Precipitation reduces wildfire smoke in the central U.S.

Above: Snow cover in the United States, November 18, 2016. The Weather Channel.

Precipitation in the northwest quarter of the United States this week has put even more of a damper on the occurrence of wildfires, the execution of prescribed fires, and agricultural burning.

After weeks of warm, dry weather the Black Hills finally received a little precipitation over the last 24 hours. I won’t know the exact amount at my house until the snow in the rain gauge melts, but there was an inch or two of the white stuff on the ground. Today is sunny with a high of 32 predicted, so maybe it will trickle through the tipping bucket this afternoon.

snow rain gauge
Snow captured by my rain gauge since Thursday afternoon. Photo at 11 a.m. MT November 18, 2016 by Bill Gabbert.

Small amounts of precipitation in southern Saskatchewan may be the reason smoke from that area is no longer immigrating into the United States, as you can see in the two maps below. The first one was the smoke forecast for November 15 and the one after that is for today, November 18.

wildfire smoke forecast
Prediction for the distribution of smoke from wildfires at 6 p.m. ET, November 15, 2016. Produced at 7 a.m. ET November 15.
wildfire smoke forecast
Forecast for wildfire smoke at 6 p.m. ET November 18, 2016, created at 1 a.m. ET November 18, 2016.

However, prescribed fires, wildfires, or agricultural burning in Louisiana, Arkansas, and eastern Texas are still producing large quantities of smoke that at times moves north into the midwest.

No rain is predicted until the middle of next week for the areas where wildfires are smoking out the residents in some areas of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina.

24 hour precipitation
Accumulated precipitation estimated by radar over the 24 hours before 7:07 a.m. ET November 18, 2016.

 

Wildfire briefing, July 15, 2015

Saskatchewan Premier wants a national fire cache and a fire mapping plane

The Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, wants the national government to establish a national cache of firefighting supplies and equipment that could be distributed when a province, or provinces, have multiple large fires ongoing. Perhaps he is thinking of a system similar to the one used in the United States, which has a national cache in Boise at the National Interagency Coordination Center.

“Some of those basic things that we would normally just call Manitoba or B.C. and say, ‘We need these things,’ well they were all fighting fires,” Mr. Wall said Wednesday. “Why, as a country, wouldn’t we have a cache? A national store to draw from if there is an occasion again where so many provinces are involved in fighting major fires?”

Mr. Wall also would like the see Canada acquire and operate a fire mapping plane that would use infrared detection equipment to see through smoke to map the perimeters and intensely burning areas of wildfires.

“If we could have at least one of those available nationally to provinces, because when it’s smokey, you have this whole flight … that’s grounded, and you might lose a little bit of ground that you might otherwise gain in better weather,” Wall said.

Wall will raise the idea at the premiers meeting in St. John’s, where he was heading on Wednesday.

Another drone shuts down aerial firefighting equipment

Sunday afternoon firefighting air tankers had to cease their operations on a fire near Yucaipa, California for about eight minutes when a drone was spotted over the fire.

Firefighting soldier takes bathroom break, gets lost for six hours

One of the 600 soldiers helping to suppress wildfires in Saskatchewan took a break to relieve himself Monday and didn’t return. His absence was noticed at 2 p.m. and a search began.

Below is an excerpt from an article at CBC.ca:

“I am happy to report, he is uninjured except for his pride, and many lessons, a number of lessons to be learned about this,” Brig.-Gen. Wayne Eyre said.

The Canadian Army said the soldier, one of some 600 from the Prairies deployed in the forest fire zone, had walked into the forest to relieve himself in privacy and got lost.

When others noticed he was missing at around 2:20 p.m. CST, a massive search began, involving soldiers, the Wildfire Management Centre, the RCMP, Canadian Rangers and other agencies.

The search virtually shut down firefighting in the area yesterday afternoon.

Eyre acknowledges that there should have been a buddy system in place, and the soldier, described as experienced, should have stayed in one spot.

Around 8:30 p.m., he was found.

130 U.S. firefighters deployed to wildfires in Canada

Five wildland fire suppression crews and 30 fireline management personnel are being mobilized to Canada to assist with fire suppression operations. Canada is experiencing an intense fire season and has requested wildland firefighting assistance from the United States.

The five 20-person wildland fire suppression crews were dispatched through the National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho. Four of the crews are comprised of U.S. Forest Service firefighters from California, while one is a hotshot crew from the National Park Service in Estes Park, Colorado. The crews and the fireline management personnel will arrive in Edmonton, Alberta and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, over the weekend and will deploy to wildland fire incidents in both provinces. The U.S. also sent one heavy air tanker, a BAe-146, to Grande Prairie, Canada on July 5.

Acres burned in Alaska and Canada far ahead of average

Big Beaver Creek Fire
The Alaska Highway was closed to all traffic due to aggressive fire behavior observed on the Big Beaver Creek Fire in British Columbia Wednesday afternoon. The highway is closed between 386 km (Mile 250) and 418 km (Mile 260). British Columbia Wildfire Service photo.

It is barely mid-summer and wildfire activity in Alaska and western Canada has been much higher than average for this time of the year. As of July 8, the number of acres burned in Alaska is the second highest ever recorded for an entire year — 2004 holds the present record, but on a year to date basis, the state now is ahead of the same date in 2004 for acres burned.

The area blackened in Canada already exceeds the annual 10-year average for an entire year. The government has activated about 1,000 military personnel to help fight wildfires in Saskatchewan. Firefighters from eastern Canada have been mobilized to assist in the western provinces, and one BAe-146 air tanker from Missoula, Montana is also lending a hand.

Canada weeks area burned through July 1, 2015
Canada area burned on a weekly basis through July 1, 2015.

Alaska is also receiving help from firefighters in the lower 48 states. For example on Tuesday five 20-person crews were dispatched from California to Alaska, while snow flurries have been occurring for the past several days on the Inyo National Forest in California. Other Forests in the state received rain on Wednesday.

Here are some wildfire numbers, current on July 8, 2015:

  • United States: 30,017 fires, 3,821,726 acres
  • Alaska: 650 fires, 3,208,107 acres
  • Canada: 4,672 fires, 6,546,562 acres
Canada fires, July 8, 2015
Canada fires, July 8, 2015
Alaska Fires July 8, 2015
Alaska Fires July 8, 2015

Smoke is helping to control wildfires in Canada

Satellite view, smoke Canada fires
A satellite view of the location of fires in Canada July 2, 2015, represented by the red dots. Smoke can be seen drifting to the south and southeast.

You don’t usually think of smoke benefiting firefighters, especially their health, but the pollutants over a very widespread area are modifying the weather, making it a little easier to corral the numerous wildfires in some areas.

Below is an excerpt from The Weather Network.

Thursday, July 2, 2015, 5:14 PM – Even as plumes of heavy smoke from Alberta and Saskatchewan wildfires force thousands from their homes, officials find a silver lining, as the smoke is actually keeping the fires more under control.

Evacuation centres in central and southern Saskatchewan are reportedly housing at least 5,000 people as of Thursday, all displaced from their homes by thick smoke drifting down from wildfires burning in northern parts of the province. The evacuations were prompted by the significant health risk this smoke represents, and Environment Canada has issued special air quality statements for northeastern Alberta, all of Saskatchewan and all but the northeastern regions of Manitoba in response.

Despite this health risk, though, the thick smoke is actually having a beneficial impact on the very fires that are producing it in the first place.

“As much as it’s not good for people, because the cloud layer filled with smoke and is so thick, our temperatures are roughly 10 degrees cooler and our humidity is 10 to 15 per cent higher,” said Steve Roberts, Executive Director of Saskatchewan’s Wildfire Management Branch, according to the Canadian Press. “That combination means the fire activity drops significantly.”

“It’s helped us secure, especially, those fires that are close to communities by putting people on the ground and getting some hose lines in place.”

But, the smoke is a double-edged sword. Sometimes the reduced visibility grounds firefighting aircraft:

The video below of a wildfire in Saskatchewan is stunning. It appears that the photographer was quite close to a very, very active fire.

If your device can’t handle the video above, try it at this site.

To see the most current smoke reports on Wildfire Today, visit the articles tagged “smoke” at http://wildfiretoday.com/tag/smoke/

Saskatchewan replacing fire lookouts with cameras

Saskatchewan lookout tower
Saskatchewan lookout tower. CTV News

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment is phasing out fire lookout towers staffed with humans to detect fires and replacing them with cameras.

About 38 seasonal positions will be lost when the government switches to camera systems. The provincial government says the installation of the equipment, which should be operational by April of 2014,  will cost $1.5 million.

Environment Minister Ken Cheveldayoff says the switch will save money. However, he maintains the primary issue is safety.

“These towers are 80 to 90 feet high,” Cheveldayoff said Thursday. “There’s a safety issue if they’re single-manned that if something was to happen, if that individual was able to slip or something like that, it could be dire consequences.”

Saskatchewan lookout tower
Saskatchewan lookout tower. Photo by Government of Saskatchewan.