Wildfire briefing, November 5, 2015

Deceased man found in vegetation fire

Firefighters found the body of a 90-year-old man in a brushfire on November 3 near Bainbridge, Ohio. Preliminary indications are that Melvin B. Elliott was raking leaves during the early stages of the fire, but the cause of death has not been determined.

California city bans drones during emergencies

The city council of Poway, California passed a new ordinance this week that prohibits launching, operating or landing drones in any part of the city where an emergency has been declared. The objective is to eliminate conflicts between unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters or fixed wing aircraft responding to the incident. Several times this year hobby drones flown near wildfires have required firefighting helicopters and air tankers to be grounded for safety reasons.

Efforts to wrest control of federal lands can’t be ignored

The movement to grab federal lands, such as national forests, BLM land, and national parks, and turn it over to states or private landowners can’t be ignored. The efforts are real and are not going away. At least 37 land transfer bills have been introduced in state legislatures with six of them passing; another four have been finalized as “study” legislation.

Below is an excerpt from an article in Wyofile written by Angus M. Thuermer Jr., in which the view is expressed that one of the tactics is to starve federal agencies by reducing their funding, then accuse them of mismanagement, and arguing that states, individuals, or large companies would be better land managers.

[The views of Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership] illuminate the seriousness with which some in the conservation community are now viewing the renewed Sagebrush Rebellion. The movement is supported by a strategy that’s decades old — starving land management agencies — transfer critics say. Launched under the guise of deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility, budget cutting is also a cynical ploy to sow dissatisfaction of federal western land management at the grassroots level, Fosburgh contends.

At least six hikers killed in Indonesia wildfire

At least six hikers were killed and three others suffered severe burns in a wildfire on Indonesia’s island of Java, according to the BBC.

Below is an excerpt from a BBC article:

Officials believe the fire [at Mount Lawu] was caused by a bonfire started by hikers that was not extinguished properly, and spread quickly due to dry conditions.

Local disaster agency official Agung Lewis told AFP news agency that the area the hikers were in had been closed off earlier.

“The area is actually closed for hiking because there had been previous cases of wildfires due to the dry weather, so we suspect these hikers could have used unofficial routes,” he told the news agency.

Report released for fatality on the Frog Fire

Frog Fire fatality site photoThe U.S. Forest Service has released a preliminary report for the fatality of Dave Ruhl on the Frog Fire. Mr. Ruhl went missing the evening of July 30, 2015 while scouting the fire on foot, serving as incident commander during the initial attack in a very remote area of the Modoc National Forest 46 air miles east of Mt. Shasta, California. His body was found about 14 hours later approximately one-quarter mile from where he was last seen.

(Click on the image below, the timeline of the fire, to see a larger version.)

Frog Fire timeline

On August 4 the USFS said the autopsy determined that Mr. Ruhl’s death was attributed to “carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation”.

Not much information is in the report that sheds light on what led to his being entrapped by the fire, or what decisions were made or not made that led Mr. Ruhl to be in that spot at the wrong time. The wind direction did shift, which drove the fire in different directions, possibly resulting in his location becoming compromised.

The report’s narrative ends with this:

Although much will remain unknown about Dave’s decision making and complete route of travel, the final 100 feet of his route were accurately established. It appears he was cut-off and overcome by fire during the period of time that the fire spread shifted dramatically toward the west-southwest. Dave’s fire shelter was not deployed.

This document, called by the USFS a “learning review, preliminary report — narrative”, was released a little over two months after the fatality, a remarkably short amount of time for the agency. ItiPhone texts comes after the USFS was extremely secretive during the first five days after the accident, refusing to divulge if a fire shelter was deployed, where the remains were found, or if the fatality was caused by a burnover, vehicle accident, lightning, or another type of accident.

The report confirms something that could be occurring at many fires — behind the scenes communications via cell phones. The Zone Duty Officer sent two text messages to Mr. Ruhl confirming that he was a TRAINEE Type 3 Incident Commander, and ordering him to clarify that over the radio to the others on the fire. The next text message sent to Mr. Ruhl was, “And I won’t text anymore. Sorry for that.” And finally, an hour and a half later after it became obvious he was missing, “I need you to call or text ASAP, we are very concerned on your status.” The screen shot of those four messages from the Zone Duty Officer’s iPhone did not include any replies from Mr. Ruhl.

Dave Ruhl
Dave Ruhl

The full report can be downloaded (2.1 mb).

All of the above images are from the report.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged Dave Ruhl.

Remains found of a fourth person killed in the Valley Fire

fatality valley fire
This NASA image shows in red the areas detected by a satellite has having burned in the 76,000-acre Valley Fire 62 miles north of San Francisco.

On Tuesday the Lake County Sheriff’s office announced that the body of a fourth person killed in the fire was discovered.

Search teams find the remains of two more people in the Valley Fire

Search teams using cadaver dogs found the remains of two more people in the Valley fire, which as burned over 73,000 acres 62 miles north of San Francisco. The Lake County Sheriff’s office announced that on September 16 the remains were discovered in the Hidden Valley and Anderson Springs areas.

Based on the locations, reports about missing persons, and evidence found, the Sheriff’s office has tentatively identified the remains, but has not yet obtained positive identification.

This brings the total number of people killed in the Valley Fire to three. Earlier, the body of 72-year-old Barbara McWilliams, a retired teacher, was found. She had multiple sclerosis and was apparently unable to escape her home as the fire approached. There was a report that a neighbor offered to help her evacuate, but she refused.

On September 16 Kevin Ragio, the Calaveras County Coroner, confirmed that two bodies were found in another fire in California, the Butte Fire, which has burned over 70,000 acres south of Jackson, California. Both of the people killed were in Mountain Ranch.

Our main article about the Butte Fire
Our main article about the Valley Fire

Coroner confirms two fatalities in the Butte Fire in California

Kevin Ragio, the Calaveras County Coroner, has confirmed that two bodies have been found in the Butte Fire, which has burned 71,000 acres south of Jackson, California. Both were in Mountain Ranch.

One was found near Baker Riley Road. Mark McCloud, 65, had refused to evacuate and was overcome by the fire. He was found outside his home.

Another body was discovered in the remains of a home in the M 24 community. The release of the name is pending notification of next of kin.

Map Butte Fire 9-15-2015
The red line represents the perimeter of the Butte Fire on September 15, 2015. The white line was the perimeter on September 13.

At last count the destroyed structures in the Butte Fire included 233 residences and 175 outbuildings. Many areas in Calaveras and Amador Counties are still under evacuation notices, but others are being repopulated.

Resources assigned to the fire include 4,865 personnel, 519 fire engines, 92 hand crews, 10 helicopters, and 94 dozers.

Our main article about the Butte Fire.