Bear Mountain’s 2014 fire season

DC-10 dropping

DC-10 dropping. Screen capture from the 2014 Bear Mountain Hand Crew video.

This is the time of the year when we start seeing videos from wildland firefighters that show the highlights of their fire season. The latest entry is from the Bear Mountain Hand Crew in South Dakota. It has a few examples of excellent photography, including a retardant drop at 7:30 by Tanker 911, a DC-10. You may or may not appreciate the musical sound track in the first two-thirds of the video.

The crew also created a video from their 2013 fire season.


South Dakota: Wildlife Loop Fire

Wildlife Loop Fire

Wildlife Loop Fire. Photo supplied by Great Plains Fire Information.

Even though some areas in the Black Hills of South Dakota received well over six inches of snow one or two weeks ago, and there are still a few patches left on north-facing slopes, a fire in Custer State Park burned about 300 acres on Saturday in the old fire scar from the Four Mile Fire. (UPDATE, December 1, 2014: the fire was mapped at 250 acres.)

As of 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, only one firefighting unit remained on the fire, since the weather forecast predicted much colder weather and the possibility of snow. Overnight nearby in Hot Springs, the area received half an inch of snow and the temperature got down to 7 degrees. By noon on Sunday it was 21 degrees and partly sunny.

The cause is under investigation. If the fire is mopped up it could be a time consuming effort, with all of the dead and down fuels from the previous fire. Great Plains Fire Information reported that on Sunday the Incident Commander would order resources and mop up “as appropriate”.


New way to share lessons learned

Alabaugh Fire

Alabaugh Fire, July 7, 2007. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has added a new lesson sharing tool to their bag of tricks. Using the 18-minute video about the experiences of the two firefighters that were entrapped in one fire shelter on the 2007 Alabaugh Fire south of Hot Springs, South Dakota, they created a new training experience using a system developed by TED, called TED-Ed. The way it works is that you view the video, then answer or discuss 12 questions. (Link to the final TED-Ed product.)

In case you’re not familiar with TED, it is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.

(UPDATE: there is another TED-Ed that the LLC created. It’s for the Mudd Fire, where an engine crew survived an entrapment.)

The video below is not the TED-Ed product, it is the original lesson sharing video in which the two firefighters tell their story about the entrapment. This video is the foundation for the TED-Ed product which can be found HERE.


The making of the Whaley Gulch time lapse video

camera slider or dolly

Benjamin Carstens’ camera slider or dolly. Photo by Mr. Carstens.

Being an enthusiastic amateur photographer, I was curious about how Benjamin Carstens made the time lapse video of the Whaley Gulch prescribed fire north of Hill City, SD that we published a week ago. It was not an ordinary time-lapse — it was obvious that the camera was moving very smoothly while the images were being recorded.

Mr. Carstens told us that he used a Canon 5D Mark3. He began the shot at about 5:45 p.m. and ended it at 9 p.m. He used Photoshop and Lightroom to do basic editing, and then Irtimelapse to merge the individual images, shot 25 seconds apart, into a video.

The photo above shows his dolly or slider that moves the camera while the photos are being taken.

There are other cameras that can make time lapse videos without the need for any other equipment. But without the dolly/slider you will not get the camera movement effect which adds a degree of professionalism. Some GoPro cameras can shoot time lapse, but may require some manipulation in their proprietary software to produce the finished video product.

I recently got a Sony A6000, a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, to which I uploaded an optional software app for time lapse. It creates the video directly without the need for any other processing or software. I really like the camera. Since it does not have a mirror that flops up and down when you take a photo, it can be much smaller and lighter than a conventional DSLR. It has a 24 MP APS-C sensor, ISO up to 51,200, one of the fastest auto focusing systems in existence, can shoot at 11 frames per second (great for air tankers dropping), and built in Wi-Fi, making it possible to transfer photos to your cell phone or computer without swapping cards.

I made the above 13-second time lapse video with the Sony camera, showing clouds moving toward the south over a 45 minute period. The 390 images were shot 7 seconds apart and saved by the camera as a 30 frames per second 279MB .avi file, which I converted on my computer to a 13MB .wmv file. I am looking forward to making a time lapse of a wildfire.

Mr. Carstens sent us more photos taken at the Whaley Gulch prescribed fire as the crews were finishing up the project on November 6.

Whaley Gulch prescribed fire

Whaley Gulch prescribed fire, November 6, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Carstens.

Whaley Gulch prescribed fire

Whaley Gulch prescribed fire, November 6, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Carstens.