Leaf blower as a firefighting tool

Manchester leaf blowers
A photo from the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service website showing firefighters using leaf blowers on a grass fire.

On one of the pages of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service website that features wildfires, there is some praise for their “new Forced Air Firefighting Units (FAFU)”, also known as leaf blowers:

Manchester leaf blower

Though they may be new to firefighters in the United Kingdom, leaf blowers have been used on fires in the southeast United States for decades. I have had a little experience with them and found that they can be very useful for building fireline in hardwood litter. A brief trial in directly controlling an active fire found that they can be tricky to use. You have to be very careful where you point that high-velocity stream of air because burning embers are constantly in motion and when airborne they can sometimes land in an undesired location. And wind direction is key.

I’d like to hear from firefighters that have experience using leaf blowers in a fire management operation.

Training for a wildfire in Lancashire, UK and Omaha, Nebraska

The video shows firefighters in Lancashire, UK engaged in wildfire training, using some equipment that you will not often see on the other side of the pond.

Here is how the video is described:

Firefighters along with partner agencies Bay Search and Rescue, Mountain Rescue teams (Bolton and Bowland), Pennine helicopters, United Utilities, the Moorlad Association and Lancashire County Council all joined together in an excercise on Bleasdle Fell, Lancashire to not only practice the skills required to tackle a wildfire but also raise awareness of the issues with the public through local media. This report was taken from Granada Television News, featuring Station Manager Shaun Walton, Jeremy Duckworth from the Moond Association and reported by Amy Welch.

And speaking of training, the photo below illustrates in a completely different environment annual firefighter refresher training in the National Park Service’s Midwest Regional Office in Omaha, Nebraska.

Firefighter refresher training, NPS regional office, Omaha
Firefighter refresher training, NPS regional office, Omaha, NE. Photo by Jim McMahill.

Wildfire briefing, March 6, 2014

Minnesota fire chief pleads guilty to arson

The chief of the St. Louis County volunteer fire department in Minnesota resigned after investigators charged him with arson last December. On Friday, Ryan Scharber, 30, pleaded guilty to setting a fire on U.S. Forest Service land and to one count of attempted arson. Below is an excerpt from an article in the Daily Mail:

…According to documents filed in federal court in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dunne is requesting that Scharber should be given the maximum five-year sentence, reports the Star Tribune. In the memorandum, Dunne disputed Scharber’s contention that he had set the fires ‘to get out of the house for a few hours to get relief from his newborn child’s acid reflux.’ The prosecutor noted that Scharber hadn’t offered that excuse during the five-hour interview with investigators in which he eventually confessed on December 19, 2012. ‘The psychiatrist at the Range Mental Health Center diagnosed the defendant with pyromania,’ Dunne wrote. ‘The real reason behind the defendant’s criminal conduct in this case was that diagnosis.’

New government report describes possible ‘cascading system failures’ caused by climate change

About 240 authors and a 60-person Federal Advisory Committee (The “National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee”) have developed a draft climate report. The lengthy document warns that climate-fueled storms, flooding and droughts could cause “cascading system failures” unless there are changes made to minimize those effects. One of the dozens of topics covered in the report was “Forestry”. You can read that section of the report HERE. Below is a brief summary of that section.

Climate change is increasing the vulnerability of forests to ecosystem change and tree mortality through fire, insect infestations, drought, and disease outbreaks. Western U.S. forests are particularly vulnerable to increased wildfire and insect outbreaks; eastern forests have smaller disturbances but could be more sensitive to periodic drought.

Pigeon sets fire to a building in London

A pigeon is being blamed for starting a fire on the roof of a flat in London. Firefighters believe the bird dropped a lit cigarette into its nest on the roof of the building, starting a fire that forced the nine residents to evacuate the structure. Four fire engines and 21 firefighters were able to save the flat, but the roof was damaged. No one had been on the roof in a long time and there was no electrical equipment in the area, but neighbors told firefighters they had often seen birds flying in and out of a hole in the roof.

Other cases of animal arson

This is not the first time we have run a story on a bird setting fire to a building. It also happened in 2009, again in the United Kingdom, when a sparrow was accused of picking up a lit cigarette and, like the pigeon, depositing it among the dry twigs and grass in its nest. We have a whole series of articles tagged “animal arson”.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Preston

“Fire, floods, and pestilence” in Wales

A fire on the west coast of Wales in the UK caused some concern for residents near Aberystwyth on Friday. It looks fairly impressive In the above video as strong winds pushed it across a bog, but fire officials said it only burned about one hectare (2.5 acres).

A resident  said:

Well I think we’ve had about everything now. We’ve had the fire, the floods, and the pestilence.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Shaun.

Tesco stores in UK to stop selling fire balloons

Fire balloon
A fire balloon or sky lantern as seen in a testosterone commercial

Bowing to public pressure, a chain of stores has decided to stop selling fire balloons or sky lanterns. Tesco, a British multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer headquartered in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, England, made the decision after months of lobbying by Farmers Guardian and supporters of the Say No to Sky Lanterns campaign.

Below is an excerpt from Farmers Guardian:

…It comes as campaigners raised concerns about the risk to livestock and the threat of fire, ahead of Chinese New Year tomorrow (Friday) – an event traditionally celebrated by releasing fire lanterns into the sky.

Back in November the retailer told FG it would review its sky lantern sales following a raft of pressure from MPs, local authorities, farming unions and concerned members of the public.

Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis joined the drive after becoming fed up with the dangerous paper and wire objects littering land where his cattle graze.

Tesco agriculture director Tom Hind said: “We have listened to the feedback from customers and other groups including the farming community, and we think the right thing to do is to stop selling sky lanterns. We will not be sending any more stock to stores and any existing stock should be gone within a matter of weeks.”

These incendiary devices use burning material such as rubbing alcohol or a candle to heat the air in a bag made of tissue paper or very thin plastic. The heat makes the device lighter than air causing it to rise into the sky, staying aloft for 10 minutes to 2 hours. They can be very pretty to watch especially when they are released dozens or hundreds at a time such as at a wedding or some other celebration. One of the problems is that they sometimes start wildfires or structure fires.

Wildfire briefing July 19, 2013

Seven things to know about fire aviation

Check out the new article over at Fire Aviation about MAFFS, broken CV-580 nose gear, an update on next-gen air tankers, Neptune’s grid test, U.S. Forest Service C-27s, a shortage of lead planes, and an update on the 20,000-gallon 747 Supertanker

Senator Harry Reid talks about fighting fire “on the cheap”

It’s probably not likely that the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate reads Wildfire Today, but if he had he would have found that we have something in common, an aversion of trying to fight fire “on the cheap”. We have used that phrase many times, and Senator Harry Reid uttered the words Wednesday, according to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal in which he was discussing the Carpenter 1 fire just west of Las Vegas:

WASHINGTON — As firefighters head home from Southern Nevada, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid on Wednesday blamed “climate change” for the intense blaze that consumed nearly 28,000 acres and drove hundreds of residents from their homes around Mount Charleston this month.

Reid said the government should be spending “a lot more” on fire prevention, echoing elected officials who say the Forest Service should move more aggressively to remove brush and undergrowth that turn small fires into huge ones.

“The West is burning,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters in a meeting. “I could be wrong, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a fire in the Spring Mountains, Charleston range like we just had.

“Why are we having them? Because we have climate change. Things are different. The forests are drier, the winters are shorter, and we have these terrible fires all over the West.”

“This is terribly concerning,” Reid said. Dealing with fire “is something we can’t do on the cheap.”

“We have climate change. It’s here. You can’t deny it,” Reid went on. “Why do you think we are having all these fires?”

The thrill of covering a wildfire

Jay Calderon, a photographer for MyDesert.com, wrote an article in which he wrote, “Covering a wildfire is one of the more exhilarating things I get to do as a photojournalist.”

A premature and shallow examination of the Yarnell Hill Fire

I have mixed feelings about mentioning a report that has just been released about the Yarnell Hill Fire that killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. But, it is already being referenced in articles, so you may hear about it regardless.

An official investigation is going on now. After it is released we will have much more information about what did, or did not happen that resulted in the tragedy. In spite of the lack of details available, an organization called Pacific Biodiversity Institute wrote a 34-page document expressing the opinions of the authors, Peter H. Morrison and George Wooten. Mr. Morrison’s expertise, according to their web site, is in “conservation biology and ecology with additional expertise in GIS, botany, conservation planning and management”, while Mr. Wooten is described as a “botanist and website developer”.

Their report is shallow, relies on cliches, summarizes the fire behavior describing it multiple times by saying the fire “exploded”, does not understand the nuances of fighting fire or fire behavior, and reaches very detailed and specific conclusions about the vulnerability of hundreds of individual structures based solely on satellite imagery.

So even though they quoted our analysis of the facts about the weather that was recorded by a nearby weather station, and how that could have affected the fire behavior, we can’t recommend their report as authoritative.

Families of Granite Mountain 19 to receive large sums of money

The families of the firefighters that were killed on the Yarnell Hill fire could each receive payments of close to half a million dollars, according to an analysis by NBC News. They came to that conclusion after considering the donations that have been received, the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Programs for law enforcement and fire officers injured or killed in the line of duty, plus Workmen’s Compensation benefits. Hopefully this will do a lot toward taking care of the wives and surviving children.

Unusually high wildfire danger in Scotland

Due to very hot weather (for them) Scotland and other parts of the UK are experiencing many more wildfires than usual. Scotsman.com explains:

Devastating wildfires have ripped through parts of Scotland as the longest heatwave for seven years spread across Britain and forecasters warned temperatures could climb as high as 35C [95F].

Mountain blazes tore across the south Wales’ valleys while flames devastated swathes of Tentsmuir Forest in north east Fife, Scotland, last night, and London experienced its worst grass fires since 2006.

The spate of hot weather is believed to have caused up to 760 premature deaths already and weathermen today warned that the hottest day of the year is yet to come.

John Mayer’s Wildfire

I sometimes check out the hashtag #wildfire on twitter, but for the last few days it has been flooded with something about John Mayer and “Wildfire”. So finally I checked it out, and it’s the name of a new song which has the line “…You and me are catching on like a wildfire”. The video is below.

You may remember that a John Mayer concert in Livingston, Montana earlier this year raised more than $100,000 to help firefighters who battled the 2012 Pine Creek Fire that burned through the community of Pine Creek seven miles south of Livingston August 29, 2012.  He owns a home there but was not in the area when five homes and 8,500 acres burned.

So in my book, he gets a break when he sings about “Wildfire”.