Yesterday on the east-bound flights returning from the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento I had selected window seats on the left side of the aircraft so the sun would be at my back, so to speak, illuminating the landscape with less glare from the usually dirty windows. The leg from Sacramento to Salt Lake City was routine, but when I arrived there was snow on the mountains east of the airport.
As I was boarding the next flight there was no enclosed jet bridge; instead we were outdoors using portable stairs. Just before walking into the aircraft door I stopped and took a cell phone photo of the snow-covered peaks (at the top of this article). The second photo of the same mountains was also taken with a cell phone.
A warm, sunny day melted most of the snow that had fallen about 24 hours before.
Above: The Lame Johnny Fire east of Custer State Park. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
In spite of the snow that was on the ground the day before, firefighters dealt with two fires in the Black Hills of South Dakota on Sunday. The Lame Johnny Fire, named after the nearby Lame Johnny Creek and a road by the same name, burned about 50 acres of grass east of Custer State park and west of Highway 79.
The other, off Penial Road west of Custer, burned a couple of acres before fire crews knocked it down.
The cause of both was burning slash piles that escaped. With snow on the ground it is likely that the private landowners who ignited the piles felt comfortable yesterday, not expecting the snow to disappear so quickly.
The 747 SuperTanker arrived at McClellan Air Field in Sacramento today after flying in from Marana, Arizona where it received a new paint job. It will be on static display for attendees the Aerial Firefighting conference until Wednesday, March 23.
Bob Soelberg, Senior VP and Program Manager of Global Supertaker, said the retardant delivery system still needs a few tweaks before it can actually drop water or retardant, but they hope to have it ready to fight fire later this year.
(UPDATED at 1:20 p.m. MST March 4, 2016 with four more photos.)
Here are more photos from the Dudley Fire yesterday in Buffalo Gap, South Dakota taken by Bill Gabbert.
Two large cottonwood trees had fire established in the upper reaches of the branches and were threatening to fall.
This mobile home was seriously damaged and the asthmatic older woman who lived there may not be able to occupy it again. Rod Converse left this information in a comment on the original thread about the fire:
Please consider joining us in helping Millie Sanford get back on her feet after this fire. Milie is a caring and benevolent lady that has spent her life helping others in need. She did not have insurance, has no place to live and has little resources. If you feel led to help, her address is below.
PO Box 14, Buffalo Gap, SD 57722
The glass windows in the photo above softened and warped but remained in place. The cloudy areas on the panes are bowed out like a wave in the ocean.
Above: Steven Esser applies water on the Dudley Fire in Buffalo Gap, South Dakota, March 3, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
A fire that started in Buffalo Gap burned very close to structures Thursday afternoon in the small town 24 miles south of Rapid City, South Dakota. A response by volunteer fire departments, South Dakota state engines, and personnel from the U.S. Forest Service stopped the fire at two acres. A large pile of old hay bales ignited and will require a significant effort by firefighters to completely suppress.
What started the fire is unknown. A cause and origin investigator was requested by the Incident Commander, but since he would not have arrived until after dark he will be on scene first thing Friday morning.
In addition to the photos you see here, we will post more of the fire on Friday and Saturday. All photos are by Bill Gabbert and are protected by copyright.
Above: the status of the large reservoirs in California as of February 16, 2016, showing the current water levels and the historic average for the date. California Department of Water Resources.
In spite of significant rain over parts of California over the last six months all but one of 12 large reservoirs in the state are still storing water at levels below the historic average for the date. Folsom Lake has 117 percent of average while the other 11 have from 30 to 80 percent.
Precipitation predicted for Thursday in the Sierra Nevada Mountains should help a little, with some areas above 7,000 feet receiving a foot or more of snow.
The photo below shows the extreme northern end of Trinity Lake on August 9, 2014 when it held about 40 percent of average. On February 16 of this year it was at 43 percent.
It remains to be seen how the winter weather will affect the 2016 wildfire season. It is a factor of course, but more significant is the weather DURING the fire season. If it is hot, dry, and windy, there will be major fires.