Wildfire briefing, June 28, 2013

Former volunteer firefighter sentenced for arson

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a former volunteer firefighter was sentenced to a total of two years in jail for setting fires in the northern California counties of Sonoma and San Mateo. Our original story on the charges is here, and the Chronicle has the details about Friday’s sentencing of Nathaniel Ridgway Schmidt, 20, of Cazadero, California.

Extreme heat forecast for some areas in the West

This weekend and the first part of next week some areas in the west will experience extremely hot weather. The temperature for Death Valley was expected to reach nearly 130 on Friday — just short of the 134-degree reading from a century ago that stands as the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth. More details.

This is a good time for firefighters to review the video on Heat Related Illness.

Heat wave map NWS 3-7 day outlook
Much above normal temperatures are forecast for parts of the West on July 1-3, 2013. Map: NOAA and FEMA.

Helicopter crashes into river near Missoula

A helicopter made a crash landing into a river Friday while recertifying for water bucket operations near Missoula, Montana. Both the pilot and a passenger survived, according to an article in the Missoulian. More details are at Fire Aviation.

Colorado: West Fork Complex Fire

West Fork Complex, June 25, 2013
Smoke from the West Fork Complex at sunset, June 25, 2013 by @PagosaCabin

The Papoose Fire, part of the West Fork Complex of fires in southern Colorado, was extremely active Thursday night and early Friday morning, running for four miles and creating new spot fires 1 to 1.5 miles ahead. More details are in our main article about the fire.

New York Times on smaller budgets for fuel management

The New York Times is the latest news organization to run a major story on how the federal government is reducing the budgets for prescribed fire and other types of fuel mitigation which lower the fire risk by removing accumulations of thick vegetation in forests and in wildland-urban interfaces near populated areas. Here is an excerpt from their article:

The government has cut back on programs to reduce fire risks in areas where homes and the wilderness collide. The United States Forest Service treated 1.87 million acres of those lands in 2012, but expects to treat only 685,000 acres next year. Conservation advocates say that is likely to mean fewer people working to prevent runaway fires, fewer controlled burns and fewer trucks hauling away dry brush and tinder.

Trimming trees and clearing brush can make blazes less destructive, and the Forest Service said it had treated more than 26 million acres since 2000. But as the government spends an increasing amount to battle wildfires, critics say it makes little sense to cut back on prevention.

“There is a growing consensus in the West that dollar for dollar, these kinds of prevention efforts are paying off,” said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon. “And when the big fires break out, the bureaucracy steals money from the prevention fund and the problem gets worse. The Forest Service has become the fire service.”

Senators write letter about cuts in fuel treatments

More Senators have written another letter about cuts to fire budgets. The AP reports:

A bipartisan group of Western U.S. senators on Friday urged the Obama administration to focus more on preventing wildfires rather than taking money from programs that clear potentially hazardous dead trees and brush to fund efforts to fight the increasingly destructive blazes.

It is easy to write letters. Politicians tend to look the other way when it comes to actually DOING SOMETHING MEANINGFUL to correct the problem, such proposing and passing budget legislation. (sigh)

Wildfire smoke closes George Parks Highway in Alaska

Smoke from the Skinny’s Road Fire, which is named after a nearby bar, forced officials to close a section of the George Parks Highway between Nenana and Fairbanks on Wednesday. It reopened Thursday but travelers had to be escorted by pilot cars through the smoke. The highway is the main route between between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska.

Lightning in the Yukon starts 23 fires

Fire managers in the Yukon Territory asked the British Columbia government to send 62 more fighters to help put out 23 new fires started by lightning Thursday. They will join the other 45 firefighters that B.C. sent to help out earlier.

Below is an excerpt from an article at CBC.com:

“Obviously, the emphasis right now is the protection of life and property, while maintaining the safety of our staff,” said Fire Information Officer George Maratos.

“Given the intense fire behaviour on some of these fires, the safest and most effective response was from the air with air tankers and helicopters.”

One of the priority fires is burning 18 kilometres east of Faro. Two are near Carmacks: one 45 kilometres east of the community near Little Salmon River and another 16 kilometres northwest near Free Gold Road. The fourth is 36 kilometres northeast of Mayo.

Environment Canada is forecasting more thunderstorms in the area for Friday.

Los Alamos National Laboratory criticized for wildfire preparedness

A report issued by the Department of Energy’s inspector general said the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has not done enough to protect the facility from wildfires and other natural disasters. The inspectors were concerned about what would happen if an earthquake or fire caused damage that could lead to exposure from some of the radioactive waste stored at the lab.

On May 10, 2000, a fire that began as a prescribed fire in Bandalier National Monument burned into Los Alamos. The Cerro Grande Prescribed Fire was carried by very strong winds, with embers blowing a mile or more across the fire lines to the north, south, and east. The towns of Los Alamos and White Rock were in the fire’s path and more than 18,000 residents evacuated.

By the end of the day on May 10, the fire had burned 18,000 acres, destroyed 235 homes, and damaged many other structures. The fire also spread towards the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and although fires spotted onto the facility’s lands, all major structures were secured and no releases of radiation occurred.

Washington: Soap Lake fire department quits

The Columbia Basin Herald reports that after the Mayor of Soap Lake, Washington (map) fired the Fire Chief, 11 volunteer firefighters resigned from the fire department, leaving the town with no fire protection. This mess began from a fund raiser to replace the water tank on a wildland fire truck.

Oregon drought worries ranchers and firefighters

A severe drought in southeast Oregon has firefighters concerned and has forced the Bureau of Land Management to haul water to herds of wild mustangs and pronghorn antelope.

Mount Rushmore cancels July 4 fireworks show

Mount Rushmore has again cancelled the July 4 fireworks extravaganza, which rains down large quantities of fireworks debris into the forest and rocky slopes around the sculpture. Previous fireworks at the Memorial have caused over twenty small fires. The Park Superintendent, Cheryl Schreier, cited the fire hazard in the nearby beetle-damaged forest as the reason for the cancellation.

 

Thanks go out to Dick and Kelly.

Beaver causes fire

News 1130 in Vancouver reports:

 

We are adding this to our Animal Arson series.

Beaver and tree
File photo of a beaver up to no good.

Saskatchewan replacing fire lookouts with cameras

Saskatchewan lookout tower
Saskatchewan lookout tower. CTV News

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment is phasing out fire lookout towers staffed with humans to detect fires and replacing them with cameras.

About 38 seasonal positions will be lost when the government switches to camera systems. The provincial government says the installation of the equipment, which should be operational by April of 2014,  will cost $1.5 million.

Environment Minister Ken Cheveldayoff says the switch will save money. However, he maintains the primary issue is safety.

“These towers are 80 to 90 feet high,” Cheveldayoff said Thursday. “There’s a safety issue if they’re single-manned that if something was to happen, if that individual was able to slip or something like that, it could be dire consequences.”

Saskatchewan lookout tower
Saskatchewan lookout tower. Photo by Government of Saskatchewan.

Looking back at the 2003 Kelowna wildfire

Even though I stayed overnight in Kelowna, British Columbia on a motorcycle trip last August, I was not aware of the nearby devastating Okanagan Mountain Park (map) wildfire in 2003 that destroyed hundreds of homes and threatened the lives of firefighters. Here is an excerpt from an article in the Kelowna Capital News:

During the 2003 Kelowna wildfire, a group of firefighters trapped in Kettle Valley were surrounded by 400 foot high flames, took shelter under fire trucks, and called home from their cell phones to say goodbye to their families.

“They couldn’t get out,” recalled former Kelowna fire chief and current city councillor Gerry Zimmermann as he welcomed more than 200 colleagues from around North America to the three-day Western Wildfire Conference in Kelowna Thursday morning.

But, everyone survived the Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire, even though 30,000 people were evacuated, 239 homes were lost in two nights and 60,000 acres were burned across the south slopes, 10 years ago this summer…

Fire danger sign near Canmore, Alberta. Photo by Bill Gabbert
Fire danger sign near Canmore, Alberta. Photo by Bill Gabbert

Wildfire briefing, December 3, 2012

Firefighter killed in Clinton County, Illinois

A firefighter was killed Sunday at the scene of a wildfire that spread to a structure. Here is an excerpt from an article at KSDK:

A 45-year-old fireman with the Santa Fe Fire Protection District in Clinton County, Illinois, has been killed at the scene of a fire.

Timothy P. Jansen died of injuries sustained when he was struck by a fire truck in the 9700 block of River Road in Bartelso. The accident happened about 7:45 p.m. Sunday.

Jansen was among the first firefighters to arrive at the scene, which began as a grass fire and spread to a building.

Santa Fe Fire Chief Adam Maue said Jansen was standing on the back of a truck, pulling hoses, when he slipped off. The driver of the truck told the chief he did not know Jansen fell, so he backed up, striking Jansen.

Jansen was married and had two daughters. He’d been with the fire district for 15 years and owned a restaurant directly across the street from the firehouse.

Fire engine overturns en route to wildfire, injuring 4

A fire engine that was participating in a Christmas parade in Bedford, Virginia was dispatched to a wildland fire duirng the parade but didn’t make it to the fire. It overturned while rounding a curve, landing in Phyllis Carimi’s front yard.

Here is an excerpt from The News & Advance:

Lt. Todd Foreman, of the Bedford City Police, said he believed there were only four men inside the truck, all of whom were hospitalized.

Foreman said two were airlifted from the wreck — one to Lynchburg General Hospital, the other to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. The other two were taken by ambulance to Lynchburg and Bedford hospitals.

Their conditions and identities have not yet been provided.

Chief of the Forest Service expects 12 million to 15 million acres to burn annually due to higher temperatures

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told a group in Boise Friday that in the future even more acres are going to burn and the cost of fighting fires will continue to rise. One of his answers to the problem, of course, is to increase timber sales by 20 percent.

As we pointed out November 23, so far this year the number of acres burned, 9,093,431, was the third highest total since national wildfire statistics have been kept beginning in 1960. Remaining at the number one and two spots are 2006 with 9.9 million, and 2007 with 9.3 million.

Rocky Barker wrote in the Idaho Statesman on Saturday:

Tidwell told the City Club of Boise that as many as 12 million to 15 million acres will burn annually now because of warming temperatures and drier years.

[…]

More than 30,000 homes have burned in the past decade, Tidwell said, including 3,000 just this year — homes in a Pocatello subdivision among them. Experts expect fires to keep claiming houses, but fuel-reduction steps can make communities safer and easier to protect, Tidwell said.

Federal budget cuts will make money more scarce, but communities are increasingly taking responsibility, he said. Flagstaff, Ariz., passed a $10 million bond to do forest restoration on private and federal land there.

The comments people have left at the bottom of the Idaho Statesman article are interesting.

Canadian Commission rejects changes to codes to protect communities

From the Edmonton Journal:

EDMONTON – A federal commission has rejected proposals to change Canada’s national construction codes to better protect communities from destructive wildfires.

The changes would have required builders in areas prone to forest fires to use less flammable building materials, to space buildings farther apart and to keep them clear of trees and vegetation.

[…]

The proposal for changes came from the National Fire Protection Association and an Alberta-based non-profit group called Partners in Protection.

The proposals were submitted to the commission before wildfires in May 2011 destroyed hundreds of homes in Slave Lake, Alta., and forced thousands of people to flee. The disaster cost more than $1 billion in damage, firefighting and relief costs.

Air tankers still on active duty

Two large air tankers are still on active duty, long past their normal mandatory availability periods. More information at FireAviation.com 

 

Thanks go out to Dick