We have written several times about how the inability of fire supervisors to always be situationally aware of the location of firefighters has contributed to at least 24 deaths in recent years — 19 on the Yarnell Hill Fire and 5 on the Esperanza fire. Last month we told you about a system the Florida Forest Service is installing in their radio systems that tracks the location of firefighters. The Orlando Sentinel has an article about this system which provides a few more details. Below is an excerpt:
…To cut through the fog and friction, the Florida Forest Service has been rolling out its Asset Tracker System, equipping all of the nearly 400 bulldozers and fire engines statewide with GPS receivers and radio transmitters. System software will be installed in the laptops of nearly 60 supervisors.
Ralph Crawford, assistant chief of forest protection, said the largely home-built system will cost nearly $2 million but won’t have major, ongoing costs because it doesn’t rely on cellphone or Internet service.
Among the first crews equipped with tracking units were those responding to the Blue Ribbon Fire. But the system was still new, and only one of the ill-fated bulldozers had a location transmitter.
Since then, the system has been refined, and its capabilities are becoming more apparent, said John Kern, a deputy chief of field operations.
Every 30 seconds, the units blurt out an electronic warble, confirming that a packet of data containing unit identification, location, speed and direction had been transmitted by a 40-watt radio able to reach supervisor laptops within 2 miles.
The system doesn’t provide a complete picture of a wildfire; the blaze, for example, isn’t outlined on maps depicted on laptop screens.
But Kern said supervisors are learning to correlate the GPS tracking data with their knowledge of tactics used when fighting fires with bulldozers. Supervisors also will know where to direct a helicopter to drop water should trouble occur.
“If one of our guys calls in, ‘I’m stuck and about to be burned over,’ we’ll know where to go,” Kerns said.
“Fire science is not rocket science—it’s way more complicated.”
That quote comes from research ecologist Matt Dickinson of the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station who said he borrowed it from a colleague. Mr. Dickinson was one of 36 researchers who collected data over a two week period during a series of extensively instrumented prescribed fires at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle last year.
The Joint Fire Science Program organized and helped fund the project, called RxCADRE, which collected 10 terabytes of data using many, many ground based sensors and four orbiting aircraft. Their goal was to obtain a comprehensive dataset of fire behavior, fire effects, and smoke chemistry, using measurements taken systematically at multiple, cascading scales. The information will help scientists and fire modelers test their models and develop better ones, ultimately making them more reliable.
Part of the project included hiring a writer to produce a 12-page overview of their work. It provides a great deal of information about how they planned and conducted the field work, and is for the most part well-written and worth reading, but occasionally lapses into flowery language for the sake of … flowery language.
36 scientists watch as fire’s ancient energy is captured, photographed, mapped, sensed, counted, measured, weighed, and rendered into data.
The fire catches, wavers, and bellies gently before the wind. It spreads unevenly, then comes together, licking the grasses.
The Joint Fire Science Program deserves kudos for organizing this important research and for arranging to produce the 12-page overview.
On Friday, May 10 we posted a photo that Stefan Willet of Daytona, Florida, AKA @bassking511, placed on Twitter. Mr. Willet described it as “huge fire off the highway”. One of our loyal readers, Kraig Krum, the Fire Management Coordinator for Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management, sent us the photo above and identified both of them as a prescribed fire:
…The photo captioned “Fire in Florida” with your Wildfire Briefing 5/10 was actually a prescribed burn conducted by ERM staff at our Cypress Creek Natural Area. The fire was in slash pine/gallberry/palmetto (FM 7) and included about 200 acres. It was the 5th prescribed burn we have done this year for a combined 800 acres. I took the attached photo during Friday’s burn. ERM staff manages approximately 31,000 acres of conservation land in Palm Beach County, with much of it being in densely populated WUI areas. More information on our prescribed burn program can be found at http://pbcgov.org/erm/natural/burn-program/. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for all the great information you have on Wildfire Today! Kraig
Smokejumpers who parachuted into the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon to suppress a lightning-caused fire discovered a marijuana plantation in the Applegate area on Monday.
The jumpers reported the garden, and Jackson County sheriff’s spokeswoman Andrea Carlson said law enforcement officers hiked in to the area and seized two guns and more than 1,000 small marijuana plants. Carlson said it appeared to be an operation run by Mexican drug gangs.
In addition to the pot, the garden had fertilizer, PVC piping, and a great deal of trash.
Military and civilian agencies conclude fire training at Camp Pendleton
Five military, law enforcement, and fire agencies concluded their annual wildfire training at California’s Camp Pendleton Thursday. Here are some excerpts from the Union Tribune:
Marine Corps units from Camp Pendleton and 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing joined sailors from Navy Region Southwest, and units from Cal Fire and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department for this week’s sixth annual wildfire training exercise.
Cal Fire signed an agreement with the Navy in 2004 and the Marine Corps in 2007, and the three agencies began holding annual three-day training exercises in 2008.
On Thursday, the third and final day of the exercise, helicopters filled 300-plus-gallon buckets by dropping them into Lake Pulgas, then emptied the massive containers over a marked spot in the hills. The battle against the simulated fire included ground crews and bulldozer operations, an added component to the training.
More good news for local residents is the Marine Corps has two more CH-46 helicopters at its disposal for potentially fighting fires than in the past. Last year, just one of the helicopters was available, because the others were deployed, Lt. Col. Dana Gemmingen said. This year, up to three CH-46 helicopters could be available, he said.
As this is written at 1:06 p.m. MT, I am hearing thunder in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Darren Clabo, the South Dakota State Fire Meteorologist, wrote the following this morning when describing a frontal passage expected today:
…The forecasted combination of relative low RHs, favorable fuel characteristics, a chance of lightning, and shifting winds may lead to problematic fire weather conditions this afternoon. This is not a Red Flag Warning day but conditions still warrant a heads-up.
Other western states experiencing lightning right now include Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Montana, and Texas.
Lessons Learned Center web site back up
The web site of the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center was down for part of this week, leaving wildfirelessons.net and myfirecommunity.net inoperable for three days — Monday through Wednesday. It is back up, but not at 100 percent capability. They are still making some repairs.
Farm workers fired for fleeing California wildfire
Fifteen strawberry pickers who were fired last week for fleeing when a large wildfire was burning nearby, have been rehired.
MAFFS training concludes in Cheyenne
Training and recertification for Air National Guard Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) C-130 crews from Wyoming and North Carolina concluded today. Below is a photo of one of the four aircraft. We have more photos over at Fire Aviation.
Forest Service report spotlights fire risk for homes on the edge of wildlands
In a recently released report, U.S. Forest Service researchers noted that about 90 percent of fuel reduction treatments on national forests were effective in reducing the intensity of wildfire while also allowing for better wildfire control.
The report, “Wildfire, Wildlands, and People: Understanding and Preparing for Wildfire in the Wildland-Urban Interface,” synthesizes the latest research and provides examples of what communities in the wildland-urban interface can do to reduce their risk by becoming “fire adapted.” Aimed at community planners, the report also underscores the important roles that homeowners and local, state, and federal governments play in reducing risk and describes available tools and resources.
Department Secretaries to visit NIFC
The Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, Sally Jewell and Tom Vilisack, will visit the National Interagency Fire Center Monday. Ms. Jewell was recently confirmed in her new position and supervises the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Fire in Florida
Stefan Willett of Daytona, Florida, aka @bassking511, just tweeted the following photo with the hashtags #jupiter and #fl. He described it as “huge fire off the highway”.
Everglades National Park has produced another excellent video about their prescribed fire program. You may have seen one of their others, River of Grass, by then National Park Service employee Jennifer Brown, who now has her own video production company, Into Nature Films. Ms. Brown made this video as well, working with Fire Management Officer/Executive Producer Rick Anderson.
Here is the description of this video:
“National Park Service managers conduct a prescribed fire in cooperation with Boy Scouts of America. Camp Everglades is in the Pine Rocklands of Everglades National Park. This active Boy Scout Camp is in a fire dependent pine forest. Plants and animals that live in this rare and imperiled forest have adapted to frequent fires that are ignited by the abundant lightning that visits the land during summer storms. Humans may have used fire in this area to stimulate the growth of fresh green shoots in this otherwise nutrient poor forest. Coontie, a primitive plant who’s roots were processed to make a starch-rich bread by Native peoples and Florida pioneers, responds well to frequent fire. Everglades fire managers work with the Boy Scouts to reduce accumulations of brush and other flammable vegetation to reduce the threat of severe unplanned wildfires.”
These photos were taken by Cass Palmer, the Incident Commander of the Huckabee Fire which is burning in Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida. Mr. Palmer is an employee of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and is a Fire Management Officer for that agency. We wrote about the fire earlier.