One of the nightmares of wildland firefighters is being sued or charged with a crime when things go badly on a wildfire or prescribed fire. Some of the federal land management agencies have aggressively sought to find a law that was broken when there was a serious accident on a fire. That is why we recommend professional liability insurance for wildland firefighters who are in supervisory positions.
The state of Pennsylvania has taken a step in the right direction by passing a law that will help to protect firefighters involved in prescribed fire.
In July, Gov. Ed Rendell signed into law House Bill 262. Sponsored by Cambria County Democratic Rep. Gary Haluska, the bill created the “prescribed fire burning act.” It “encourages the continued use of prescribed burning for fuel reduction, ecological, forest, wildlife and grassland management purposes.”
Most importantly, it provides a definition for a “prescribed burn worker” and removes individual liability from fire bosses who have received proper training and burn according to guidelines that are right now being established.
That liability issue kept agencies from doing much burning in the past because the man who struck the first match — even at the instruction of the agency — was individually as liable for any damages that occurred as was the organization itself.
Now that it’s been resolved, wildlife and habitat should benefit.
“This law will provide guidance and legal protection to land managers who understand the ecology of fire and want to embrace the best practices for managing public and private landscapes,” said Nels Johnson, the Pennsylvania director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy.
Bok Tower Gardens is a national historic landmark in Florida and maintains the 100-acre Pine Ridge Nature Preserve. Today they posted a narrated video about a prescribed fire they conducted, and I have to say it is refreshing to see a firefighter in full personal protective equipment, with sleeves rolled down, and clean Nomex.
We hear a lot about post-fire effects on vegetation, but almost never about the effects on domestic animals. By Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M University:
Analyzing injuries to cattle following a wildfire is important to minimize losses, said Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialists.
“It might look like they’ve made it and there was no visible physical damage,” said Dr. Floron “Buddy” Faries, AgriLife Extension program leader for veterinary medicine. “However, it’s important to have them looked at by a veterinarian as soon as possible because there could be secondary problems that lead to infections and further problems.”
Health disorders such as burned eyes, feet, udders, sheaths and testicles, as well as smoke inhalation with lung inflammation and edema, are the most common problems, Faries said.
“One of the immediate problems that has to be dealt with within two or three days is damage to the feet and the coronary band above the hoof,” Gill said. “It may take 10 days to two weeks for the damage to start showing. The cattle will start sloughing the hoof wall and develop secondary infections and become lame and unable or unwilling to stand.”
Surprisingly, ESPNOutdoors.com has a lengthy article about the benefits of prescribed fire and explains how to plan and execute one. Here is how the article begins.
“Man has come to the forest,” declared Bambi’s father as he smelled the smoke from the campfire that was to become a raging wildfire.
The vivid imagery of this Disney cartoon is the first exposure most children have to fire and wildlife. Smokey the Bear has done an excellent job of educating the public on the dangers of wildfire.
Unfortunately, the same message has usually been applied to all fires, even those that reduce the chance of wildfire and play critical roles in natural ecosystem maintenance and function. While catastrophic wildfires negatively impact people and wildlife, prescribed fires are beneficial to deer and many other native plants and animals.
Prescribed burning is fire applied by trained people in a skillful manner under particular weather conditions in a definite, confined location to achieve specific results. When thoughtfully used, prescribed fire promotes quality deer browse and increases soft mast production.
Henry David Thoreau’s fire
The 300-acre fire that Thoreau accidently started while cooking some fish chowder may have changed the direction of his life. Here is an excerpt from the Boston Globe:
But there is one curious event in the life of Henry David Thoreau that has received little attention, and which may have been a formative event, influencing not only his decision to sequester himself at Walden Pond, but also the development of his environmentalist philosophy. On April 30, 1844, Thoreau started a blaze in the Concord Woods, scorching a 300-acre swath of earth between Fair Haven Bay and Concord. The fire was an accident, but the destruction of valuable woodland, the loss of firewood and lumber, and the narrowly avoided catastrophe that almost befell Concord itself angered the local residents and nearly ruined Thoreau’s reputation. For years afterward, Thoreau could hardly walk the streets of his hometown without hearing the epithet “woods burner.”
That the father of American environmentalism could have been the scourge of the Concord Woods may seem too ironic to be true. Yet, not only did this unlikely event actually occur, but it seems quite possible that, given Thoreau’s general lack of direction at the time, as well as his growing interest in pursuing a career as a civil engineer, America’s first great naturalist might not have undertaken his Walden experiment at all, had it not been for the forest fire he sparked a year earlier. The fire happened at a time when Thoreau seemed desperately in need of some catalyst to convert his thoughts into action.
Fire Department plaques
When I found out that Fireguysteve was following Wildfire Today on Twitter I checked out his Twitter page and discovered a link to his Firepainter.com site. Apparently Steve is a firefighter who on his days off carves by hand very intricate and detailed three-dimensional fire department and fire station plaques out of tropical Suar wood. Some of them are pretty amazing.
Video of fire damage at Midwest City, OK
Investigators have found the cause and origin of the wildfire in Midwest City, Oklahoma that destroyed about 100 houses on April 9. They turned the information over to the police who are not releasing any of the information “because of the investigation”.
The video below shows some of the devastation in the urban area. A few of the houses still have their brick walls somewhat intact.
This is the first time I have heard of a golf course using prescribed fire, but the Blaine’s TPC course near Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota did last week.
From the Star-Tribune:
“It’s done to promote growth,” (TPC general manager Alan Cull) said. “It will help eradicate a lot of the unfriendly species you don’t want to have in there.”
Later in the season, the burned areas will be flush with 2- to 3-foot native grasses and wildflowers, tall fescue, switchgrass, red fescue, little bluegrass. And the natural areas, about 10 acres of the 250-acre course, will offer haven to wild turkey, deer, bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, osprey, raccoon, fox and deer … oh, and probably lost golf balls, too.
The use of native plants and the storm drainage ponds to reduce water and chemical use are part of a larger philosophy at TPC to minimize its environmental impact and encourage ecological diversity.
Let’s be clear. The golf course was burning off undesirable plants with help from professionals from Prairie Restoration, a Princeton-based native landscaping firm, and with the blessing of both the Department of Natural Resources and the Blaine fire marshal.
“This is not something just anybody can do,” said Prairie Restoration land management coordinator Justin Sykora. His company has worked two years on the spaces at TPC; this burn was planned last fall.
Blaine Fire Marshal Bob Fiske said he approved this spring’s burn based on last year’s plan. There’s more to it than it appears, he said, from wind speed and direction to recent rainfall, and any factor out of place can mean a postponed burn.
In the photo above, at least the two people have on what appear to be Nomex shirts, which is more PPE than some students at Knox College in Illinois used last year (below). Wildfire Today covered that story HERE.
On January 18 we wrote about the machine being tested by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that burns a 5-foot wide black line as it is towed behind a tractor. Now their Huron Wetland Management District in South Dakota has approved the use of the equipment. More details are on their web site.
Investigators have released a report on the Florida January 8 incident that we reported on in which smoke from an escaped prescribed fire may have mixed with fog causing poor visibility on Interstate 4 resulting in five fatalities in vehicle crashes. The report issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says:
“…an unpredictable change in weather caused the prescribed burn to burn erratically which resulted in spot fires.”
“TALLAHASSEE – A state investigation has cleared wildlife officials who last month lost control of a prescribed burn that may have contributed to a 70-vehicle pileup on Interstate 4 in Polk County.
The investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services concluded changing weather conditions Jan. 8 caused the 10-acre planned burn to jump firelines and spread to 400 acres. The National Weather Service said smoke from the fire could have combined with fog the next morning to cut visibility on the highway to nearly zero.
Five people died in the predawn pileup and resulting fires, prompting questions about how the fire got out of control and whether the state should have held a controlled burn in the dry season less than a mile from the interstate.
The Florida Highway Patrol is conducting a homicide investigation that also will look at whether smoke from the wildfire played a part in the wrecks.
The report by the Agriculture Department’s law enforcement division states those in charge of the fire followed correct procedures but that an “unpredictable change in weather caused the prescribed burn to burn erratically which resulted in spot fires.”
“There does not appear to be any evidence of criminal violations or gross negligence” by those involved in the burn, investigators concluded in their report.
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission employees conducting the burn reported that the humidity had dropped sharply about an hour after the fire was set at 10 a.m. and winds picked up, spreading the fire outside the protective earthen barriers.
The National Weather Service confirms there was a drop in humidity at the fire site, but meteorologists said that could have been caused by the fire. As warm air from a fire rises, it forces drier air downward. Drier air aids the spread of fire, especially when rainfall has been sparse for a long period.
Daniel Noah, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the agency has no way of knowing whether wind speeds around the fire picked up or wind directions changed. However, Noah did not rule out that possibility.”
A preliminary report issued by the Florida Highway Patrol does not even mention the prescribed fire.