Wildfire news, February 12, 2009

Prepare, Stay and Defend OR Go Early–Nevada and California

In light of the 200+ deaths in the recent “Black Saturday” fires in Australia, some of the “Prepare, Stay and Defend OR Go Early” programs being implemented or considered in the United States are being looked at closely. The International Association of Fire Chiefs is for the concept, while the International Association of Fire Fighters is against it. (Note: the IAFC removed their document from their web site.)

In Nevada, Kurt Ladipow, Washoe County fire services coordinator, said of the plan they have been working on:

“Are we having second thoughts? In my opinion, we are not.”

In Ventura County, California, Bob Roper, a fire chief who also chairs the IAFC’s Wildland Fire Policy Committee said:

“Right now, there’s not enough information as to exactly what happened, why it happened or what caused the deaths. A light bulb has come on that says we really need to look at what happened over there.”

Esperanza fire trial

On Wednesday jurors were shown about an hour of a video of Raymond Lee Oyler being interviewed at the Cabazon sheriff’s station on October 27, 2006 the day after the fire started. Investigators were led to Oyler after seeing his car going to and from the origin of a fire on October 22, 2006 in video shot by a hidden camera.

Oyler is on trial for setting the Esperanza and 22 other fires in 2006. Five U.S. Forest Service firefighters died in the Esperanza fire.

The Press-Enterprise has excellent coverage of the trial.

West Virginia man dies in brush fire

From the State Journal:

A Pocahontas County man was killed while burning brush. The state fire marshal’s office confirms one man was killed in a brush fire in Marlinton. Officials say the fire was less than 10-acres.

The man’s name has not been released but investigators say it appears he was burning brush around his house when the fire got out of control.

The Division of Forestry responded. It took about 3 hours to get control of the fire.

Investigators say it’s been several years since West Virginia has seen a death as a result of a brush fire.

Del Walters named new director of CalFire

Del Walters, new CalFire Director
Del Walters, new CalFire Director

Del Walters, 54, of Redding, California, has been appointed director of CalFire, replacing the retiring Ruben Grijalva. Mr. Walters has worked for CalFire for 30 years and has been their Executive Officer since 2008. Before taking that position, he was the Staff Chief of the Northern Region.

Farmer dies on a fire in Colorado

From 7 News in Denver, March 26:

ORCHARD, Colo. — A farmer trying to control a fire on his property died Wednesday afternoon when the tractor he was driving flipped into an irrigation ditch.

Morgan County Sheriff Jim Crone said the man was driving his tractor on top of a ditch to get ahead of the fire when the ground shifted or partially collapsed, causing the tractor to flip and roll on top of the farmer. The farmer was killed instantly.

The man, who has not been identified, called for the fire department before his tractor flipped at 2:30 p.m. Deputies believe he was burning brush near the irrigation ditch and it got out of control.

About 100 acres were burned by the brush fire, located northwest of the town of Orchard, Colo.

Investigators report on the Florida I-4 fog/smoke incident

fog-smokeInvestigators have released a report on the Florida January 8 incident that we reported on in which smoke from an escaped prescribed fire may have mixed with fog causing poor visibility on Interstate 4 resulting in five fatalities in vehicle crashes. The report issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says:

“…an unpredictable change in weather caused the prescribed burn to burn erratically which resulted in spot fires.”

Tampa Bay Online has more details:

“TALLAHASSEE – A state investigation has cleared wildlife officials who last month lost control of a prescribed burn that may have contributed to a 70-vehicle pileup on Interstate 4 in Polk County.

The investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services concluded changing weather conditions Jan. 8 caused the 10-acre planned burn to jump firelines and spread to 400 acres. The National Weather Service said smoke from the fire could have combined with fog the next morning to cut visibility on the highway to nearly zero.

Five people died in the predawn pileup and resulting fires, prompting questions about how the fire got out of control and whether the state should have held a controlled burn in the dry season less than a mile from the interstate.

The Florida Highway Patrol is conducting a homicide investigation that also will look at whether smoke from the wildfire played a part in the wrecks.

The report by the Agriculture Department’s law enforcement division states those in charge of the fire followed correct procedures but that an “unpredictable change in weather caused the prescribed burn to burn erratically which resulted in spot fires.”

“There does not appear to be any evidence of criminal violations or gross negligence” by those involved in the burn, investigators concluded in their report.

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission employees conducting the burn reported that the humidity had dropped sharply about an hour after the fire was set at 10 a.m. and winds picked up, spreading the fire outside the protective earthen barriers.

The National Weather Service confirms there was a drop in humidity at the fire site, but meteorologists said that could have been caused by the fire. As warm air from a fire rises, it forces drier air downward. Drier air aids the spread of fire, especially when rainfall has been sparse for a long period.

Daniel Noah, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the agency has no way of knowing whether wind speeds around the fire picked up or wind directions changed. However, Noah did not rule out that possibility.”

A preliminary report issued by the Florida Highway Patrol does not even mention the prescribed fire.