Smokey Bear, USFS Chief Thomas Tidwell, and Regional Forester Randy Moore were photographed riding on a wagon in the parade.

Shawna Lagarza Tom Harbour

Shawna Legarza, the Director of Fire and Aviation for the U.S. Forest Service’s California Region, and Tom Harbour, the Director of Fire and Aviation for the Forest Service, at the Rose Parade, January 1, 2015.

This is something you don’t see every day — wildland fire personnel dressed up in their super-formal uniforms. (These folks are very high ranking of course, but seeing ANY non-headquarters-based U.S. Forest Service employee in a uniform is unusual.) I didn’t know the USFS had the Smokey Bear type hats except for the honor guards you see at funerals. The roses on the hats are a nice touch.

I did not see the parade, but there is a report that during the live broadcast the announcers had a debate about Smokey’s name — “Smokey Bear”, or “Smokey THE Bear”. Here’s the deal. A song written in 1952 celebrated “Smokey the Bear” and stirred a debate that lasted several decades. To maintain the proper rhythm in the song, the writers added “the” to the name, etching “Smokey the Bear” into the public psyche. But his name always was, and still is, Smokey Bear. Unfortunately the Forest Service fueled the confusion by publishing and distributing the words and music to the song in their fire prevention efforts.

All photos are provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

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Aerial mulching on the King Fire

heli-mulching King Fire

A helicopter lifting a sling load of straw mulch. USFS photo.

Two months after 12 firefighters were entrapped and eventually led to safety by a pilot in a helicopter, helicopters again played an important role in the King Fire in northern California.

In late November the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) began a joint project to drop straw mulch from helicopters over approximately 1,200 acres of Eldorado National Forest land that burned with moderate to high intensity during the recent King Fire. The purpose of the project is to protect critical infrastructure from potentially severe post-fire erosion that may occur with winter storms. The infrastructure at risk includes Eleven Pines Road, which serves as the primary route from Highway 50 to the northern end of the Eldorado National Forest, and the Brush Creek and Slab Creek reservoirs, which are integral to SMUD’s hydroelectric facilities in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

heli-mulching King Fire

A completed straw mulch unit. USFS photo.

“This is a great example of the outstanding collaboration we’ve had during all phases of the King Fire,” said Eldorado Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree. A contract was awarded to Bradco Environmental, a company based in Crestline, CA, to complete the work. Large bales of certified weed free straw, a by-product of rice grown in California, were loaded into horizontal grinders which chopped the straw into four to eight inch pieces of mulch prior to aerial application. Two medium sized helicopters were used to drop the mulch onto slopes ranging from 15% to 60% grade, treating approximately 80 acres per day with each helicopter.

All of the treatment areas were identified by Forest Service soil scientists and hydrologists as sites needing immediate attention before heavy winter rains and snow arrived. This emergency erosion prevention project is designed to reduce the amount of sediment eroding off hillsides due to the loss of vegetative cover associated with the fire. Excessive sediment can block culverts and impact water quality in streams and reservoirs which could lead to flooding, road closures, decreased water storage capacity and loss of hydroelectric generation. This joint helimulching project is expected to prevent several thousand tons of sediment from eroding.

On December 4, 2014, due to the predicted weather for the following couple of weeks, all mulching operations were halted until the King Fire receives a significant warming and drying period or until after spring snow melt. This could be several months. Storm patrols and engineering work will continue throughout the winter.

heli-mulching King Fire

Burned Area Emergency Response crew inspects a straw mulched unit. USFS photo.

Articles tagged “King Fire” on Wildfire Today.

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