Wildfire briefing, December 4, 2014

Fires in U.S. and Australia determined to be caused by power lines

Map of Pfeiffer Fire

Map of Pfeiffer Fire at Big Sur, California, looking northwest, showing the fire perimeter at 10:34 p.m. PST, December 18, 2013. (Click to enlarge)

Two fires, in Western Australia and California, have recently been determined to be caused by electrical power lines.

The Pfeiffer Fire at Big Sur, California started on December 16, 2013 and burned 34 homes and 917 acres in the coastal community 23 miles south of Monterey. The U.S. Forest Service reported on Wednesday:

The cause of the fire was determined to be high resistance heating of the Pfeiffer Ridge Mutual Water Company electrical control wires immediately adjacent to a steel water pipe line. The high resistance heating of the electrical control wires created a competent ignition source for this fire. The first fuel ignited was accumulated dried leaves and redwood needles.

The other fire was in Western Australia. Below is an excerpt from an article in Western Australia Today:

A rotted power pole infested with termites has been blamed for the Parkerville bushfire which destroyed more than 40 homes this year. But EnergySafety director Ken Bowron said the organisation would not take action against Western Power or the landowner.

The EnergySafety report into the cause of the fire on January 12 was released on Thursday and found the bushfire originated from a private pole at 180 Granite Road, Parkerville.

“There was no evidence to suggest the work performed by Western Power to replace the surface aerial seven months before the incident, or the work to replace the adjacent pole two day before the bushfires, causes the PA pole to fail,” Mr Bowron said.

“Based on the available evidence and legal advice, EnergySafety will not be taking any legal action against any party. The clear finding of the report is that the pole failed because it was rotten and had been infested by termites.

Hearing in Prescott on Granite Mountain Hotshots’ retroactive retirement benefits

From the Daily Courier in Prescott, Arizona:

Now nearly a year and a half after 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire, the matter of retroactive retirement benefits continues to play out at Prescott City Hall.

With its earlier decision granting retirement benefits to the family of fallen Hotshot Andrew Ashcraft still under appeal, the local fire retirement board will take on two new retirement cases today.

During a 9 a.m. Thursday hearing at Prescott City Hall, the Prescott Board of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System Board will turn to the retirement claims by the families of Sean Misner and William Warneke, and whether the scope of the actual hearings on the claims should be limited…

Tree ring researcher at the University of Arizona honored

Thomas Swetnam

Thomas W. Swetnam with tree-ring specimens in the UA’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. (Photo courtesy of Michaela Kane/Arizona Daily Wildcat)

Thomas W. Swetnam, Regents’ Professor of dendrochronology and director of the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.

As part of the Section on Geology and Geography, Swetnam was elected as an AAAS Fellow for his investigations of tree rings as a record of past changes in climate, allowing scientists to predict future forest-fire frequencies in the Southwest.

Mr. Swetnam specializes in analyzing climate changes through history and prehistory, dangerous insect outbreaks and forest fires. In recent years, enormous blazes, some 10 times greater than those that firefighters have been accustomed to seeing in California and Arizona, have forced scholars to attempt to understand this phenomenon. The conclusions from Swetnam’s studies of these so-called megafires and their alarming size, duration and frequency have made the scientific community, governments throughout the world and media to pay close attention. Swetnam has appeared on programs such as PBS’ “NewsHour” and CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

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Norway: rare winter brush fire burns numerous structures

Norway fire

Photo by Ole Martin Dahle.

(Updated at 10:23 MST, January 30, 2014)

IR image Frøya Fire

Screen shot image from F-16 infrared video of firefighters at a fire near Frøya, Norway. In the video you can see firefighters dragging hoses, and appear to have to retreat as they are subjected to a shower of burning embers, which show up as white in the video.

Wildfire Today reader Bjørn Ivar Haugdal reports that the 3,000-acre fire in Norway we told you about earlier did not destroy as many structures as previously thought, and the number now stands at 55.

A new fire in Norway near Frøya has burned about 2,000 acres. Lighter winds have made it possible for civilian (Eurocopter AS350) and military (Bell 412SP) helicopters to assist firefighters. Water sources in lakes have to be opened with axes and chain saws, and water sprayed on vegetation quickly freezes in the -2C (28F) weather. There are reports that the fire started when children who were ice skating were playing with a lighter in the dry grass.

An F-16 fighter has been used as an aerial observation platform, streaming live video down to big screens at a command center on the ground. In a recording of the infrared video, at the 40-second mark you can see firefighters dragging hoses away from the head of the fire while they are being showered with hot embers, which show up as white in the video.

Below is a rough Google translation of a description of how military assets assisted firefighters:

Wednesday afternoon, two fire engines with eight soldiers from fire, rescue and room service (BRP) at Orland Main Air Base sent to the fire-ravaged Freya to participate in fire fighting. They were joined by a separate fire pump and a sekshjuling (ATV).

Defence Logistics Organisation sent a tank of fuel which ensures that the helicopters can easily access the fuel to get the most effective fighters. Four Bell 412 helicopters from Bardufoss and Rygge was sent to the fire area to assist in extinguishing efforts.

An air coordination element of defense contributes to coordinate air traffic in the area so the helicopter quenching capacity was utilized in the best possible way.

Coast guard vessels KV Bergen and KV Njord took part in extinguishing the work after the engagement in Flatanger was completed.

National Guard participates with 30 soldiers from the HV-12. In addition to Hitra and HV area are several nearby HV areas alerted and are ready to provide support if the need arises.

An F-16 fighters from Orland Main Air Station filmed fire and sent this live on big screens at the police control so the police and fire department received an overview of how the fire progressed.

A video clip taken from fighter plane Wednesday night shows how firefighters use fire pumps out on the ice in Langvatnet by Måsheia and smoke, sparks and burning objects flying over them.

The video below was shot from a drone over the earlier fire at Laerdalsoyri Village.

****

(Updated at 12:33 p.m. MST, January 28, 2014)

Wildfire Today reader Bjørn Ivar has given us some updated information, saying about 90 structures have burned. Strong winds are still making it impossible to use helicopters, but Civil Defense personnel are using chain saws to cut holes in the ice on lakes so that the freshwater sources can be used for dip sites for the helicopters with water buckets. Some degree of containment has been reached, Mr. Ivar said, and the fires are still within the peninsula.

****

(Originally published at 9:54 a.m. MST, January 28, 2014)

A rare January brush fire has burned scores of structures in the Norway villages of Hasvag and Smavaeret. Police believe the fire started Monday when strong winds blew two powerlines together.

The reports on the number of homes and other structures that have burned vary greatly. There could be as many as 95 that are damaged or destroyed.

Norway fire. Photo by Crews RS Harlald V.

Photo by Crews RS Harlald V.

Continue reading

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Wildfire briefing, January 13, 2014

One resident dead and 49 homes destroyed in Australian bushfire

One person collapsed and died on the roof of his house while spraying water to defend his home from a fire in the Perth hills of Western Australia on Sunday. The 62-year old man’s house was not damaged while the 650-hectare (1,606 acres) fire burned 49 others in the Shire of Mundaring. One resident tried to get back to their house on Monday afternoon and suffered burns to the hands and feet.

More information.

Three homes burn in Kansas wildfire

At least three homes burned Sunday in a large grass fire near the Kansas-Missouri border. The 600-acre fire was pushed by very strong winds which caused problems for the firefighters that responded from both Kansas and Missouri. Cherokee County officials said the fire may have been caused by a power line that failed due to the wind.

Wind speeds in Missouri and Kansas,  January 12, 2014

Wind speeds in Missouri and Kansas, January 12, 2014

Red Flag Warnings, January 13

Red Flag Warnings, January 13, 2014

Red Flag Warnings (red) and Fire Weather Watches (beige), January 13, 2014

Areas in southern California, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas are under Fire Weather Watches and Red Flag Warnings today.

UPDATE at 6:25 p.m. PST, January 13, 2014. The Red Flag Warning areas in California have grown:

Red Flag Warnings, California, 1-13-2014

More information.

2014 MAFFS Commander named

North Carolina resident Col. Charles D. Davis III will command the national military mission charged with combating wildland fires using C-130 aircraft outfitted with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System.

Col Charles D Davis III

Col. Charles D Davis III, USAF photo by Master Sgt. Patricia Moran

“MAFFS is a team effort,” said Davis, who also commands the Operations Group at the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C. “We protect lives and property from forest fires, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

As commander of the Air Expeditionary Group Wildland Fire Fighting, Davis will lead three Air National Guard and one U.S. Air Force Reserve Command units that fly military C-130 aircraft and use them as aerial tankers. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, the Group controls MAFFS operations nationwide at the direction of the U.S. Forest Service.

A U.S. Air Force master navigator with more than 5,300 hours of military flying time, Davis, of Weddington, N.C., has more than 1,000 hours of combat time earned supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. In civilian life, he is an Airbus A330 Flight Crew Training Instructor at U.S. Airways.

Arizona legislators consider bills related to hotshots’ deaths

State legislators in Arizona are considering bills that are related to wildfire management and the deaths of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The firefighters were entrapped and killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire near Yarnell, Arizona on June 30, 2013.

  • The state organization responsible for managing the Yarnell Hill Fire is requesting a budget for the Arizona State Forestry Division that is nearly double what they received in the fiscal year that ends June 30.
  • A bill is being considered that would allow local governments to ban the sale of certain fireworks.
  • Another bill seeks to clarify what autopsy documents and photos are available to the public. County authorities refused to release autopsy reports for the Yarnell Hill firefighters.
  • Some legislators want the state to buy the state trust land where the hotshots died so it can be preserved as a memorial.
  • Legislators are considering helping the city of Prescott with its costs related to the hotshots’ deaths, but they may wait until the 100+ claims and/or lawsuits are settled before proposing anything specific.
  • They may propose legislation that would at least provide life insurance for public safety workers.

Type 2 helicopter contracts contested

WorldWind Helicopters has protested the contracts that were awarded for 31 Type 2 helicopters used to fight wildland fires. On December 17 the U.S. Forest Service announced exclusive use contracts for the award period that began December 17 and ends April 30, 2015 with options for three additional years. The solicitation was first announced on April 5, 2013 and took over eight months to complete.

More information.

Wing box replacements in the USFS C-130s

Coast Guard C-130H No 1714

Coast Guard C-130H No 1714, October, 2008. This is one of the seven C-130s being transferred to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo by PhantomPhan1974

The legislation that enabled the transfer of seven C-130H aircraft from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service to serve as air tankers required that the wing boxes be replaced and other maintenance be performed.

Fire Aviation has more information about the replacement of the wing boxes and other steps that must be taken to convert the C-130Hs into air tankers.

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Two fires in northern New Mexico

Tres Lagunas Fire

Tres Lagunas Fire, June 1, 2013. Photo by Jim Winchester, NM Environment and Energy Department.

Two fires in northern New Mexico are putting smoke into the air and making residents nervous.

Tres Lagunas and Thompson Ridge Fires

Tres Lagunas and Thompson Ridge Fires at about 10 p.m. MT, June 1, 2013.

The Tres Lagunas (Three Lagoons) Fire, 11 miles east of Santa Fe, was caused by a downed power line May 30 and has burned either 6,249 or 7,476 acres (both acreages appear on InciWeb). It is zero percent contained. Management of the fire was turned over to a Type 2 New Mexico Incident Management Team with John Pierson as Incident Commander. An Incident Command Post has been established at the Pecos National Historical Park nine miles south of the fire.

The Thompson Ridge Fire has burned about 1,700 acres 15 miles west of Los Alamos, north of Highway 4 and Jemez Springs, and is listed at 25 percent containment. Sunday at 3 p.m. there will be a public meeting at the Sierra de Los Pinos Fire Station 52.

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California utility agrees to pay $37 million for 2007 fire

Southern California Edison (SCE) has agreed to pay $37 million for starting the Canyon Fire in October, 2007 near Malibu, California, which burned 4,565 acres and 22 structures, including the Malibu Presbyterian Church. Investigators determined three utility poles that fell were overloaded with electrical equipment and wires, in violation of state regulations. Under the agreement, SCE would pay a $20 million fine to the state and spend $17 million on improving the safety of their utility pole network.

The agreement still has to be approved by the state utilities commission.

The poles were co-owned and also held equipment for four cell phone companies, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and NextG, all of which have already reached agreements about the fire, and expect to pay a total of $26.5 in fines.

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Powerline training for wildland firefighters

The Salt River Project, an Arizona utility company, collaborated with the Coconino National Forest to produce the training video below that discusses dangers and safety practices for wildland firefighters working near powerlines. The Missoula Technology Development Center reviewed the video and found it suitable for training wildland firefighters.

The video explains:

  • The roles and responsibilities of the utility company.
  • How water, foam, retardant, or smoke can conduct electricity to the ground or across powerlines.
  • Aircraft safety near powerlines.
  • The difference between “step potential” and “touch potential” and how to respond accordingly.
  • How to safely exit and move away from a vehicle energized by a downed powerline.

U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employees can access the video on the internal Forest Service network at http://fsweb.mtdc.wo.fs.fed.us/programs/fire/video/safety.htm

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