Wildfire briefing, June 2, 2014

Rescued wolf pups to find home

Wolf pup at Alaska Zoo

The five abandoned wolf pups that were rescued by firefighters on the Funny River Fire on March 27 are doing well and will be adopted by the Minnesota Zoo, located south of Minneapolis-St. Paul in Apple Valley, Minnesota. The pups will remain at the Alaska Zoo until veterinarians are certain the animals are old and healthy enough for transport. When found last week, they weighed about 2.5 pounds apiece and suffered from dehydration and punctures from porcupine quills.

Thirty five applicants awarded funding for their fire research projects

The Joint Fire Science Program announced that 35 applicants have received funding for their proposed fire-related research. The topics include smoke, fuels treatment effectiveness, fire behavior and effects, bats and fire, people and fire, and more.

Fire Training in Pennsylvania

New York Times obituary for Robert Sallee

typical smokejumpers Mann Gulch Fire Ford Trimotor aircaft

Typical smokejumpers and their equipment around the time of the Mann Gulch Fire, with their Ford Trimotor aircaft.

On May 29 we wrote about the death of Robert Sallee, the last survivor of the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire, and later we linked to some rare photos of the incident.

Surprisingly, the New York Times on May 31 published an obituary of Mr. Sallee. John N. Maclean pointed it out to us, saying that he learned some things from the article. After the death of his father, Norman Maclean, John helped to edit the almost finished Young Men and Fire, the book his father wrote about the fire. John later wrote several books of his own about wildland fires, the latest being The Esperanza Fire.

Below is another photo related to the fire. It was taken in Mann Gulch by Alan Thomas, who was the editor at the University of Chicago Press who worked on Young Men and Fire with the Macleans.

Mann Gulch,

Mann Gulch. Photo by Alan Thomas of the University of Chicago Press.

Colorado Fire Chief talks about how climate change has affected his job — and his life

The video below features Elk Creek, Colorado fire chief Bill McLaughlin, whose department fought the Lower North Fork Fire in 2012 that killed three residents and burned 4,140 acres. “Climate change is very real,” says McLaughlin. “It’s changed my entire life.”


Docu-series: “Years of Living Dangerously”

Years of living dangerously

Arnold Schwarzenegger talks with a hotshot crew. Showtime photo.

Showtime is producing a docu-series about climate change, called Years of Living Dangerously. They describe it like this:

This groundbreaking documentary event series explores the human impact of climate change. From the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy to the upheaval caused by drought in the Middle East, YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY combines the blockbuster storytelling styles of top Hollywood movie makers with the reporting expertise of Hollywood’s brightest stars and today’s most respected journalists.

The first episode, hosted by Harrison Ford, is available on YouTube, below.

The second, titled End of the Woods will air Sunday, April 20 at 10 p.m. ET and features host Arnold Schwarzenegger, also a producer of the series, who embeds with a hotshot crew. Some people say Mr. Schwarzenegger was very supportive of firefighters when he served as the “Governator” of California. About his time as governor, he said, “I went to the front lines and evacuation centers, talking to firefighters, and became very passionate about it,” explaining why he chose the topic.

(I’m sure some of our readers can identify the hotshot crew in the photo above.)


Laguna Hotshots on NBC News

The Laguna Hot Shots and their Superintendent Jim Houston appear briefly in the video story above, which is Part 1 of an NBC News series about climate change. One of the main points in the first video is that soot from forest fires contributes to air pollution that settles on arctic ice, causing it to darken, absorb more solar heat, and melt more quickly.

In Part 2 below, Superintendent Houston talks briefly about the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots that died last year, not long after the Laguna Hotshots worked with them on another fire.

I was a member of the Laguna Hotshots for two years, beginning the year it was created in 1974 at Mt. Laguna, California.


Throwback Thursday

Today at Wildfire Today we’re looking six years back, at what we were writing about March 16-22, 2008.

Oklahoma State Trooper burned in grass fire. Trooper Josh Tinsler, 23, was severely burned while checking to see if there was anyone at home in a house that was threatened by a grass fire near Hollis, OK.

Update on study about large fires and greenhouse gases

Brush fire at Monkey Junction

The sweet smell of smoke. That was the headline above an editorial in the Payson Roundup in Arizona. They were “giddy” about the Forest Service reducing fuels and burning piles.

Lawsuit against Mark Rey and the USFS dismissed. A lawsuit that forced the nation’s top forestry official to apologize in a Missoula courtroom was over.


Wildfire briefing, March 6, 2014

Minnesota fire chief pleads guilty to arson

The chief of the St. Louis County volunteer fire department in Minnesota resigned after investigators charged him with arson last December. On Friday, Ryan Scharber, 30, pleaded guilty to setting a fire on U.S. Forest Service land and to one count of attempted arson. Below is an excerpt from an article in the Daily Mail:

…According to documents filed in federal court in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dunne is requesting that Scharber should be given the maximum five-year sentence, reports the Star Tribune. In the memorandum, Dunne disputed Scharber’s contention that he had set the fires ‘to get out of the house for a few hours to get relief from his newborn child’s acid reflux.’ The prosecutor noted that Scharber hadn’t offered that excuse during the five-hour interview with investigators in which he eventually confessed on December 19, 2012. ‘The psychiatrist at the Range Mental Health Center diagnosed the defendant with pyromania,’ Dunne wrote. ‘The real reason behind the defendant’s criminal conduct in this case was that diagnosis.’

New government report describes possible ‘cascading system failures’ caused by climate change

About 240 authors and a 60-person Federal Advisory Committee (The “National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee”) have developed a draft climate report. The lengthy document warns that climate-fueled storms, flooding and droughts could cause “cascading system failures” unless there are changes made to minimize those effects. One of the dozens of topics covered in the report was “Forestry”. You can read that section of the report HERE. Below is a brief summary of that section.

Climate change is increasing the vulnerability of forests to ecosystem change and tree mortality through fire, insect infestations, drought, and disease outbreaks. Western U.S. forests are particularly vulnerable to increased wildfire and insect outbreaks; eastern forests have smaller disturbances but could be more sensitive to periodic drought.

Pigeon sets fire to a building in London

A pigeon is being blamed for starting a fire on the roof of a flat in London. Firefighters believe the bird dropped a lit cigarette into its nest on the roof of the building, starting a fire that forced the nine residents to evacuate the structure. Four fire engines and 21 firefighters were able to save the flat, but the roof was damaged. No one had been on the roof in a long time and there was no electrical equipment in the area, but neighbors told firefighters they had often seen birds flying in and out of a hole in the roof.

Other cases of animal arson

This is not the first time we have run a story on a bird setting fire to a building. It also happened in 2009, again in the United Kingdom, when a sparrow was accused of picking up a lit cigarette and, like the pigeon, depositing it among the dry twigs and grass in its nest. We have a whole series of articles tagged “animal arson”.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Preston


A “Climate Change and Wildfire” research paper that you can’t read

Federal employees working for the United States Forest Service and the citizens of the United States have published the results of research done on behalf of the taxpayers, titled Climate Change and Wildfire. If you want to read it you will have to pay $35.95 to the for-profit Elsevier corporation headquartered in the Netherlands that published the paper. It was written by research meteorologists Yongqiang Liu and Scott Goodrick from the Forest Service’s Southern Research Station (SRS) and Warren Heilman from the Northern Research Station. The concept of Open Access to taxpayer-funded research still has a long way to go in the U.S. Forest Service.

Below are some highlights of the research, according to the USDA Forest Service’s Southern Research Station. We will have to take their word for it. The agency suggests that “for the full text of the article” go to the Elsevier web site, where you have to pay $35.95.


(UPDATE at 11:44 a.m. MST, February 24, 2014)

After we reached out to her and left a message, we received a phone call today from Zoë Hoyle, the author of the press release about the research that was issued May 20, 2013. She said the link to the full text of the article which directed web site visitors to the pay wall was an error. She said the usual practice of USFS researchers is to place their results on http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/ where they can be read at no charge, but that still has not taken place. Ms. Hoyle said, however, that the paper should be on treesearch by the end of this week.

In the meantime, one of our readers, Liz H., used Google Scholar to find a copy of it at firescience.gov. Thanks Liz.

And thanks go out also to Ms. Hoyle for correcting the oversight. We are pleased to hear that the usual practice of the USFS is to publish their research on treesearch, an open access format on the internet.


(UPDATE at 1:54 p.m. MST, February 24, 2014)

Ms. Hoyle contacted us again to let us know that the USFS was able to expedite the placement of the research paper on treesearch, where it can now be viewed without having to pay the company from the Netherlands $35.95.

Here is one of the illustrations from the paper, about the interactions between the climate and fire.

Wildfire-climate interactions

Below is an excerpt from the May 20, 2013 USFS news release about the research.


“While research has historically focused on fire-weather interactions, there is increasing attention paid to fire-climate interactions,” says Liu, lead author and team leader with the SRS Center for Forest Disturbance Science. “Weather, the day-to-day state of the atmosphere in a region, influences individual fires within a fire season. In contrast, when we talk about fire climate, we’re looking at the statistics of weather over a certain period. Fire climate sets atmospheric conditions for fire activity in longer time frames and larger geographic scales.”

Wildfires impact atmospheric conditions through emissions of gases, particles, water, and heat. Some of the article focuses on radiative forcing from fire emissions. Radiative forcing refers to the change in net (down minus up) irradiance (solar plus longwave) at the tropopause, the top of the troposphere where most weather takes place.

Smoke particles can generate radiative forcing mainly through scattering and absorbing solar radiation (direct radiative forcing), and modifying the cloud droplet concentrations and lifetime, and hence the cloud radiative properties (indirect radiative forcing). The change in radiation can cause further changes in global temperatures and precipitation.

“Wildfire emissions can have remarkable impacts on radiative forcing,” says Liu.

“During fire events or burning seasons, smoke particles reduce overall solar radiation absorbed by the atmosphere at local and regional levels. At the global scale, fire emissions of carbon dioxide contribute substantially to the global greenhouse effect.”

Other major findings covered in the synthesis include:

  • The radiative forcing of smoke particles can generate significant regional climate effects, leading to lower temperatures at the ground surface.
  • Smoke particles mostly suppress cloud formation and precipitation. Fire events could lead to more droughts.
  • Black carbon, essentially the fine particles of carbon that color smoke, plays different roles in affecting climate. In the middle and lower atmosphere, its presence could lead to a more stable atmosphere. Black carbon plays a special role in the snow-climate feedback loop, accelerating snow melting.

Land surface changes may be triggered that also play into future effects. “Wildfire is a disturbance of ecosystems,” says Liu. “Besides the atmospheric impacts, wildfires also modify terrestrial ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, soil fertility, grazing value, biodiversity, and tourism. The effects can in turn trigger land use changes that in turn affect the atmosphere.”

The article concludes by outlining issues that lead to uncertainties in understanding fire-climate interactions and the future research needed to address them.

Full text of the article: [note from Bill. We deleted the link to the for-profit web site with the pay wall]