Lee side slope fire behavior. A wind eddy on the lee slope can push the fire up the slope opposite the prevailing wind direction. At the ridge top, the fire can also move horizontally, 90 degrees off the main wind direction. Screen grab from the video.
In November, 2012 we wrote about some of the research that was conducted to study and document what can only be described as a fire tornado in Australia, a tornado-like event that can be generated by a wildfire. In recent years a new term has been coined — firenado — which seems appropriate.
It occurred near Chapman in the Australian Capitol Territories during the McIntyres Hut Fire January 18, 2003. After studying the event, Rick McRae of the ACT and others discovered that it traveled across 25 kilometers at 30 kph (19 mph), had horizontal winds of 250 kph (149 mph), and vertical winds of 150 kph (93 mph). Damage that occurred to trees and structures is much like what you would see after a tornado in Oklahoma.
Australia’s ABC TV produced an excellent video that goes surprisingly deeply into some of the scientific principles of this phenomenon, including fire behavior when a strong wind pushes a fire up a slope. This can result in spot fires at the bottom of the slope on the other side, the lee slope, which can be pushed rapidly up the lee slope by a wind eddy in the opposite direction of the prevailing wind (see the screen grab above from the video). They also documented how a fire at the top of the ridge can travel across the ridge at 90 degrees to the direction of the prevailing wind.
Knowledge about this kind of fire behavior is something that wildland firefighters should retain in their “slide file”, in the unfortunate event that they find themselves in danger of being entrapped and are considering using the lee side of a ridge as an escape route or a sheltering location.
The information in the video can be even more interesting when considered along with the winds at the site of the Yarnell Hill Fire entrapment, as modeled by WindWizard. The image below is from page 79 of the Yarnell Hill Fire SAIT report. Click the image to see a slightly larger version.
Yarnell Hill Fire, June 30, 2013. Photo by Joy Collura.
The leader of the 54-person team that conducted the Serious Accident Investigation Team’s investigation into the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona that killed 19 firefighters was quoted as saying that individual firefighters should be able to attack wildfires alone. Florida State Forester Jim Karels’ reasoning seems to be that it is too expensive to send two firefighters to a fire.
Below is an excerpt from an article at WFSU explaining that the Florida state legislature is considering a recommendation from the Florida State Fire Service Association that firefighters should not be sent alone to a fire:
…Florida Forest Service Director Jim Karels says the increased staffing mandate is not necessary because the lowest-risk fires only require one firefighter—and if he sends two to one fire, it’s possible nobody will be available when the next one breaks out.
“Safety-wise, purely, if I can send two firefighters to every fire every time with no other decisions, I’m good with that. But we’ve got to look at it on effectiveness and efficiency too,” he says.
But Rep. Mike Clelland (D-Lake Mary) says his experience as a firefighter makes him question the department’s refusal.
“I just can’t imagine one person responding to a forest fire or a brush fire,” he says. “I spent my whole adult life in the fire service.”
The article also has a 50-second audio recording in which you can hear Mr. Karels actually speaking those words.
This helps to explain how Mr. Karels’ 54-person investigative team came up with their analysis of the fatal Yarnell Hill Fire:
The judgments and decisions of the incident management organizations managing this fire were reasonable. Firefighters performed within their scope of duty, as defined by their respective organizations. The Team found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol.
Many people, including this writer, disagree with the conclusion reached by Mr. Karels and his team. The article we wrote on February 15 is an example of some, but not all, of the negligence, reckless actions, and violations of policy or protocol that have been documented about the fire, in spite of Mr. Karels’ analysis. Other examples surfaced after the release of the second official report on the fire which was issued by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
Many people, after studying for weeks how 19 firefighters were killed on a fire, would be hyper-aware and sensitive to firefighter safety issues, but not in this case. Florida State Forest Service Director Jim Karels is a danger to firefighters and should get out of the business. We don’t use term idiot often at Wildfire Today, but it is well deserved in this case.
At least 255 emergency management agencies in California and a few other areas have been experimenting with and in some cases using a new tool that provides enhanced situational awareness for incident managers. Called Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS), the developers describe it as “a mobile web-based command and control environment for dynamically escalating incidents from first alarm to extreme-scale that facilitates collaboration across [multiple] levels of preparedness, planning, response, and recovery for all-risk/all-hazard events.” It is a combination of tools, technologies, and an innovative concept of operations for emergency response.
NICS is called “technology for the tired, dirty and hungry — dirt simple to learn and dirt simple to use”. It was conceived, envisioned, and functionally specified by experienced first responders, many from the California emergency response community, and developed by skilled scientists and engineers at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a government facility on Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts. The software and electronic data are being hosted at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, thanks to a monetary appropriation from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, but NICS can be hosted anywhere and with a minimum of gear — even on a well equipped laptop.
The development of the project has been funded by the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, but that source is scheduled to end October 31, 2014. The two people primarily involved in outreach to the emergency response community, and who are working on finding funding for the next 5-year increment, are retired Chief Bob Toups and Dr. Jack Thorpe.
NICS is “technology neutral.” It can be used on computers as well as tablets and hand-held devices. It is compatible with Windows, iOS, Linux, Android, and the web browsers Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and later versions of Internet Explorer.
Maps can be created by firefighters on scene in a matter of minutes, which are then immediately viewable by anyone who has access to that incident on a computer or hand-held device with internet connectivity. The maps can show an incident perimeter, staging areas, evacuation zones, road blocks, division breaks, and symbology commonly used on incident maps.
The information can be accessed not only by firefighters on site and in command centers, but by law enforcement officials responsible for evacuation and anyone else on a need to know basis.
One of the limitations of the system is that it communicates via the internet. If firefighters in a remote location do not have internet access from their cell phone or computer, or via a satellite connection, they can’t send or receive the information. However, this should not be a problem for higher level managers in offices who also have a need to create and share information about the incident. And, mobile cell sites, commonly called a Cell on Wheels, or COW, are increasingly available and should be deployed automatically to large incidents that have poor cell coverage.
NICS has been in development since 2007 and in 2010 was first utilized by agencies in southern California. Last year it was used on 102 incidents in the state. It was also in use during the 2013 Boston Marathon assisting in managing the event and tracking the 26,000 runners, and continued to be utilized after the bombing.
NICS can display the near real time location of emergency resources using Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) and/or Position Location Information (PLI) technologies. Tracking can be either cellar or satellite-based. Currently some agencies that use Delorme InReach satellite-based tracking devices can see where their resources and personnel are located. Several other tracking devices are compatible with the system as well. Mr. Toups and Mr. Thorpe told us that if an appropriate software backend was written, other tracking devices could be integrated also. It is possible that the 6,000 tracking devices recently purchased by the U.S. Forest Service could be used within NICS.
NICS incidents in California in 2013. NICS graphic. (click to enlarge)
While NICS will not solve every problem a firefighter or other emergency responder has, it can add a significant level of situational awareness for personnel on the sharp end of the spear as well as those in remote offices who have to make decisions related to the incident. One chief put it this way: “We are able to compress the time of developing our situational awareness from 12 hours to 12 minutes.”
Being aware of the near real time location of firefighters is half of what we call the Holy Grail of Firefighter Safety. The other half is knowing the real time location of a wildfire. Some near real time fire mapping is currently being done with NICS in California — if that ever routinely becomes part of NICS and is commonly available nationwide, it will reduce fatalities.
Mr. Toups and Mr. Thorpe call the development of NICS about 20 percent complete. They have plans to continue to make improvements and to add features. Most of the additions will be from the emergency response community: Everyone is encouraged to develop apps that can plug-and-play into the basic NICS architecture, just like other apps developed for smart phones and tablets.
To date NICS is primarily being used by state and local agencies in California. The federal wildland fire agencies are not using the system.
The person that gets credit for choosing the name, Next-Generation Incident Command System, is Jose A. Vazquez, a Special Assistant for First Responder Technologies with the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate — the organization that supplied four years of funding to develop the system.
Our only criticism is that unfortunate choice — the name, Next Generation Incident Command System. It implies that ICS is being thrown out and replaced. But NICS is a communications tool, infrastructure that works within the ICS or the National Incident Command System, and will not replace, but will enhance, ICS. Most products named next-generation, such as the next-generation air tankers, are intended to immediately or eventually replace older versions.
NICS is provided at no cost to all emergency response organizations. It is an open community, open standards, shared project. No vendor has any claim to its intellectual property. It belongs to the community. For more information contact Bob Toups, cdfbob at gmail.com, or Jack Thorpe, jack at thorpe.net.
“On Thursday, August 8, 2013 Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grasslands Engine 492, a 2013 KME Type 4 engine was involved in a rollover accident along Wyoming State Highway 450. The accident occurred around noon, as Engine 492 was responding to the Osage Fire, in mutual aid assistance to Weston County, Wyoming. The accident occurred near mile marker 40, or approximately 10 miles east of the Thunder Basin Work Center.
The engine left the highway, veered slightly to the right side of the road hitting a paved apron to a side gate, with the driver seeking to decelerate and regain control of the engine. The engine returned to the road, with the engine brakes being heavily applied, then redirected back to the highway, which resulted in crossing the center line and going to the opposite road edge. Engine 492 rolled over a few times before coming to rest on its wheels (up-right).
At the time of the accident all three members of Engine 492 were wearing their seatbelts. Use of seatbelts and the integrity of the engine cab are likely the principal reasons for the survivability of this accident. All three crew members were hurt in the accident and the Type 4 engine was a total loss. Two of the crew members were transported by ambulance to Newcastle, Wyoming and the third member was transported by ambulance to the high school practice field in Wright, Wyoming where he was transferred to, and then transported by helicopter to the hospital in Casper, Wyoming. The two crewmembers that were transported to Newcastle, Wyoming were released later the same day. However, the injuries sustained by the third member resulted in a longer stay in Casper and release from the hospital on Saturday, August 10th…”
Arizona: specialty license plate for honoring wildland firefighters
An effort is underway to create a specialty license plate in Arizona to honor fallen wildland firefighters. The cost of the plates will be $25 with $17 of that going to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation to help support injured firefighters and families of those firefighters we have lost.
There is only one thing holding this effort back — $32,000 has to be raised to get the program started. The group working on this said:
Our nonprofit is set up, Our account is set up, now we need donations to make this possible! We need your help to reach our goal..and our goal is to start a long lasting/revolving fundraiser that will support injured firefighters and families of those that have lost a firefighter! These plates will be to honor the memory of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Soon you will be able to buy these plates and show your support on your vehicles! But first, we need to raise the money to start them!…every amount helps folks!
The Safety Matters group has established their first forum topic:
“HOW CAN 19 FIREFIGHTERS DIE WITHOUT SOMETHING GOING VERY WRONG?
The idea exists that the Granite Mountain Hotshots died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and sometimes bad things happen. We strongly disagree with this assessment of the situation.
In order to get a clearer view of firefighter fatalities due to entrapment and burnover, we examined wildland fires from 1990 through 2013 where journeyman firefighters have died.
We started with an analysis of all firefighter fatalities that were attributed to entrapment and burnover based on statistics from the NIFC website Historical Wildland Firefighter Fatality Reports. We expanded our analysis to determine the common factors on fires that took the lives of experienced firefighters on eight fires with a total of 44 fatalities.
Fire Escaped Initial Attack – 100%
Type III Incident – 75%
Mountainous w/steep drainages – 100%
Fire Danger Rating (Extreme or Very High) – 88%
Brush a Major Component of Fuel – 100%
Experienced an Exceptional Weather Event – 88%
Question for discussion: If firefighter safety is truly our Number One Priority, then how and why did 44 highly trained and experienced firefighters perish in this manner? (Especially in light of the fact that their actions did not directly result in saving lives or structures).
We will be exploring some of the more specific contributing reasons in the near future. We would now like to hear your thoughts on the question for discussion. Thank you for your participation in Safety Matters!
Mick Brown has written a long article for The Telegraph about the tragic fire that killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on June 30, 2013 in Arizona. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but Mr. Brown did quite a bit of research, talking to quite a few people including yours truly.
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Hermione, Holly and David