Cold Brook prescribed fire escapes in South Dakota

(UPDATED at 6:25 a.m. MDT, April 15, 2015)

Cold Brook Fire 4-14-2015

South end of the Cold Brook Fire, Wednesday morning, April 14, 2015. NPS photo.

The incident commander of the Cold Brook fire that escaped from a prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park called it 80 percent contained at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. Demobilization of firefighting resources has started for the 6,420-acre fire.


(UPDATED at 3:10 p.m. MDT, April 15, 2015)

Wind Cave National Park provided the following information at 10 a.m. today about the Cold Brook Fire that escaped from a prescribed fire:

Firefighters working day and night shifts have been camping at Butler Park in Hot Springs. The Type 3 Incident Management Team (IMT) has retained management of this incident. The Type 2 IMT, Rocky Mountain Team Black, which was ordered as a contingency, arrived from Colorado yesterday and agrees that current leadership has a good handle on the situation.

Cold Brook Fire map 4-15-2015

The park spokesperson, Tom Farrell, said the fire is currently estimated at 6,000 acres – 1,000 acres were within the prescribed burn unit and an additional 5,000 acres have burned outside the prescribed burn unit.

A U.S. Forest Service InfraRed mapping plane, N149Z, flew over the fire Tuesday night, enabling firefighters to get an accurate map of the extent of the fire. This was the first assignment of an IR plane on an actual going fire this year. A couple of weeks ago they mapped the 2014 King Fire in California for a BAER team.


(UPDATED at 7:30 p.m. MDT, April 14, 2015)

Tom Farrell, a spokesperson for Wind Cave National Park, now reports the Cold Creek fire has burned 5,400 acres, in addition to 1,100 acres inside the boundary of the original prescribed fire.

Firefighters will get a bit of a break with the weather on Wednesday. The forecast calls for 56 degrees, winds out of the northwest at 10 mph, close to 100 percent cloud cover, and most importantly, a 62 percent chance of rain (about 0.13 inch) in the afternoon. And as a bonus, about an inch of snow late Wednesday night.


(UPDATED at 4:44 p.m. MDT, April 14, 2015)

Cold Brook Fire April 13, 2015

Cold Brook Fire April 13, 2015, shortly after the prescribed fire crossed Highway 385 (on the right side of the photo. This is looking northwest. Photo by Benjamin Carstens (click to enlarge)

As of 11 a.m. MDT on Tuesday the Cold Brook Fire that escaped from a prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park had burned approximately 4,500 acres outside the intended boundary of the 1,000-acre prescribed fire. Tom Farrell, spokesperson for the Park, said firefighters worked through the night to complete a fireline around 80 percent of the perimeter and on Monday hoped to finish the remaining 20 percent. As of that 11 a.m. report, the wildfire was entirely within the borders of the park, which includes the new portion that was added on the south side after the National Park Service purchased the Casey ranch.

Cold Brook Fire 2 pm April 14, 2015Cold Brook Fire 2 pm April 14, 2015

Heat detected by a satellite on the Cold Brook Fire at about 2 p.m., April 14, 2015.

The fire is being managed as a Type 3 incident, but a Type 2 Incident Management Team has been ordered.

Firefighting resources working the fire:

  • 2 South Dakota Air National Guard Blackhawk helicopters,
  • 3 Single Engine Air Tankers,
  • 2 Type 1 helicopters are on order.
  • 70 firefighters

The helicopters are filling their water buckets at Cold Brook Reservoir north of Hot Springs.


(UPDATED at 9 a.m. MDT, April 14, 2015)

A Rocky Mountain Type 2 Incident Management Team (Team Black) has been ordered for the Cold Brook Fire, which escaped from a prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park.

Below is the Spot Weather Forecast that was issued Monday at 6:09 a.m. April 13, the day of the prescribed fire. Ignition was planned for 10 a.m. You can view the entire document HERE.

spot weather forecast wind cave


(Originally published at 8:38 p.m. MDT, April 13, 2015)

Cold Brook Fire 3 pm 4-13-2015

Map showing heat detected by a satellite on the Cold Brook Fire at about 3 pm April 13, 2015. The location of the red squares representing heat are accurate to within about a mile.

The Cold Brook #2 prescribed fire that we covered earlier on Monday, April 13. escaped at about 1 p.m. As of 6 p.m. the wildfire had burned an additional 1,000 acres all inside Wind Cave National Park, according to Tom Farrell, spokesperson for the Park.

“Several hours into the Unit 2 Cold Brook Burn this morning, an unpredicted fire whirl, or dust devil, picked up burning ash and carried material over 100 yards outside of the planned burn area into high grass”, Mr. Farrell said. “Pushed by high westerly winds, the fire quickly moved beyond containment efforts.”

The prescribed fire was intended to be 1,000 acres entirely on the west side of Highway 385 in Wind Cave National Park (see the maps above and below) but according to the heat detected by a satellite it spread to the east, crossing the highway burning toward the “Keyhole” area in the National Park boundary, shown in green on the map. The green boundary on the south side of the park became out of date in 2001 when several thousand acres of the privately owned Casey Ranch were purchased and added in that area.

Benjamin Carstens sent us the time lapse video below of the prescribed fire, telling us:

The video is comprised of 380 pictures taken over a period of 4 hours. I had it set to run longer but once the fire got out of control I felt like it was best for me to leave!

It appears that you can see the fire crossing the highway near the end of the video.

Cold Brook Fire smoke

A satellite image captured on April 13 shows heat (in red) and smoke drifting to the east from the Cold Brook Fire.

The map below shows Units 1, 2, and 3 of the Cold Brook prescribed fire project. Units 1 and 3 were burned last fall, and Unit 2 was attempted on Monday.

cold brook prescribed fire

Fire engines and hand crews have been brought in from nearby agencies to assist the 38 firefighters already on the ground; in addition, air resources have been ordered to include 2 South Dakota Air National Guard Blackhawk helicopters and a Single Engine Air Tanker. There are 70 people assigned to the fire with no estimated time of containment.

A weather station a couple of miles away from the prescribed fire recorded on Monday afternoon winds of 5 to 10 mph with gusts to 26 mph and a minimum relative humidity of 16 percent.

A Red Flag Warning takes effect at noon on Tuesday, April 14, which is expected to bring southwest winds of 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 35, and a relative humidity of 10 to 15 percent. On Monday the area was under a Fire Weather Watch.

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Court rules in favor of the Forest Service over escaped prescribed fire

map of davis fire August 27 2010

The map of the Davis fire, an escaped prescribed fire in Montana, shows heat detected by satellites during the early morning on Aug. 27, 2010. Click to see a larger version of the map.

The U.S. Forest Service dodged a bullet recently when the agency received a very favorable ruling from a Federal court judge over a 2010 escaped prescribed fire in Montana. Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell decided on March 22, 2015 that the U.S. is immune from the suit writing in his decision:

The Court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that the Forest Service was negligent either in conducting the Davis 5 Unit prescribed burn or in fighting the escaped fire once it occurred or that the Forest Service violated any mandatory policy or prescription. In addition, and more significantly, strict liability does not apply and the discretionary function exception applies to bar Plaintiff’s tort claims.

The Plaintiff in the case was Kent Taylor, the landowner of a 146-acre parcel of which 142 acres burned, including some lodgepole pine.

Firefighters ignited the Davis 5 prescribed fire at 1 p.m on Wednesday, August 26, 2010 on the Helena National Forest 11 miles southeast of Lincoln and 28 miles northwest of Helena in Montana. By 2:00 p.m. strong winds became a problem and the fire moved into the tree canopy. All ignition ceased, but soon there was a spot fire which burned 20 acres in heavy mixed conifers. When all personnel left the fire at 10:00 p.m. to avoid the hazard of falling trees, the spot fire had been partially lined.

The next day, Thursday, additional personnel were on scene. They were completing the fireline and gridding for other spot fires when an undetected one took off at 1:00 p.m. which quickly transitioned to a crown fire. The prescribed fire was declared an escape at 1:15 p.m. and a Type 2 Incident Management Team was requested at 2:27 p.m. By nightfall the fire was estimated at over 1,600 acres on federal land and 450 acres on private lands involving multiple landowners. Approximately 22 structures were evacuated on Thursday afternoon and evening.

Both the court decision and the official USFS report on the escaped prescribed fire failed to consider the significance of the differences between a spot weather forecast issued the day before the prescribed fire and the spot weather forecast that was issued at 10:43 a.m. Wednesday, August 25 on the day of the burn, about 2 hours before the firefighters ignited the final test burn. In fact, the Judge’s decision does not mention the 10:43 a.m. forecast that predicted stronger winds than in the forecast that was issued the previous day which was for “winds upslope 3 to 6 mph, ridge top winds southwest 5 to 10 mph with gusts to 15 mph”. Here is what Wednesday morning’s forecast predicted for the day of ignition (the all-caps are from the weather forecast, a bad habit the NWS needs to break):


The report says:

The prescribed fire personnel stated they did not note any differences between the two forecasts.

That forecast also stated that on the following day, Thursday, the winds in the afternoon would be 30 to 35 mph.  The maximum wind speed allowed in the prescription for the project was 15 mph.

Again, the judge’s written opinion does not mention the last spot weather forecast, which was issued the morning of the ignition.

Even though ignition on the prescribed fire did not begin until 1 p.m. the USFS Burn Boss planned to have the 100-acre project essentially mopped up by the end of the day, anticipating for the following day the winds predicted in the now obsolete forecast: “winds upslope 3 to 6 mph, ridge top winds southwest 5 to 10 mph with gusts to 15 mph”.

In light of this very favorable court ruling, Jamie Kralman, a USFS Regional Fuels Specialist for the California region, distributed the good news, saying in part:

…I could really see the mindfulness of the agency personnel involved demonstrating High Reliability Organization (HRO) principles in their planning and implementation.  All key personnel met or exceeded minimum qualifications, planning and implementation was by appropriate certified personnel, appropriate line officer involvement and approvals occurred, and The Interagency Prescribed Fire Planning and Implementation Procedures Guide was followed in development of the Burn Plan.  The Court opinion also demonstrates support for use of The Interagency Prescribed Fire Planning and Implementation Procedures Guide.

This legal outcome is clearly consistent with what we have been teaching  in Prescribed Fire courses, Burn Boss Refresher training, and in other venues in this region regarding lack of personal liability in our prescribed fire operations and that  “…strict liability does not apply and the discretionary function exception applies…” because the action involved ‘an element of choice’ and the action was taken ‘based on consideration of public policy’.



Escaped prescribed fire in California required evacuations

A prescribed fire near Victorville, California escaped on March 31 causing mandatory evacuations in the southern California desert community. Two helicopters assisted firefighters in stopping the 185-acre blaze as it burned through heavy vegetation that had not burned in years.

The project in Mojave Narrows Regional Park was designed to remove cattails, but firefighters said shifting winds caused it to grow out of control Tuesday afternoon.

A car and an outbuilding burned in the fire. The evacuations were lifted after several hours.


Stephens Fire, east of Weed, California

Stephens Fire

Stephens Fire, February 24, 2014. USFS photo.

(Updated at 4:35 p.m. PT, February 26, 2015)

The U.S. Forest Service Wednesday night on Twitter said the Stephens Fire had grown by 50 acres, to 250 acres. The fire is 17 miles east of Weed, California. The Incident Commander has estimated that the 100 personnel on scene will have a fireline around it, meaning the fire is contained, by February 28, which is a revision from Wednesday’s estimate of March 2.


(Originally published at 3:41 p.m. PT, February 25, 2015)

The Stephens Fire has burned about 200 acres in northern California, 17 miles east of Weed. It spread onto the Shasta-Trinity National Forest after escaping from a prescribed fire in Siskiyou County on private land.

According to the USFS Wednesday afternoon:

While the burned area has expanded outside the original planned prescribed area, positive effects to natural resources are being met and suppression forces are in place to limit additional spread.

Tuesday night strong winds were driving the fire, producing short-range spotting. On Wednesday the fire activity is expected to be moderate, according to  the USFS, with possible spread south toward Stephens Pass Road and north toward FS Road 43N04.

The Incident Commander estimates the 100 personnel on scene will have a fireline around it by March 2.

map Stephens Fire

Map showing the approximate location of the Stephens Fire at 11:14 p.m. PT February 24, 2015. Click to enlarge.

Stephens Fire

Stephens Fire, February 24, 2014. USFS photo.

Further to the south, on Thursday the National Park Service is planning to burn 60 acres of a 533-acre burn unit in the Wawona area of Yosemite National Park near the South Entrance.


Five fires started from escaped burn piles near Eldorado National Forest

Eldorado National Forest fireOn Saturday, January 24, five fires were ignited by burn piles that escaped on private timber lands near the Eldorado National Forest in northeast California. Two of the fires burned 33 acres each. The piles were originally ignited in December. Judging from the photos and reports from firefighters, the fire behavior was impressive for January.

In 2014 the El Dorado NF only had one fire that required a Type 3 Incident Commander. That was the King Fire fire east of Placerville, California where 12 firefighters deployed their fire shelters in front of advancing flames and were directed to safety by a helicopter pilot.

These excellent photos were taken by Michael Loeffler, an Engine Captain on the Eldorado NF.

Eldorado National Forest fire Eldorado National Forest fire

Eldorado National Forest map


Slash burns rekindle in Oregon

Hug Point Fire Oregon

From the Oregon Department of Forestry: “Mop-up continues on the Hug Point Fire (erstwhile Hug Point Complex). Rain is expected to close out these rekindled slash burns by the end of the week. (Photo by Dan Goody, ODF)”

Multiple logging slash burns rekindled Tuesday in Oregon east of Highway 101 between Cannon Beach and Arch Cape on lands owned by the Stimson Lumber Company. Tuesday night east winds in excess of 40 mph with gusts over 70 mph fanned the fire, consuming slash piles in four post-harvest units.

Personnel from the lumber company and the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) were on scene and were joined Wednesday by more firefighters from the Tillamook and Forest Grove ODF district offices. By evening there were about 70 personnel, including five hand crews, working on the 100 acres of fire that became the Hug Point Complex.

Rain began falling Thursday morning which is aiding control and mop up, but by the weekend the weather is expected to change to cold, dry, windy conditions.