The Colorado National Guard continues to supply great photos taken at the High Park Fire west of For Collins, Colorado. Keep up the great work, folks! (I hope they remember to include the photographers’ names with the captions.)
Five volunteer firefighters with the Rist Canyon Fire Department had their homes burn and one of the department’s fire stations was destroyed during the High Park fire west of Fort Collins, Colorado. A relief fund has been established, all of which will be used for assisting firefighters, supporting the all-volunteer fire department, and replacing the volunteer’s lost wages while they have been fighting the fire. The Rist Canyon FD is one of two departments in Colorado that receives no mandated tax support according to NorthFortyNews. All of their funding comes from donations and fund raising events such as selling a cookbook.
You can donate at the Department’s web site through PayPal or send a check (payable to RCVFD) to Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department, Fire Relief Fund, PO BOX 2, Bellvue CO 80512. Contributions are tax deductible.
Those people who don’t feel moved to donate money can go to a Facebook page created by 14-year old Arianna Van Fleet and express their gratitude to the first responders by leaving a comment or “liking” the page.
Justin Smith, the County Sheriff of Larimer County, is continuing to restrict media coverage of the High Park fire west of Fort Collins, Colorado. On June 11 we covered Sheriff Smith’s request that the media not show photos of destroyed homes out of respect to the homeowners. That request was generally ignored by news outlets.
Nick Christensen, executive officer for the sheriff’s department, was quoted recently as saying, “Our philosophy is the citizens need to see the damage and destruction before the general public.”
Sheriff Smith claims he can decide what the media can cover and what they can’t cover, and not just for the safety of the reporters. That is a great deal of power to put in the hands of a county sheriff.
Colorado law puts the county sheriff in charge of fires on state and private land in unincorporated areas if the fire exceeds the capacity of a single fire department. Other states see it differently, putting an agency that specializes in fire suppression in charge of fires. Texas also has an archaic system, and puts a County Judge in charge of fires in some areas.
Here are some excerpts from a June 20 AP story about Sheriff Smith’s restrictions on media coverage:
…Journalists say the Colorado restrictions are too strict and hurt their ability to report.
“I’m sympathetic to their desire to help the victim,” said Joey Bunch, a reporter for The Denver Post. “I’m not sympathetic to their desire to control what’s going on.”
Bunch, a 27-year-veteran who has covered numerous natural disasters, said the Larimer sheriff’s restrictions are “the most concerted effort I’ve seen to get between the press and the victims.”
At some previous wildfires in Colorado and in other states, authorities have escorted news media into evacuation zones before residents or the general public was allowed in, sometimes while the fire is still active.
With the current fire, “They’re robbing the victims of the chance to tell their story,” Bunch said. “The larger public isn’t being able to fully appreciate the size of the fire and the size of the tragedy because the story isn’t being told.”
Fire management teams routinely try to get journalists safe access to fires to get the news out, said Mike Ferris, a public information officer for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
“Generally, I’ll do everything I can to get you access to get your story,” he said.
Rules for media access vary from state to state and even from wildfire to wildfire. In California, state law allows news organizations virtually unfettered access to fires. Other states leave the decisions up to the agency responsible for the land involved…
…In one incident, the sheriff’s department withheld for 24 hours a video recording, made by a fire official inside the evacuation zone using an NBC News camera and tape. NBC News producer Jack Chesnutt said he thought he would get the tape back immediately to share with other news outlets.
Christensen, the sheriff’s executive officer, said the department always intended to show the video to evacuated residents before returning it.
“These are not the conditions that I thought we had agreed to when we handed them the camera,” Chesnutt said. He called the High Park Fire coverage restrictions “unprecedented.”…
The National Guard has deployed Blackhawk helicopters from several states to the High Park Fire near Fort Collins, Colorado. Additionally Guardsmen from Colorado are augmenting the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department to provide assistance in securing evacuated areas. They posted these photos to Flicker, and some of them, especially the one above showing a rare view from a helicopter while dropping water, are exceptionally good.
Jeremy Meyer of the Denver Post has written a well-researched article about the current state of what is left of the federal air tanker fleet, cut by 80 percent over the last 10 years. He did something that few reporters have done. He actually read some of the largely ignored studies that well-respected experts have completed on how to improve the safety and efficiency of aerial firefighting.
One of the most authoritative studies was contributed by the Blue Ribbon Panel, convened after two museum-age air tankers literally fell apart in midair in 2002. That report as well as the other studies can be found on our Wildfire Documents page. The Blue Ribbon Panel was co-chaired by Jim Hall, former Chairman of the National Transportation Safety board who has an opinion about the current state of the air tanker fleet.
You should read the article, but here are some excerpts:
It’s impossible to know whether the High Park fire could have been stalled in its early stages on June 9 when the lightning-caused fire blew up.
First signs of the fire were called in to dispatchers about 6 a.m. A smaller single-engine air tanker, which can carry about 800 gallons of retardant, was over the fire by 9 a.m.
A heavy air tanker sent from Grand Junction was on the fire by noon, according to Steve Segin, spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center. […] The federal government convened the blue-ribbon panel to study the system, which resulted in a scathing report that blasted the Forest Service’s air tanker system, calling it “unsustainable” and the industry’s safety record of 136 dead pilots since 1958 “abysmal.” At least four large air tankers have crashed since then, killing 10 people, according to a website tracking the fatalities.
The 2002 panel recommended a host of fixes, including that the fleet be modernized, pilots receive more training, planes get more inspections and the contracting process be changed. […] Hall, the blue-ribbon panel chair, said he has been dismayed by the lack of urgency in Congress as the threat of fire in the West has increased because of climate change and an epidemic of beetle-killed trees.
“We put out a report 10 years ago that is as current as if we had issued it yesterday,” Hall said. “This reliance on old military aircraft is not the way that the country needs to address a threat this serious. Why the Forest Service or anyone would think individuals who are putting their lives on the line to save homes and lives should be flying that type of aircraft is beyond me.”
Seven next-generation airplanes over the next two years is a good start but not adequate, said Gabbert, whose blog has been following every process.
“It doesn’t come close to fixing the problem,” he said. “Experts say we need 30 or 40 or even 50. This decision should have been made 10 to 20 years ago. They knew this day would come. Most of the Western U.S.’s fire season hasn’t even started yet.
“When the West really gets into the fire season, that will be the proof.”