Park Service boat hauls supplies to hurricane ravaged islands

Above: MV Fort Jefferson. NPS photo.

A lot of people have not heard of a park that is 68 miles west of Key West, Florida. Dry Tortugas National Park is comprised of seven islands, plus protected coral reefs. Garden Key is home to beaches and the 19th-century Fort Jefferson. The National Park Service operates a boat named after the fort that makes regular runs to the park. It turns out that a boat is one of the best ways to haul large quantities of supplies to hurricane damaged islands.

From the National Park Service on September 25, 2017:

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Homestead, Fla. – The 110-foot MV [Motor Vessel] Fort Jefferson, normally used to transport staff and supplies to Dry Tortugas National Park, has been loaded with over 24 tons of supplies and equipment for national parks in the Caribbean following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The vessel departed today and will make the 78-hour trip from Key West to the Caribbean national parks this week.

“We are grateful to Dry Tortugas National Park for use of their vessel to get critical supplies to our Caribbean parks,” said [Eastern Incident Management Team] Incident Commander James King. “When I contacted Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos, he didn’t bat an eye and immediately offered his support.”

On Sunday, September 24, EIMT logistics personnel loaded over 20 pallets of food, water, fuel, and generators on the vessel. Three National Park Service boat crewmembers along with four Law Enforcement Rangers will accompany the shipment to the Caribbean. The boat is transporting supplies and resources to Virgin Islands National Park on the island of St. John and Christiansted National Historic Site on the island of St. Croix.

MV Fort Jefferson
NPS photo.

In addition to transporting supplies for the National Park Service, the vessel is also transporting six pallets of supplies for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a sister agency within the Department of the Interior. The agency has employees on the Caribbean Islands, who normally work at three National Wildlife Refuges. The two agencies have worked closely through Hurricanes Irma and Maria on stabilization, cleanup, and recovery efforts.

Employee accountability and care continue to be primary concerns of the National Park Service. Employees at all six national parks in the Caribbean have been accounted for, with the exception of San Juan National Historic Site where employee communications are currently hampered by power outages, flooding, and inaccessible roadways.

Additional updates on the status of these parks can be found at http://go.nps.gov/hurricane. Photos may be found at www.flickr.com/photos/nps_eimt.

Florida man billed $50,000 for wildfire that started from his book fire

On March 23 in Nassau County, Florida a fire escaped from Brian Sparks’ yard while he was burning books. The Garfield Road Wildfire burned 705 acres and two homes.

Monday he received an invoice from the Florida Department of Agriculture for the costs of suppressing the fire — $59,403.38. The bill includes the costs incurred by a dozer/plow, rangers, five hours for a fixed wing aircraft, and other firefighters from several counties.

Florida Garfield Road Fire
Garfield Road Fire, March 23, 2017. Florida Forest Service photo.

Mr. Sparks is also facing a misdemeanor criminal citation for failure to obtain a department permit and reckless land burning which included paperback books and other clutter.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Robin.
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Static rocket test starts vegetation fire at Kennedy Space Center

Above: Static test firing of a SpaceX rocket, May 28, 2017 at the Kennedy Space Center. The smoke is from the rocket, not the vegetation fire. SpaceX photo.

The static test firing of a rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida started a vegetation fire in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge May 28. SpaceX was conducting a test of a Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 39A when the fire accidentally started on what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called a small island. With the aid of water drops from a helicopter the spread of the fire was stopped at four acres.

SpaceX plans to actually launch the rocket Thursday June 1 at 5:55 p.m. EDT to ferry a Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge fire
The fire burned about four acres in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS photo.
Launch Complex 39A photo
Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

West Mims Fire headlines fade away; firefight and drought continues

Above: A helicopter carries a bucket of water on a drop at the fire in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Photo via InciWeb, posted May 14, 2017. 

Remember the West Mims Fire?

The massive blaze that generated national media attention for days, threatened a Georgia town and sent ash falling over densely populated cities has all-but-faded away for most of the country. Aided by Mother Nature, crews continue to gain the upper hand on the 152,000-acre lightning-sparked wildfire, which was 60 percent contained as of this weekend.

Seven helicopters, two air tankers, 135 wildland fire engines, 62 bulldozers, five hand crews, and 1,025 personnel were assigned to the blaze Sunday.

“The fire remained relatively inactive,” officials said in an update.

While “inactive” is the name of the game for the West Mims Fire — and for spring fire situations across much of the U.S. inundated with spring storms and abundant moisture — it’s anything but quiet in the Sunshine State.

Twenty-eight fires in excess of 100 acres burned over the weekend within Florida Fire Service jurisdiction, charring 36,000 acres, according to state figures.

Such blazes blackened 109,415 acres of land so far this year.

Fire danger indices were “high” or “very high” in more than a dozen Florida counties this weekend. Citrus growers “are irrigating daily to keep moisture on the trees,” the USDA reported, and “ditches and canals are very dry in all [citrus] areas.” Plus, livestock producers are having to have hay shipped in as a result of the dry conditions.

And even though some rain was in the forecast for some Florida residents, state officials said they’re not out of danger by any stretch of the imagination.

“We are buckled up for a very long and very hot wildfire season,” said Adam Putnam, the commissioner of agriculture in Florida, according to Bloomberg News. 

Florida drought monitor report May 18, 2017.
U.S. Drought Monitor report May 18, 2017.

Meanwhile, others around the country are enjoying a relatively unusual drought-free reality as June nears.

Feet — yes, feet — of snow fell in Colorado and across the Rocky Mountains late last week as a potent spring storm plowed through the region. And places accustomed to persistent drought, like California, continue to bask in aftermath of an especially soggy winter.

“An active weather pattern continued to result in widespread showers, with some of the heaviest rain falling across the Plains, Midwest, and mid-South,” the U.S. Drought Monitor reported last week.

“Another area of significant precipitation stretched across the middle and northern Atlantic States, while showers also dotted the Northwest. In contrast, mostly dry weather prevailed from California to the lower Rio Grande Valley, as well as large sections of the lower Southeast.”

National drought snapshot, via U.S. Drought Monitor May 18, 2017, report.
National drought snapshot, via U.S. Drought Monitor May 18, 2017, report.

Though hot temperatures are forecast for parts of California early this week, a cold front is expected to move through the Pacific Northwest, bringing cooler conditions and more moisture, according to the National Weather Service. 

Floridians in the meantime will have to keep waiting for the rainy seasons to finally begin, later this month and into June.

“It’s kind of like an ugly cycle. Hot breeds dry and dry breeds hot,” meteorologist Grant Gilmore told the Tampa Bay Times last week. “…It doesn’t look like the cycle breaks in a big way any time soon.”

Military training exercise sparks 4,000-acre Florida wildfire

A military training exercise in Florida this week sparked a wildfire that has since burned thousands of acres and sent smoke billowing for miles.

The fire started Wednesday in the weapons-impact area of Avon Park Air Force Range in central Florida. Officials had restricted training activities that involved exploding or incendiary devices, but the fire still sparked and quickly grew to about 4,000 acres, news outlets in the area reported. 

Firefighters are generally letting the fire burn to containment lines, citing concerns about the possibility of encountering old munitions or un-exploded devices.

The range is used for air-to-ground training exercises  and consists of more than 100,000 acres of land. No structures were immediately threatened, and no injuries were reported.

 

Firefighter rescues fawn from West Mims Fire; extreme conditions persist

With Georgia’s West Mims Fire now making continual headlines, photos of smoke plumes and falling ash are seemingly everywhere. That means this photo from a couple weeks ago is sure to make the rounds, too.

Published April 28 on InciWeb, the shot of a firefighter carrying a fawn to safety quickly got buried in a tide of photos showing the fire’s massive smoke plumes and stories about the front jumping containment lines. Ash fell on parts of downtown Jacksonville, Florida, over the weekend.

The West Mims Fire burns along Highway 94, near St. George, in this photo posted Monday on InciWeb.
The West Mims Fire burns along Highway 94, near St. George, in this photo posted Monday on InciWeb.

According to the latest updates, the West Mims Fire has burned more than 140,000 acres. Another 7,000 acres has burned by Monday afternoon, and flame lengths up to 150 feet were reported.

Tuesday’s outlook was anything but promising.

“The fire will be fuel-driven and plume-dominated, meaning that when tall columns develop, they could abruptly collapse, sending downburst winds in all directions. Two columns could also develop at the same time,” officials said. “All this extreme fire behavior will create very dangerous conditions for firefighters.”