Iowa prescribed fire escapes, burns private property

Burned property in Iowa

Glen Dale Geiger examines his property that burned during an escaped prescribed fire in Iowa. Photo from KCRG.

A prescribed fire conducted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources escaped on April 12 and burned onto three nearby properties. One of the victims was Glen Dale Geiger who lost three structures containing farm equipment and his pride and joy, a 1960 convertible that burned exactly 54 years to the day after he bought it. Mr. Geiger said other equipment lost included, “My corn picker, corn planter, my baler, feed wagons, my other wagon sitting outside, my camper in the corn crib, snow blower, bicycles,”

At first the DNR said the National Weather Service gave them “the wrong forecast”, but they later backtracked from that, saying the DNR did not follow protocol in checking the weather for the site of the prescribed fire.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Chip.


The cost of prescribed fire in Oklahoma

Black lining on the Dillon Prescribed fire

Black lining on the Dillon Prescribed fire at Badlands National Park in South Dakota, October 10, 2002. NPS photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Noble Foundation kept track of the costs of conducting prescribed fires in 1996 on the Noble Foundation D. Joyce Coffey Resource and Demonstration Ranch west of Marietta, Oklahoma. A report they prepared also took into account the costs of burning on properties belonging to Terry Stuart Forst, a Noble Foundation cooperator. The lands have a variety of topographical features and plant communities from which to evaluate the costs and effects of prescribed fires.

The costs per acre listed below are from activities in 1996, so an adjustment will have to be made to consider them in current day dollars. According to The Inflation Calculator, the difference between 1996 dollars and 2013 costs is plus 46 to 67 percent.

  • Timber, Coffey Ranch: $4.64/acre
  • Grassland, Stuart Ranch: $0.23/acre
  • Timber/grassland, Stuart Ranch: $0.35/acre

Prescribed fire as a hands-on tourist attraction

Flint Hills Rx

Prescribed fire ignited by tourists at the Flying W Ranch in Kansas. Screen shot from the video below.

A cattle ranch in the tall grass prairie of Kansas allows tourists to observe and if they want, to help ignite prescribed fires on their property. The Flying W Ranch in the Flint Hills supplements their income by charging ranch visitors $100 to help start the fires by dropping wooden matches in the grass. We counted approximately 30 tourists in one of the scenes in the video below. The admission fee also includes a steak dinner. Their next hands-on prescribed fire is scheduled for April 5.

We can think of a lot of positives about an activity like this. Many ranchers could use an additional $3,000 (before expenses) to supplement their income.  It could also provide an opportunity to educate the public about the benefits of prescribed fire, and how the process is essential for managing tall grass prairies and other vegetation types. In my experience as a Fire Management Officer, I learned that if you have a high-ranking manager in your organization that knows little about fire management, invite them to observe a prescribed fire. Loan them some personal protective equipment (PPE), and while under close supervision, let them operate a drip torch for five minutes. They will be hooked. (After seeing this video, a couple of matches could suffice.)

The negatives of a public hands-on prescribed fire are pretty obvious and revolve around the liability of the ranch owner and the safety of the participants who have no PPE or training, other than a briefing before the event. If there is an unexpected wind shift on a grass fire, experienced firefighters wearing PPE know that often they can find a place where they can step through the flames into a previously burned black area. Who knows what tourists, including children, might do.  It is hard to believe that an insurance company would issue a liability policy to cover an event like this.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Tristan


Wildfire briefing, February 27, 2014

Dynamic Aviation Citation lead plane

Dynamic Aviation’s Citation CJ lead plane. Photo courtesy of Dynamic Aviation.

BLM awards contract for first jet-powered lead plane

The Bureau of Land Management has awarded a contract for the first jet-powered lead plane in the United States. Lead planes fly ahead of the much larger air tankers that drop retardant on fires. They identify the targets and evaluate the fire and wind conditions. Dynamic Aviation, with headquarters in Bridgewater, Virginia, will be supplying a Cessna Citation CJ to serve as a lead plane and Air Supervision Module (ASM) this fire season. With the jet-powered air tankers now in use, including DC-10s, BAe-146s, and MD-87s, there is a need for a lead plane that can keep up with the “next-generation” air tankers.

(More information is at Fire Aviation.)

Evacuations ordered in southern California fire areas before storm

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for about 1,000 homes that could be affected by debris flows out of recent wildfires in the Glendora and Azusa areas. The Colby Fire burned 1,952 acres of the hillsides above the communities on January 16, 2014.

Weather forecasters have predicted several inches of rain for some areas in southern California between Thursday and Saturday.

Map showing the approximate location of the Colby Fire at 10:37 a.m. PST, January 16, 2014

Map showing (in red) the approximate location of the Colby Fire at 10:37 a.m. PST, January 16, 2014. (click to enlarge)

“Ice makes a good firebreak”

From The Nature Conservancy, describing a prescribed fire in Oklahoma:

Crews use drip torches to start the 475-acre controlled burn at the Four Canyon Preserve

“We took advantage of a break in the weather on February 1 and completed a 475-acre prescribed burn at the Four Canyon Preserve. This work was funded by a ConocoPhillips and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, and it wouldn’t have been possible without their help,” said Chris Hise, Four Canyon Preserve Manager. “It’s very early in the season to be burning here, but we’re trying to stay ahead of a worsening drought situation. I had the odd experience of carrying a drip torch along the frozen banks of the Canadian River. Ice makes a good firebreak.”

More info, and photos, are at The Nature Conservancy’s website.

NASA photograph of a fire in Australia

A large fire burning in and around Grampians National Park in Victoria, Australia, was nearly contained when the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite acquired this image on January 19, 2014. The burned land is gray-brown in this natural-color image. Active fires were burning on the east side of the burn area, sending up plumes of smoke.

Bushfire in Grampians NP, Victoria, Australia

Bushfire in Grampians NP, Victoria, Australia. NASA photo.


USFWS prescribed fire in Oregon

Rx fire at Malheur Nat'l wildlife Refuge. USFS photo by Shane Theall.

Rx fire at Malheur Nat’l wildlife Refuge. USFS photo by Shane Theall.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. their….

Malheur Fire Program and the Burns Interagency Fire Zone conducted a 2,250-acre prescribed fire on the Deer Park Unit of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge this week. Located in southeastern Oregon’s high desert, at the northern end of the Great Basin, the 187,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge is famous for its spectacular concentrations of wildlife. With its abundant water resources in an otherwise arid landscape, the Refuge hosts more than 320 bird species and 58 mammal species.

Rx fire at Malheur Nat'l Wildlife Refuge. USFWS photo by Carla Burnside.

Rx fire at Malheur Nat’l Wildlife Refuge. USFWS photo by Carla Burnside.


Report released on escaped prescribed fire at Devils Tower


Devils Tower escaped prescribed fire

Map, showing the approximate location of the planned prescribed fire at Devils Tower (300 acres in white) and the 56 acres (in red) that escaped beyond the planned perimeter. Image from Google Earth. Perimeters by Wildfire Today. (click to enlarge)

Yesterday after Wildfire Today made inquiries about reports that may have been completed regarding the escaped prescribed fire on May 8, 2013 at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, the National Park Service released the official review of the incident.

The NPS ignited the 300-acre unit on May 7, 2013. Several spot fires occurred outside the planned perimeter that were contained the first day. But during mopup at 12:50 p.m. on May 8 fire became established again at one of the spot fire locations on the southwest side of the project. At that time the cooperating U.S. Forest Service resources present the day before had been released. Some of the remaining firefighters were concentrating on the previous day’s spot fires at another location, but most of the firefighters were attending an After Action Review of a non-injury tipover of a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) that occurred the day before. The 56 acres burning outside the burn unit were mostly stopped at the Monument boundary, but a few acres crossed over onto private land leased by Wyoming state Senator Ogden Driskill, but no structures were damaged.

Devils Tower Rx fire, May 8, 2013

Devils Tower Rx fire, May 7, 2013. NPS photo.

In the interest of full disclosure, Devils Tower was one of the seven National Parks for which I was the Area Fire Management Officer, from 1998 until 2003.

The review pointed out several times that one of the primary issues related to the escape was that in computing the fine dead fuel moisture, it was assumed that the fire would be shaded by the smoke column. However, some of the area was not shaded, and for two hours each day on May 7 and 8, at those locations the fine dead fuel moisture dropped below the 4 to 10 percent allowed in the prescription, down to 3 percent.

Other than how the weather affected the fuel moisture, the review barely mentioned the weather conditions and the forecast. Two spot weather forecasts were issued before the escape — one at 7:57 a.m. MDT on May 7 and another at 9:29 a.m. on May 8, the day of the escape. For May 8, both forecasts predicted fairly strong northeast winds, of 7 to 15 mph and 8 to 14 mph.

The Remote Automatic Weather Station at Devils Tower is very close to the location of the prescribed fire, in a low-lying area partially sheltered by trees from winds from all directions (see map above). Northwest, north, and northeast winds are additionally partially blocked by higher ground and the Devils Tower itself. Below are the weather observations from the weather station between 17:23 on May 7 through 17:23 on May 8. They show mild sustained wind speeds, with gusts around mid-day to late afternoon on May 8 of 13 to 22 mph. If the weather station was in a more exposed location the recorded speeds would have been higher.

Devils Tower weather, May 7 and 8, 2013

Devils Tower weather, May 7 and 8, 2013

The NPS committed four people to the facilitated learning analysis of the non-injury slow tip over of the UTV, and three to the review of the escaped prescribed fire.

UTV  at Devils Tower

Photo from the FLA for the UTV tip over, that presumably shows a UTV in the approximate location of the accident. NPS photo.

We initially covered the prescribed in 2013 fire HERE and HERE.