Norovirus on Elbow Pass fire: lessons learned

The Montana Department of Natural Resources has released a lessons learned report on an outbreak of Norovirus on the Elbow Pass fire in August. It appears that quick, decisive action by the incident management team reduced the spread of the disease before it infected a large number of firefighters.


Lessons Learned

Montana DNRC, Northern Region Safety & Occupational Health

December 2012

Summary of incident:

On the morning of August 4th, 2012, three food handlers who were working for a state kitchen on the Elbow Pass Fire became ill with gastrointestinal symptoms and were transported to a health clinic for treatment. The safety officer and Logistics Section Chief from the Elbow Pass fire camp immediately took precautions, including contacting the Lewis and Clark County Health Department to report a possible outbreak of food-borne illness. Officials from the health department were dispatched on August 5th to investigate the site, and found the kitchen had met cleaning standards and was in good working order. Samples from those sickened were sent to a lab, two of which ultimately tested positive for Norovirus G1. Norovirus is commonly known as stomach flu, and can spread rapidly through person-to-person contact and food contamination, especially in closed communities such as fire camps. The entire kitchen and all kitchen staff were demobilized from the incident on August 6th, and the kitchen was cleaned two more times. By August 7th, an additional four cases were reported for a total of seven individuals. There was no evidence that the virus was ever spread through the kitchen or food, as all cases were directly tied to person-to-person contact. No additional cases were reported after the 7th, and all individuals that were sickened recovered within 24 hours of showing signs of infection.

What was done well:

1. The rapid response of the Incident Command team: this included calling the County Health Department as soon as symptoms were detected and requesting additional medics to be assigned to the incident.

2. Food contact surfaces were disinfected early, and the kitchen overall was held to a high standard of cleanliness.

3. Ill food handlers were kept away from the food production area, transported to a clinic for assessment and treatment, and were not allowed to return to work until well after recovery.

4. The responsiveness of the Incident Management Team and the DNRC-CLO staff to establish timelines for treatment, quarantine of individuals (and separate toilet facilities), and cleaning of the kitchen.

5. Quickly after the outbreak, a back-up plan was established for switching to an alternative food source.

6. The fire camp implemented early on the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, “Infectious Diseases Guidelines for Wildland Fire Management Teams”.

Recommendations/Lessons Learned:

1. Strive to have toilets and “warm water” hand washing stations in place at the incident as soon as possible once crews start to assemble or arrive at the incident.

2. Eliminate or reduce “self-service” food handling. This includes salad and fruit bars, and communal coolers.

3. Encourage everyone in fire camps to practice good hygiene procedures, and educate Incident Management Teams in early detection of food borne illnesses and how to contain them.

4. Specifically train those working as kitchen staff in proper hygiene procedures as well as in early detection of food borne illnesses.

5. Kitchen units, whether state-owned or private contractors, should consider the purchase or lease of portable toilets that can be exclusively used by and travel with the kitchen unit.


John Mayer concert to benefit firefighters of Pine Creek fire in Montana

Mayer concert for Pine Creek Fire firefighters

UPDATE: the concert raised $100,000 for the firefighters.


John Mayer owns a home in Pine Creek, a small community about seven miles south of Livingston, Montana. The town was heavily impacted by the Pine Creek fire which on August 29, 2012 burned through the community and then into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness on the Gallatin National Forest, eventually blackening 8,500 acres. Firefighters saved many homes, including Mr. Mayer’s, but five were lost in the fire.

In an effort to recognize and pay back the firefighters, he is organizing a concert to raise money for the local fire departments who fought the fire.

It is heartwarming to see rich people use their money, influence, or time to help a local community like Mr. Mayer is doing here. Another example is Michael Goguen the venture capitalist who is providing funding for a rescue helicopter in the Flathead Valley of Montana. Is there something about Montana that inspires this kind of generosity?

Kelly Anderson covered the Pine Creek Fire for Wildfire Today while I was working in Portugal.

Pine Creek Fire
Pine Creek Fire. Photo by the Incident Management Team

The benefit concert will take place on Wednesday, January 16th at the Emerson Theater in downtown Bozeman, MT. Mr. Mayer will be joined onstage by Zac Brown and Clay Cook of Zac Brown Band. Also performing will be David Ryan Harris, Sean Hurley and Aaron Sterling among other special guests. Zac Brown and Clay Cook, along with long time band mate David Ryan Harris, will step in to add vocals.

In Mr. Mayer’s own words, “Without the tireless effort and dedication of the firefighters of the Pine Creek Fire, many more homes and memories would have been destroyed, mine among them. I wasn’t in town when the fire broke out and I’ve always wished I could do my part to help, the way so many in the community did. Putting on a concert to raise some money for the departments is the least I can do for a town and a community that has welcomed me with open arms.”

Tickets for The Livingston Town Proper, will go on sale December 15th at 10 a.m. MT. A limited number of premium seats will be available through Tickets-for-Charity at $1,000 per ticket package, including a donation directly benefiting the Park County Community Foundation (PCCF) to support local wildfire relief. These tickets include a meet and greet with John and Zac Brown as well as an autographed poster. For more information on Tickets-for-Charity’s Charitable Sale™ program, go here. The rest of the tickets will range in price from $100 to $250 and can be purchased at

Map of Pine Creek Fire

Wildfire news, October 9, 2012

Another claim against the USFS for escaped prescribed fire in Montana

Another land owner has filed a claim against the U.S. Forest Service for the 2010 Davis prescribed fire that escaped on the Helena National Forest and burned approximately 450 acres of private land belonging to multiple owners. In June Wildfire Today told you about three land owners who are suing the government seeking unspecified damages and a jury trial.

The latest claim is from Andy Skinner, who is asking for $137,770 for damage to his property. He is also asking for $50,000 for the time it has taken for him to research the damage and file the claim.

The Davis prescribed fire northwest of Helena, Montana escaped on August 26, 2010 and burned over 2,000 acres of private and U.S. Forest Service land.

Wildfire Today covered the Davis Fire extensively in 2010, and summarized some of the coverage on November 22, 2010 after the U.S. Forest Service released their report on the incident. We highlighted some of the issues that led to the escaped prescribed fire.

Minnie fire may burn for weeks

The Minnie fire in northwest Minnesota near Fourtown, between Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods, has moved into areas containing peat, and is now burning deep underground in the organic soil, making it extremely difficult to suppress. Unless the area receives a great deal of rain soon, it will most likely burn for weeks, or longer.

Extraordinary photo of vehicle fire

A motorist that had to stop when a vehicle fire in Missoula closed a road, took some photos of the burning car. One of them captured the moment a vessel inside the car exploded, demonstrating why firefighters need to employ proper tactics on these fires, and why adequate personal protective equipment should be worn.

Red flag warnings and record-breaking heat expected in California

A weather forecast for record-breaking triple-digit heat and single digit humidities has brought out a red flag warning for some areas in southern California for Monday and Tuesday. The temperatures are expected to be about 20 degrees hotter than normal,  between 95 and 105 at the lower elevations in the mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties on Monday, then a few degrees cooler on Tuesday. Downtown Los Angeles is expected to hit 100 degrees on Monday, with it reaching 105 degrees in Burbank and Pasadena.

Northeast winds at 10 to 20 mph with 30 mph gusts are expected on Monday, with Tuesday afternoon bringing 25 mph onshore winds.

Red Flag Warnings, October 1, 2012

The map below shows the area in southern California covered by the red flag warning, which is in effect from 6 a.m. Monday until 6 p.m. PDT Tuesday.

Red Flag Warning, Southern California, October 1, 2012

There is also a red flag warning for some areas in northwest Montana for gusty winds and low humidities from 11 a.m. through midnight MDT on Monday. The winds are expected to be southwest at 15 to 25 mph with gusts up to 50, with the humidities as low as 16 percent.

The passage of a cold front has resulted in a red flag warning for western Minnesota from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m. CDT on Monday. Winds should be northwest at 20 with gusts up to 30 mph along with humidities as low as 20 percent.

A fire weather watch is in effect for areas in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Incident Management Team using iPads on Sawtooth Fire

Sawtooth Fire
Sawtooth Fire, Inciweb photo

Greg Poncin’s Type 1 Incident Management Team is using iPads as they manage the Sawtooth Fire near Hamilton, Montana. A member of the team developed an app that can assist in collecting and distributing information on a near real time basis wirelessly using a 3G cell phone system. The team is using them to share maps, documents, photos, and videos.

An article at KAJ18 about the system does not say, but I imagine they are putting the Incident Action Plan on the devices as well. iPads may not be very practical to carry on the fireline, but if it is compatible with an iPhone, firefighters in a spike camp may in the future be submitting their time to the finance section on a hand-held wireless device.

If the team does not have a wireless hot spot at the Incident Command Post, the system would be dependent on 3G cell phone service, which is not always easy to find at the scene of a large wildland fire.

A video at KAJ18 features Incident Commander Poncin describing the innovation.

The Sawtooth fire, according to the information on InciWeb, has burned 5,882 acres and is 45 percent contained.

UPDATE at 10:40 a.m. MT, September 28, 2012:

Kelly reports to us that a helicopter pilot friend told her that on the Sawtooth fire the Helicopter Managers were getting the Incident Action Plans (IAP) wirelessly. On the Halstead fire the pilot obtained copies of maps by using a smart phone or iPad to scan a QR code (similar to a bar code) on the front of the IAP.

The possibilities for this kind of technology are endless.

What new technologies have you seen recently on wildfires? Or, what new technologies have the potential to be implemented on fires which could enhance efficiency, reduce costs, or help to provide a safer working environment for firefighters?

Time lapse video of Dugan Fire in Montana

I like time lapse videos of wildfires. This one of the Dugan Fire near Ekalaka in southeast Montana (map) not only shows the fire itself, but also includes some dozers working at what appears to be 500 miles an hour. It begins with some still images — the time lapse starts at 0:37.

The Dugan Fire burned 10,675 acres and is contained, according to InciWeb. Below is another photo of the fire.

Dugan Fire
Dugan Fire, InciWeb photo