A tribute in song to the South Canyon firefighters

South Canyon fire song

(Revised at 2:31 p.m. MT April 7, 2014 with information about a commemorative program 20 years after the South Canyon fatalities.)

Last August we told you about a song that was written to honor the 19 firefighters that perished on the Yarnell Hill Fire south of Prescott, Arizona. Now another songwriter has recorded a musical tribute to the 14 firefighters that were killed 20 years ago on the South Canyon Fire near Glenwood Springs, Colorado which occurred on Storm King Mountain. Naming the fire “South Canyon”, a geographic feature that was south of the fire area, was the first mistake that was made on the incident.

Jim Hawkins, a former firefighter for the city of Denver, wrote the song and performed it with Sophia Clark and other musicians. Their video is below.

If you have not seen it already, be sure and watch the excellent lessons learned video about the South Canyon Fire, titled Everyone Goes HomeIt includes numerous interviews of wildland firefighters who were involved with, or were on scene during the entrapment and deaths of 14 firefighters.

Event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of South Canyon

There will be a formal commemoration to mark the 20th anniversary of the South Canyon fatalities. As of today, April 7, 2014, it is scheduled for 5 p.m. to 6 p.m July 6, 2014, at Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Check the website that has been developed about the event for more details.

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Wildfire briefing, April 3, 2014

Three firefighters injured in South Carolina

Three firefighters were injured while fighting a 12-acre wildfire that spread to a structure in Florence County, South Carolina late Wednesday afternoon. One firefighter suffered second and third degree burns to his face and neck while suppressing fire in a mobile home.

wistv.com – Columbia, South Carolina |

Arizona Forestry Division outlines changes for 2014

According to an article at KNAU, Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt told reporters on Wednesday:

“Our first priority is firefighter and public safety. And it’s always going to be our first priority,” he said.

But, Hunt did say that he expects when there is an initial report of a fire that there will “heavier responses” than in the past.

On June 30, 2013, 19 firefighters were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire which was being managed by the Arizona Forestry Division.

Los Alamos National Laboratory under pressure to move radioacitve waste before wildfire season

From TheState.com:

Los Alamos is under a tight deadline to get nuclear waste off its northern New Mexico campus before wildfire season peaks, and the New Mexico dump [temporarily closed due to a fire] is the federal government’s only permanent repository for waste from decades of nuclear-bomb building.

Aerial firefighting training for California National Guard

California National Guard aerial firefighting training

File photo of California National Guard aerial firefighting training, April, 2010. Photo by Bob Martinez.

Helicopter units of the California National Guard are scheduled to conduct their annual aerial firefighting training Friday through Sunday at the CAL FIRE academny in Ione.

Colorado Senate passes funding bill for aerial firefighting

The Colorado state Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would provide $21 million for a portion of the aerial firefighting program recommended by the Colorado Firefighting Air Corp (CFAC) in a report the agency released on March 28. The funds would enable contracting for four helicopters, four Single Engine Air Tankers, and the purchase of two fixed wing aircraft for fire detection and remote sensing, but not for the two large air tankers called for in the report.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who has been quoted as saying farmers and ranchers should be the state’s first defense against wildfires, is opposed to spending the additional $11.9 million for contracting for two large air tankers.

Wildfire season begins early in Russia

From ITAR-TASS:

Forest fires have broken out early in a season dubbed “tense this year”, Minister of Natural Resources Sergei Donskoi told a conference chaired by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and addressing preparations for difficult days ahead.

“The situation is tense in Russia this year. Because of low precipitation, the season has begun almost 1.5 months ahead of the norm,” the minister said. Seventeen fires have already been registered across a territory of 2,000 hectares, the minister said.

Citing reasons for danger, the minister noted an early spring and a shallow layer of frozen soil. This was only 40-50% of normal levels and was leaving dry surface soil.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has adopted an inter-regional fire prevention plan employing an additional 3,000-strong contingent of firefighters, 800 units of firefighting equipment and 4,000 fire extinguishers, the minister said.

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Wildfire briefing, March 24, 2014

Research: global wildfires did not kill the dinosaurs

Contrary to what other researchers concluded, a new study revealed that an asteroid that hit the Earth 65 million years ago on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico did not cause global wildfires that wiped out the dinosaurs. The first study led scientists to think that the impact raised temperatures to 1,000 degrees C, igniting global wildfires that killed most organisms.

The latest research team from Royal Holloway, University of London, led by Claire Belcher, concluded that “…the amounts of thermal radiation released by the impact of an asteroid with the Earth 65 million years ago, were not as significant as previously thought, and the energy component of the K-T event was not responsible for the extinctions seen at this time”.

Research: Understanding evacuation preferences and wildfire mitigations among Northwest Montana residents

The paper with the above title, written by Travis Paveglio, Tony Prato, Douglas Dalenberg, and Tyron Venn, employees who work at state Universities in Idaho, Missouri, and Montana, is available for taxpayers to read if they pay $25 to an organization in Australia.

Public Service Announcements about wildfire

An organization in Nevada has produced and released nine 31-second public service announcements about wildfire evacuation and defensible space. The list is HERE, and below is an example:

Colorado state Senator has second thoughts about bill that would have limited agricultural burning

A Colorado state Senator who introduced a bill that would allow county commissioners to ban agricultural burning and campfires when fire danger is high has had second thoughts and now wants to pull the bill. Senator Larry Crowder from Alamosa, under pressure from farmers, said Friday that there could be a possibility of county officials over using the power. The bill already passed the House by a 36 to 27 vote on February 14.

A tweet from Smokey Bear

Tweets about a fire in Capetown, South Africa

(Hopefully the photos will appear below. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.)

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Report released for the Black Forest Fire

(Originally published at 3:02 p.m. MDT, March 14, 2014; updates are below))

Today the Board of Directors of the Black Forest Fire/Rescue Protection District released the report of its independent investigation into the performance of Fire Chief Bob Harvey during the first hours of the Black Forest Fire. The investigation was conducted to respond to Sheriff Terry Maketa’s allegations that Chief Harvey had mismanaged command during the first day of the fire. In June of 2013 the fire claimed two lives, 14,000 acres, and nearly 500 homes near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The report contains more than 2,000 pages and the files are ridiculously huge. It is absurd to think that 345 megabites and 2,000 pages will be downloaded and read by the average citizen. A cynic might think they wanted to reduce its impact by releasing it on a Friday afternoon, and purposefully made the report as user unfriendly as possible in order to deter people from reading it. The Black Forest Fire/Rescue Protection District needs to provide a version of the report that is easily downloaded and read by their taxpayers.

–To download the complete report, including all exhibits and photographs:
Click here to download the complete report in one file. This file measures 345 megabytes.

–To download the report and exhibits separately from the photographs:
Click here to download the report and exhibits only – File #1 of 2. This file measures 109 megabytes.
Click here to download just the photographs – File #2 of 2. This file measures 236 megabytes.

(UPDATE at 3:06 p.m. MDT, March 14, 2014)

The Denver Post read at least some of the report:

On the first night of the Black Forest fire, four firefighters and a piece of key equipment were ordered on a “secret special assignment” to watch and protect the home of an El Paso County Sheriff’s Office commander while other nearby houses burned, according to a report released Friday…

(UPDATE at 5:56 p.m. MDT, March 14, 2014)

We downloaded the report and found some other interesting sections.

A report was filed on a safety issue on the fire, through the SAFENET reporting system. It involves the Type 3 Incident Commander (ICT3) who assumed command of the fire from Fire Chief Harvey. Below is an excerpt from the SAFENET:
Continue reading

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Colorado: Fire Board releases report on Black Forest Fire

Black Forest fire

Black Forest Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Today the Black Forest Fire District Board released a report on how the Black Forest Fire was managed on the first day. Starting on the northeast side of Colorado Springs, the fire killed two people, destroyed 486 homes, and damaged 37 others in June of 2013.

The local county Sheriff, Terry Maketa, has been extremely critical of Fire Chief Bob Harvey,who was responsible for the initial attack. Sheriff Maketa has given several blistering interviews to the media criticizing Chief Harvey’s actions that day. His main point was that he thinks the Chief should have turned over the fire to him or the county much earlier.

The documents released today, a statement from the Board and a summary of the report, show strong support for Chief Harvey and generally appear to disprove some of the charges leveled by Sheriff Maketa.

One of the Sheriff’s main contentions was that the Chief waited many hours before turning over the management of the fire to the County or the Sheriff, which the Sheriff said occurred at 8:23 p.m..

The report concluded that the fire was reported at 1:42 p.m. on June 11. The first engine arrived about six minutes later. At 2:14 p.m. a strong wind of 25 to 35 mph developed, increasing the rate of spread and pushing the fire into the crowns of the trees. Firefighters were then forced into defensive positions for their own safety. Between 3:45 and 3:55 p.m. Chief Harvey verbally turned over command of the fire to County Deputy Fire Marshall Scott Campbell, a Type 3 Incident Commander. At 4:08 p.m. Mr. Campbell signed a document confirming the transfer of command. Other signatures on a Delegation of Authority document were obtained over the next several hours, with the last occurring at 8:23 p.m.

The Board commissioned retired Greenwood Village Police commander Dave Fisher to direct the inquiry. Mr. Fisher retired in October after a 29-year career at the suburban Denver department. He was assisted by Dave Daley, an operations executive officer at South Metro Fire Rescue in Centennial.

The statement of the Board criticized the attacks by the Sheriff and the media:

…This misadventure started because one elected official saw fit, for whatever personal or political reason, to make unsubstantiated allegations about our Chief’s performance following the onset of the Black Forest fire. We say unsubstantiated because the investigation has proven the facts, and what’s been established is very, very far from what was alleged. We have no way of knowing the motive in making these allegations and we are certain we will never know.

We also must acknowledge how disappointed we are in the conduct of some Colorado Springs media outlets in simply running with the allegations, and broadcasting the untruths, without a speck of legitimate journalistic enterprise to establish their validity. The media accepted the allegations at face value, further damaging this department’s reputation, and continued to repeat the damaging suppositions – again, leading us to hire our own investigator to get at the heart of the matter.

Colorado is one of a few states that have the policy of assigning the suppression of wildfires in unincorporated areas to the county employee with law enforcement responsibilities in those areas — the County Sheriff — rather than a person with expertise in fire suppression.

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Colorado’s wildfire problem

Waldo Canyon Fire, June 26, 2012

Waldo Canyon Fire, June 26, 2012, the day hundreds of homes burned in Colorado Springs. Credit: Keystoneridin

Colorado has become a focal point for wildfire. Last year the Black Forest Fire destroyed 486 homes and killed two people near Colorado Springs. The year before on the opposite side of the city, the Waldo Canyon fire burned 347 homes and also killed two people. Since 2000, 1,769 homes have been destroyed by wildfires in the state and 8 residents and 12 firefighters have died.

Yet, in spite of their recent history, Colorado has a primitive and disorganized system for preventing, mitigating, responding to and suppressing wildfires. Some politicians, including state senators Steve King and Ellen Roberts, have been active in attempting to fix some of the problems by speaking out and introducing legislation. Senator King has gone over the top at least once in a rant about how “absentee landowners” are managing federal lands, but he has also recently proposed legislation that would provide funds for firefighting helicopters and an air tanker.

Senator Roberts, who was a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park for four years after graduating from Cornell University with a degree in environmental policy, has also introduced legislation related to wildland fire. One bill would create an information and resource center, while the other concerns the payment of death benefits for seasonal wildland firefighters killed in the line of duty.

None of these proposals, which may or may not become reality, will fix Colorado’s primitive approach to wildfire — their inability to attack new fires with prompt, overwhelming force has to be addressed — but at least some leaders in the state are beginning to take small, positive steps.

On January 4 Senator Roberts published the following on her website:

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“Colorado’s Future is Burning as We Fiddle

Legislative session 2014 is less than two weeks away and it’ll be an interesting time in the Colorado Senate. The recalls and resignation of 3 Democratic senators since we adjourned in May mean a nearly 10% turnover in a nonelection year. Election season 2014 looms on the horizon, too, so we’ll have quite the mix of personalities, issues and politics this session.

Yet, no matter the upheavals and distractions, we must focus on the threat, no, make that the promise, of continued catastrophic wildfires and the concentrated effort needed to improve forest health, statewide. This may be assisted partly by legislation, but much more needs to be done outside that avenue.

What I know I won’t be supporting is the governor’s recent suggestion, as reported in the Durango Herald, that we rely on farmers and ranchers as our first line of defense in fighting wildfires. This may have been an off-the-cuff idea expressed by the governor, but, when I read it, I wondered whether to laugh or cry.

Fighting catastrophic wildfires is not like extinguishing a ringed campfire. We need professional wildfire fighters, assisted by local structure firefighters, law enforcement and other first responders. Facing a wildfire bearing down on them, farmers and ranchers are rightly preoccupied with moving livestock and protecting family and other precious assets. The suggestion that relying on the country cousins to save burning metropolitan suburbs, like Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, should also be distressing to residents of the Front Range.

We may not be able to fund a state-owned air fleet right away, but we must have a reliable emergency radio communications system and a steady, reliable supply of single engine air tankers, larger capacity planes and nimble, speedy helicopter operations. We can at least forcefully advance a western states’ regional air fleet that moves with the shifting fire dangers hitting states at different times of the fire season. We need to see that local, state and federal firefighters have ample ground resources, too.

We can expand and help fund education on home mitigation efforts and the need to do prescribed burns, not dictated by air regulations to occur only in windy times to disperse the smoke, but when they can be completed safely. We must do a better job of protecting our state’s watersheds and soils from the devastation caused by wildfires and this’ll require getting into our forests to responsibly thin out the gnarled and diseased trees. There’s no better exhibit of the terrible condition of Colorado’s forests than driving over Wolf Creek Pass, immediately east of my district.

Catastrophic wildfires destroy more than homes, possessions, and happy memories. Colorado has lost lives in these fires each year recently and neighboring Arizona suffered the immeasurable loss of 19 wildfire fighters last summer.

The federal government owns 68% of Colorado’s forests. The local federal foresters aren’t to blame for out of touch Washington, D.C., policies that have led to the forest devastation and the loss of the timber industry previously here. Yet, it’s impossible to address Colorado’s problems without demanding better stewardship from the federal landowner. This is where the governor should seek responsible, meaningful assistance and I’ll be right there to help him.

It is infuriating and ironic that the U.S. Forest Service is considering closing public restrooms, that is, pit toilets, along the highways of Southwestern Colorado as the agency “no longer has the resources to properly maintain” the toilets. If the agency can’t pay for maintaining a few pit toilets, can we really expect them to do better with maintaining our forests? The cost of fighting fires has decimated the most basic budget items, and yet, the federal government appears content to repeat the same insanity of reacting to catastrophe instead of getting ahead of it with restorative forest health practices.

There is a better way, but, apparently, the state of Colorado, and its governor, must lead the way as the feds cannot, or, will not. If what Governor Hickenlooper wants to focus on this legislative session is jobs for our state, trust me, job opportunities abound and public safety will improve, if we take this challenge seriously and with dedicated focus.

Colorado’s present, and future, demands it from us.”

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