Wildfire briefing, April 9, 2014

MAFFS training in California

The California Channel Islands Air National Guard Station at Port Hueneme is conducting annual refresher and certification training this week for their crews that staff the C-130 aircraft used as air tankers when outfitted with the transportable Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS).

The Wyoming and North Carolina National Guard MAFFS units will train in Cheyenne, Wyoming beginning April 28, while the Colorado Springs Air Force Reserve unit will hold their training the week of May 16.

The four military units that host MAFFS crews have a total of eight C-130 aircraft that can be activated when what remains of the federal air tanker fleet is committed to going fires or initial attack.

Michigan man dies of injuries suffered while burning brush

A 70-year old man died after he was badly burned in a brush fire near Hart, Michigan on Monday, April 8. From mlive.com:

Roger D. Kludy, 70, died at the hospital, according to Oceana County Sheriff’s Lt. Craig Mast. There was little information known about the incident early Tuesday morning, Mast said. But authorities believe Kludy was burning brush on Adams Road Monday afternoon when something went awry and Kludy suffered severe burns. Michigan State Police is handling the investigation, Mast said.

South Carolina brush fire burns or damages 13 structures

A brush fire near Greer, South Carolina that started from a lit cigarette, caused damage estimated at $1.8 million on Wednesday, April 2. The fire destroyed three units in a condominium and a single family dwelling. Nine other structures were damaged.

Training residents to spot wildfires

“Woods Watch” training is being offered Friday to residents in Flagstaff, Arizona. According to the AP, in the one-hour course participants will learn how to properly report incidents that could start wildfires, such as people sneaking into closed areas and disregarding fire restrictions.

Incident Management Teams meet in Cheyenne

Incident Management Teams from the Rocky Mountain Region are holding their annual meeting in Cheyenne, Wyoming this week to review standard operating procedures, discuss new policies, and get to know each other before the wildland fire season begins. About 250 team members will attend from Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Share

Wildfire briefing, March 12, 2014

West Virginia man found dead at wildfire

A man that was found dead near the scene of a fire Tuesday in Kanawha County, West Virginia has been identified as Donald Chandler, 66. The cause of death has not been determined but relatives thought he probably suffered a heart attack while trying to put out the fire. Officials were not sure if the fire started in a storage building and spread into the vegetation, or if a brush fire ignited the structure.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of Mr. Chandler.

Fire resistant vegetation leads to a success story

Usually when a wildfire makes the news there has been a failure, perhaps more than one. The first of course is the ignition, if it is human caused. Then if the initial attack does not succeed it can spread — into the headlines of the media. But we rarely hear about the fires that are aggressively attacked and kept small, like what happened today in the southern California community of Brea.

Not only did the ground and aerial firefighters succeed, but decisions made by the homeowners association also deserve a pat on the back. The fire in Tonner Canyon near Lambert Road and the 57 Freeway was kept to only two acres thanks to the firefighters AND the fire- and drought-resistant vegetation that had been planted by the association. Even though there were Red Flag Warnings in effect today and strong winds were pushing the fire up a hill, it was stopped by the suppression forces and the proactive mitigation measures in place.

The fire was reported at 12:40 p.m. and firefighters were mopping it up by 1:20 p.m. Soon thereafter, they were back at their stations and ready for another fire.

Share

Arizona firefighter dies while taking pack test

On Saturday, March 8, 61-year old  volunteer firefighter Bobby Mollere of the Hellsgate Fire Department in Star Valley, Arizona collapsed and died while taking the pack test version of the Work Capacity Test, which requires a person to carry a 45-pound pack for three miles in less than 45 minutes. The cause of death was listed as “stress/overexertion” and heart attack.

Below is the official notice from the U.S. Fire Administration:

While performing a Wildland Pack Test, Lieutenant Mollere collapsed on the Payson High School track. Fellow firefighters on scene initiated a medical assessment and found Mollere in cardiac arrest. The EMTs and Paramedics began advanced life support immediately on scene. Lieutenant Mollere was transported to the Payson Regional Medical Center where resuscitative efforts continued until he passed away. Incident Location: Payson High School track, AZ (U.S. National Grid: 12S VC 6952 8857)

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Mollere’s family, friends, and fellow firefighters.

Previously we have written about other fatalities and serious injuries that occurred while taking the Pack Test. Federal land management agencies and some other organizations require that their on-the-ground firefighters pass the test once a year in order to be qualified to fight wildland fires.

Laguna Hot Shots taking Pack Test

File photo of the Laguna Hot Shots, based at Descanso, California, taking the Pack Test while wearing weighted vests. Photo by Laguna Hotshots.

Share

Tractor plow fatalities

Tractor plow

Tractor plow at the 2002 Blackjack Bay Fire, Okeefenokee NWR, Florida and Georgia. Photo by Bill Gabbert

We did some research on the history of line of duty deaths involving the operators of tractor plows while working on fires.

Tractor plow fatalities

Most, but not all, of the incidents are listed in the NWCG publication “Historical Wildland Firefighter Fatalities 1910 – 1996”.

1998 Arkansas tractor plow fatality

The site of the 1998 tractor plow fatality in Arkansas. NIOSH photo.

Tractor plow at 2002 Blackjack Bay Fire, Okeefenokee

The underside of a tractor plow at the 2002 Blackjack Bay Fire, Okeefenokee NWR, Florida and Georgia. Photo by Bill Gabbert

Share

Wildfire briefing, January 13, 2014

One resident dead and 49 homes destroyed in Australian bushfire

One person collapsed and died on the roof of his house while spraying water to defend his home from a fire in the Perth hills of Western Australia on Sunday. The 62-year old man’s house was not damaged while the 650-hectare (1,606 acres) fire burned 49 others in the Shire of Mundaring. One resident tried to get back to their house on Monday afternoon and suffered burns to the hands and feet.

More information.

Three homes burn in Kansas wildfire

At least three homes burned Sunday in a large grass fire near the Kansas-Missouri border. The 600-acre fire was pushed by very strong winds which caused problems for the firefighters that responded from both Kansas and Missouri. Cherokee County officials said the fire may have been caused by a power line that failed due to the wind.

Wind speeds in Missouri and Kansas,  January 12, 2014

Wind speeds in Missouri and Kansas, January 12, 2014

Red Flag Warnings, January 13

Red Flag Warnings, January 13, 2014

Red Flag Warnings (red) and Fire Weather Watches (beige), January 13, 2014

Areas in southern California, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas are under Fire Weather Watches and Red Flag Warnings today.

UPDATE at 6:25 p.m. PST, January 13, 2014. The Red Flag Warning areas in California have grown:

Red Flag Warnings, California, 1-13-2014

More information.

2014 MAFFS Commander named

North Carolina resident Col. Charles D. Davis III will command the national military mission charged with combating wildland fires using C-130 aircraft outfitted with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System.

Col Charles D Davis III

Col. Charles D Davis III, USAF photo by Master Sgt. Patricia Moran

“MAFFS is a team effort,” said Davis, who also commands the Operations Group at the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C. “We protect lives and property from forest fires, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

As commander of the Air Expeditionary Group Wildland Fire Fighting, Davis will lead three Air National Guard and one U.S. Air Force Reserve Command units that fly military C-130 aircraft and use them as aerial tankers. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, the Group controls MAFFS operations nationwide at the direction of the U.S. Forest Service.

A U.S. Air Force master navigator with more than 5,300 hours of military flying time, Davis, of Weddington, N.C., has more than 1,000 hours of combat time earned supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. In civilian life, he is an Airbus A330 Flight Crew Training Instructor at U.S. Airways.

Arizona legislators consider bills related to hotshots’ deaths

State legislators in Arizona are considering bills that are related to wildfire management and the deaths of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The firefighters were entrapped and killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire near Yarnell, Arizona on June 30, 2013.

  • 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.
  • A bill is being considered that would allow local governments to ban the sale of certain fireworks.
  • Another bill seeks to clarify what autopsy documents and photos are available to the public. County authorities refused to release autopsy reports for the Yarnell Hill firefighters.
  • Some legislators want the state to buy the state trust land where the hotshots died so it can be preserved as a memorial.
  • Legislators are considering helping the city of Prescott with its costs related to the hotshots’ deaths, but they may wait until the 100+ claims and/or lawsuits are settled before proposing anything specific.
  • They may propose legislation that would at least provide life insurance for public safety workers.

Type 2 helicopter contracts contested

WorldWind Helicopters has protested the contracts that were awarded for 31 Type 2 helicopters used to fight wildland fires. On December 17 the U.S. Forest Service announced exclusive use contracts for the award period that began December 17 and ends April 30, 2015 with options for three additional years. The solicitation was first announced on April 5, 2013 and took over eight months to complete.

More information.

Wing box replacements in the USFS C-130s

Coast Guard C-130H No 1714

Coast Guard C-130H No 1714, October, 2008. This is one of the seven C-130s being transferred to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo by PhantomPhan1974

The legislation that enabled the transfer of seven C-130H aircraft from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service to serve as air tankers required that the wing boxes be replaced and other maintenance be performed.

Fire Aviation has more information about the replacement of the wing boxes and other steps that must be taken to convert the C-130Hs into air tankers.

Share

Measuring the severity of a fire season

By some measures the 2013 wildfire season in the United States was less severe than usual. In the lower 49 states this year to date there has been a decline in the number of fires, the number of acres burned, and the average size of fires. Sounds pretty good so far, right? But there was a sharp rise in the number of firefighters that were killed on fires — 34 so far this year.

Wildland Fire Fatalities 1990 through 2013

Not only did the number of fatalities more than double over last year, according to the data from the National Interagency Fire Center, but the linear trend shows an increase since 1990. The wildland fire fatality statistics from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Fire Administration show even higher numbers for most years.

Of course more than half of the fatalities this year occurred on one fire, the Yarnell Hill Fire which killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. But if that terrible tragedy had not happened, there would still have been 15 fatalities, the same number from the previous year. Between 1990 and 2013 to date the average number of wildland fire deaths is 18 each year.

We can do better. We have to do better.

More wildfire statistics:

Structures lost in wildfires, 2009 to 11-25-2013

Below are some statistics on wildland fire occurrence in the United States from 1990 through today. The numbers are for the lower 49 states, which excludes Alaska, a state that in 2013 to date has had 609 fires that blackened 1,319,234 acres, about half the number of acres that burned in the other 49 states. Fire management in Alaska is very different from the rest of the country. Some fires there are aggressively suppressed, but many fires are not staffed at all, some are fought with small numbers of firefighters, and others only get attention in areas where a remote cabin is threatened. Including Alaska numbers with the rest of the country would skew the trend analysis.

Number of wildfires, lower 49 states, 1990 - 2013

Acres burned lower 49 states, 1990 - 2013

Average size of wildfires, annually, lower 49 states, 1990-2013

Average size of fires by decade, lower 49 states, 1990 - 2013

Share