Investigation report released for Black Forest Fire

Origin of the Black Forest Fire

Origin of the Black Forest Fire

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has released a summary report on the investigation of the Black Forest Fire which started June 11, 2013 near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The fire killed two people and burned 489 houses and 14,280 acres, resulting in $420 million in insured losses.

The investigators eliminated natural causes, such as lightning. That left human-related ignitions.

Below are excerpts from the report:

…Given the known devastation of the fire at that point, an Investigation Team was formed consisting of recognized experts in the area of Wildland fire investigation from agencies including the USDA Forest Service, the Aurora Fire Department, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATFE), the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and others. This team was assisted by surveyors from the El Paso County Public Services Department.

The only clearly established fact was that no natural causes existed and thus the fire was human caused. A potential cause associated with the metal particles can not be ruled out, or positively identified. A potential cause associated with an intentional ignition is not supported by the evidence or circumstances, but can not be completely ruled out. The origin of the fire is in an area that is not readily accessible from a roadway, allowing an easy escape, as is typical in intentionally set Wildland fires. There was no evidence of any other miscellaneous cause such as blasting, fireworks, welding, target shooting, etc.

Upon the completion of the investigation, the entire case was reviewed by the Sheriff’s Office Investigations Division and the District Attorney’s Office to determine if any additional leads remained. It was the determination of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office that there was not sufficient evidence to warrant criminal prosecution at this time. None of the investigation or forensic examination supported any one possibility to the extent needed to pursue criminal charges. Additionally, no additional recommended follow-up work could be identified at this time.

Three other reports have previously been released about the Black Forest Fire:

  1. Report on how the fire was managed on the first day, issued by the Black Forest Fire District Board on February 19, 2014. The complete report can no longer be found on the District’s web site.
  2. A 2,000 page, 345 megabyte report, released March 14, 2014, commissioned by the Black Forest Fire District which evaluated how the fire was managed, including the performance of Fire Chief Bob Harvey during the first hours of the fire. Sheriff Terry Maketa had been extremely critical of the Chief in numerous interviews with the media. The complete report can no longer be found on the District’s web site.
  3. After Action Report, by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, May 15, 2014. We preserved this report on the Wildfire Today web site.

 

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Colorado high school students study fire for five weeks

fire training

Eagle Rock High School students dig line during the “Snow Fire” exercise while Alpine IHC Superintendent Paul Cerda coaches them. The Snow Fire was the culmination of the “Fire!” program with Alpine crew. NPS photo.

From the National Park Service:

Sayings like these are more than just words in the world of firefighting: “Punctuality shows respect,” “Train like you fight,” “Crew cohesion is important.” They are life lessons that students from an alternative residential high school in Estes Park, Colorado, learned during a five-week class on wildland fire.

Simply called “Fire!,” the program, now in its second year, linked six students from Eagle Rock school with Alpine Hotshots and ecologists from Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide Research Learning Center.

An existing relationship between the school, the park and hotshot crew sparked the idea for the “Fire!” program. An Eagle Rock student has been a member of the Alpine Hotshots for the past four fire seasons. In May 2011, Rafael Mcleod graduated before joining the team. Vidal Carrillo became a hotshot in 2012 and continues to work on the crew while also pursuing his undergraduate degree at Colorado State University.

This enthusiasm is part of what ignited the “Fire!” program. Ben Baldwin, ecologist at the learning center, and Paul Cerda, Alpine Hotshot superintendent, discussed opportunities with Eagle Rock School when they came up with the idea for the pilot program. “After Vidal and Rafael’s success as members of the hotshot crew, we knew several kids were interested in wildland fire,” Cerda said. “Ben and I decided we needed to build on that, partly as an opportunity for diversity recruiting.”

Baldwin approached Eagle Rock School with the idea to develop the pilot course for citizen fire science, similar to other citizen science programs offered through the learning center. While the initial idea was to put the students through a 40-hour basic wildland fire course in order to certify them as wildland firefighters, Cerda and Baldwin quickly realized lectures were not going to be the best learning environment for these students.

“These are students who were not going to get much out of sitting in the classroom,” Cerda said. “They are used to more experiential learning through a hands-on approach. That’s also why we incorporated the physical training standards as part of the curriculum.”

This year, learning center staff member Holly Nickel used her expertise in education and curriculum development to refine and develop materials for this course. “Four of the key principles in fire — safety, physical training, fire ecology, and fire suppression — were the goals of the new fire curriculum,” Nickel said.

– See more at: http://www.nps.gov/fire/wildland-fire/connect/fire-stories/2014-parks/rocky-mountain-national-park-1.cfm#sthash.eNyL3qKi.dpuf

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Wildfire briefing, September 4, 2014

Kilauea lava flow in Hawaii emerges again from ground crack, continues advancing eastward, ignites forest

The following photos and videos were released by the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (USGS) (Dated September 3, 2014 and September 1, 2014) .

Lava flow

This view looks east at the far end of the June 27th lava flow. In the center of the photograph is an isolated pad of lava which came out of ground crack last week. Further movement of lava within ground cracks has enabled the flow front to advance farther east, with lava issuing from a ground crack in the upper left portion of the photograph, where plumes of smoke mark the location of lava burning forest. (USGS)

Lava flow

One small portion of the flow front was quite vigorous, with an open stream of lava moving through the forest. (USGS)

More information about the lava flow.

Woman who bragged about setting fire, sentenced to prison

The woman who posted on Facebook about setting a fire was sentenced to more than a year in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Marco Hernandez on Wednesday. She was also ordered to perform 200 hours of community service in the fire-damaged area.

“You owe them much more than that,” Judge Hernandez told her.

Sadie Renee Johnson said she was suffering from alcohol and drug problems and told the judge she would turn her life around.

On July 22, 2013, two days after throwing a firecracker into vegetation to start a fire so her firefighter friends would not be “bored”, Ms. Johnson, 23, wrote on her Facebook page: “Like my fire?”

It grew to become the 51,480-acre Sunnyside Turnoff Fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, the 15th largest fire in the United States in 2013.

Ms. Johnson pleaded guilty on May 19 to the crime of setting brush and timber on fire.

Another insurance company offers homeowners proactive protection from ongoing fires

The Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company has expanded its wildfire program to include response services, which may include the application of gel or retardant solutions to a policyholder’s home and surrounding vegetation. The Wildfire Response Program, which already included wildfire assessments and extensive wildfire preparation for homes and land, now provides a complimentary additional layer of protection to eligible Prestige Home℠ policyholders who enroll.

During a wildfire, actions to defend a home may include:

  • Removal of combustible materials from around the home
  • Set-up of a perimeter sprinkler system
  • Spray the home or surrounding property with a fire-blocking solution.

The Wildfire Response Program is currently offered in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

LA County brings on an Air-Crane and two scoopers

As they have done for the last 21 fire seasons, the Los Angeles County Fire Department has contracted for two water-scooping air tankers. The CL-415s, leased from the Quebec government, started at the first of this month and will be able to carry up to 1,620 gallons of water with each drop. Due to numerous fires late in 2013 and the Colby Fire in January, 2014, they worked several weeks beyond their planned December termination date last year.

The department also brought on a Helitanker, an Erickson Air-Crane S-64F that can hold 2,650 gallons of water or retardant.

More information and photos are at Fire Aviation.

Colorado’s multi-mission aircraft is in service

The state of Colorado has a temporary version of their multi-mission aircraft officially in service while the two they purchased are being outfitted and configured. It is being operated and maintained by Bode Aviation under contract to Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). Until the Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) personnel have completed their training, SNC will be providing qualified “Sensor Operators.

Today, for training purposes, the aircraft and crew are using its sensors to detect and map a prescribed fire near Gypsum, Colorado.

More information and a photo are at Fire Aviation.

 

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Recruiting volunteer firefighters — in Colorado and Australia

A fire near Craig, Colorado

A fire near Craig, Colorado in 2000. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Relying on unpaid volunteers to fight wildfires and structure fires is the only feasible way to provide fire protection services in some rural areas. Many of these departments are finding that as residents, especially the younger generation, move into cities, the departments are faced with declining numbers of firefighters.

Below are excerpts from two articles on the issue, from Colorado and South Australia.

From KUNC, Community Radio for Colorado:

Volunteer firefighters protect about half of Colorado’s residents, with solely volunteer departments being responsible for about 70 percent of the state’s land surface.
And they are significantly understaffed.

The Colorado State Fire Chiefs Association estimates that Colorado is short 3,500 volunteers in meeting National Fire Protection Agency standards. That would require an increase of more than 40 percent to the present force.

“Generally, all fire departments that have volunteers need more volunteers,” said Garry Briese, executive director of the fire chiefs association.

“It’s a struggle at times and you just do the best you can do, the best for the community.”

There are 198 all-volunteer departments in Colorado serving more than 450,000 residents, and an additional 137 agencies that are a combination of career and volunteer firefighters. These “hybrid” stations serve 2.2 million residents, and 33 of them have only one or two paid firefighters…

From South Australia’s Messenger:

The Country Fire Service is recording an increase in volunteers for the first time in years on the back of last year’s horror fire season.

Total CFS volunteer numbers have increased from 13,325 to 13,737 over the past six months. The 3 per cent increase bucks a steady downward trend in numbers from the 15,590 volunteers there were in 2004/05. Damaging fires in January and February this year at Eden Valley in the northern Mount Lofty Ranges and at Bangor in the Southern Flinders Ranges appear to have sparked people into action.

Volunteer numbers in CFS Region 4, where the Bangor fire was, are up 6.5 per cent from 1776 to 1891. Similarly, numbers in CFS Region 2, where the Eden Valley fire was, are up 5.8 per cent from 2630 to 2784.

South Australian Fire and Emergency Services Commission Volunteer Services Branch manager Toni Richardson said it was a great sign. “It’s the first time we can actually remember it increasing over an extended period, which is really good,” she said…

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Victims of escaped prescribed fire in Colorado receiving settlement checks

Ann Appel

Ann Appel, killed in her home during the Lower North Fork Fire. Photo courtesy of the Appel family.

More than two years after the Lower North Fork prescribed fire escaped southwest of Denver and destroyed 22 homes, burned 4,140 acres, and killed three local residents at their homes, compensation payments have been mailed to the people impacted by the disaster. After it was revealed that Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources violated their own policies while conducting the prescribed fire, state lawmakers changed the immunity law which had capped their liability at $600,000. According to Denver’s Channel 7:

The largest settlement, $4,779,480, went to Scott Appel and the estate of his wife, Ann Appel [who was killed in the fire]. She told her husband she was ready to leave, but the Appel household never got a reverse notification about evacuations and neighbors told Scott Appel that by the time the call went out, they believe the Appel property was on fire. The family of Sam and Linda Lucas [who were also killed] were allotted $1,306,895.

The total compensation for all of the people affected by the fire was $18.1 million.

We covered the release of the report about the disaster in April of 2012.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Ryan.

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Northwest Colorado wildfire burns 20,000 acres

The Alkali fire in northwestern Colorado rapidly burned 20,000 acres in less than 24 hours as of Thursday, and remains the only sizable wildfire to hit the state this fire season.

The fire was discovered north of Maybell around 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 9News in Denver reported. The cause remains under investigation. Thus far, the fire has not prompted mass evacuations, but it has destroyed a part-time home and barn and killed three cattle.

It’s been a remarkably quiet fire year for Colorado following two back-to-back years of devastating wildfires in the state. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon fire burned 347 homes in western Colorado Springs, while the Lower North Fork and the High Park fires in Northern Colorado burned hundreds of homes and thousands of acres.

The destruction of that summer was only surpassed by the Black Forest fire in 2013, which destroyed 486 homes east of Colorado Springs and burned under 16,000 acres.

Like much of the west for the past decade, Colorado has been plagued by drought until this year. Torrential rains in September 2013, while killing 10 people and causing massive flood damage statewide, gave the state a much needed reprieve from tinder-dry conditions.

There are a few areas of the state that are still abnormally dry, including Moffat County, in the state’s northwestern-most corner.

U.S. Drought Monitor

U.S. Drought Monitor

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