Report released on Colorado Springs’ Waldo Canyon Fire

Waldo Canyon After Action ReportAn After Action Report (AAR) was released today about the Waldo Canyon Fire that burned into Colorado Springs June 26, destroying 345 homes and ultimately blackening over 18,000 acres. This AAR is not the final, comprehensive report on the fire, but is considered preliminary. An in-depth analysis will occur over the next several months to fully explore Colorado Spring’s management of the fire.

The organization of the report is a little unusual, listing strengths and recommendations, but omitting many of the issues that caused the recommendations. Therefore, it is not always clear WHY the recommendations were made, forcing an observer to read between the lines. This limits the opportunities for lessons learned and may not in all cases have the desired result of preventing mistakes. Maybe the final report will fill in these gaps.

The report listed several areas identified as “major strengths”, including interagency cooperation, dedicated personnel, pre-incident training and exercises, planning, and the fact that they saved 82 percent of the homes in the direct impact area.

Some of the recommendations:

  • A system needs to be designed to provide immediate notification to first responders and key agency representatives as decisions are made.
  • Real-time documentation. Use “scribes” to track real-time information for record keeping and serve as a communication link between locations when primary staff is busy with their duties.
  • Train staff and volunteers who can serve in the Emergency Operations Center to staff a more robust Logistics Section.
  • Provide additional training on the use of the Incident Command System (ICS).
  • A Communications Unit Leader should be assigned to ensure that an incident-wide Communications Plan is developed.
  • Exercise the numerous emergency management plans. The report listed seven of them.
  • For the Emergency Operations Center, develop an organization chart early in the incident, and train the personnel on their roles and how to interface with the Incident Command Post.
  • Develop a plan on how to provide adequate food to incident personnel.
  • Establish procedures for handling large quantities of donated food and water. Provide incident management training for non-profits and agency personnel to improve management of volunteers and donations.
  • Develop a plan to ensure incident personnel work consistent shifts and receive adequate rest, breaks, and rehabilitation (food and supplies).
  • Evaluate the need for post-incident critical stress debriefings.
  • Develop an ICS organization chart to ensure that a Safety Officer and Accountability Officer are assigned.
  • Ensure that span of control policies are followed.
  • Utilize Staging Areas to assist in accountability of personnel and resources.
  • Use street names rather than neighborhood names to define evacuation boundaries.
  • Provide maps of areas that are being evacuated to first responders.

In reviewing the recommendations in the ARR, it appears that many of them would be mitigated with adequate training and experience in the Incident Command System, NIMS, or NIIMS. A Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire at the end of Day 2, June 24; most of the homes were destroyed on June 26. The team was no doubt very fluent in the use of ICS, but if they were interfacing with multiple agencies who had limited knowledge in the management system, there could have been some inefficiencies and a lack of adherence to ICS protocols.

You can download the entire 1.7 MB After Action Report.

HERE is a link to articles on Wildfire Today that mention both “Waldo Canyon” and “Colorado Springs”.

Wildfire morning briefing, October 20, 2012

Smoke from the Witch Creek fire
Smoke from the Witch Creek fire as seen from San Diego harbor, October 23, 2007. Photo by Kat Miner

Witch Creek fire, five years later

Five years after the Witch Creek fire burned 197,990 acres and 1,040 homes in San Diego County, most of the structures have been rebuilt and lessons have been learned about how to better manage similar incidents, before, during and after they occur.

Followup on fire in Bucyrus, North Dakota

An analysis after the fire has determined that four residences and 20 outbuildings were destroyed when a wildfire raged through the small town of Bucyrus, North Dakota October 17. It blackened 6,000 acres along a 10-mile long path. NBC News has some photos that were taken after the fire.

Fire in Nebraska jumps Interstate 80

A 10,000-acre fire destroyed three residences and jumped over Interstate 80 near Paxton, Nebraska on Friday.

Photos of effects of winds in South Dakota

The very strong winds that affected wildfires in South Dakota this week also left some other impacts. The Rapid City Journal has some excellent photos, including one that shows four tractor-trailer trucks that got blown over along a 1/4-mile stretch of Interstate 90.

John N. Maclean’s OP-ED

John N. Maclean had an opinion piece published on the New York Time’s web site October 18 in which he wrote about penalties that have been assessed against arsonists and others who have started wildfires. He also provided some thoughts about how to prevent fires through legislation, and wrote about fires started by shooters, exploding targets, and all-terrain vehicles. Mr. Maclean is the author of several books about wildland fires, including Fire on the Mountain, The Thirtymile Fire, and the forthcoming book The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder and the Agony of Engine 57, about a 2006 wildfire in California.

Waldo Fire volunteer faces sex assault charge

A man who was volunteering for the Red Cross during the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs earlier this year is facing charges of sexually assaulting another volunteer. The victim told police she believes 71-year old Allen Crabtree drugged her and then sexually assaulted her on July 7.

Thanks go out to Kelly and Dietra

Update on Fern Lake fire west of Estes Park

Fern Lake Fire, October 9, 2012, 2012. Photo by VIP Hahn
Fern Lake Fire, October 9, 2012, 2012. Photo by VIP Hahn

(Originally published at 2:32 p.m. MT, October 10, 2012)

The Fern Lake fire seven miles west of the town of Estes Park in northern Colorado is still reported to be 300 acres. Burning in high elevations between 8,000 and 10,000 feet it was subject to below freezing temperatures and high relative humidities Tuesday night. It may dry out Wednesday afternoon and aided by winds at 13-20 mph with gusts up to 30 and a relative humidity in the teens the fire activity may pick up.

It is located west of Morain Park in Rocky Mountain National Park and is burning in steep, rugged terrain. About 40 hikers and campers were evacuated from the area yesterday. No structures are currently threatened.

A Single Engine Air Tanker and a heavy helicopter are available to assist the 65 personnel and the seven fire engines at the scene.

The National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team from Boise is en route to assume command of the fire.

We posted maps of the fire on Tuesday.

Wildfire morning briefing, September 29, 2012

Men who started Wallow fire may owe more than $3 million

The two cousins who started the 2011 Wallow Fire may be on the hook to pay over $3 million. Caleb and David Malboeuf are on probation following last month’s sentencing for leaving a campfire unattended. During restitution hearings this week attorneys for both sides agreed that $3 million is appropriate, but they are still haggling over an additional $500,000, with the defendants’ attorney saying documentation is incomplete for those funds.

The Wallow Fire, which burned from eastern Arizona into New Mexico, became the largest fire in the history of Arizona. It burned over half a million acres and destroyed 32 homes and 4 commercial structures. At least $79 million was spent to suppress the fire.

Turn over federal lands to the states?

There is a growing chorus among certain political groups and at least one state to give away millions of acres of federal land. For example, the Governor of Utah signed a bill that demands that the federal government hand over almost 30 million acres to the state. Other states are looking to follow Utah’s lead, and a candidate for President, Mitt Romney, is on board. Timothy Egan has a thoughtful article in the New York Times about this expanding threat.

If the national parks, forests, and BLM lands are given away or sold, the 16,000 wildland firefighters that now work for the Department of Interior and the US Forest Service, if they still have jobs, may find themselves working for a state, or a private company such as British Petroleum, Weyerhaeuser, or Union Pacific Coal Company.

Waldo Canyon fire slowed air travel into Colorado Springs

While the Waldo Canyon Fire was burning in and near Colorado Springs, three of the four airlines serving the city reported a decline in passenger numbers. The fire started June 23, killed two people, and destroyed about 346 homes.

Fire activity in the Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains

Usually by early to mid-September the fire season in the northern Rocky Mountains and the Northwest is seriously winding down, but firefighters in those areas are still busy. It is very unusual this late in the year, but air tankers are still stationed at Billings, Montana.

Below is a map showing heat detected today by satellites on wildfires in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming and Oregon. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Map of wildfires detected by satellites, September 29, 2012

Interesting headlines

I like this headline in Utah’s Park Record:

Fire prescribed for 570 acres near Wyoming border

Here is another one, this time from the Ramona Sentinel in California:

Cal Fire crushes grass fire near airport



Thanks go out to Chris and Dick

$100,000 reward offered for information about Waldo Canyon Fire

An anonymous donor has offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who can provide information leading to an arrest of the person who started the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The fire started June 23, killed two people and destroyed about 346 homes.

Investigators have not released information about how the fire started, except to say it was not ignited by lightning, which means it was human-caused.

In a presentation about economic warfare within the United States, William Scott introduced the hypothesis that the Waldo Canyon Fire may have been started by al Qaeda terrorists. You can see his talk HERE; he begins speaking about this fire at about 3:30.

Map of Waldo Canyon fire, east side June 29, 2012

The map above is an example of how the the Waldo Canyon fire spread into the Flying W Ranch area of Colorado Springs on Tuesday, June 26.


Texas Forest Service adds university to their name

Texas AMFSThe Texas Forest Service is part of a university — Texas A&M University. Many emergency responders think it is an odd structure for an emergency services organization. While the state of Colorado recognized the problems with having their state Forest Service under Colorado State University following the escaped Lower North Fork prescribed fire in which three residents were killed at their homes, Texans have doubled down on keeping their Forest Service under the control of a university.

The Texas Forest Service has changed their name to “Texas A&M Forest Service”. The change was proposed earlier this year by Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp as “a way to better align marketing and branding efforts”, according to the university’s web site. The university’s announcement did not say how much it would cost to change the name and their logos.

The governor of Colorado went a different direction after the Lower North Fork Fire, and decided to have all state emergency services agencies under one umbrella, the Colorado Department of Public Safety. Governor Hickenlooper said “We want to have it in one place, with an agency that is used to dealing with situations where minutes matter”. His objective was to streamline the decision making as well as the dispatching and managing of firefighters.


Thanks go out to Dick