1.7 million acres burning in Alaska wildfires

Jumper arriving at Kobe Fire

Smokejumper arriving at the Kobe Fire, six miles NE of Mile Post 275 on the Parks Highway in Alaska. Photo by Zoey Taylor.

There are 285 active fires burning in Alaska that have charred 1.7 million acres, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. Of those 285 fires, 41 are staffed and the other 244 are being monitored.

The National Interagency Coordination Center reports that the firefighting resources assigned to fires in Alaska include: 106 hand crews, 33 engines, and 29 helicopters.

Alaska top 10 fires

These are the top 10 fires, by size, currently reported by InciWeb in Alaska.

A fun fact — a Bureau of Land Management Type 3 helicopter (H-173BH) recently completed a four-day trip to an assignment in Alaska. It took off from Rifle, Colorado on June 23 and arrived in Fairbanks June 26. The BLM sent other Type 3 helicopters, one each, from Montana, Wyoming and Utah. Two Forest Service Type 2 helicopters were also recently dispatched from the lower 48 states. In addition, a Type 1 CWN helicopter, Croman 701, an S-61, was also sent to Alaska.

Map of Alaska Fires June 29, 2015

Map of Alaska Fires, at 3:56 p.m. MT, June 29, 2015.

 

Whitefish Fire

Whitefish Fire, 8 miles south of Kalskag, June 17, 2015.

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Montana legislature votes 96 to 3 to honor smokejumpers

On April 13, 2015 Montana’s House of Representatives voted on House Resolution #2that stated in part:

…WHEREAS, in July 2015 on the University of Montana campus, the National Smokejumper Association will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first parachute jump to a forest fire, which occurred in July 1940.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF MONTANA:

That the House of Representatives of the State of Montana recognizes 75 years of excellence and dedicated service of smokejumpers in Montana and across the nation.

As far as we can tell, the Resolution did not involve spending any taxpayer money. It simply recognizes 75 years of service by smokejumpers.

The vote was:

  • 96 in favor of the resolution, and
  • 3 against it.

The Representatives, elected by Montana citizens, who voted not to honor smokejumpers were:

  1. Tom Burnett (Bozeman)
  2. Rob Cook (Conrad)
  3. Daniel Zolnikov (Billings)

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris.

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Wildfire briefing, September 10, 2014

Time-lapse video of Meadow Fire

time-lapse video of the Meadow Fire

Screen grab from the NPS time-lapse video of the Meadow Fire.

The National Park Service has posted a very cool time-lapse video of the early hours of the expansion of the Meadow Fire when it grew from 19 acres to over 700. More information about the Meadow Fire.

“Send the elevator back down”

Mentoring young firefighters who have the potential to become future leaders is one of the more important responsibilities of seasoned wildland firefighters. Of course the same principle applies in other fields as well. The award winning actor Kevin Spacey has been doing this for years through his Kevin Spacey Foundation and by leading workshops to cultivate emerging artists in the performing arts.

In an interview with NBCNews he was asked what motivated him to get involved in mentoring young artists. He said:

Jack Lemmon – who was my mentor – passed along his philosophy of “sending the elevator back down” and so I am continuing to do exactly that through the work of my Foundation.

Happy Camp Fire Complex achieves Megafire status

The huge fire on the Klamath National Forest continues to work its way across the landscape of northwest California. The Incident Management Team reports it has now burned 105,194 acres, crossing what we call the unofficial threshold of 100,000 acres to obtain the Megafire label. The Team is calling it 30 percent contained.

No residences had been damaged or destroyed on the fire until Monday, when two burned in the Scott River Road area. One of those belonged to 75-year old Nancy Hood who has been continuously staffing a fire lookout for 56 years on the Klamath National Forest. A fund has been established to help Ms. Wood in her time of need. We posted more information about the effort earlier today.

Smokejumpers warn about link between climate change and wildfires

A group of seven Montana smokejumpers have written an opinion piece that was published in the Missoulian.

Below are some excerpts:

…Scientists say that climate change has implications for wildfire danger. We believe them. Since the 1980s, Montana’s wildfire season increased by two months while average global temperatures have steadily trended upward. Climate researcher Steve Running has summarized the data this way: “Since 1986, longer, warmer summers have resulted in a fourfold increase of major wildfires and a sixfold increase in the area of forest burned, compared to the period from 1970 to 1986.” – Science, Vol. 13:927 (2006).

Drought caused by warming temperatures exacerbated the recent pine beetle infestation, which is 10 times larger than any previously recorded. Millions of dead trees provide more fuel for fires and create more risk for those on the front lines.

[…]

We know that many Montanans share our concerns about rising fire danger. While aggressive intervention in wildfires will always be needed, we also need prevention strategies – and that means dealing with climate change. Preventing climate change isn’t possible, but limiting climate change is.

Montana has abundant clean energy resources such as wind and solar power that can provide significant statewide economic benefits. We need prevention strategies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to decrease carbon pollution from the largest point sources – coal-fired power plants. We can create good-paying jobs in clean energy. We can protect our climate and our wildlands, and we can save lives, property and jobs in doing so.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Mike.

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Report released for 2013 smokejumper fatality

smokejumpers on the Hastings fire

File photo of smokejumpers on the Hastings Fire, northwest of Fairbanks, Alaska, May 31, 2011. Photo by Mike McMillan/Alaska Fire Service.

The Bureau of Land Management has released an Accident Investigation Factual Report on the fatality of the smokejumper in Idaho last year. On September 27, 2013 Mark Urban was killed on a parachute jump while conducting an equipment evaluation at a remote airstrip outside of Prairie, Idaho, approximately 50 miles east of Boise.

Mr. Urban and other smokejumpers were collecting data during jumps to validate the vertical speeds and the activation window under which an automatic activation device (AAD) would initiate the opening sequence of either a main or reserve canopy in smokejumper operations. The AAD was not intended to be engaged during the jump and was not thought to be a factor in the cause of the accident. The parachute was to be manually opened.

All of his previous 287 jumps had been from approximately 3,000 feet above ground level (AGL), but the test on September 27 was designed to begin from the 6,000-foot level. The plan was to wait until reaching 3,000 feet AGL to deploy the main parachute. Similar tests had been conducted years earlier and several jumpers successfully executed the procedure earlier that day.

Mr. Urban’s parachute did not deploy until he was 138 feet AGL, which did not result in any significant deceleration. He was killed upon impact with the ground.

After leaving the Twin Otter aircraft, Mr. Urban, as did other jumpers that day, experienced some spinning while descending from 6,000 to 3,000 feet. The jumpers had been briefed on procedures to correct the spin, but while the exact cause of the accident may never be known, at least one of the investigators concluded that it is possible Mr. Urban spun fast enough to create G-forces that caused him to lose consciousness.

Below is an excerpt from the report in the Human Factors section. It was written by Randy McCalip, a LtCol with the U.S. Air Force, trained as a human factors/aerospace physiology expert and military free fall jumpmaster with 16 years of jumping experience.

…I believe the [Mishap Smokejumper] MS experienced enough initial G-force to cause visual, cognitive, and/or physical degradation delaying early necessary action. The MS channelized on fulfilling the T&E jump profile requirements exposing him to longer and higher G-forces resulting in a G-LOC. The GLOC caused the MS to lose all motor function and go limp. This reversed the MS’s spin and eventually slowed the spin enough to return blood flow to the brain. The MS regained consciousness and initiated pull sequence at 138 ft AGL, well below safe deployment altitude.
Gravitational forces were CAUSAL in this mishap.

F. HF Summary
I thoroughly reviewed all factors that possibly caused and contributed to this mishap. Although the team had eye witness testimonies and two different video angles of the mishap, exactly why the MS didn’t pull at the instructed altitude will never be known with 100% certainty. The MS was highly regarded as an exceptional leader and experienced smokejumper that paid attention to details and standards. This HF analysis attempted to piece together the most logical reasons why the MS failed to deploy his main parachute.

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