Wildfire news, September 14, 2016

Highlights of recent news about wildland fire.

California has fewer inmates available for fighting wildfires

With fewer inmates available for fighting fires, the state of California is turning to civilian crews within their Conservation Corps.

From KCRA:

…But the number of available inmates is declining because counties now oversee most lower-level felons under a law aimed at easing prison overcrowding. In addition, there are fewer incentives for inmates to risk their lives since a federal court broadened an early release program for firefighters to include other inmates.

The state is about 600 inmates short of the 4,300 prisoners who could be available for fire lines. So this year, the California Conservation Corps reopened a camp to train three crews of young civilians to do the same backbreaking work as the inmates. Corps Director Bruce Saito expects to create at least four more fire crews with roughly 15 members each by next summer and a half-dozen new crews during each of the next two years.

The corps has more than 1,400 members, but fewer than 200 currently work alongside local, state and federal firefighters battling blazes in rural areas.

The members include both men and women and range in age from 18 to 25. They enlist for one year and earn the state’s minimum wage of $10 an hour. Military veterans can enroll until they turn 30…

Oregon sues 3 people responsible for starting the Ferguson Fire

Oregon hopes to recover $892,082 from three individuals who they say are responsible for starting the Ferguson Fire that burned 200 acres and destroyed two structures in Klamath County in July 2014.

The suit alleges that Joe Askins started a campfire, then took a nap. When he awoke, the campfire had escaped. Askins also said “I’ll take all the blame for the fire,” according to the lawsuit.

More evidence that beetle-killed forests do not increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

An article at News Deeply summarizes several research studies which mostly concluded that beetle-killed forests do not burn more severely than forests that have not been attacked by the insects. This is in spite of statements to the contrary by the Secretary of Agriculture, a spokesperson for CAL FIRE, and media stories about trees that are now part of a “tinder box”.

Air tanker 132 starts contract in Australia

air tanker 132 australia
Air Tanker 132 is reintroduced to the media in New South Wales, Australia. Photo by Sgt. Brett Sherriff, Royal Australian Air Force.

Fire Aviation reports that Coulson’s Air Tanker 132 started its contract with New South Wales on September 6, helping to provide air support for wildland firefighters in Australia. This is the second year in a row that the L-382G, a variant of the C-130 platform, has worked down under during their summer bushfire season.

Cheyenne is concerned about the effects of the Snake Fire on their water system

“The location of the fire is close proximity to our major watershed collection area for the Hog Park Reservoir” said Dena Egenhoff, the Board of Public Utilities’ (BOPU) Water Conservation Manager. “We are unable to know the impact of the Snake Fire at this time, but the location suggests there may be some adverse impacts to the City of Cheyenne’s water collection system.” As of September 11, 2016, the Hog Park Reservoir is 91.8% full

For Cheyenne, BOPU collects water in the Little Snake River drainage from snow melt and streams and transports it under a mountain by a tunnel to the eastside of the Continental Divide. That water is then stored in Hog Park Reservoir. From there, the collected water from Hog Park Reservoir is traded for water in Rob Roy Reservoir which can more easily be transported without pumping to Cheyenne. “In this way, the amount of water can be exchanged between the two different Mountain Ranges with all water rights being satisfied,” said Dena Egenhoff.

The Snake fire is in south-central Wyoming just north of the Colorado border. It is 115 air miles miles west of Cheyenne, and 20 miles west of the 38,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire that has been burning in Colorado and Wyoming since July 19, 2016.

Colorado fire chiefs’ recommendations for improving wildfire response

Each year since 2013 the Colorado Legislature has created interim Wildfire Matters Review Committees, with the apparent primary purpose of proposing bills relating to wildfire. And every year the Colorado State Fire Chiefs Association (CSFC) submits to the committee a broad range of recommendations for improving the state’s ability to mitigate and respond to wildfires.

This year is no exception. On August 15, CSFC Executive Director Garry Briese testified before the 2016 committee, providing the association’s view of the progress that has been made, the work underway, and the work that remains to be done on seven priorities that the CSFC first identified in 2013.

The written version of the testimony is an interesting look at how the association’s recommendations have evolved since 2013. For each of the seven priorities an update was added every year showing the history of the progress made, or not made, in each category.

Their seven recommendations, with the three highest priorities at the top, are:

  1. Ensure the stability and reliability of the current Colorado statewide emergency radio system;
  2. Continue to invest in the development, expansion and implementation of the State resource mobilization plan;
  3. Expand the current local, regional and state command, control, and coordination capabilities;
  4. Provide sufficient funding to the Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) to fulfill its stated missions;
  5. State aviation resources are an essential and integral part of the initial attack on WUI fires; 
  6. Develop measurable and clearly articulated performance goals for response to WUI fires to guide the response of local, mutual aid and State resources; and,
  7. Recognize that while community and individual homeowner mitigation is an essential component of a comprehensive WUI strategy, it is not an effective immediate or mid-term solution to our State’s immediate threats.

The report identifies progress in mobilization, and called as success stories the multi-mission aircraft, the Colorado Wildfire Information Management System (CO-WIMS), and the Colorado Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting. But much remains to be done, the CSFC report said, in communications, homeowner hazard mitigation, and support for incident management teams.

You can read the entire document here.

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

Fire whirl on Beaver Creek Fire two months after the fire started

fire whirl beaver creek fire
Fire whirl on Division G of the Beaver Creek Fire August 15, 2016. Photo by Charles Bolt, Engine 1419.

Firefighter Charles Bolt took this impressive photo of a fire whirl on the Beaver Creek Fire. It was tweeted by the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland.

More information about fire whirls, fire tornados, fire devils, firenados, and fire storms.

Since the Beaver Creek Fire started on June 19, 2016 it has burned over 36,000 acres in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. It is being managed by the Atlanta National Incident Management Organization (NIMO). The team described their strategy:

This is a full suppression fire utilizing both ground and aerial assets. Firefighters are engaging the fire out of the timber in areas which give them the highest probability for success. This suppression strategy provides for both firefighter safety and the protection of life and property.

After almost two months, the team claims 44 percent of the perimeter has been contained. They expect full containment on October 21 (the year was not specified). It sounds like they may be stretching the definition of “full suppression”. So far they have spent $20,600,000 of taxpayers’ money.

Here is another photo from the fire. Found on InciWeb, it is undated and uncredited.

Beaver Creek fire saved structure

Colorado’s Beaver Creek fire expected to burn into October

Firefighters are anticipating that it will take them until late October to contain the Beaver Creek fire, which is burning in one of the forests hardest hit by mountain pine beetle.

Tactics being used to contain the blaze have already emerged as a case study in how to suppress fire in an environment transfigured by thousands of dead trees.

Beetle-kill trees in the area thwarted firefighters’ attempts at a direct attack — downed trees made building a fireline difficult and gusts from helicopter rotors only caused more trees to fall, according to a lessons learned report published on July 27.

An indirect approach containing the fire became essential when initial attack crews felt radiant heat from flames a half a mile away:

Because of the extreme fire behavior exhibited early on in the Beaver Creek Fire, firefighters knew a direct attack would be both dangerous and ineffective…Firefighters removed fuels, wrapped buildings, laid hoses and sprinklers around the structures, and strategically burned out around buildings in advance of the fire.

The conditions in the Routt National Forest, along the Colorado-Wyoming border, also proved challenging to firefighter safety, according to a post from the incident management team on InciWeb.

The fire is burning in heavy beetle killed timber. The infested trees are subject to blowing over contributing large amounts of down timber and providing fuel for extreme fire behavior when strong winds and terrain features are in alignment, making the timbered areas unsafe for firefighters.

The fire, which started on June 19 in north-central Colorado, spread by several hundred acres during a hot, windy and humid day this week and forced firefighters to pull back to safety zones, The Denver Post reported.

As of July 29, the fire had burned 30,137 acres and is 12 percent contained.

Thanks to some northwesterly winds, Colorado residents can expect to see smoke from the Beaver Creek fire and other western wildfires this weekend, according to an update from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

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

Two fire crew vehicles hit by truck, 5 firefighters injured

Five members of the Mid-Plains Interagency Hand Crew received minor injuries.

Mid-Plains Interagency Hand Crew
File photo of the Mid-Plains Interagency Hand Crew at the Beaver Creek Fire in Colorado. It was posted July 4, 2016 on the Mid-Plains Crew’s Facebook Page. The composition of the crew on July 15, the day of the vehicle accident, may have been different.

Two vehicles transporting members of the Mid-Plains Interagency Hand Crew were involved in a serious vehicle accident Thursday afternoon.

Five of the firefighters were transported to the Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, Colorado where they were treated and released with minor injuries.

At the time of the accident they were on Interstate 25 near Fort Collins en route to the Hayden Pass Fire south of Salida, Colorado. Traffic ahead of them came to an abrupt halt and the two vehicles were able to stop but the one in the rear had to swerve to the left to avoid the first crew vehicle.

A semi truck behind them tried to stop but careened into both firefighter vehicles, pushing the second truck into a cable median. A fuel tank on the semi truck ruptured, spilling about 50 gallons of fuel on the highway.

One of the crewmembers is a paramedic who was carrying Advanced Life Support equipment. That individual took charge of the medical response immediately at the accident scene.

The word we received is that both firefighter vehicles were totaled.

The Mid-Plains Interagency Type 2 Initial Attack Hand Crew can be assembled from a roster of fire-qualified personnel from Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota. They can be from the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, local fire departments, state agencies, or other organizations.

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

An impressive save

The fact that firefighters were able to save this home in the Cold Springs Fire is pretty amazing. Click on the photo once, and then again to see a large version.