California: some firefighters released from the Powerhouse Fire

(UPDATE at 6:40 a.m. PT, June 5, 2013)

Since the firefighters are wrapping up the Powerhouse fire north of Los Angeles, this will be the last update unless significant activity occurs.

Residents have been allowed back into all of the communities affected by the fire. Proof of residency is required to gain access behind the road closures. Future fire growth is expected to be minimal. Crews continue to complete line construction, patrol and mop-up. Excess fire resources are being demobilized so they can be ready to respond to other incidents.

  • Structures Destroyed: 16
  • Acres: 32,032
  • Containment: 65%
  • Estimated Cost: $11,400,000

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(UPDATE at 3:25 p.m. PT, June 4, 2013)

Map of Powerhouse Fire, June 3, 2013

Map of Powerhouse Fire, 10:22 p.m. PT, June 3, 2013

Firefighters are beginning to get a better handle on the Powerhouse Fire north of Los Angeles. Fire spread was minimal overnight with only 24 acres being added. The majority of active fire is along Elizabeth Canyon and Hughes Lake Road northwest to Sawtooth Mountain.

Today crews continued to strengthen fire lines in the southern portion of the fire. Hand crews supported by air resources took advantage of opportunities to construct direct fireline on the west side of the fire. In the Sawtooth Mountain and Sawmill Mountain areas the fire has potential to spread. Fuels in the area have not burned since 1928.

The size is listed at 32,032 acres with 60 percent containment. Some of the resources assigned to the fire include: 2,034 personnel, 155 fire engines, 54 hand crews, 11 helicopters, 27 dozers, 8 air tankers, 33 water tenders. The total estimated cost to date is $8.7 million.

Residents have been allowed to return to the communities of Green Valley, Leona Valley, Elizabeth Lake and Lake Hughes. The evacuation order for the Fairmont area of Antelope Acres was lifted today at noon. Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake Canyon Roads remain closed.

Carlton Joseph’s Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire Monday at 6 p.m. The fire is being run under a unified command with the U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, and Los Angeles County. In addition to Mr. Joseph, the other Incident Commanders are Dave Richardson, John Tripp, and Phil Veneris.

Helitanker 718, Powerhouse Fire

Helitanker 718 getting water from Elizabeth Lake. Photo by Greg Cleveland.

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(UPDATE at 5:48 a.m. PT, June 4, 2013)

There has been very little change in the fire perimeter of the Powerhouse Fire over the last 24 hours. Firefighters are cleaning up the fireline and burning out to remove fuels. We will post more details around the middle of the day today.

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(UPDATE at 9:22 p.m. PT, June 3, 2013)

The Powerhouse fire is now listed at 32,008 acres and 60 percent containment. Today there were 2,185 personnel assigned to the fire. Higher humidities today slowed the spread of the fire, in spite of the strong winds.

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(UPDATE at 11:43 a.m. PT, June 3, 2013)

The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory which includes the portion of the Powerhouse fire that has burned out into the Antelope Valley. This is not good news for firefighters. The winds are predicted to be out of the southwest at 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 45. The area near the fire can expect gusts as high as 55 mph. The strongest winds will occur Monday afternoon and evening. Similar conditions will likely redevelop Tuesday afternoon and evening.

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(UPDATE at 8:38 a.m. PT, June 3, 2013; updated map added)

Map of the north end of the Powerhouse Fire

Map of the north end of the Powerhouse Fire, 12:55 a.m. June 3, 2013 (click to enlarge)

The Powerhouse Fire continued to spread across thousands of acres Sunday after burning around the communities of Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake. Firefighters protected hundreds of homes but six burned in the rapidly spreading fire.

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CAL FIRE installing hoists on helicopters

Fighting wildland fires can be a dangerous job. One of the most difficult challenges is providing treatment to an injured firefighter during that first “golden hour” if an accident occurs in a remote location.

The California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection is taking a step to speed the transfer of a patient from the fireline to a hospital by installing hoist systems on their 11 firefighting helicopters. They recently completed the first round of training on the new systems at the CAL FIRE academy at Ione. Some of the hoists have already been installed and all 11 should be ready to go by the end of the year.

This is a great step in the right direction and may save firefighters’ lives if they suffer an injury during daylight hours.

Currently there are no CAL FIRE or U.S. Forest Service helicopters that can fly at night. The USFS is going to tip toe into night flying operations again next year by contracting for one helicopter with that capability. It is unknown if it will have a hoist.

The USFS was criticized for not taking advantage of the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s night flying helicopters during the first night after the Station Fire started near Los Angeles in 2009. The fire was three to four acres at 7 a.m. on the second day, but no helicopters were used the first night. The fire took off at mid-morning on day two and later burned 160,000 acres, killing two firefighters.

There were accusations that the USFS employed a less than aggressive attack on the Station fire in an effort to save money. If that was their strategy, it failed. A GAO review estimated the cost of suppressing the Station Fire to be $93 million, placing it among the most costly fires in the nation’s history. This does not include the costs of rebuilding the 89 homes that burned in the fire which may have been another $15 to $35 million.
Thanks go out to Eric

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Saturday one-liners, August 25, 2012

Cygnet Fire in Yellowstone NP

Cygnet Fire in Yellowstone NP, August 24, 2012 Photo by Yellowtone National Park

The Cygnet Fire in Yellowstone National Park, 5 miles southeast of Norris Junction, experienced some growth and produced an impressive smoke column most of the day Friday. The estimated size earlier today was 750 acres. A Red Flag warning is in effect on Saturday until 9 p.m.

10 Tanker Air Carrier, which operates the two DC-10 air tankers, sent this via their @10Tanker Twitter account today:

Approaching 1 million gallons dropped on CA fires since arriving at MCC 8 days ago.

Two cousins who started the Wallow fire which became the largest fire in the history of Arizona, were convicted and sentenced to two days in jail.

If you are interested in firefighting helicopters, check out this excellent update on the status of the privately-owned helicopter providers.

A man convicted of burning down his own house may have committed suicide in the courtroom seconds after hearing the verdict.

A commission is looking into the Lower North Fork prescribed fire southwest of Denver which escaped on March 26, 2012 and burned 4,140 acres, killed 3 people, and burned 23 homes. Our earlier reports on the fire can be found here.

On August 16 we wrote about the US Forest Service’s plan to add one night-flying helicopter next year. Here is the PE Enterprise’s view on the subject.
Thanks go out to LM, Gary, Kelly, and Mark

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Injured firefighter rescued by night-flying helicopter

Saturday night, August 11, an injured firefighter was rescued by firefighters on the ground and a night-flying helicopter on the Ramsey fire on the Stanislaus National Forest eight miles east of Dorrington, California. The U.S. Forest Service will not have night-flying ability until one helicopter comes on board with those capabilities in 2013, but thankfully a Firehawk from Los Angeles County Fire Department was dispatched to hoist the firefighter out of an active fire area.

Here is an excerpt from a very interesting article in the Calaveras Enterprise:

…A large opening was made in the trees by a hot shot team to make room for the helicopter evacuation.

“When the helicopter came in for the rescue, the rotor wash was the biggest concern – stoking fires and kicking up ash and (burning) debris,” Jacobus said. “That was probably the biggest hardship for us to contend with.”

The copter first came in at 4:30 a.m. in the dark and dropped a rescuer to brief the ground team on how the helicopter crew wanted the patient packaged.

“They brought the helicopter in a second time for raise and evacuation,” Jacobus said. “We dealt with some pretty extreme rotor wash both times. It’s like being in the beginning part of a hurricane, but instead of blowing air, it’s blowing hot ash and churning sparks at you.”

We have written many times before about how important it is for a seriously injured firefighter to receive appropriate medical treatment in the “golden hour”. Night-flying helicopters can be very useful for slowing fires at night even more effectively than during the day. But they can also save lives, especially if they have hoist capabilities.

The right thing for the wildland fire agencies to do, is to have multiple night-flying capable helicopters, with hoists, if they are going to fight fire at night in remote areas. In addition, they should have hoist-capable helicopters available during daylight hours, if they are going to fight fire in remote areas (which include, what, 75 percent of the wildland fires that the federal agencies fight?). It is a health and safety issue, not a luxury. I am surprised that OSHA has not cited the wildland fire agencies for their failure to provide this capability. And it is not just the U.S. Forest Service that should be under the gun here. Let’s not leave out the National Park Service, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Bureau of Land Management, as well as state agencies.

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USFS to use one night-flying helicopter next year

Water drop on Eagle fire

A helicopter drops water on the Eagle fire in southern California, July 27, 2011. Photo by Lone Ranger.

The U.S. Forest Service has reversed course and decided to contract for one firefighting helicopter that can fly at night, becoming mission-capable in 2013. The helicopter, which will be based in southern California, will support wildfire suppression on Forest Service-protected lands within and adjacent to the Angeles, Cleveland, and San Bernardino National Forests, and the southern half of the Los Padres National Forest.

It has been years since the USFS had that capability. In 1977 a USFS helicopter and a Los Angeles county helicopter operating at night collided, killing one pilot and injuring another. Sometime after that the USFS abandoned night flying.

The USFS was criticized for attacking the 2009 Station fire near Los Angeles on the first night and the morning of the second day with strategy and tactics that were less than aggressive. The fire was three to four acres at 7 a.m. on the second day, but no air tankers or helicopters were used the first night or until later in the morning on the second day. The fire took off at mid-morning on day two and later burned 160,000 acres and killed two firefighters. Night-flying helicopters operated by Los Angeles County were not used the first night on the fire.

After the Station fire several politicians became involved in the controversy and pressured the USFS to restore the capability to use helicopters at night to drop water. The agency said they have been studying the concept, again, and announced today that they would tip-toe back into night flying, with a single helicopter in 2013.

The USFS is the lead federal agency managing the fixed-wing air tanker program, which has withered away from the 44 exclusive use large air tankers we had in 2002 to the 9 we have today. Air tankers and helicopters do not put out fires, but under the right conditions they can slow the fire enough to allow ground-based firefighters the opportunity to suppress it.

In our opinion, the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire and Aviation Management program is not  aggressively attacking emerging fires, adapting to changing conditions, or effectively managing the aerial firefighting program. Some of this can be attributed to declining firefighting budgets that are requested by the administration, approved or modified by Congress, and signed by the President.

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Night-flying poll

The recent announcement by Tom Harbor of the U.S. Forest Service that they will consider re-establishing a night-flying program for firefighting helicopters brings to mind last year when we took up the issue here. At that time the topic was being discussed because the San Diego County Board of Supervisors was considering night-flying for their fire helicopters. In July of 2008 Wildfire Today conducted a poll, asking:

“Should helicopters fight fire at night?”

At the close of the poll 231 people had voted. The results were:

Yes: 39.8%

No: 51.9%

Don’t Know: 8.2%

Poll helicopters night flying July 2008

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