A look inside the Upper Colorado River Fire Management Unit

Above: The dispatch and logistics building at Grand Junction as seen from one of the retardant pits.

Last week while in Grand Junction, Colorado I visited the headquarters for the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire and Aviation Management Unit (UCR). The interagency organization handles wildland fire responsibilities for over 4.5 million acres of land in Colorado along the Interstate 70 corridor from the Continental Divide on the east to the Utah state line on the west. The UCR is comprised of the Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction Field Offices of the Bureau of Land Management; Grand Valley Ranger District of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests; and the White River National Forest.

Grand Junction Base
Sarah Culhane, Aviation Manager. The equipment behind her is used for mixing, storing, and pumping fire retardant.
Sarah Culhane, the Aviation Manager, and Christopher Joyner, a BLM Public Affairs Specialist, showed me around the facilities at the airport, including the Air Tanker Base and a building that houses the logistics and dispatching functions.

Grand Junction Base
One of the two retardant reload pits as seen from the Logistics office.
Typically Grand Junction is not used as an administrative base for any air tankers, but depending on the need they can be staged there in times of high wildfire potential or if it is needed as a retardant reload base during fire activity.

Reporting to Ms. Culhane this year at the tanker base will be a Base Manager, an Assistant Base Manager, a Ramp Manager, and an intern.

A similar situation exists for smokejumpers. Almost every year jumpers are positioned at Grand Junction along with an aircraft for extended periods of time.

Grand Junction Base
Robert Giron, Logistics Dispatcher and Intel.
Don Scronek, the Dispatch Center Manager, said in an average year they will have about 250 wildfires in the UCR, and a very busy year will see twice that many. While he was describing the dispatch organization I saw behind him on a white board in his office:

Hope is Not A Strategy

The UCR cooperates with state agencies, local communities and fire departments on a wide range of activities including fuels treatments, fire prevention and fire suppression.

In the UCR organization under Fire Management Officer Robert Berger and Deputy Unit FMO Josh Tibbetts, are three Zone FMOs for the West, Central, and East Zones.

Tanker 12 made quick turnarounds at wildfire in Colorado

(This article first appeared on Fire Aviation.)

Tanker 12, the BAe-146 air tanker working the Sunshine Fire near Boulder, Colorado on March 19, was dropping retardant about every 35 minutes, according to Rob McClure of the CBS TV station in Denver.

After a million acres burned in Kansas and Oklahoma on March 6 and 7, the National Interagency Fire Center mobilized three large air tankers on March 10, a little earlier than usual, sending Tanker 12 to the Jeffco Air Tanker base at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport and two others to the OK/KS area.

It turned out that Jeffco was only 12 miles southwest of where the Sunshine Fire started on March 19 near Boulder, Colorado. Rob McClure of CBS4 in Denver timed the interval between drops made by the BAe-146, determining it to be about 35 minutes.

Sunshine Fire Boulder
The Sunshine Fire was 12 miles northwest of Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (in the foreground).

From the air tanker base the pilots could probably see the fire soon after it started. If they took off from runway 30R they would be heading straight at the fire.

In addition to Tanker 12, four helicopters and Colorado’s Multi-mission aircraft were working the incident.

Three National Guard helicopters were made available by a verbal executive order by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper hours after the fire started. The aircraft, from Buckley Air Force Base, included two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, one CH-47 Chinook helicopter, as well as a refueling truck.

Sunshine Fire
Sunshine Fire near Boulder, Colorado. Boulder Office of Emergency Management photo.

Firefighters limited the wildland/urban interface fire to about 74 acres according to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. We were not there but this appears to have been a pretty aggressive initial attack, an aspect of firefighting along the Front Range that has improved in the last couple of years.

The video below was shot March 19 from the Multi-mission aircraft, showing normal and infrared images.

Sunshine Fire near Boulder, Colorado

Above: Sunshine Fire near Boulder Colorado. Photo by Colorado’s Multi-mission Aircraft.

(UPDATED at 10:45 a.m. MDT March 20, 2017)

The pre-evacuation and mandatory evacuation orders west of Boulder, Colorado for the Sunshine Fire have been lifted.

The strong winds predicted for Sunday night did not occur and firefighters have been able to contain the fire within hand-built firelines, roads, and retardant dropped from aircraft.

Colorado’s front range between Colorado Springs and the Wyoming border is the only area on Monday under a Red Flag Warning.

wildfire Red Flag Warning
Red Flag Warning March 20, 2017.

ABC’s Good Morning America devoted over two minutes on Monday to the fire in Colorado and the wildfire danger in the United States.

ABC
ABC

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(Originally published at 5:47 p.m. MDT March 19, 2017)

The Sunshine Fire on the west side of Boulder, Colorado has burned about 62 acres since it started early Sunday morning and has required the evacuation of 426 homes. The spread slowed late Sunday afternoon thanks to the work of firefighters on the ground, several helicopters, and at least one air tanker.

wildfire Red Flag Warning
The Boulder area was under a Red Flag Warning on Sunday.

Wildfire in northeast Colorado burns 30,000 acres

Above: An infrared image of  a wildfire in Logan and Phillips counties in Colorado, from Colorado’s MultiMission Aircraft, Wednesday morning.

Below is an excerpt from a Tuesday morning news release by Logan County Emergency Management about a wildfire in the northeast corner of Colorado that has burned at least 30,000 acres.

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“…Efforts by 13 departments on scene yesterday kept the fire contained to 50% last night, overnight and this morning. Seven fire engines were used overnight to knock down hot spots and flare ups. Firefighters will remain on scene today as windy weather conditions are expected to be similar to yesterday, causing fire flare ups and limited visibility due to blowing smoke and dust. There are an expected 80 firefighters to be on scene today.

“Structure damage confirmed includes three homes in Logan County and one home in Phillips County. Between the two counties, there are also multiple incidences of partial damage to homes and/or complete out-building damage.

“There are no reported injuries.

“Due to strong winds and low visibility, the Colorado Department of Transportation has closed Highway 59 between I-76 and Haxtun in Phillips County.”

Continue reading “Wildfire in northeast Colorado burns 30,000 acres”

Cold front drives numerous large wildfires in Kansas

Above: Large wildfires (red) in Kansas as detected by a satellite at about 1 p.m. MST March 6, 2017.

(UPDATED at 5:43 p.m. MST March 6, 2017)

Below is an updated map showing growth of some of the fires in Kansas, especially the one 17 miles southeast of Meade, Kansas that burned from Oklahoma into the state. That one, using very rough satellite data, appears to be more than 130,000 acres.

map wildfires kansas
The red areas represent wildfires in Kansas detected by a satellite at 4:07 p.m. MST March 6, 2017. The map above has more information.

There was a report, as yet unconfirmed, that in Kansas a tornado moved over a going fire.

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(Originally published at 4:17 p.m. MST March 6, 2017)

Strong winds along with relative humidities in the teens and twenties are causing problems for firefighters in the western half of Kansas. The passage of a cold front is bringing sustained wind speeds of 30 to 40 mph with maximum gusts in the 40’s and 50’s.

On the map above we identified and very roughly mapped four of the largest fires. The acreages shown are estimates based on satellite detections of heat at about 1 p.m. MST on Monday. One of them has burned from Oklahoma into Kansas.

  • 53,000 acres; 17 miles southeast of Meade, Kansas. It is in Meade and Beaver Counties in Kansas, and Clark County in Oklahoma.
  • 6,500 acres; in Clark County 23 miles east of Meade, Kansas.
  • 7,000 acres; in Lane County Kansas 10 miles southeast of Dighton, Kansas.
  • 4,000 acres; in Rooks County Kansas just southwest of Stockton, Kansas. Residents in part of the city have been ordered to evacuate.

A fire in Logan County in the northeast corner of Colorado has burned 6,000 acres 20 miles northeast of Sterling.

wind and rh in kansas wildfires map
In Kansas at 3:52 p.m. MST. Sustained wind speed on the left and relative humidity on the right.

Before the cold front passed the fires were driven by a southwest wind (see the animated radar map below). As the front passes the wind is shifting 90 degrees to come out of the northwest. This could be a very, VERY dangerous situation for firefighters on the south side of the fires, as the right flank turns into the head of the fire.

map kansas fires infrared
Satellite infrared image showing heat from fires (in black) in Kansas, 3:45 p.m. MST March 6, 2017.