Above: Smoke from the Eades Hollow and Mount Pleasant Fires can be seen in a satellite photo taken Wednesday afternoon, November 23, 2016.
(Originally published at 5:55 p.m. ET November 23, 2016)
Two wildfires in central Virginia were very active on Wednesday, creating smoke that drifted northeast toward Washington, DC.
The Mount Pleasant Fire has burned 4,400 acres since it started November 19 10 miles northwest of Amherst, Virginia on the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests within the Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area. Wednesday morning 122 personnel were assigned, plus engines, dozers, three aircraft, and other resources that are en route. On Tuesday the fire grew by 1,689 acres. A Type 3 Incident Management Team from the Montana Department of Natural Resources has assumed command of the fire.
The Eades Hollow Fire 16 miles northeast of Amherst has blackened 922 acres, growing by 422 acres on Tuesday.
In the video below, Superintendent Jim Northup describes the 20,000-acre Maximum Management Area within which Shenandoah National Park hopes to contain the Rocky Mtn Fire.
(UPDATED at 10:35 p.m. EDT, April 21, 2016)
There is news related to the disappearance of 31-year-old Nicole Mittendorff, the missing firefighter from Fairfax, Virginia whose car was found in Shenandoah National Park. She was first reported missing Friday of last week when she did not show up at the fire station for her shift. At approximately 2:00 p.m. today a ground team of National Park Service and Virginia State Police personnel discovered a body in a remote location more than a mile from the Whiteoak Canyon parking area and about 330 yards from the trail in treacherous rocky terrain. National Park Service and Virginia State Police are currently still processing the scene. The search has been suspended. WTOP reports that the Virginia State Police and the family believe the remains are those of Ms. Mittendorff.
The car and the remains were about 22 miles from the Rocky Mount Fire. There has been no report so far that this incident is related to the wildfire.
As of Thursday afternoon, the fire has burned 7,935 acres.
On Wednesday fire crews improved containment lines by burning out vegetation between the fire and eight miles of containment lines along the northern & northwestern perimeter of the fire. Additional fire line preparation was successfully completed along the Skyline Parkway. Work continues on several dozer lines along the western side of the fire to tie together existing terrain features.
With the changing and variable winds Wednesday fire crews picked up multiple spot fires, catching and containing all of them. These included: on the south eastern side, a spot fire north of the Patterson Ridge Trail west of the Plainfield hut, one small one on the northwest corner of the fire and 6 small spot fires near the One Mile Trail Run.
After it’s been burning for five days, the Incident Management Team put out word today that the name is now “Rocky Mtn Fire 2016”.
(UPDATED at 1:40 p.m. EDT, April 20, 2016)
The Rocky Mount Fire in Shenandoah National Park has expanded to 5,600 acres, according to the Type 1 incident management team that assumed command of the fire Wednesday morning. The fire is burning in mountain laurel, pine, and oak forests with heavy leaf litter.
On Tuesday afternoon the fire burned across Skyline Drive blackening 80 to 100 acres on the east side of the highway near mile marker 76. Today crews are actively suppressing that portion of the fire, assisted by two water dropping helicopters.
Firefighters conducted a burnout operation near the Beldor Hollow Community to help contain the fire to that area. Crews expect the fire will hold at Beldor Hollow Road.
The fire progressed south near Brown Mountain Trail on Tuesday and was active overnight near Two Mile Run Lane. The Virginia Department of Forestry crews monitored the area overnight. Fire crews are providing structure protection near the Two Mile Run and Lam Hollow communities.
Firefighting resources assigned, available, or en route include two air tankers, four helicopters, six engines, for a total of 248 personnel.
A firefighter working on a fire on the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests in Bath County, Virginia on May 15 walked over to look at a dead bear and was injured by by a low-hanging power line.
From the “24-hour Report”:
Job Corps Hand Crew was performing mop-up operations within one chain of the fire perimeter. Crew was aware of a dead bear three chains away along the power line and walked over to observe the bear. One of the crew members walked between the bear’s location and the low hanging power line and received electrical burns. The crew member was triaged on site by an EMT firefighter. The crew member was transferred by ambulance to a local hospital and then air lifted to a regional burn unit. Notifications were made to Forest Supervisor, SACC/F&AM, Regional Forester and the Washington Office.
And, an update from the “72-hour Report”
Since the incident, the low hanging power line has been repaired by the power company. The injured firefighter is being treated at a Regional Burn Center located in Richmond, Virginia. The firefighter has been improving since the incident occurred. The injured firefighter will be in the hospital from one to three weeks, depending on recovery.
The government shutdown reduced by half the number of people attending a fire conference in Virginia.
When the Wildland Fire in the Appalachians conference was scheduled a year ago the planners probably failed to consider that we would not have a functioning federal government October 10-12. The Roanoke, Virginia conference depended on some federal employees to assist with the planning, to serve as presenters, and to help fill a minimum number of hotel rooms required in the contract with the facility. When our dysfunctional Congress didn’t do their most important job, funding the government, about 100 furloughed employees from the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies who had registered not only were prohibited from attending, but they were locked out of their offices and their computers that contained some information needed for the three day event.
In spite of the attendance being reduced from the expected 200 down to 100, the Association for Fire Ecology and the Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists persevered, adapted, made changes, and still conducted the meeting. But with the reduced income from the registration fees and the unfilled hotel rooms, the organizations will have to struggle to keep from losing money on the conference. Most hotel contracts require that a certain number of sleeping rooms be filled in order to avoid paying large fees for the meeting rooms.
A U.S. Forest Service employee is facing gun charges in Shenandoah County, Virginia. According to a March 11 story at nvdaily.com, Damion James McElroy faced three gun-related charges in a preliminary hearing on Monday — two misdemeanors and one felony — discharging a gun within town limits, discharging a gun in an occupied dwelling, and reckless handling of a firearm.. Shenandoah County General District Judge W. Dale Houff threw out the felony but it still could be presented to a grand jury along with the misdemeanor charges.
The USFS employee directory lists a Damion McElroy. His phone is in Shenandoah County, Virginia and he is described as a Law Enforcement Officer, R8, LE&I – Southern Special Agent, Northwest Enforcement Zone.
The charges revolve around Mr. McElroy discharging a handgun inside a house while a member of the clergy was in another room. The shot went into a wall but the clergyman testified that he thought it was accidental. A local law enforcement officer said that when he arrived at the house he concluded that Mr. McElroy had been drinking heavily before he arrested him.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola said after the hearing that he was undecided about whether to take the case before a grand jury for a possible indictment.
The USFS placed Mr. McElroy on administrative leave after the incident.
…Strasburg Chief Tim Sutherly said Wednesday that police seized the firearm, a Taurus 9mm semi-automatic handgun, along with a slug recovered from the wall in the execution of a search warrant.
Sutherly said the gun is McElroy’s personal possession, and police found no other guns in the house.
Sutherly estimated police have visited the residence six times over the last two years in connection with what he described as domestic and mental health issues. He said his department had informed the Forest Service after the incidents.
“We’ve been in touch with his supervisor,” Sutherly said of McElroy. “They were made fully aware of everything.”
[JoBeth] Brown [of the USFS] said McElroy was posted at the Lee Ranger District in Edinburg, one of 17 agency employees at the location. She said he has worked for the Forest Service “for seven or eight years, but only a few of those have been in the Jefferson-Washington National Forest.”
She said his job as a ranger means he is a full-fledged law enforcement officer who would normally carry a gun as part of his job.
She said she had no information on when he last appeared on the job or how long the administrative leave might last.
A firefighter was killed Sunday at the scene of a wildfire that spread to a structure. Here is an excerpt from an article at KSDK:
A 45-year-old fireman with the Santa Fe Fire Protection District in Clinton County, Illinois, has been killed at the scene of a fire.
Timothy P. Jansen died of injuries sustained when he was struck by a fire truck in the 9700 block of River Road in Bartelso. The accident happened about 7:45 p.m. Sunday.
Jansen was among the first firefighters to arrive at the scene, which began as a grass fire and spread to a building.
Santa Fe Fire Chief Adam Maue said Jansen was standing on the back of a truck, pulling hoses, when he slipped off. The driver of the truck told the chief he did not know Jansen fell, so he backed up, striking Jansen.
Jansen was married and had two daughters. He’d been with the fire district for 15 years and owned a restaurant directly across the street from the firehouse.
Fire engine overturns en route to wildfire, injuring 4
A fire engine that was participating in a Christmas parade in Bedford, Virginia was dispatched to a wildland fire duirng the parade but didn’t make it to the fire. It overturned while rounding a curve, landing in Phyllis Carimi’s front yard.
Lt. Todd Foreman, of the Bedford City Police, said he believed there were only four men inside the truck, all of whom were hospitalized.
Foreman said two were airlifted from the wreck — one to Lynchburg General Hospital, the other to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. The other two were taken by ambulance to Lynchburg and Bedford hospitals.
Their conditions and identities have not yet been provided.
Chief of the Forest Service expects 12 million to 15 million acres to burn annually due to higher temperatures
U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told a group in Boise Friday that in the future even more acres are going to burn and the cost of fighting fires will continue to rise. One of his answers to the problem, of course, is to increase timber sales by 20 percent.
As we pointed out November 23, so far this year the number of acres burned, 9,093,431, was the third highest total since national wildfire statistics have been kept beginning in 1960. Remaining at the number one and two spots are 2006 with 9.9 million, and 2007 with 9.3 million.
Tidwell told the City Club of Boise that as many as 12 million to 15 million acres will burn annually now because of warming temperatures and drier years.
More than 30,000 homes have burned in the past decade, Tidwell said, including 3,000 just this year — homes in a Pocatello subdivision among them. Experts expect fires to keep claiming houses, but fuel-reduction steps can make communities safer and easier to protect, Tidwell said.
Federal budget cuts will make money more scarce, but communities are increasingly taking responsibility, he said. Flagstaff, Ariz., passed a $10 million bond to do forest restoration on private and federal land there.
The comments people have left at the bottom of the Idaho Statesman article are interesting.
Canadian Commission rejects changes to codes to protect communities
EDMONTON – A federal commission has rejected proposals to change Canada’s national construction codes to better protect communities from destructive wildfires.
The changes would have required builders in areas prone to forest fires to use less flammable building materials, to space buildings farther apart and to keep them clear of trees and vegetation.
The proposal for changes came from the National Fire Protection Association and an Alberta-based non-profit group called Partners in Protection.
The proposals were submitted to the commission before wildfires in May 2011 destroyed hundreds of homes in Slave Lake, Alta., and forced thousands of people to flee. The disaster cost more than $1 billion in damage, firefighting and relief costs.
Air tankers still on active duty
Two large air tankers are still on active duty, long past their normal mandatory availability periods. More information at FireAviation.com