Fire that orphaned mountain lion cubs was started by exploding target

mountain lion cubs fire

Sara Steele and Liz Shellenbarger dry off the mountain lion cubs found under a burning log. Photo by Cory Rennaker, Bitterroot National Forest Helitack, USFS.

Investigators have confirmed that shooters using exploding targets started the Three Mile Fire nine miles east of Florence, Montana in August. The fire burned about 50 acres before firefighters extinguished it at a cost estimated at $94,000.

During the initial attack on the fire, Bitterroot National Forest firefighters rescued a pair of mountain lion cubs. The kittens, just a few weeks old, were taking shelter under a burning log. Firefighters called in a helicopter bucket drop to cool the log, and the kittens, although wet from the 600 gallons of water, were rescued.

Mountain lion cubs

Photo by Cory Rennaker, Bitterroot National Forest Helitack, USFS.

A few weeks after being rescued, the cubs, named Lewis and Clark, were adopted by the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo and Aquarium, and on September 23 made an appearance on David Letterman’s show. During the first two minutes of the video below, Jack Hanna tells Dave about the blank spot in his brain, and then the cubs are brought on.

We have written about exploding targets many times before. The dangerous devices consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user create an explosive when shot by a high-velocity projectile.

Exploding targets have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years. They have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. In June, 2013 a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed after shrapnel from the device struck him in the abdomen causing his death. The Missoulian reported that two years ago a woman in Ohio had her hand nearly blown off while taking a cellphone video of a man firing at an exploding target placed in a refrigerator about 150 feet away.

The U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets in the Northern Region, which includes Montana. The Three Mile Fire occurred on state protected land in a Wildlife Management Area where target shooting is not permissible. The state of Montana has not taken action to specifically prohibit the use of exploding targets, although they can become illegal when fire restrictions are in place.

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Satellite photo of wildfires in Northern Idaho and northwest Montana

Satellite photo of fires in N ID and NW MT 9-25-2014

Satellite photo showing fires in northern Idaho and northwest Montana, September 25, 2014. NASA. (click to enlarge)

This satellite photo from mid-day on Thursday shows wildfires in northern Idaho and northwest Montana. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite.

Smoke appears to be trapped in some drainages in Idaho, which was probably produced by the 8,500-acre Johnson Bar Fire and the 8,000-acre Selway Complex of fires. The fire across the state line near Thompson Falls, Montana, north of the smoky drainage in Idaho, is not showing up on the InciWeb maps.

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Wildfire briefing, September 12, 2014

Three homes damaged in Washington wildfire

A fire near White Salmon, Washington in the Columbia River Gorge damaged three residences Thursday afternoon. The spread of the Copper Fire was stopped at 10 acres and it was almost contained by 9 p.m. Thursday.

Bears are a problem on the fire in Yosemite

Firefighters on the Meadow Fire in Yosemite National Park in California are having to deal with bears as well as the fire. The critters are described as a “major issue” for the safety of fire crews that are staying overnight in spike camps in remote areas near the fire. Measures are being taken to not attract bears to the food and other supplies. Trash is being backhauled daily.

The Meadow Fire started on July 19 and was monitored but not suppressed until it grew substantially on September 7. It is now 4,906 acres and the incident management team is saying it is 50 percent controlled.

Slow wildfire season saves Montana money

The wildfire season that has been much slower than normal in Montana has led to the lowest spending on firefighting in a decade. The number of acres burned in the state this year has been 12 percent of the five-year average. The $1.7 spent so far leaves about $44 million in the fire suppression fund that will be available to use next year.

New system to determine fire danger during Santa Ana winds

The U.S. Forest Service has worked with San Diego Gas & Electric and UCLA to develop a new system to calculate localized fire danger during the strong Santa Ana wind events that typically blow across southern California during the last months of the year. In addition to considering the typical inputs such as temperature, wind speed, relative humidity, and vegetation moisture, the “Fire Prep” program will also analyze the history of each target area over the previous 30 years. The USFS plans to send alerts designed to help fire agencies, other emergency responders and the public take appropriate action based on the threat level.

The system will be unveiled on September 17.

Nine naturally occurring eternal flames

An article at mnn.com lists and has photos of nine sites around the world that have naturally occurring fires burning almost non-stop – many of them for centuries. Most of the fires are fueled by natural gas or methane. There are dozens or hundreds of underground coal fires burning that are not listed, but those are typically difficult or impossible to see or photograph.

Lava flow less than half a mile from subdivision

The lava flowing from the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii is now less than half a mile from the Kaohe Homestead subdivision boundary.

Target practice banned in some areas of California during drought

Excerpts from the Ramona Home Journal:

Cal Fire recently announced restrictions on recreational shooting of guns on public lands due to the extreme risk of wildfire that can result from discharging weapons during the current dry conditions.

Shooting is restricted by County Code when the California Department of Forestry proclaims a “high fire hazard,” which it did on June 20, 2014, making it unlawful for any person to discharge a firearm within State Responsibility Areas until the proclamation is lifted.

According to Cal Fire, there has been an increase in fires caused by recreational shooting across San Diego County, including the General Fire in 2013, and the Border Fire last month. Fire suppression costs for shooting-related incidents in San Diego County cost taxpayers more than two million dollars a year. The announcement from the agency also cited the Health and Safety Code, which states that persons who are responsible for starting a fire will be liable for the costs resulting from that fire.

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Wildfire briefing, September 10, 2014

Time-lapse video of Meadow Fire

time-lapse video of the Meadow Fire

Screen grab from the NPS time-lapse video of the Meadow Fire.

The National Park Service has posted a very cool time-lapse video of the early hours of the expansion of the Meadow Fire when it grew from 19 acres to over 700. More information about the Meadow Fire.

“Send the elevator back down”

Mentoring young firefighters who have the potential to become future leaders is one of the more important responsibilities of seasoned wildland firefighters. Of course the same principle applies in other fields as well. The award winning actor Kevin Spacey has been doing this for years through his Kevin Spacey Foundation and by leading workshops to cultivate emerging artists in the performing arts.

In an interview with NBCNews he was asked what motivated him to get involved in mentoring young artists. He said:

Jack Lemmon – who was my mentor – passed along his philosophy of “sending the elevator back down” and so I am continuing to do exactly that through the work of my Foundation.

Happy Camp Fire Complex achieves Megafire status

The huge fire on the Klamath National Forest continues to work its way across the landscape of northwest California. The Incident Management Team reports it has now burned 105,194 acres, crossing what we call the unofficial threshold of 100,000 acres to obtain the Megafire label. The Team is calling it 30 percent contained.

No residences had been damaged or destroyed on the fire until Monday, when two burned in the Scott River Road area. One of those belonged to 75-year old Nancy Hood who has been continuously staffing a fire lookout for 56 years on the Klamath National Forest. A fund has been established to help Ms. Wood in her time of need. We posted more information about the effort earlier today.

Smokejumpers warn about link between climate change and wildfires

A group of seven Montana smokejumpers have written an opinion piece that was published in the Missoulian.

Below are some excerpts:

…Scientists say that climate change has implications for wildfire danger. We believe them. Since the 1980s, Montana’s wildfire season increased by two months while average global temperatures have steadily trended upward. Climate researcher Steve Running has summarized the data this way: “Since 1986, longer, warmer summers have resulted in a fourfold increase of major wildfires and a sixfold increase in the area of forest burned, compared to the period from 1970 to 1986.” – Science, Vol. 13:927 (2006).

Drought caused by warming temperatures exacerbated the recent pine beetle infestation, which is 10 times larger than any previously recorded. Millions of dead trees provide more fuel for fires and create more risk for those on the front lines.

[...]

We know that many Montanans share our concerns about rising fire danger. While aggressive intervention in wildfires will always be needed, we also need prevention strategies – and that means dealing with climate change. Preventing climate change isn’t possible, but limiting climate change is.

Montana has abundant clean energy resources such as wind and solar power that can provide significant statewide economic benefits. We need prevention strategies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to decrease carbon pollution from the largest point sources – coal-fired power plants. We can create good-paying jobs in clean energy. We can protect our climate and our wildlands, and we can save lives, property and jobs in doing so.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Mike.

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Montana Fire Chief dies one month after vehicle accident

Dave Anderson, a volunteer Fire Chief in Fort Shaw, Montana died Monday, a month after he was injured in a traffic accident. Cascade County Deputy Coroner Jason Boyd said the Chief died as a result of injuries suffered in the crash, along with cardiac complications. The Montana Highway Patrol said he was driving a water tender on U.S. Highway 89 on July 22 when his vehicle collided with a brush truck that was making a U-turn because the driver had missed a turnoff.

On June 19 another Montana firefighter and a family of five was killed when the fire engine driven by Three Forks Fire Chief Todd Rummel experienced a mechanical problem that locked up one of the wheels, causing the truck to veer into the path of the oncoming pickup. Investigators determined that Chief Rummel died of smoke inhalation while unconscious. Matthew Boegli, Crystal Ross and their three young children died of blunt-force trauma on impact. The Chief was driving back to Three Forks at 55 mph while returning from Helena where the truck had been undergoing repairs to its water system.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families.

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Montana: Lost Horse Fire burns through boulder fields

Map of Lost Horse Fire

Google Earth 3-D map of Lost Horse Fire 1:30 a.m. MDT, July 28, 2014.

The Lost Horse Fire 10 miles southwest of Hamilton, Montana is an interesting study in wildland fire behavior and fire suppression tactics. The 40-acre fire is burning in boulder and rock scree fields where the primary method of spreading is through spotting — burning embers traveling hundreds of feet or more and starting new fires in receptive fuels. Some of the patches of vegetation appear to be an acre or more, but most of them are small. The fire is burning on very steep terrain. That fact and the large bounders make it very difficult for firefighters to even walk around in the fire area.

On Saturday three helicopters dropped 72,900 gallons of water on the fire. A large air tanker dropped more than 4,000 gallons of fire retardant on the ridge to try and keep the fire from moving further north.

If you are used to building a fireline to suppress fires, this one already has “firelines” pretty much everywhere — the boulder and rock scree fields that comprise more of the area than the vegetation does.

There is no place for a helicopter to land in the boulders. Rappellers have said they could rappel into the area but there is not much they could do once they are on the ground. So far the only attack has been from helicopters and an air tanker.

Looking at the video below and images from Google Earth, there is more continuous vegetation on the ridge and on the north side, but trying to build fireline where trees grow out of crevices between large rocks would be difficult.

This might be the classic case of needing to back off and find a place from which a burnout could occur, or just try to cool it off from the air to reduce torching and spotting — apparently what they are doing now. If they do nothing but monitor it, it might run out of fuel in a while, or it could be a real pain in the ass for the next four to eight weeks of fire season.

Lost Horse Fire

Screen grab from video of Lost Horse Fire.

Lost Horse Fire

Lost Horse Fire. Undated USFS photo.

You can keep up with the fire on InciWeb and Facebook.

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