Shawna Legarza discusses firefighting aircraft available this year

The U.S. Forest Service Director of Fire and Aviation spoke at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento Tuesday.

Above: Shawna Legarza speaks at the Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 conference in Sacramento, March 13, 2018.

(Originally published at 8:18 PDT March 13, 2018)

Shawna Legarza, the U.S. Forest Service National Director of Fire and Aviation, gave a presentation at the Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 conference in Sacramento, March 13, 2018. She said we are no longer experiencing fire seasons — fires now occur year round. Firefighters in Southern California have been saying that for a couple of decades, but the epidemic is spreading.

After her talk we spoke with her for a couple of minutes before she had to leave for a meeting in Arizona. We asked her about the firefighting aircraft that will be available in 2018.

Shawna Legarza fire aviation
Shawna Legarza speaks at the Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 conference in Sacramento, March 13, 2018.

Prescribed fire at Holiday Lake

One of the objectives of the project is to restore the habitat of the Tricolored Blackbird.

Above: Prescribed fire at Holiday Lake. Photo: Jeff Zimmerman

(Originally published at 7:39 p.m. MT March 1, 2018)

Jeff Zimmerman sent us these prescribed fire photos and the article below. Thanks Jeff.

By Jeff Zimmerman

The Los Angeles County Fire Department conducted a prescribed fire at Holiday Lake Thursday near Neenach in Southern California. The area is critical habitat for the endangered Tricolored Blackbirds that nest early in the spring at the lake. Since it last burned four years ago the bulrush and cattails have choked out the nesting areas for the birds.

Tricolored Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird. Photo credit: California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Thursday approximately 100 firefighters from the County Fire Department burned about 15 acres of land operated by the West Valley County Water District to restore the habitat.

I have been following the nesting habits of the birds with Don Groeschel of the Audubon Society. We have noticed a decline in the number of birds nesting in the area and asked for the area to be burned some time ago. Finally, taking advantage of the dry winter, the area was burned today under very controlled conditions.

The lake (map) is now dry and hopefully rain will finish putting out all hot spots overnight. Neenach has very strong winds so it is crucial to not allow the fire to escape control lines, while trying to generate enough heat to get rid of the dead fuel. With low winds and relative humidity at 30 percent this morning the lake was baptized with fire. New reeds will grow rapidly in the nitrogen rich soil now to make better habitat for the birds. Nesting season is quickly upon us so it is crucial to get this burn completed in a very narrow window of time.

Prescribed fire Holiday Lake
Prescribed fire at Holiday Lake. Photo: Jeff Zimmerman

The lake was dry during the migration period of Canada Geese this fall. Hopefully the water master will allow the lake to fill again to restore the habitat.

Of course this dry winter is very concerning, bringing the possibility of an early fire season.

Prescribed fire Holiday Lake
Prescribed fire at Holiday Lake. Photo: Jeff Zimmerman

Jeff Zimmerman photographs fires and writes about them, usually from Southern California.

CAL FIRE to procure mobile data systems with location tracking capability

The system will enhance situational awareness for 1,200 firefighting resources.

Above: an example of a mobile data terminal made by Radio Mobile.

(Originally published at 10:50 a.m. MT February 15, 2018)

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has signed a contract to provide technology in 1,200 state-owned vehicles that will facilitate mission critical data communications over a variety of networks (broadband, narrowband and satellite).

Under the agreement, RadioMobile will provide a centralized location tracking application within a mobile data terminal solution. The system receives incident information, provides mapping, and enables vehicle operators to communicate via a touchscreen application interfacing with their computer aided dispatching (CAD) system. The company will also provide the equipment, services, and support needed to implement a statewide VHF mobile data system and integrate network switching between broadband/cellular, VHF and satellite for CAL FIRE mobile resources.

We have been an advocate for the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighting, which is knowing the real time location of firefighters and the fire. This system will implement a portion of that, tracking the location of firefighting vehicles and other mobile equipment (but probably can’t track dismounted personnel). It will also have the capability of displaying a map, and when data is available it could show the location of the fire. For example, it could show a sketched-out hand drawn map of the fire, or live video from an air attack ship or drone orbiting 10,000 feet over the fire. And, importantly, it could indicate the location of all firefighting resources that have location tracking enabled.

When these functions are implemented, it will enhance the situational awareness of firefighters. Congratulations to CAL FIRE for taking a step to make their personnel just a little bit safer.

Radio Mobile
This is a screen shot from a Radio Mobile “about us” video. Notice anything interesting?

Information Officer wrangled race horses at Lilac Fire

Approximately 400 race horses at a training facility were freed from their stalls as the fire rapidly approached in December, 2017.

Above: The Lilac Fire, near Bonsall, California, spread in front of strong Santa Ana winds in December, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Peterson)

(Originally published at 1:32 p.m. MT February 10, 2018)

By Diana Fredlund, Public Affairs Officer, Stanislaus National Forest

When a wildfire ignites, a call to action is sounded and firefighting personnel converge to manage the incident. However, supporting a fire incident doesn’t always mean working on the fire line. There are many tasks that need to be done during a large fire event. For example, logistics, administration, dealing with the media and informing and assisting residents who have been impacted by a disaster are only a few examples of the support teams needed to properly handle the scale and scope of something as impactful as a wildfire.

Kimberly Peterson Lilac Fire horses
Kimberly Peterson, a biological science technician on the Stanislaus National Forest, greets one of the racehorses she cared for during the Lilac Fire in San Diego, December 2017. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Peterson)

When the Lilac Fire broke out in San Diego County, Kimberly Peterson, a biological science technician on the Stanislaus National Forest, answered the call for support as a public information officer trainee. Part of her duties were helping evacuated animals held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The Lilac Fire was a product of the strong Santa Ana winds so common in southern California. The blaze went on to burn 4,100 acres and destroy 157 buildings in December 2017, forcing many to either leave or move their animals to a safer location.

Peterson was helping families retrieve their animals after the evacuation orders were lifted and residents were allowed to return to their homes or businesses.

“This was an amazing assignment,” said Peterson. “I got to help folks load their animals, who had survived the fire, into their trailers to go home.”

Peterson, an avid horsewoman, was thrilled that her duties included helping out some of the 400 racehorses that had been evacuated from their stables at the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center when the fire swept through. She helped the horses settle in and tried to calm them, aided by a 20-pound bag of carrots given to her by the thoroughbreds’ trainers who told her to go make friends.

Kimberly Peterson Lilac Fire horses
Local residents brought supplies and equipment and volunteered countless hours helping out at the large animal evacuation center at Del Mar Fairground, Del Mar, California, during the Lilac Fire. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Peterson)

Lucas Spelman, a member of CAL FIRE and Peterson’s public information officer within the incident command, knew her skills working with large animals.

“I try whenever possible to match members of my team with their skill sets. She was tasked [to manage] the Red Cross shelters and large animal rescues,” said Spelman. “Kimberly was able to inform and console victims that had been displaced and even those who had lost their homes or their animals.”

Working with her Lilac Fire team was very satisfying, Peterson said.

“I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with the CAL FIRE Incident Management Team 1 again. I have learned so much from both Lucas Spelman and Richard Cordova on how to be a better [public information officer]. We come together from a variety of fire agencies with one purpose: to serve the public during an incredibly difficult time,” said Peterson. “There have been times when I did not feel as much a part of the team, but Richard and Lucas really make you feel like you are not just part of the team, but family.”

Peterson comforted more than horses and other animals temporarily housed at the fairgrounds.

“Often the public information officers are the only ones these folks get to talk to. I was comforting some residents who lost their homes or their animals,” Peterson said. “It was important that they knew someone cared and was there who understood what they were going through and just offer a shoulder to lean on, or an ear to listen to them, even if it was just for a few minutes.”

She was stunned by the response from residents, who brought tons of supplies and equipment.

“The response from the community was amazing. Members of the public brought truckloads of feed, bedding, tools and equipment in huge quantities,” said Peterson. “They were there to help clean out stalls or corrals – anything that needed doing, they were always right there to help out in any way they could.”

Peterson’s public affairs tasks were more than working at the evacuation centers.

“I went to one of the hardest hit areas of the Lilac Fire to assist residents as they learned for the first time whether they still had a home or not. I would supply them with gloves, a face mask and a screen to help sift through the ash,” said Peterson. “I was there to give out hugs, food and water – and to just listen to them. I would ask them if they needed anything and gave them information about [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and other resources to help them through their loss. I also delivered Red Cross kits, which included a washcloth, soap, toothpaste and toothbrush, in case they needed it to clean up.”

After several days on evacuation duty, the Lilac Fire was finally being contained and Peterson was called on to assist with the growing threat of the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties as an equipment manager trainee.

All sorts of jobs and tasks need to be done during a major fire incident and Peterson is like most U.S. Forest Service employees who step up to help support the massive effort. They see a need and know people need help during and after such a destructive event. Every fire support assignment is different and employees support the fire effort in a myriad of ways, some standing on the front line face-to-face with the flames or offering a shoulder to lean on or even providing care to frightened animals. All are equally important and are critical to those affected who look for solace and a way forward after the deadly impact of a fire.

From Bill Gabbert:

As the Lilac Fire quickly approached, hundreds of race horses at the San Luis Rey Downs training facility east of Bonsall were turned loose to fend for themselves since there wasn’t enough time to load all of them into trucks or trailers and transport them to safety. Not all of them survived.

Map Lilac Fire
Map of the Lilac Fire at 12:01 a.m. PST December 8, 2017. Wildfire Today/NASA/USFS/Google Earth.

Articles on Wildfire Today about the Lilac Fire.

Forest Service releases cause of the Whittier Fire

The fire burned 18,430 acres northwest of Santa Barbara, California in July, 2017

Six months after the Whittier Fire stopped spreading the U.S. Forest Service has released the cause of the blaze. The investigation determined that a vehicle driving through tall grass near Camp Whittier ignited the fire.

The Forest Service did not file criminal charges. Due to the age of the driver, the agency will not release any additional details of the investigation.

The Whittier Fire started July 8 on Bureau of Reclamation land and quickly spread onto National Forest System lands northwest of Santa Barbara, California. The fire burned 18,430 acres until it stopped spreading July 20.

The fire has been in the news since a U.S. Forest Service firefighter, Dave Dahlberg, was introduced and honored by President Trump at the January 30 State of the Union Address. Mr. Dahlberg helped rescue 62 children and staff members when the Whittier Fire encircled their camp.

David Dahlberg meets Sonny Perdue.
David Dahlberg meets Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Dept. of Agriculture photo. Mr. Dahlberg saved dozens of children and adults that were encircled by the Whittier Fire.

USFS firefighter invited to State of the Union Address

Dave Dahlberg helped rescue 62 children and staff members whose camp had been encircled by the Whittier Fire northwest of Santa Barbara, California.

Dave Dahlberg rescue children fire
David Dahlberg, a Fire Prevention Technician on the Los Padres National Forest, is presented an award by Ray Sweet, left, board president for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Los Angeles, and Circle V Ranch Camp director Ray Lopez. October 15, 2016. Photo courtesy of USFS.

A U.S. Forest Service employee is being  honored by attending the President’s State of the Union Address scheduled for 9 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Dave Dahlberg, a Fire Prevention Technician on the Los Padres National Forest working out of Pine Canyon Fire Station, helped rescue 62 children and staff members at the Circle V Ranch Camp during the Whittier Fire July 8, 2017.

This is a big deal. Congratulations to FPT Dahlberg!

Mr. Dahlberg will be one of 12 special guests of President Trump and will be seated with First Lady Melania Trump.

David Dahlberg meets Sonny Perdue.
David Dahlberg meets Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Dept. of Ag. photo.

As the flames bore down on the camp there was fire on both sides of the access road but he was able to drive through the smoke and heat to the camp where he corralled the scores of children and staff members, keeping them safe. Later a convoy of vehicles took the personnel out of the area.

Mr. Dahlberg provides more details in the video below: | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Here is an excerpt from an article at KSBY:

…At the end of the road, 58 campers ages seven through 16 and 24 adult staff members were trapped in the camp.

The deputies turned around but U.S. Forest Service Patrolman Dave Dahlberg, who was initially behind them, was able to pass and make it through.

“I was able to make access into the camp through all the smoke and flames and all the debris on the road. It was tough at some points,” said Dahlberg, who was familiar with Circle V Ranch from prior training based on similar circumstances.

Dahlberg and the campers sheltered in place at the dining hall. Flames were about 600 feet away.

“I assured them that we were in a safe place and that we would all get out safely. It seemed like minutes but it probably was closer to two hours when I first saw county Dozer 1,” he continued.

Dozer operator Mark Linane started cutting fire line around the camp. Overhead, helicopters and airtankers made drops where the flames were seen moving toward the camp.

Dahlberg doused the dining hall with water as flames approached. Another hour went by before search and rescue vehicles arrived at the camp.

The Whittier Fire burned over 18,000 acres northwest of Santa Barbara. The Circle V Ranch Camp is south of Cachuma Lake and south of San Marcos Pass Road. On the map below it is north of the “W” in “Whittier Fire”.

Whittier Fire map
Map of the Whittier Fire, current at 9:30 p.m. PDT July 16, 2017. Click to enlarge.
Whittier Fire
Whittier Fire. Undated photo posted to Inciweb July 16, 2017.