Female inmate crew feeds firefighters in Nevada

Smith Ranch Fire
Smith Ranch Fire as seen from the Jiggs Highway (SR 228) shortly after igniting from a lightning strike July 19, 2013. InciWeb photo.

A female inmate crew from a Conservation Camp in Las Vegas prepared meals for the firefighters working on the Smith Ranch Fire 10 miles north of Jiggs, Nevada. Rae Brooks, an Information Officer at the fire, wrote the article and took the photos below. In case you’re wondering, it is against the rules to take photos of the inmates’ faces.

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inmates prepare steaks for dinner
Female inmate kitchen crew prepares New York steaks for firefighters’ dinner

“ELKO, Nev. — The task: prepare a hot breakfast, hearty bag lunches and a three-course dinner for 250 firefighters in a cow pasture with no running water. The pay: a dollar an hour — and a day knocked off their sentences for every eight hours worked.

A kitchen crew of 14 female inmates from the Jean Conservation Camp in Las Vegas have been providing meals for firefighters this week on the Smith Ranch Fire, about 25 miles southeast of Elko.

Ranging in age from 21 to 48, the women are all minimum-security prisoners who are being rewarded with the privilege of working outside the conservation camp fence after making it through a rigorous screening process, passing a physical-fitness test and undergoing a comprehensive training program.

Another reward: What one crew member called “big old smiles” from the firefighters working on the 2,777-acre blaze. After a long hot day building line — and a few days subsisting on Meals-Ready-to-Eat — the firefighters are not hesitant to let the kitchen crew know how much they appreciate tucking into a real meal.

“A lot of us never had that appreciation before,” said the crew member. “So to have it is great.”

The meal on tap this particular evening: 8-oz. New York steaks, black bean chili, cheesy mashed potatoes and three different types of salad, followed by freshly baked apple pie.

Pies at Smith Ranch Fire
Eighteen apple pies baked in a transportable oven for firefighters’ dinner at Smith Ranch Fire

The Nevada Division of Forestry and the Nevada Department of Corrections jointly run nine minimum-security conservation camps throughout the state where inmates serve sentences, while doing project work and serving on emergency-response crews for wildland fire suppression, flood control, search and rescue, and ice and snow removal.

Although much of the work the inmate crews perform is unpaid, they generate about $1.4 million annually for the state’s general fund.

Only the Jean location houses female inmates. During the past two years, Jean crews have worked more than 12,000 hours on 28 emergency incidents.

When they arrive at a fire, the crew can have their kitchen up and running within an hour. Their normal workday begins at 3 a.m., and except for a few hours’ rest in the mid-day heat, ends an hour short of midnight.

dining tables at Smith Ranch fire
Outdoor dining tables await firefighters at Smith Ranch Fire

Wearing hairnets and disposable gloves, the women prepare and cook meals on a portable outdoor two-sided range, then serve the food in a cafeteria-style line. After each meal, they do clean up. They are also responsible each day for making sandwiches and stuffing multiple lunch items into a legion of paper sacks.

At night, they bed down in tents, watched over by a female correctional officer. She takes roll call, escorts them on any night-time Porta Potty visits, counts them hourly throughout the night, and wakes them up when it’s time to go back to work.

Working on the kitchen crew teaches the women a trade, which they can use to earn a living after their release. Many of the younger women had never learned to cook.

The kitchen crews are “a good local resource” for fires that aren’t big enough to warrant a national caterer, said Jean camp supervisor Jon Shogren. The state also has two male inmate kitchen crews.

Crew boss Bruce Travis said the inmates really appreciate the opportunity to work on the crews, and the experience can bring out the best in them.

“If you get people out of that negative environment, you can see there’s more to them,” said Travis.

Another inmate said she was grateful for all the skills she has learned, including food preparation, cooking, food safety, cleanliness and presentation. Being outdoors was also a bonus.

‘Especially at night-time when it’s dark, and you see all the stars,” she said. “It’s just all-round rewarding.’ ”

Removing pies from oven
Jean Conservation Camp supervisor Jon Shogren removes apple pies from transportable ovens at Smith Ranch Fire.

Nevada: Carpenter 1 Fire

(Originally published at 12:55 p.m. July 13, 2013)

Carpenter 1 Fire as seeb from Red Rock National Conservation Area. DOI photo.
Carpenter 1 Fire as seen from Red Rock National Conservation Area. DOI photo.

The Carpenter 1 Fire has been burning since July 1 and in those 13 days has grown to 27,881 acres. Over those two weeks it has moved to within 9 miles of the western suburbs of Las Vegas but was relatively quiet Friday due to higher relative humidities and as much as half an inch of rain that fell on the southeast portion of the fire.

Today structure protection will continue in Kyle Canyon and at the Harris and Prospect Ranches. Firefighters will construct fire line and will cold trail along the South Loop ridge line on the north and west side of the fire. The forecast for Saturday calls for warmer and drier weather with the possibility of isolated thunderstorms in the afternoon.

Map of Carpenter 1 Fire
Map of Carpenter 1 Fire, 12:01 a.m. MDT, July 13, 2013 (click to enlarge)
3-D Map of Carpenter 1 Fire,
3-D Map of Carpenter 1 Fire, 12:01 a.m. MDT, July 13, 2013, looking northwest. Las Vegas is in the foreground.  (click to enlarge)

One commercial building and five out buildings burned at the Prospect Ranch on July 9.

Rich Harvey’s Type 1 Incident Management Team is calling the fire 45 percent contained.

Wildfire briefing, June 17, 2013

The worst wildfires

The Mother Nature Network has assembled what they call “10 of the Worst Wildfires in U.S. History”. Check it out to see if you agree with their list.

Furloughs cancelled for NWS

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Photos and videos of the 747 Supertanker, and a new CWN contract for the 20,000-gallon beast

Fire Aviation has some photos and videos of Evergreen’s 747 Supertanker that is receiving a new call when needed contract from the U.S. Forest Service. When you see the two photos of the 747 dropping on a fire in Mexico, compare them to this photo of a P2V dropping on a fire in the San Diego area Monday.

“Fire goats” in Oakland

The Oakland City Council approved $1.75 million in 2010 for a herd of goats to reduce hazardous vegetation in the Oakland Hills.

Denver post on the shortage of air tankers

The Denver Post has an article about the shortage of large air tankers in the United States and how that may have affected the early stages of the recent fires in Colorado. They also quote a very reliable source about the number of Unable to Fill (UTF) requests for air tankers.

Arizona: Wild Bill Fire

I just wanted to mention that there is a fire named Wild Bill on the Kaibab National Forest in northern Arizona.

Aspen Fire on Mount Lemmon, 10 years ago

It was 10 years ago today that the Aspen Fire ripped across the top of Mount Lemmon in Arizona, destroying nearly 340 homes and burning 84,000 acres.

Birds start fires in California and Nevada

A deluded conspiracy theorist might assume that terrorists have trained birds to fly into power lines and start fires, since over the last two days it happened in Chico, California and in Reno, Nevada. But in spite of the tin foil hat I’m wearing, I don’t think this quite meets the threshold for our Animal Arson series, since it is fairly common.

Exploding targets, an increasing wildfire problem

Star Exploding Targets, flames
A screen grab from a video endorsed by Cabela’s demonstrating a Star Exploding Target. We added the arrow and the “Flames” text to point out that flames are visible following the explosion.

Originally published October 11, 2012, updated February 6, 2013

Targets that are designed to explode when shot with a rifle have become more popular in recent years, emerging as an increasing threat to our wildlands. The problem is, they sometimes start fires in spite of claims by the manufacturers saying they are safe.

The military has been using them for at least 20 years when training marksmen to hit targets hundreds of yards away, since it can be difficult to see if a target was hit at that distance. When struck with the bullet from a rifle, the explosion and smoke are easily seen and indicate that the shooter hit the target

They are sometimes called “binary exploding targets”, since they are completely inert until two powders are mixed at the site by the target shooter. After they are combined, the compound is illegal to transport. The manufacturers claim that the only way they can be detonated is by striking them with a high-velocity bullet fired from a high-powered center-fire rifle. At least one company has recently started offering targets that will explode when hit with a much less powerful .22 caliber rim-fire rifle.

While the manufacturers claim they can’t start a fire, the screen grab (above) from a video shows flames in the grass just after a target advertised by Cabela’s and manufactured by Star Exploding Targets, explodes. The video is below, however we expect that eventually Cabela’s and Star will remove it from YouTube. The flames are visible three seconds into the video at the bottom left.

In a quick search, we found numerous reports of wildfires having been caused by exploding targets in a 5-month period. The dates below indicate when the information was published.

  • June 17, 2012, Colorado. The Springer Fire in Park County on the Pike National Forest burned 1,045 acres. It was caused by exploding targets.
  • June 13, 2012, Idaho. Four wildfires were caused by shooters using exploding targets up to that date in 2012.
  • June 15, 2012, Washington. A small fire near the mouth of the Grande Ronde River was apparently started by someone shooting at exploding targets.
  • June 16, 2012, Utah. The 300-acre Little Cove fire was caused by shooters using exploding targets.
  • June 29, 2012, Utah. A fire investigator said eight wildfires in the previous three weeks were caused by shooters using exploding targets.
  • July 2, 2012, Nevada. A five-acre fire in Elko was caused by shooters using exploding targets.
  • August 19, 2012, Oregon. Five shooters were cited for starting a 35-acre fire using Tannerite exploding targets.
  • September 6, 2012, Washington. The Goat Fire burned 7,378 acres 3 miles southwest of Pateros, WA. It was started by exploding targets. Forest Service officials previously said two smaller fires — a 120-acre blaze in Mud Creek Entiat and one on Deadman Hill near Cashmere — may also have been ignited by exploding targets.
  • October 7, 2012, Pennsylvania. Two state Game Commission workers suffered injuries including burns, temporary blindness and hearing damage when an illegal exploding target blew up while the men attempted to put out a fire at a gun range in Pike County.
  • October 11, 2012, California. A 364-acre fire was started by shooters using exploding targets. A news report (see video below) shows two pounds of the explosive being used to blow up a car.
  • October 19, 2012, Utah. Two men have been charged with starting the Dump fire near Saratoga Springs, Utah that burned more than 5,500 acres and cost $2.1 million to put out. About 2,500 people were forced to evacuate. Investigators say the men were shooting June 21 when they hit an explosive target that started the fire in vegetation.
  • October 23, 2012, Nebraska. Three men have been charged with starting a fire by using exploding targets in Nebraska, and starting the Spotted Tail fire that burned 83 acres south of Chadron October 23.

This is a total of 24 fires that were either confirmed or suspected to be caused by exploding targets since the first of June, 2012. And these are just the ones that we were able to find using Google.

In most areas in the western United States exploding targets are illegal to use if there is a law or temporary ban on open fires.

One of the primary manufacturers of the targets is Tannerite. The company has a patent on the devices and has said the fires are caused by other companies infringing on their patent and adding an additional incendiary component in order to produce a more spectacular explosion.

At an online forum for firearms enthusiasts, The Firing Line, some of the posters decry the lack of wisdom of target shooters who start fires with exploding targets. A person using the moniker “g.willikers” wrote:

It seems that we gun owners have two enemies. Those who would deprive us of our gun rights. And those who throw those rights away.

Others on the forum suggested some alternative targets that can produce an impressive display when hit with a bullet, such as:

  • A milk jug filled with water
  • Potatoes
  • Pop can filled with water
  • Fresh cow pie

UPDATE October 12, 2012:

Ken told us about this news report that appeared on television in southern California October 11, 2012, explaining and demonstrating the hazards of these explosive targets. They use two pounds of the explosive to blow up a car, and Chief John Hawkins of CAL FIRE provides his point of view on the problem.

Nevada fires update

The Elko Daily Free Press reported that the 16,000-acre Willow Fire is now the main priority for the BLM’s Elko district. It’s burning north of Battle Mountain; resources on the fire include one of 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s DC-10 aircraft.
Willow Fire 08/07/12Most of the fires in Nevada have not been updated on Inciweb since the middle of July, except for the Lake Fire Complex, which comprises the 162-acre Lake Fire and the 42-acre Murphy Fire on the Bridgeport District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Those fires are just south of Wellington, Nevada, and north of Bridgeport, California. The fires started early Sunday afternoon; both are at about 80 percent containment.
Willow Fire on 08/07/12The Elko Daily Free Press reported on Monday that 11 major fires were burning in north and central Nevada. A 7,000-acre fire southeast of Alamo was at zero containment, another north of Battle Mountain was at 5,000 acres, and a 3,000-acre fire near there was threatening structures. East of Denio, another fire had reached 3,000 acres.

According to the newspaper report, smaller fires were active 31 miles northwest of Winnemucca, 20 miles northwest of Battle Mountain, 22 miles southeast of Winnemucca, 5 miles southeast of Winnemucca, 25 miles southwest of Winnemucca, 55 miles northwest of Winnemucca, and 65 miles northwest of Winnemucca.

The fires were started Sunday afternoon by lightning.

The 20-Mile Fire northwest of Montello likely won’t be aggressively fought from the ground because thunderstorms and heavy rain in steep terrain last month made entry to the fire area impossible. According to fire managers, mopup, rehab, and demob have been delayed by impassible roads. The fire is 98 percent contained at just over 13,000 acres.