Wildfire news, May 17, 2009

Canadian firefighter LODD

From FireFighterCloseCalls.com:

We, along with Chief Trent Hill and the members of the Keswick Valley FD, New Brunswick, Canada regret to announce the Line of Duty Death of Firefighter Phil Strang.  Firefighter Strang responded to the report of a fire behind a house in Keswick Valley Friday afternoon. Upon arrival firefighters encountered a power line that had sparked and set a small wooded area on fire.  While extinguishing the fire, Firefighter Strang collapsed from an apparent heart attack and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the Doctor Everett Chalmers Hospital. Firefighter Strang was 64 years old. As always, our most sincere condolences.

Calilfornia: Water tender rollover

Photo courtesy of FirefighterCloseCalls.com

A water tender belonging to North Tree Fire lost control on Interstate 5 and rolled over several times Wednesday while returning from the Jesusita fire in California. It ended up on its wheels and the driver, with non-life threatening injuries, was able to self-extricate before the fire department arrived on scene.

It is likely the water tender was similar to the one below, in a photo from the North Tree site.

Photo courtesy of North Tree Fire

Obama’s environmental record at 100+ days

The Idaho Statesman, via McClatchy Newspapers, has an interesting article about the environmental record of Obama now that we are almost 4 months into his administration. It covers a wide range of topics, but here is an excerpt:

Even so, Tom Partin of the American Forest Resource Council in Portland, Ore., said it remained to be seen where the administration would come down when it came to managing the forests.

“I think they understand there is a problem in the forests and they need to do something soon,” Partin said. “We are cautiously optimistic.”

One way to track what the administration’s plans are is by following the money for such agencies as the Forest Service, the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. During the Bush administration, Dicks said, Forest Service funding was down 35 percent, EPA funding down 29 percent and Interior Department funding down 18 percent.

Under the budget Obama recently sent to Congress, Dicks said, funding for the Forest Service is up 3 percent, Interior is up 9 percent and the EPA is up 29 percent.

“We are still not back to where we should be had we received appropriate support from the previous administration,” Dicks said. “Although there are some holes, the new budget requests are better than what we have been accustomed to.”

Some environmentalists greeted Salazar’s appointment as interior secretary with concern. Though he was from a Western state, Colorado, they considered him too close to business interests, and viewed his support for protecting public lands as suspect.

“The jury is still out on Salazar,” said Bob Irvin, the senior vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife. “We are certainly encouraged by some of the decisions, but let’s see how they are doing in six months.”

Lompoc’s mutual aid

Mark Clayton, Vice President of Local 1906, wrote a short article that was published in the Lompoc (California) Record. It appears to be in response to something, but to what, is not clear.  Here is an excerpt from the curious article:

It is important to understand that our firefighters assist other fire agencies during fire season as part of a statewide Master Mutual Aid Assistance Plan. We participate in this plan out of a desire to aid our fellow firefighters, and serve the communities we are sworn to protect, of which Lompoc is the primary one. We do not participate for the purposes of earning overtime money and receiving accolades.

So, remember that each time a wildfire starts anywhere in our state, your Lompoc firefighters are likely en route to assist. Every dollar they earn is done so out of service to you. They and their families are proud to serve you, and do so out of a sense of duty, honor and professionalism, not the promise of financial compensation and glory.

Redding Searchlight’s series on wildfire

The Redding Searchlight has published another in it’s series of articles on the subject of wildfire. The current one is about fire prevention and fuel modification.  Here is a brief excerpt:

We can have all the responders in the world, but unless we do more work in the prevention area, we will never resolve the wildland fire problem in California,” said Ruben Grijalva, former director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Grijalva headed the agency as it fought last summer’s blazes, retiring in February after three years as chief.

One of the few places that isn’t a battleground in debates about preventing and fighting fire is the land where communities and wildlands meet.

“We don’t have to worry about fire in our forests,” said Chad Hanson, director of the John Muir Project, a conservation group in the northern Sierra. “What we need to focus on is home protection.”

There may be some people out there who disagree with Mr. Hanson’s analysis.

24-hour briefing on air tanker crash

Air tanker crash
Deseret News, Keith Johnson

The U.S. Forest Service has released a preliminary briefing on Saturday’s crash of Air Tanker 42 in Utah:

===============================

Subject: Preliminary (24-Hour) Briefing

To: Ron Hanks

THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS PRELIMINARY AND SUBJECT TO CHANGE

Location: Toole Utah

Date of occurrence: April 25, 2009

Time of occurrence: 10:00 AM

Team leader: NTSB (Kurt Anderson)

Mission: Ferry

Activity: Firefighting airtanker under operational control of New Mexico

Number injured: 0

Number of fatalities: 3

Property damage (such as to vessels, equipment, and structures): Total loss of airframe

Narrative: At approximately 10:00 am Mountain Standard Time, a P2V airtanker with a crew of 3, registered to Neptune aviation impacted terrain near Toole Utah in the Stockton Pass area. All three occupants onboard were killed. The aircraft was traveling from Missoula Montana to respond to the Four Mile fire in Chaves County. This fire and the associated flight was under the operational control of the State of New Mexico The occupants were identified as Tom Risk, Pilot, of Littleton CA, Mike Flynn, co-pilot, of Alamogordo, NM and Brian Buss ,Crew chief of Alberton Montana.

Aircraft debris was scattered over an area approximately 500 feet long and weather conditions at the time of the accident were described as foggy with low ceilings, wind and blowing snow.

The NTSB has assigned Kurt Anderson as Investigator in Charge and the FAA is also participating in the investigation. The investigation team has been on site since Sunday Morning along with representatives from Neptune aviation.

The Forest Service has contacted the NTSB Investigator in Charge to offer any support or assistance as needed. The AFF tracking system has been saved for investigation purposes and the aircraft has the APAREO system on board which may help reconstruct some information from the history of the flight.

Gary Morgan

Air Safety Investigator

USDA Forest Service

Air tanker crashes in Utah

A P2V Neptune air tanker crashed in the Oquirrh mountains today in Utah, killing the three-person crew. The crash occurred between Tooele and Stockton (map).

Tthe three men who died in the crash have been identified as:

  • Tom Risk, 66, from Littleton, Colo., pilot
  • Mike Flynn, 59, from Alamogordo, N.M., crew member
  • Brian Buss, 32, from Alberton, Mont., crew member

The aircraft, Tanker 42, was owned by Neptune Aviation of Missoula, Montana and was enroute from Missoula to Alamorgordo, New Mexico.

The county sheriff began searching for a crash site after a nearby resident reported hearing a large aircraft overhead then what sounded like “two semis crashing head on” at about 10 a.m. At about 11:15 a.m., the sheriff’s office learned through sources in Idaho that an airplane was reported missing.  Due to low clouds, searchers were initially unable to locate the crash site until 1 p.m. when the clouds lifted.

Deputies and search and rescue crews retrieved the victims from the crash site and were working late Saturday afternoon to bring the bodies down from the mountainside. That task was made difficult by low clouds, rain and steep terrain.

Our condolences go out to the families and co-workers of the crew.

Sadly, the P2V-7 Neptune that crashed at Reno on September 1, 2008 was also owned by Neptune Aviation.

air tanker crash
Chris Detrick/The Salt Lake Tribune

Wisconsin: fire spotter plane crashes, killing pilot

The Associated Press and the FAA are reporting that an airplane observing a wildland fire crashed Wednesday at about 2:28 p.m. near Cary, Wisconsin, killing the pilot, the only person on board. Firefighters were working a fire on the ground as the plane observed from the air. The crash occurred in a field near the fire.

The plane, a twin-engine Cessna 337 Skymaster was owned by the state and leased to the Department of Natural Resources.   The name of the pilot has not been released.

WSAW-TV in Wausau reported on its Web site that a witness at the scene, Richard Luther, said he was in his car near the wildfires when he saw the plane circling. Luther said it made three circles and on the fourth circle it became low and dove into the ground.  Mr. Luther was about 300-400 feet from the scene when the plane crashed.

We will update this story as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: 7:20 p.m. April 8, 2009

The pilot has been identified as Heath Van Handel, 36, a DNR employee since 2006.  Before that he was a commercial pilot and flight instructor at Kansas State University.

Wildfire news, March 24, 2009

Salem, NC fatality

From the International Association of Wildland Fire’s FireNet:

IAWF has received notice of the following wildland firefighter fatality from the US Fire Administration:

Name: Gregory Carroll Cooke
Rank: Firefighter
Age: 60
Gender: Male
Status: Volunteer
Years of Service: 20
Date of Incident: 02/20/2009
Time of Incident: Unknown, late in the week of 03/16/09
Date of Death: 03/21/2009
Fire Department: Salem Volunteer Fire Department
Address: 4559 Swift Creek School RD, Whitakers, NC 27891
Fire Department Chief: Paul Powell

Incident Description: Late in the week of 03/16/09, Firefighter Cooke was working at a woods fire when he went into cardiac arrest. He was transported by air to the Wake Medical Center in Raleigh, NC. On Saturday, 3/21/09, Firefighter Cooke passed away.

Our condolences for Mr. Cooke’s family and co-workers.

Three charged with arson in setting East Texas fires

From Chron.com:

Three Eastland County residents have been charged with five counts of arson and one count of organized criminal activity in connection with a series of West Texas wildfires that destroyed five structures in Eastland and Callahan counties.

The Texas Forest Service said in a statement Monday that Christina Utley, 20, of Ranger, Brian Freeman, 23, and Michael Thomas, 24, both of Cisco, were being held at the Eastland County Jail on bails totaling $87,500. A jail official said Monday night he did not know whether the three, who were arrested Sunday, had attorneys.

Forestry officials said the three were initially arrested for fighting and public intoxication but the investigation turned to Sunday’s deliberately set fires after Cisco Police Department found suspicious items in their vehicle.

Forestry officials were still fighting the blazes that had burned at least 270 acres.

San Diego replaces their reverse 911 system

After the Cedar and other large fires near San Diego in 2007 there were some complaints that the reverse 911 system that calls thousands of phone numbers in an emergency did not perform as well as expected. Earlier this month the city of San Diego switched from the “Reverse 9-1-1” system to a new system the city calls “AlertSanDiego” powered by Twenty First Century Communications. Home phones are automatically registered, but the mayor is advising owners of cell phones and Voice over IP (VoIP) phones to register them at the city’s web site.

Senator Udall introduces bill to divert fines to land management agencies

Senator Mark Udall has introduced a bill that would redirect funds that are collected for illegally damaging public lands to the federal agencies that are responsible for restoring the damage. Currently fines are simply deposited into the U.S. Treasury, but if someone pays a fine for starting a fire, for example, the bill would specify that the funds go to the agency on whose land the fire occurred.

Opinion on bushfire management in Australia

A speech made by John Underwood about the management of bushfires in Australia may also have some applicability in much of the rest of the world. You should read the entire text HERE, but here is one paragraph:

The catastrophic bushfires in Victoria this year, and the other great fires of recent years in Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT and South Australia are dramatic expressions not just of killing forces unleashed, but of human folly. No less than the foolish strategies of the World War I Generals, these bushfires and their outcomes speak of incompetent leadership and of failed imaginations. Most unforgivable of all, they demonstrate the inability of people in powerful and influential positions to profit from the lessons of history and to heed the wisdom of experience.

Firefighter close call, manure pit

From FirefighterCloseCalls:

A Firefighter battling a grass fire in northern New York fell into a manure pit and was rescued from possible drowning. Depauville FD recruit Kevin Zoll saved the 6-year veteran Ernest Ross on Friday at a farm in Clayton. Ross was cutting across a field toward a building where flames were spreading when he fell into an unmarked manure pit….it was covered with straw and looked like the field. FF Zoll crawled to the edge of the pit, reached out with a broom handle and pulled Ross in. Ross says that saved his life, than in a few minutes he would have been submerged. Dry and windy conditions led to multiple calls about grass fires.

Thanks Dick.

Missouri LODD

The Kansas City Star is reporting that a firefighter from the Odessa, Missouri fire department collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack while fighting a vegetation fire, Saturday March 15.  Lt. Roger Vorwark, 49, was a five-year veteran of the Odessa Fire and Rescue Protection Division.  He was treated at the scene, then transported by helicopter to a hospital in Independence where he was pronounced dead.

When funeral arrangements are complete they will be announced HERE.

Our condolences to the family and fellow firefighters.