Rainfall in western states slows wildfire season in many areas

Rainfall last 2 weeks washington oregon
Rainfall last 2 weeks, Washington and Oregon

Rainfall over the last two weeks has slowed or in some cases, ended the wildfire season in some areas.

On October 19 we ran the numbers for the accumulated precipitation for the last 14 days in the western states. These maps show amounts that exceeded 0.05 inches at some of the Interagency Remote Automatic Weather Stations (RAWS).

Washington, Oregon, and northern California have received a good soaking and I would imagine that local fire officials may be declaring an end to the fire season. Of course this is not unusual for these areas this time of the year, and some locations had already seen their season end. But what IS unusual, is the high amount of moisture that occurred in just two weeks.

You can click on the images to see larger versions.

Rainfall last 2 weeks, northern California
Rainfall last 2 weeks, northern California
Rainfall last 2 weeks central California
Rainfall last 2 weeks, central California

Continue to see maps for the other western states.
Continue reading “Rainfall in western states slows wildfire season in many areas”

$50 million in claims over escaped prescribed fire reportedly denied

Pautre Fire origin
USFS photo from the report on the escaped prescribed fire, the Pautre Fire, in North Dakota and South Dakota.

The Associated Press is reporting that the Department of Agriculture, in a letter signed by Department Secretary Tom Vilsack, is denying $50 million in claims filed by sixteen ranchers and landowners over a prescribed fire that escaped and burned 10,679 acres in North Dakota and South Dakota.

The “Pasture 3B” prescribed fire was planned to be 210 acres on the Dakota Prairie National Grasslands, but strong winds on April 3, 2013 caused by the predicted passage of a cold front pushed the fire across a mowed fire line into tall grass and ultimately burned 10,679 acres, (3,519 acres federal and 7,160 acres private). The wildfire, named Pautre Fire, was stopped at 11 p.m. that night.

In explaining the denial, Secretary Vilsack said the Forest Service relied on forecasts from the National Weather Service in Rapid City, South Dakota, that ultimately proved inaccurate.

In February, 2014 the US Forest Service released a report about the fire, called a “Facilitated Learning Analysis. The issues listed by the document included:

  • Improved weather forecasts are needed.
  • Consider additional research on methods to predict effects of drought on fire behavior in grass fuel models.
  • The nearest remote automated weather station (RAWS) is more than 90 miles away.
  • The project was conducted at the critical edge of the prescription.
  • Consider gaming out worst case scenario “what ifs” during the planning process, and discuss with participants during the on-site briefing.
  • There were problems with radio communications [note from Bill: I don’t remember EVER seeing a report like this that did not cite radio communications as being an issue].

Fire threatens campus of University of Mary

University of Mary wildfire

On April 14 a wildfire burned up to the campus of the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. The entire campus and 20 nearby homes were evacuated. The staff cleared out the school buildings and dorms, and school buses were on hand to transport students without vehicles to the Lewis Goodhouse Wellness Center, at the United Tribes Technical College. The University remained closed overnight. There were no reports of damage to any structures on the campus.

Burning coal falling from truck may have started multiple fires in North Dakota

If this story is true, it is completely new to me as an ignition source for a wildland fire. Why would burning coal be on a truck?

Below is an excerpt from an article at TwinCities.com:

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Grass fires along a roughly 60-mile stretch of Interstate 29 Wednesday could have been caused by burning pieces of coal falling from a truck’s conveyor and onto the road, according to Walsh County Sheriff Ron Jurgens.

The truck was traveling south from Walhalla, N.D., toward Grand Forks, he said.

“Every time the wind would gust, it would blow some … onto the roadway,” said Jurgens Thursday.

Jurgens said a vehicle dragging its chains “had nothing to do” with fires along I-29, as had been reported earlier.

Fires popped up all along the route the truck took, Jurgens said, from Walhalla, along North Dakota Highway 5, south down I-29, to Grand Forks.

Smoke from North Dakota wildfire causes pileup on interstate highway

From the AP:

BISMARCK, North Dakota — Authorities have blamed smoke from wildfires for a multiple-vehicle pileup on Interstate 29 in northeastern North Dakota that sent eight people to the hospital.

Injuries in the crash Wednesday ranged from minor to critical, the North Dakota Highway Patrol told KFGO radio. Hospital officials told WDAZ-TV early Thursday that seven people were admitted and one has been released.

Seven vehicles were involved in the crash, and two semitrailers collided nearby. It happened close to Manvel while hundreds of firefighters were working to contain multiple grass fires along a 60-mile stretch of the highway, KFGO reported.

“The reduced visibility is what caused the crashes to begin with, and people not slowing down to the conditions of the road,” Highway Patrol Trooper Ryan Mugan told WDAZ.

State transportation officials shut down the interstate from Grand Forks to the Canadian border for a time due to the smoke. The highway reopened Wednesday evening.

Casselton train derailment

Casselton train derailment
A still image from a video of the Casselton train derailment, showing a very impressive mushroom cloud of flame.

So, you pull up to the scene of a railroad accident in your Type 6 wildland fire engine with 150 gallons of water……

You probably heard about the train derailment on Monday of oil-carrying railroad cars one mile outside Casselton, North Dakota. The video below, shot by by Darrin Radermacher, shows one of the half dozen explosions heard by residents of the town.

Two trains were involved in the accident. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the train carrying grain derailed first, then knocked several cars of the oil train off adjoining tracks. BNSF said both trains had more than 100 cars.

The railroad crew was able to detach and remove from the scene about 80 cars of the oil train. Firefighters, unable to get near the fire, were allowing it to burn itself out. By nightfall on Monday the flames had diminished and the temperature had dropped to 15 below with a windchill of 32 below.