Wildfire news, March 10, 2011

UPS driver makes initial attack on wildfire

Point Washington subdivision wildfire
Photo: Kathy Harrison

A UPS driver in South Walton, Florida, discovered a wildfire threatening some structures and took time away from his busy schedule to grab a garden hose. According to Bill Shultz who lived across the street, the driver, identified as Arthur Huels, called 911 and took action that kept the fire from destroying any houses. Here is an excerpt from the Walton Sun:

On the afternoon of Friday, March 4, Bill Shultz went to take his daughter’s dogs on a walk like he does everyday.

He saw a UPS truck parked outside the neighbor’s house, but that was “ordinary enough.” However, when the truck was still sitting there 20 minutes later, he knew something wasn’t right.

“Normally they are in and out in a hurry,” Shultz said. “Then I saw all the smoke coming out from behind the house.”

Shultz put the dogs in his car and quickly headed off across the street to see the cause of the smoke.

“The fire was right up very close to the house,” he told The Sun. “And there was the UPS driver battling down the flames with a garden hose.”

At approximately 2:20 p.m., firefighters from South Walton received a call about a fire in the Point Washington area according to Mike Morrison, public information officer for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

The UPS driver, later identified as Arthur Huels, called emergency responders when he came across the wildfire while on his daily delivery route.

Shultz and the UPS driver fought back the large brush fire with garden hoses until firefighters responded.

“And then he jumped back in his truck and finished his route,” Shultz said. “If that guy hadn’t stopped and done what he did, I don’t know what would have happened.”

Two arrested for stealing from wildfire victim’s home

From KFDA in Amarillo, Texas:

Two suspected thieves are behind bars following an alleged aggravated assault against a victim of the recent wildfires.

According to the sheriff, 48-year-old Martin Rodriguez- Flores and his son, a minor, attempted to run over a victim with their vehicle. Investigators say it happened after the victim approached them while they were attempting to haul off some of his burned property on Sanford Street. Authorities report finding a stolen ATV and lawn mower in the two suspects’ possession.

Rodriguez is in the Potter County jail. His son, is in the Youth Center of the High Plains. The two suspects face aggravated assault charges.

Potter county Sheriff Brian Thomas tells NewsChannel 10, he is infuriated people would attempt steal from victims of the recent wildfires.

This video has more information:

Dust devil causes prescribed fire on private land in Texas to escape, over 8,000 acres burn

From the Alpine Avalanche:

It took 70 to 80 local, state, national and international firefighters, tanker trucks, massive helicopters, two SEATs (small engine attack tanker airplanes) and lots of bravery and hard work for four days – but they defeated the Brewster County fire that consumed 8,225 acres of ranchland last week.

And although a few dozen homes, barns and outbuildings at times were threatened by flames, not one was reported burned down nor were any lives lost, Brewster County Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Santry said Tuesday.

Santry said the fire boss and crew had cleared fire breaks (a gap in vegetation designed to slow a fire’s progress) and were burning some of the brush, keeping an eye on the flames and the wind.

But a dust devil popped up behind the fire crew, hit the burning brush pile and carried embers to nearby grass and brush, all of it brittle-dry.

“You can’t predict that,” Santry said of the dust devil. “They’ll pop up out of nowhere.”

He said heat from blazes can also create what’s called a fire devil or fire tornado, a kind of whirlwind of flames.

In this case, although the ranch’s fire crew had taken all precautions to conduct a prescribed burn, Santry said they couldn’t control the freak dust devil. When the flames started eating more dried-out vegetation, the fire boss immediately called the Alpine Volunteer Fire Department.


Drought across the southeast

Drought monitor January 2011

Much of the southeast and south-central portions of the United States are currently in moderate to extreme drought. And the outlook through April is even worse.

Currently Texas, Louisiana, and Florida are in the worst shape but NOAA expects drought to spread extensively across the area over the next three months. In Florida over 400,000 acres were blackened by wildfires last year. If this outlook is accurate that number may be exceeded in 2011.

Drought monitor January through April 2011

New tool for predicting Santa Ana winds in California

Offshore flow severity index
Offshore flow severity index issued October 7, 2010. Click to enlarge.

A new tool is available that predicts the severity of Santa Ana winds in southern California six days in advance. Called the Offshore Flow Severity Index, it combines the relative humidity with the 1:00 p.m. wind speed predicted at the Saugus weather station to rate the events each day on a scale from one to four, with four being the highest. A category four event requires winds in excess of 30 mph with a relative humidity of less than 9%.

The term “offshore” is used because Santa Ana winds usually blow from a high pressure area over the Great Basin to a low pressure area off the southern California coast. These north, northeast, or east winds blow from the land to the ocean, or “offshore”, warming and drying as they move from high elevations to coastal elevations. Many of the larger and most devastating wildfires in southern California have occurred during offshore or Santa Ana wind events.

This forecasting tool will enable wildfire managers to modify their staffing or move fire resources into areas as needed to deal with the potential for large fires.


UPDATE: October 26, 2011. Access to the site now requires a password, which seems very odd.

Fire tornado in Hawaii

We have seen recent videos of fire whirls, such as the one HERE, but a video that recently surfaced of wind rotation over a fire near the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island of Hawaii is very impressive. There is no way I would want to be anywhere near a potentially lethal situation like the one in the video below. It was shot on Sunday by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

When you watch it, click on full screen (the little symbol next to the speaker icon), and also listen to the audio.

Did you notice that the firefighters in the white fire truck got out of there as soon as they saw what was going on? And eventually the photographer did too. Smart move.

San Diego power company installs nearly 100 weather stations

We have ranted about San Diego Gas and Electric a number of times for starting numerous wildfires, including the disastrous Witch, Rice, and Guejito fires in eastern San Diego County in 2007. But we have to give them credit for doing two things recently that benefit the wildland fire community.

The first was the purchase of a $30 million Erickson Air-Crane S64F Helitanker that should be delivered later this month. The company has agreed to share it with San Diego County on wildfires for a reasonable cost, but it will be used primarily for constructing and maintaining power lines.

The second thing they have done is to install a boatload of weather stations in the backcountry areas of San Diego County, including Ramona, Alpine, El Cajon, Valley Center and Fallbrook. So far they have have installed 94, yes 94, weather stations on power poles in wind-prone areas. The solar-powered stations contain sensors and data loggers made by RM Young and Campbell Scientific, respectively, and monitor wind speed, wind direction, temperature, and relative humidity.

SDG&E intends to use the data from the stations to determine where it should stage repair crews and whether or not it should shut off power to residents during periods of strong winds.

The meteorologists in the local National Weather Service office are pretty excited about this massive new source of weather conditions. SDG&E has plans to make the data available to the public through a “dashboard”.