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

Learning Review released for smokejumper fatality

A report called a “Learning Review” has been released for the Luke Sheehy fatality, the smokejumper who was killed by a falling limb while suppressing a wildfire on the Modoc National Forest in northeast California on June 10. In addition to the primary report an additional document with supporting information, including some mind-numbing charts, was released.

The objective as stated in the document was to “understand the rationale for the actions/decisions involved in the incident and then, if possible, to learn from them”.

Frequently at Wildfire Today we will write a summary and then our analysis of serious accident reports, but this particular document is very different from the traditional report. It adopts the new paradigm of leaving out conclusions and recommendations, a process that began to be etched into stone in August when the Serious Accident Investigation Guide was revised. This Learning Review claims that “conclusions can sometimes close the door on learning”. I would say on the other hand that they can more frequently open the door to an enhanced safety environment for firefighters. People can sometimes be hit by meteorites, but not often.

And like virtually every research paper, most of the recommendations are for additional studies, ensuring continued employment for academics and researchers.

Call me old school, but this document appears to be more useful for human behavior researchers than firefighters. How did we get to the point where language such as this is used repeatedly in a U.S. Forest Service funded official report about a wildland fire?

  • “Typical mission flow”
  • “Synthesis, analysis and sensemaking”
  • “Margin of maneuver”
  • “Sensemaking team”
  • “Single Loop vs. Double Loop Learning”
  • “Hoberman Sphere”
  • “Pressures and filters”
  • “Mind maps”
  • “Auditory signal”
  • “Signal detection”

The Learning Review does suggest that two additional products be prepared, one for “the field” and another for “the organization”. Maybe the field document, if produced, will be more useful for firefighters. And presumably the organization version will have conclusions and recommendations that will remain secret if the guidelines revised in August are followed.

I am not sure why the U.S. Forest Service paid the 22 people, plus multiple focus groups, to produce this study if they did not receive for their investment products usable by the field or the organization.

But I am old school when it comes to opportunities for learning lessons.

Share

Firefighter killed in New Caledonia

Radio New Zealand is reporting that a firefighter from New Caledonia was killed in a vehicle accident while she was responding to a vegetation fire:

The woman reportedly tried to evade an oncoming car and lost control of her vehicle and crashed.

The 22-year-old woman, who was pregnant, wasn’t wearing a seat belt and thrown from the vehicle and killed.

According to the New Caledonian government, she was the territory’s first firefighter to die in the line of duty.

New Caledonia is a group of islands 750 miles east of Australia.

Our sincere condolences go out to her family and co-workers.

Share

Report of fatal air tanker crash in Australia


Several media sources in Australia are reporting that an air tanker crashed west of Ulladulla in New South Wales and the pilot, the only person on board, has been confirmed dead. The Australian network ABC reported that a wing snapped off the aircraft before it went down.

The aircraft was fighting a fire in very rugged and steep terrain near Wirritin Mountain about 15 nautical miles west of Ulladulla when it went down at about 10:10 a.m. AEDT on Thursday.

The crash started another bushfire which, along with high winds, was hampering efforts to reach the pilot. Other firefighting aircraft were called to the area and were attempting to slow the spread of the fire.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family and coworkers of the pilot.

****

UPDATE AT 12:51 p.m. MDT, October 24, 2013: A second aircraft has crashed in Australia. In this case it was a light plane supporting the firefighting effort. More information is at Fire Aviation.

 

Thanks go out to Ken

Share

Smokejumper killed in training accident

Originally published at 8:46 p.m. MDT, September 27; updated at 8:30 a.m. MDT, September 28.

A Boise Bureau of Land Management smokejumper died Friday afternoon, September 27, in a parachuting accident. Mark T. Urban, 40, was killed after his canopy failed to properly deploy. The accident occurred about 45 miles east of Boise, near Smith’s Prairie at about 12:30 p.m. MDT.

Preliminary information from the BLM indicated that he was conducting a research and development jump using a new device to designed to assist in deploying the canopy.

He had been a jumper for 10 years.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Urban’s family and co-workers.

Share