Wildfire briefing, January 3, 2014

Drought Monitor

The Drought Monitor shows that most of California, Nevada, and southern Idaho are in either a severe or extreme drought. This could be an interesting winter fire season if it continues.

Drought Monitor 12-31-2013

Arizona State Forestry Division wants to almost double budget

The state organization responsible for managing the Yarnell Hill Fire is requesting a budget for the Arizona State Forestry Division that is nearly double what they received in the fiscal year that ends June 30. According to an article at Azcentral, State Forester Scott Hunt wants to add $6.2 million to this year’s budget of $7.3 million. The additional funds would be used to hire 15 additional staffers, replace firefighting and communications equipment, and allocate $2 million to remove hazardous vegetation on state and private lands. The budget request was filed in October, after 19 firefighters died on the Yarnell Hill Fire but before the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued their report on the fire and recommended a $550,000 fine be imposed on the Arizona State Forestry Division as a result of the fatalities on the fire.

Retired smokejumper interviewed on Montana Public Radio

Retired smokejumper Wayne Williams is featured in an interview on Montana Public Radio. In the 11-minute recording Mr. Williams speaks eloquently from his decades of experience. It is refreshing to hear someone interviewed about wildland fire in the media who knows the subject matter. The audio is HERE, and a short article with his photo is HERE.

Army attempts to prevent wildfires at Schofield Barracks

Raising the berm at Schofield Barracks
A soldier with 2nd Platoon, 523rd Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, uses a D7 bulldozer to increase the size of the berm so it is a 20 feet by 20 feet dimension. (U.S. Army photo by: 1st Lt. Lucian Myers, 2nd Platoon, 523rd Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command)

In October and November two wildfires started at a range used for controlled detonations to dispose of unexploded ordnance at Schofield Barracks west of Honolulu, Hawaii. The fire that started October 15 burned more than 250 acres. It was fought for five days, then two days later rekindled and was finally extinguished October 28. Another fire in November burned about 30 acres.

In order to reduce the chances of vegetation fires igniting from the explosions, soldiers are using dozers to increase the height of the dirt berm surrounding the range from 7 feet to 22 feet. During the project, which was conducted 24 hours a day between December 9 and 13, they moved 5,800 cubic yards of dirt.

Wildfire Tweets

Below are a couple of messages on Twitter that had photos of fires — at Valparaiso, Chile and Lake Tahoe, California (which may be a prescribed fire).


Thanks and a hat tip go out to Dick and Chris

Slower start to fire season in some areas

The recent cooler than normal weather and very heavy snow has led to a slower start of the wildfire season in Colorado and the Black Hills of South Dakota. By this time last year we had written about two significant timber fires in these areas, the 4,140-acre Lower North Fork Fire southwest of Denver that killed three residents in their homes on March 26 and the Apple Fire south of Custer, South Dakota that burned 500 acres on March 28.

The primary reason for fewer large timber fires is the weather, of course. Boulder, Colordo had twice the average amount of snow in March, with 22 inches. April brought record-setting snow to parts of Colorado and the Black Hills. Boulder experienced not only the snowiest April on record, about 50 inches, but it was the snowiest of any month in history there. In Rapid City, South Dakota a new record was also established for the most snow ever recorded in the month of April with 43 inches, crushing the previous record of 31 inches.

The snowpack map below was current as of April 1 and does not include the heavy snow this month.

Mountain snowpack, April 1, 2013. It does not include the heavy snow in CO and SD in April.
Mountain snowpack, April 1, 2013. It does not include the heavy snow in CO and SD in April.

Compare this year’s map above, with the map for last year below:

Mountain snowpack, April 1, 2012
Mountain snowpack, April 1, 2012

And then there is the drought to consider.

Drought Monitor

As we have often stated, precipitation and temperature in the winter and early spring are not the only factors that influence the severity of the wildfire season in mid-summer and fall. Sure, a wet, cool Spring can delay the occurrence of late Spring and early Summer fires, but by mid-Summer the most important variable is the recent weather at that time. If it is hot, dry, and windy, you can have a busy fire season even following a wet winter. Predictions in April of how active the July through November fire season will be should be taken with a grain of salt. They are about as accurate as flipping a coin.


Wildfire news, April 9, 2013

200 fires near Mayo, Ireland

Firefighters have responded to approximately 200 wildfires near Mayo in Ireland in the last ten days. The worst of the gorse fires in recent days have been at Shanwar, Foxford; Killawalla, Westport; and Treanagleragh, Kiltimagh.

Distress flare causes wildfire

Some rocket scientists boaters in Virginia have been charged with misdemeanors after they started a wildfire by discharging a flare distress signal from a boat on Smith Mountain Lake. The fire burned about a quarter-acre and one round hay bale. There was no emergency that precipitated the discharge of the flare.  Someone witnessed the incident and called 9-1-1. The Smith Mountain Lake Marine Volunteer Fire & Rescue responded and quickly extinguished the fire.

Wildfire across from Indiana Fire Department

Two rocket scientists males, in an effort to burn the insulation off (probably stolen) copper wire across from the Porter Fire Department in Indiana at 2 a.m. Friday morning, accidentally allowed the fire to escape, igniting nearby vegetation. The Fire Department responded and put out the fire. One of the males escaped, while the other was transported to the Porter County Jail.

A wildfire followed by winter storm in Colorado

Yesterday Wildfire Today told you about the Red Flag Warning and Winter Storm Warning for Colorado, both happening on the same day. One of the areas not covered by the Red Flag Warning, Sterling County in the northeast corner of the state, had a 2,600-acre wildfire yesterday. Firefighters were no doubt thankful for the snow storm that followed a few hours later. Here is the forecast for Sterling today:

Snow with widespread blowing snow. High near 20. Wind chill values as low as -10. Windy, with a north wind 26 to 28 mph, with gusts as high as 43 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. Total daytime snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible.

Wildfire leaders in the Black Hills discuss the coming fire season

KEVN TV in Rapid City interviewed two wildfire honchos in the Black Hills of South Dakota, asking them about the outlook for this fire season. KEVN’s video and article are HERE, but below are some excerpts:

Jay Esperance, Director of South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire:

It’s looking like it will be at least an above average fire season. The southern Black Hills I’m really worried about.

Todd Pechota, Fire Management Officer for the Black Hills National Forest:

From all indications that we are hearing from fire weather forecasters, we’re preparing as if we are going to have another very active fire season in 2013.

If the current drought continues and if the weather this summer is hot and dry, it could be a busy fire season in portions of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. Below is the Drought Monitor for ND, SD, NE, KS, WY, and CO.

Drought Monitor, April 4, 2012

Most of the West is in drought

(Updated map, March 14, 2013) 

Drought Monitor, March 12, 2013

All of the western United States, except for portions of the northwest and the northern Rockies, are in drought.

When people ask me this time of the year what the wildfire season is going to be like, I usually tell them to ask me again in August and I’ll have a better idea. While drought has an effect on how busy a fire season will be, the more important factor is the weather DURING the fire season. If it is hot and dry, there will be more blackened acres than average. Cool and wet weather in the summer results in a slower fire season.