Researcher looks at the effects of fuels management and previous fire on Rim Fire severity

Rim Fire, August 21, 2013.
Rim Fire, August 21, 2013. Photo by Robert Martinez.

In a November 13 webinar at 1 p.m. MST Jamie Lydersen will present her findings about how the effects of fuels management and previous fire affected the severity of the Rim Fire that started on the Stanislaus National Forest and burned into Yosemite National Park.

It seems intuitive to those who study wildland fire that a reduction in fuels will result in a decreased rate of spread and fire severity for the next wildfire, but it’s always good to have data that can confirm or refute long-held beliefs.

Here is a description of Ms. Lydersen’s research.

The 255,000 acre 2013 Rim Fire created an opportunity to study fuels treatment effects across a large forested landscape in the Sierra Nevada. We assessed the relative influence of previous fuels treatments (including wildfire), fire weather, vegetation and water balance on Rim Fire severity. Both fuels treatments and previous low to moderate severity wildfire reduced the prevalence of high severity fire. Areas without recent fuels treatments and areas that previously burned at high severity tended to have a greater proportion of high severity fire in the Rim Fire. Areas treated with prescribed fire, especially when combined with thinning, had the lowest proportions of high severity.

Jamie Lydersen is an associate specialist in the department of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley and a contractor for the Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service.

Registration is required to view the webinar.

Deaths of two witnesses result in dropped charges against person accused of starting Rim Fire

Rim Fire
Rim Fire. 2013. InciWeb photo.

After being indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in August, 2014, the unexpected deaths of two witnesses caused the federal government this week to move to dismiss the charges against 32-year-old Keith Matthew Emerald for starting the 2013 Rim Fire that burned 257,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park in California.

The government’s motion to dismiss the charges characterized one witness as critical to the case and stated that he had been expected to provide trial testimony regarding his discussions with Mr. Emerald shortly after he had been rescued from the vicinity of the Rim Fire’s origin. That witness died in a workplace accident in February. The second witness was the helicopter pilot who first responded to the Rim Fire. That witness had been expected to testify about the initial response to the Rim Fire and the rescue of the defendant very close to the Rim Fire’s point of origin. That witness died in March of cardiac arrest.

These witnesses’ prior statements now are considered hearsay and cannot be used as evidence at trial.

In its motion to dismiss the charges, the government stated that it had reassessed the case in light of the loss of this anticipated trial testimony and determined that without that testimony it was unlikely to prove the charges in the case beyond a reasonable doubt to the unanimous satisfaction of a trial jury. Accordingly, it was in the interests of justice to dismiss the case.

According to court documents, Mr. Emerald was rescued by a CAL FIRE helicopter from the extremely remote Clavey River Canyon area of the Stanislaus National Forest near the origin of the Rim Fire about an hour after the fire was reported. He was carrying bow hunting equipment with him and advised authorities that he had been on a solo hunting trip.

The CAL FIRE crew turned Mr. Emerald over to a U.S. Forest Service Fire Prevention Technician, who was not a law enforcement officer. He was later given a ride out of the forest by a government employee, but no one asked him for any identification. Investigators believe they were able to overcome that oversight. Later they applied for a search warrant for Mr. Emerald’s house and his vehicle, expecting to possibly find evidence in his computer, cell phone, backpack he was carrying that day, or elsewhere on the premises.

During the extensive investigation and multiple interviews with Mr. Emerald, he told investigators several different versions of how the fire started, including:

  • Illegal pot growers;
  • He inadvertently started a rock slide, causing rocks to collide, creating sparks, which started the fire;
  • He said he started a campfire and burned some trash in it. The burning trash blew into vegetation, starting the fire which escaped.

Mr. Emerald later recanted the campfire story.

Investigators ruled out all possible fire causes other than “incendiary/intentional fire start by human”, the court documents revealed.

 

A film: “The Fire Next Time”

The producer describes this film:

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“In this 13-minute film, filmmakers Stephen Most and Kevin White examine how problematic policies, fuel build-up, and climate change have endangered America’s forests. When the Rim Fire burned 256,000 acres of the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park in 2013, it exposed the impacts that high intensity wildfires are having on watersheds, wildlife, and carbon storage. It also forged a coalition of environmentalists, loggers, scientists, officials, and land managers who are responding to this megafire and recognize the need to forestall the next one. “The Fire Next Time” is a precursor to Filmmakers Collaborative’s feaure-length work-in-progress, “MEGAFIRE at the Rim of the World.” For more information, visit megafirefilm.org.”

Wildfire briefing, December 18, 2014

Possible wildfire suppression scam

From the Rapid City Fire Department:

Scam Alert: Investigators for the RCPD would like to inform the public of a possible scam targeting local businesses. An individual has been soliciting donations for an organization called ‘Atta Katta Wildland Fire Suppression.’ The Rapid City Police Department has reason to believe that this organization is fraudulent. If you’ve been solicited for a donation to this organization, please contact Sgt. Warren Poches at 394.4134.

Moonlight fire scandal continues to grow

The accusations of prosecutorial abuse, fraud, and government coverups related to the 2007 Moonlight Fire in northern California are gathering more nationwide attention. Here is how an article by Kathleen Parker begins:

First there’s the spark, then the conflagration, followed by the litigation and then, surely, the movie. Call it “Moonlight Fire,” and prepare to suspend disbelief. The story is a doozy — a tale of corruption, prosecutorial abuse, alleged fraud upon the court, and possible government cover-ups in the service of power and greed. All the script needs is a Forest Service employee urinating on his bare feet in his lookout tower just as the fire was beginning.

What?!

This is what a real-life ranger discovered when she went to the tower to pick up a radio for repair. She also reported spotting a small glass pipe and smelling marijuana. As for the urinary exercise, the lookout said he was treating his athlete’s foot. But of course.

So goes one of the more colorful anecdotes surrounding the 2007 California wildfire that burned up to 65,000 acres — 45,000 of them on federal land — in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains…

Jonathan Keim also wrote about the debacle for the National Review.

Articles at Wildfire Today tagged Moonlight Fire.

Study on the Rim Fire recommends more interagency prescribed fires

Excerpts from an article a KSBW:

A fierce wildfire that scorched part of Yosemite National Park burned less intensely in places that had fires in recent years – a finding that researchers said Wednesday supports a belief that controlled burning often curtails extreme fires.

The U.S. Forest Service study focused on areas of the Rim Fire that burned 400 square miles in Stanislaus National Forest, Yosemite’s backcountry and private timber land.

It was the largest fire in the recorded history of the Sierra Nevada. It destroyed 11 homes and cost more than $125 million to fight.

Areas hit by the Rim Fire within Yosemite had burned within 14 years and experienced less intense flames, said U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, which authored the study.

Researchers recommend that forestry agencies with shared borders and interests combine their efforts to conduct controlled burns during moderate weather conditions, giving them the best chance for to avoid massive high-intensity fires.

Night flying helicopters in southern California

An article at The Coast News reports on the two night-flying helicopters operated by the city of San Diego.

10-year high for people charged with lighting fires in Victoria

From The Age in Australia:

The number of charges for lighting fires on days of total fire ban or during bushfire danger periods has reached a 10-year high, as police crack down on the foolishness that has sparked destructive blazes since Black Saturday.

There were 227 charges for lighting a fire on a total fire ban day or in a fire danger period last year, an increase of more than 17 per cent compared to the previous year and more than five times the number recorded in 2010-11.

While most of the fires raging in Victoria this week are believed to have started because of lightning strikes, Emergency Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said some of the 350 blazes burning on Wednesday would have been caused by people ignoring the volatile conditions.

“It wouldn’t all be lightning. There would have been some foolish behaviour…

Homes burn in Victoria bushfire

Four homes burned in a bushfire in the Creighton’s Creek area of Victoria. State Control Centre spokesperson Leigh Miezis said 1,500 firefighters are currently battling the blaze.

The video below was filmed by Jacob Haddrill in Creightons Creek. He saved his cattle but his feed and fencing was damaged in the fire.

Wildfire briefing, October 15, 2014

Half of the Holy Grail of Firefighter Safety demonstrated at the Happy Camp Fire

The Holy Grail of Firefighter Safety is to have key members of the Operations and Planning Sections knowing two things about a fire in real time:

  1. The location of the fire, and
  2. The location of firefighters.

Half of that was provided on the Happy Camp Fire, when true video and infrared video were streamed in real time down to the Incident Command Post from an Air Attack aircraft over the incident. At times the Planning Section Chief controlled the camera, looking at sections of the fire that were key to his situation awareness, mapping responsibilities, decision making and planning.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Fire Aviation.

A suite of video sensors normally used on an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) was installed on an Air Attack aircraft working on the 134,056-acre Happy Camp Fire in northern California. The instruments provide normal and infrared video, making it possible for the Air Tactical Group Supervisor and personnel at the Incident Command Post to see in real time through smoke to determine where the priorities should be and where aircraft should be assigned to drop water or retardant.

Read the rest here.

Cleanup after the Boles fire has started

The government has started a massive cleanup in the northern California town of Weed, following the Boles Fire that destroyed 157 residences and 8 commercial structures last month.

Victoria, Australia rolls out new fire trucks

The rollout of Victoria’s new ground-based $82.1 million forest firefighting fleet has begun for the upcoming fire season.

Minister for Environment and Climate Change Ryan Smith said the 306 new firefighting vehicles to be rolled out over a six-year period were specifically designed to provide greater protection to fire crews and would deliver increased water carrying capacity of 630 litres (166 gallons), up from 400 litres (105 gallons) previously.

The new vehicles, based on the Mercedes Benz G Wagon, are fitted with equipment designed for Department of Environment and Primary Industries’ (DEPI) firefighting and planned burning needs, including cabin fire curtains for improved crew safety; and, the highest level of falling object protection for a vehicle of this size.

Attorney argue over evidence in Rim Fire arson case

The attorney representing the person charged with starting the 257,000-acre Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park is arguing that prosecutors aren’t providing all of the evidence they have collected against her client. The fire became the third largest in California recorded history, destroyed 11 homes, and cost $125 million to suppress. In August a Federal Grand Jury indicted 32-year-old Keith Matthew Emerald for starting the fire, charging him with two felonies, “Timber set afire” and “False statement to a government agency”, plus two misdemeanors, “Fire left unattended and unextinguished” and “Violating a fire restriction order”.

Read the story of how Mr. Emerald became a suspect.

Busy wildfire season in Canada’s national parks

From GuelphMercury.com:

The number of wildfires in Canada’s national parks was close to average last summer, but the size of some of those fires made it an unusually hot season.

“We’ve had a more active than normal wildfire season,” said Jeff Weir, Parks Canada’s national fire manager. “A small number of those fires have been quite challenging.”

The agency reported 85 wildfires in the spring and summer of this year. That’s slightly higher than the average of 82.

The amount of forest burned was almost 3,000 square kilometres — an area about half the size of Prince Edward Island.

“That’s higher than normal,” Weir said.

There were several large fires in Wood Buffalo National Park, which straddles the boundary between northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Together with a large fire in Banff National Park, the fires accounted for 1,300 square kilometres of forest burned.