Wildfires kill three on Portugal’s Madeira Island; fires force thousands to evacuate on the mainland

Above: A Google Earth 3-D map of the Portuguese Island of Madeira, looking northwest.

(UPDATED at 7:25 a.m. MDT August 13, 2016)

The satellite image below from Friday August 12, shows fewer heat sources on Madeira and less smoke from the wildfires.

Madeira fires August 12, 2016
The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite over Madeira on August 12, 2016. Smoke can be seen drifting to the southeast. Click to enlarge.

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(Originally published at 4:42 MDT August 2, 2016)

Wildfires on the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira have taken the lives of three civilians and destroyed over 150 homes while firefighters on the mainland are battling nearly 200 blazes. The fire has reached Madeira’s largest city, Funchal, which has a population of 110,000.

Madeira has no firefighting aircraft. They sometimes borrow CL-215’s, CL-415’s, (both are water-scooping air tankers) and Polish SOKOL helicopters from the Canary Islands 280 miles to the south.

Italy and Morocco have sent a total of three firefighting aircraft across the ocean to help control the fires. Russia has dispatched two Be-200 water-scooping air tankers, which last operated in Portugal in 2006.

Map of fires on Madeira
The red dots on the photo of Madeira represent heat detected by a NASA satellite on August 10, 2016. Smoke can be seen drifting off to the southwest.

Madeira is in the north Atlantic, 530 miles southwest of Portugal. The terrain on the popular tourist island is very steep which no doubt presents a challenging environment for firefighters.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the New York Times:

…The fire caused chaos, panic and despair around Funchal. Portuguese television showed elderly people, many of them barefoot or in wheelchairs, being escorted to safety in the middle of the night by emergency services or neighbors. Residents watched in tears as their homes burned down, and some were seen running around helplessly, trying to cover their faces to minimize smoke inhalation…

The four images in the tweet below are very impressive.

This video, uploaded today, was shot from a cable car as it travelled over areas affected by the fire. It’s a little long at 18 minutes, but if you skip around it gives an overview of some of the effects of the fire.

Wildfires rage in Portugal and Spain; one firefighter killed

From the Daily Mail at 8:29 p.m. MDT August 8, 2016:

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“More than 4,400 firefighters battled hundreds of forest blazes in Portugal as a man admitted causing a huge Spanish wildfire by lighting soiled toilet paper.

The National Civil Protection Authority in Portugal said by late afternoon almost 1,500 vehicles and 32 water-dumping planes were deployed at 702 wildfires, some of which have been burning for days.

Wildfires in Portugal
NASA satellite image showing in red the location of wildfires and smoke produced by the blazes in Portugal at 12:55 UTC August 9, 2016. The image shows most of Portugal and the west coast of Spain.

Meanwhile, after raging for six days, a Spanish wildfire which started when a German lit his spoiled toilet paper was finally brought under control as 500 residents were evacuated and a forest worker was killed.

In Spain, authorities said firefighters had managed to bring a six-day-old forest fire on the Atlantic island of La Palma under control and were allowing evacuated residents to return to their homes.

The regional government for the Canary Islands archipelago said the measure affected 500 residents evacuated a day earlier from the town of Villa de Mazo.

The fire claimed the life of one forest worker and has destroyed more than 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres) of forest on the volcanic island off the northwest coast of Africa.”

Drone video of wildfire in Portugal

This video of a fire in Portugal, shot August 29, 2013, is very impressive, and technically well done. If these devices turn out to be a hazard to firefighting aircraft, our Air Attack planes are going to have to live up to their name and start arming themselves with air-to air missiles.

Here is the description from FlyMoviePRO Portugal on YouTube:

Fire at Figueira do Guincho, concelho de Cascais – Biscai (Portugal), on the 29/08/2013 recorded by a small drone and a gopro.

Wildfire briefing, September 6, 2013

Scientists expect fire risk in the U.S. to escalate by the end of the century

Map elevated wildfire risk, climate changeHot and dry conditions lead to more fires. Those were the findings presented in 2012 by a team of researchers that used NASA satellite data and climate models to predict fire activity in the United States. Now, a new animation shows how dry conditions will cause different parts of the U.S., Canada and Mexico to experience an increased risk of fire by the end of the century. By mapping projected values for a measure of dryness known as the potential evaporation—a calculation that’s based on temperature, rainfall and wind speed estimates—scientists are able to interpret how fire activity will be influenced by future climates. Changes in dryness relative to 1980 levels are shown in the animation using colors, where reds represent an increase in dryness and blues represent a decrease. Watch the video to see how dry conditions are expected to spread across North America by the year 2100.

Another firefighter fatality in Portugal

A seventh firefighter in a month passed away in a hospital in Portugal after suffering burn injuries on a wildland fire last week.

MAFFS demobilized

Five military Modular Airborne FireFighting System C-130 air tankers were released  from fire suppression duty yesterday. Since the year’s initial activation June 11, MAFFS crews have flown 572 missions and made 535 drops using 1,375,981 gallons of fire retardant. That works out to 2,406 gallons per mission.

Granite Mountain Hotshots memorial items to be removed

Soon after 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, mourners began placing memorial items on the fence surrounding their compound at the Prescott Fire Department. Now over two months later the city decided they have to do something with the hundreds of objects which include T-shirts, photos, posters, and other items. The City announced Thursday that the Fire Department and area volunteers would begin to remove them on Sept. 10.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Daily Courier:

Now, officials say, it is time to begin packing away the items for preservation, and possible inclusion in a more permanent memorial in the future.

“Items that are able to be preserved will be temporarily stored until plans are finalized for the future permanent memorial,” the city’s new release stated.

City officials have noted that the outdoor elements have taken a toll on many of the items. Flowers, cardboard signs, and other perishable items were earlier removed. Many of the T-shirts from fire departments around the country have faded from dark-blue to gray.

 

Wildfire briefing, August 23, 2013

Firefighter dies in Portugal

A female firefighter was killed and nine were injured Thursday on a wildfire in Portugal near the small city of Tondela. Commander Antonio Ribeiro of the Serra de Caramulo firefighters said the crew ran from the fire but the firefighter who died fled in the wrong direction. Euronews reports that three firefighters have died this month. High temperatures and strong winds have contributed to the spread of 13 large fires in Portugal.

The national wildfire situation

Today there are 49 uncontained large fires listed on the national Situation Report in the United States, and that number does not include individual fires within complexes. There are currently 854,480 acres within the perimeters of those active fires. The national Preparedness Level has reached the highest category, PL 5, for the first time since 2008. And while it may seem like much of the west is on fire, the number of acres burned to date, 3.4 million, is much less than average, which is 5.6 million.

Competition for firefighting resources is occurring. There is only one California-based Type 1 or Type 2 incident management team available that is not assigned to a fire; 33 IMTeams are assigned nationwide. But surprisingly, there are no Area Command Teams committed.

We have 11 large and very large air tankers working right now on exclusive use contracts, and there are another 9 that the USFS has borrowed from the military, the state of Alaska, and the Canadian government. In 2002 there were 44 large air tankers on contract.

Forest Service runs out of money for firefighting

For the sixth time in the last ten years the U.S. Forest Service has run out of funds for suppressing wildfires. Even though the number of acres burned to date this year is below average, the USFS is having to divert funds from other non-fire accounts in order to cover the shortfall. This is due in part to reductions in the amount of money Congress allocates for the FLAME fund, which is supposed to fund firefighting while protecting other accounts. The Washington Post has more details.

Scott Olsen writes about a firefighter’s first day on the job

You may have seen the articles written last year by W. Scott Olsen, a professor of English at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota about “the war on wildfires out west, meeting shot-callers and looking at the operation from the inside”. He has just published a new article at the Huffington Post about a wildland firefighter’s first day on the job.

Granite Mountain 19

The issues surrounding the deaths of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots June 30 on the Yarnell Hill Fire continue to make the news. Firefighters with the New York City Fire Department have raised $30,000 so far for the families of the 19, and they are hoping to add to that total. The Prescott Daily Courier asked the candidates for Mayor and the City Council to express their positions on the discrepancy between the benefits for the seasonal and full time members of the crew. And there is a debate about whether the city’s hotshot crew should be rebuilt.

Investigative reporter John Dougherty has two recent articles about the Yarnell Hill Fire: “Yarnell Hill Fire: The Granite Mountain Hotshots Never Should’ve Been Deployed, Mounting Evidence Shows” and “A Granite Mountain Hotshot’s Father Says the Blaze That Incinerated His Son Could’ve Been Controlled“.

Montana residents contribute for free coffee for firefighters

Residents near Lolo, Montana are contributing to a fund to provide free, good quality coffee for firefighters working on the Lolo Creek Complex. According to an article at KZBK, Samantha Harris, a barista at Florence Coffee Company in Lolo, said customers have been donating money to give firefighters coffee.

“We have a huge tab here so all the firefighters’ coffee is paid for,” Harris said. “Which has been really fun to tell them their coffee is free.” The tab is at nearly $300, she said.

Florence Coffee Company is at 11880 HWY 93 in South Lolo, Montana.

Photos of pyrocumulus

The Alaska Dispatch has some very impressive photos of pyrocumulus smoke columns caused by wildfires.

Goat manure fire stinks up town

A burning pile of goat manure is affecting the quality of life for residents of Windsor, Vermont. The pile ignited from spontaneous combustion Wednesday at George Redick’s 800-goat dairy. Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh said he could smell the fire at his home which is five miles from the dairy.

Researchers: hotter fires may heat underlying soil less than cooler fires

Researchers studying a 22-acre prescribed fire in Portugal have concluded that fires which burn hotter do not necessarily produce higher soil temperatures. Below is an excerpt from an American Geophysical Union press release.

When scientists torched an entire 22-acre watershed in Portugal in a recent experiment, their research yielded a counterintuitive result: Large, hot fires do not necessarily beget hot, scorched soil.

It’s well known that wildfires can leave surface soil burned and barren, which increases the risk of erosion and hinders a landscape’s ability to recover. But the scientists’ fiery test found that the hotter the fire—and the denser the vegetation feeding the flames—the less the underlying soil heated up, an inverse effect which runs contrary to previous studies and conventional wisdom.

Rather, the soil temperature was most affected by the fire’s speed, the direction of heat travel and the landscape’s initial moisture content. These new findings could help forest managers plan when and where to ignite small controlled burns to reduce dry vegetation and restore the ecosystem in at-risk areas, said Cathelijne Stoof, the soil and water scientist who led this study as part of her PhD research at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

A report about the experiment by Stoof, who is now at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and her colleagueshas been accepted for publication by Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

To some people this may be “counterintuitive”, but many firefighters know the residence time, or how much time high temperatures exist at a location, is very important in determining how much heat is transferred into the soil or the organic material that is not consumed by the fire.

On a related subject…

In two previous fire management jobs I had the opportunity to assist researchers who were measuring the temperature at which wildland fires burn. Obtaining this data is not the easiest thing in the world.

In southern California I helped place thermocouples, which can measure very high temperatures, on brushy hillsides prior to a prescribed fire. Then, trying not to disturb the vegetation which could influence fire behavior when the site was burned, I crawled under the brush running asbestos-covered wires from the thermocouples to data loggers which were about the size of a football. Each one recorded information from several scattered thermocouples. Then we had to bury the data loggers so they could survive the fire. This was in the 1970s. The researchers in the Portugal study mentioned above used thermocouples and data loggers, but the data loggers were probably about the size of a package of chewing gum — much easier to bury.

On another project the temperature was measured using heat sensitive paint, a much less accurate system. About eight different paints were used which discolored at specific temperatures. A narrow strip of each paint was brushed onto a very thin strip of aluminum which was stapled onto stakes, sticking out to the side at various heights above the ground. After the fire burned through you would examine the strips and you might see, for example, that the 1,200 degree paint discolored but the 1,250 degree paint did not, so you could conclude that the temperature at that location was between 1,200 and 1,250 degrees. Sometimes it was a judgement call about which paints discolored and which ones did not.

At what temperatures do forest fires burn?

We’ve been asked a few times, “what is the temperature of a forest fire”, so we placed an entry on our Frequently Asked Questions page:

An average surface fire on the forest floor might have flames reaching 1 meter in height and can reach temperatures of 800°C (1,472° F) or more. Under extreme conditions a fire can give off 10,000 kilowatts or more per meter of fire front. This would mean flame heights of 50 meters or more and flame temperatures exceeding 1200°C (2,192° F). (Information provided by Natural Resources Canada.)

How hot is the sun?

On our Facebook page someone once wrote that forest fires burn hotter than the sun. He, of course, was badly and sadly mistaken. According to Space.com:

The temperature in the photosphere [near the surface] is about 10,000 degrees F (5,500 degrees C). It is here that the sun’s radiation is detected as sunlight.

The interior of the sun is much hotter and can reach more than 27 million degrees F (15 million degrees C).