The fire burned over 48,000 acres in Columbia River Gorge in September, 2017
Above: Photo of the Eagle Creek Fire posted September 5, 2017.
(Originally published at 12:53 p.m. MT February 10, 2018)
February 16 is the sentencing date for the boy who was 15 years old when he allegedly started the Eagle Creek Fire near the Washington/Oregon border in the Columbia River Gorge. A witness reported seeing the Vancouver juvenile throw a “smoke bomb” into vegetation near the Eagle Creek trail on September 2, 2017. In less than 24 hours the fire grew to 3,000 acres and to 20,000 acres by the morning of September 5.
Eventually burning 48,831 acres, it required the extended closure of Interstate 84, forced hundreds to evacuate, and poured smoke into Portland.
Because the boy is a juvenile, Oregon Live reports, the options for sentencing include years of probation, probably less than eight days of detention, or about a year in a juvenile correctional facility.
If the judge requires restitution for the costs of suppressing and rehabbing the fire, which are reportedly more than $18 million, the boy will likely only be able to pay a small fraction of the total.
On 27 August 2017, a Type 6 contract engine was conducting structure triage assessments while assigned to the Miller Complex in southwestern Oregon, managed by a Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT). The crew had just resumed their trip after a short break when the driver came too close to the edge of the roadway and rolled down a steep embankment into a shallow creek.
The engine driver was not wearing his seatbelt and was seriously injured. Although not ejected, the driver was partially pinned underneath the engine, and partially submersed in the creek. The other two engine crewmembers were seat-belted, received minor injuries, and tried to radio for help.
After unsuccessful attempts at radio communication, one crewmember set out on foot to find help. After over one hour searching for help, the crewmember found a nearby resident who helped the accident victim locate a heavy equipment boss assigned to the fire.
A Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB) assigned to the Division was also EMT-B qualified and became the first responder and incident-within-incident commander (IIC). This IIC managed a large accident response effort which included a staging area manager, extrication team, paramedics, low-angle rescue team, and multiple aircraft resources.
All three victims were successfully and rapidly transported to a hospital about 40 miles away due to a solid response plan implemented by a fireline leader with a calm demeanor and a strong command presence. Agency and IMT support for the injured contractor employee from the initial patient response to the patient’s three-week admission to hospital was outstanding. Relationships between the Forest Service and the contracting community have been further strengthened by the post-accident patient support.
Above: The Chetco Bar Fire on July 13, 2017, day two, as seen from a helicopter during the Type 3 Incident Commander’s first recon flight.
Originally published at 10:47 a.m. MDT October 2, 2017.
In mid-August when the Chetco Bar Fire in southwest Oregon quadrupled in size during a four-day period from 22,042 to 97,758 acres, some began wondering, in comments on this site and other venues, why the U.S. Forest Service did not suppress it soon after it was reported by a commercial airline pilot at 2:42 p.m. July 12.
Since it started the fire has burned 191,090 acres and cost taxpayers almost $61 million.
The USFS has released a high tech timeline presentation that highlights some of the decisions and events that occurred during the course of the fire. It is embedded at the bottom of this article. Some of the interactive map features may not work — if that is the case, you can view it the USFS website.
The fire started from a lightning strike during a storm on June 24 and 25 and was spotted by the airline pilot 17 days later. The timeline does not mention if infrared flights or any other detection methods were used that possibly could have resulted in an initial attack on the fire soon after it started rather than more than two weeks later.
A fixed wing Air Attack ship was dispatched after the airliner pilot’s report. Air Attack recommended dispatching a Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT), a helicopter for water bucket support, and inserting rappellers. At that time the fire had burned about half an acre.
The first four firefighters rappelled into the area an hour and 32 minutes after the first report. Three helicopters dropped 17,280 gallons of water on the fire that afternoon and evening until after 9 p.m., but no air tankers worked the fire until a SEAT made two drops on the second day, July 13. While the helicopters dropped water, the four firefighters built a helispot. At the end of the first day Air Attack reported the fire was holding at three-quarters of an acre.
On day two a second load of four rappellers was sent to the fire. Below is an excerpt from the USFS timeline, and following that, the high-tech timeline:
“[On day two, July 13, the second load of four rappellers] were given a briefing, then loaded in the helicopter at 9 a.m. to fly the 20 minutes to the fire location. From the air, the fire appeared to have grown to about 10 acres overnight, with a few areas of isolated smoke columns. The crew noted the steep ground, the old burn scar and the fact the fire was burning mid-slope. They could see a lot of rollout (burning debris rolling below the main fire). Due to the remoteness of the area and the steep topography, the crew requested a few more orbits around the fire to gather more intelligence from the high vantage point.
“Upon landing, their perspective changed. “The ground was really, really steep. We know views from the air can be deceiving, but we couldn’t see the fire or the smoke from the helispot. I originally thought the trees below the helispot were reproduction from an old fire, but then I realized the slope was so steep I was only seeing the tree tops. They were actually 200 foot tall, 4-foot DBH (diameter at breast height) trees,” said a senior firefighter on the second load of rappellers.
“One rappeller began scouting for an escape route along the ridge to the north of the helispot, and found extremely dense vegetation with manzanita, tan oak and madrone, along with dead and downed logs. The ground was covered with madrone leaves that were slick – combined with the steep terrain, it made staying upright a challenge.
According to the Incident Management Team, the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon/Washington border is nowhere near contained — they are calling it 46 percent.
The fire started on the south side of the river September 2, allegedly by a teenager playing with fireworks, and grew rapidly on September 5, spotting across the river into Washington near Archer Mountain.
Cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels helped slow fire growth over last week or so, and as of September 23rd, it is 48,668 acres.
These excellent photos were taken by the Incident Management Team this weekend. They show vast areas of burned trees but also large swaths of green canopy.
Wildfires are still active in California, Oregon, Washington, and northwest Montana. Red Flag Warning for northern Nevada.
Above: Indigo Fire in southwest Oregon, September 17, 2017. It is being managed by the East Zone of the Chetco Bar Fire. Inciweb.
(Originally published at 1 a.m. MDT September 18, 2017)
The precipitation that hit areas in the northern Rockies last week has slowed or in some cases temporarily halted, perhaps, the spread of some of the wildfires, many of which had been burning for more than a month. Higher elevations in portions of western Montana received snow, a significant amount in a few areas.
Most of Montana and eastern Idaho had over half an inch of precipitation, but extreme northwest Montana, northwest California, northern Idaho, and most of Oregon and Washington received very little.
For example, some evacuations are still in effect for the West Fork Fire in northwest Montana north of Libby. But in the photo below firefighters on the Blacktail Fire northeast of Bozeman look like they are on a winter snow adventure.
Many of the wildfires in extreme northwest California and the Cascades of Oregon and Washington are still active. The satellite photo of that area is the most recent we could find that was at least partially free of clouds. On Friday smoke plumes were still very visible from hundreds of miles overhead.
Today there are 71 large uncontained wildfires in the United States.
Above: the red and orange dots on the map represent heat on wildfires detected by a satellite in the 24 hours before 7:30 a.m. MDT September 11, 2017. Heat found before that is not shown.
(Originally published at 7:45 a.m. MDT September 11, 2017)
In spite of the hurricanes impacting the southeast United States, the wildfires in the Cascade Range and the Northern Rockies persevere in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Northern California.
Off and on over the last week they have slowed as clouds and even some scattered very light showers passed over the areas, but the National Interagency Fire Center reported today there are 71 active large fires, 32 that are being suppressed and 39 that are being suppressed only where needed to protect property.
So far this year 8.2 million acres have burned in the United States, which is 46 percent higher than the 5.6 million average to this date.
The weather for Monday and Tuesday could be conducive to fire growth, especially in Northwest Montana where a Red Flag Warning is in effect Monday. But Wednesday through Saturday will bring a chance of rain to Idaho and Western Montana, while the forecast for Northern California, Oregon, and Washington looks dry this week.