Wildfire briefing, January 13, 2014

One resident dead and 49 homes destroyed in Australian bushfire

One person collapsed and died on the roof of his house while spraying water to defend his home from a fire in the Perth hills of Western Australia on Sunday. The 62-year old man’s house was not damaged while the 650-hectare (1,606 acres) fire burned 49 others in the Shire of Mundaring. One resident tried to get back to their house on Monday afternoon and suffered burns to the hands and feet.

More information.

Three homes burn in Kansas wildfire

At least three homes burned Sunday in a large grass fire near the Kansas-Missouri border. The 600-acre fire was pushed by very strong winds which caused problems for the firefighters that responded from both Kansas and Missouri. Cherokee County officials said the fire may have been caused by a power line that failed due to the wind.

Wind speeds in Missouri and Kansas,  January 12, 2014

Wind speeds in Missouri and Kansas, January 12, 2014

Red Flag Warnings, January 13

Red Flag Warnings, January 13, 2014

Red Flag Warnings (red) and Fire Weather Watches (beige), January 13, 2014

Areas in southern California, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas are under Fire Weather Watches and Red Flag Warnings today.

UPDATE at 6:25 p.m. PST, January 13, 2014. The Red Flag Warning areas in California have grown:

Red Flag Warnings, California, 1-13-2014

More information.

2014 MAFFS Commander named

North Carolina resident Col. Charles D. Davis III will command the national military mission charged with combating wildland fires using C-130 aircraft outfitted with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System.

Col Charles D Davis III

Col. Charles D Davis III, USAF photo by Master Sgt. Patricia Moran

“MAFFS is a team effort,” said Davis, who also commands the Operations Group at the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C. “We protect lives and property from forest fires, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

As commander of the Air Expeditionary Group Wildland Fire Fighting, Davis will lead three Air National Guard and one U.S. Air Force Reserve Command units that fly military C-130 aircraft and use them as aerial tankers. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, the Group controls MAFFS operations nationwide at the direction of the U.S. Forest Service.

A U.S. Air Force master navigator with more than 5,300 hours of military flying time, Davis, of Weddington, N.C., has more than 1,000 hours of combat time earned supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. In civilian life, he is an Airbus A330 Flight Crew Training Instructor at U.S. Airways.

Arizona legislators consider bills related to hotshots’ deaths

State legislators in Arizona are considering bills that are related to wildfire management and the deaths of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The firefighters were entrapped and killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire near Yarnell, Arizona on June 30, 2013.

  • The state organization responsible for managing the Yarnell Hill Fire is requesting a budget for the Arizona State Forestry Division that is nearly double what they received in the fiscal year that ends June 30.
  • A bill is being considered that would allow local governments to ban the sale of certain fireworks.
  • Another bill seeks to clarify what autopsy documents and photos are available to the public. County authorities refused to release autopsy reports for the Yarnell Hill firefighters.
  • Some legislators want the state to buy the state trust land where the hotshots died so it can be preserved as a memorial.
  • Legislators are considering helping the city of Prescott with its costs related to the hotshots’ deaths, but they may wait until the 100+ claims and/or lawsuits are settled before proposing anything specific.
  • They may propose legislation that would at least provide life insurance for public safety workers.

Type 2 helicopter contracts contested

WorldWind Helicopters has protested the contracts that were awarded for 31 Type 2 helicopters used to fight wildland fires. On December 17 the U.S. Forest Service announced exclusive use contracts for the award period that began December 17 and ends April 30, 2015 with options for three additional years. The solicitation was first announced on April 5, 2013 and took over eight months to complete.

More information.

Wing box replacements in the USFS C-130s

Coast Guard C-130H No 1714

Coast Guard C-130H No 1714, October, 2008. This is one of the seven C-130s being transferred to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo by PhantomPhan1974

The legislation that enabled the transfer of seven C-130H aircraft from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service to serve as air tankers required that the wing boxes be replaced and other maintenance be performed.

Fire Aviation has more information about the replacement of the wing boxes and other steps that must be taken to convert the C-130Hs into air tankers.


Firefighter killed in Western Australia

A firefighter in Western Australia was killed by a falling tree branch at 10:30 a.m. Friday morning near the city of Quindanning (map). Here is an excerpt from a report in the Sydney Morning Herald:

The Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades has expressed concern for volunteer firefighters and urged diligence, following the death of a firefighter on Friday.

Sixty-year-old Hori Clarke died when he was hit by a falling limb while clearing burnt trees and rubble with volunteer firefighters in Quindanning, in the state’s south.

AVBF president Mr Terry Hunter, who called Mr Clarke “a member of the AVBFB family”, said the tragedy was a difficult reminder of the many risks volunteers were exposed to every day when they went to work for their local communities.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family of Mr. Clarke and his co-workers.


Injured Australian firefighter released from hospital

One of the two Australian firefighters that were seriously injured when their engine was overrun by a bushfire has been released from the hospital. The 24-year old woman, whose name has not been released, had burns over 40 percent of her body and had been treated at the at the Royal Perth Hospital.

Wendy Bearfoot

Wendy Bearfoot

Her colleague, 45-year old Wendy Bearfoot, passed away on Thursday, November 1, after suffering burns over 60 percent of her body while fighting the same fire on October 12. Both of the firefighters worked for the Department of Environment and Conservation in Western Australia.

Ms. Bearfoot joined the Department in 2003 as an Indigenous Land Management Trainee and progressed through the roles of conservation employee, national park ranger and most recently overseer in the Albany District office.

Both firefighters had been suppressing a fire in a pine plantation with 20 other firefighters near Albany when strong winds caused the fire to suddenly change direction on a slope. Three other firefighters were also injured in the burnover and were treated at a hospital in Albany.

Burned engine, Photo credit Department of Environment and Conservation

Burned fire engine in Western Australia. Photo credit: Department of Environment and Conservation


Burned Australian firefighter continues to fight for her life

Burned engine, Photo credit Department of Environment and Conservation

Burned fire engine in Western Australia. Photo credit: Department of Environment and Conservation

The 45-year old Western Australia firefighter that suffered burns when she and another firefighter were entrapped in their fire engine on Friday and overrun by a fire continues to fight for her life in the burn unit at the Royal Perth Hospital. She has burns over 60 percent of her body and is in the intensive care unit, while the 24-year old firefighter that was also entrapped has burns over 40 percent of her body. The 24-year old has been moved out of intensive care and is in stable condition.

According to Western Australia Fire and Emergency Services Authority state duty director Bruce Jones the firefighters were from the Department of Environment and Conservation and the local bushfire brigade. In an October 13 statement Mr. Jones said, “Preliminary reports state that the firefighters were caught when strong winds caused the fire to suddenly change direction on a slope”.

Three other firefighters were also injured and were treated at a hospital in Albany.

Jim Sharp of the Department of Environment and Conservation said the younger firefighter is making progress:

I can say that I did have the opportunity of speaking to the younger officer, who is now in a stable condition. I was able to speak to her and that was encouraging I guess, to me and to others, to at least converse with her.

Brian Pickford, the Emergency Management Co-ordinator said

All firefighters are supplied with what we call PPE, which is protective clothing that is to a large degree fireproof.

Their tankers are also very heavily protected but sometimes the intensity of the heat can truly overcome the safety equipment we provide them.

We had firefighters that were caught in what we call an overrun situation.

I can’t explain too much because that particular part of the fire is under investigation but needless to say they were caught in an extreme and very hot fire area.

The 1,500-hectare (3,706 acres) fire has been controlled. Law enforcement authorities are investigating if the blaze was deliberately lit.


2 firefighters critically burned in Western Australia

Two female firefighters in Western Australia (WA) are being treated in a Perth hospital after being entrapped and burned while fighting a fire in a pine plantation near Albany Friday night (map). According to WA Fire and Emergency Services Authority state duty director Bruce Jones the firefighters were from the Department of Environment and Conservation and the local bushfire brigade. In a statement Mr. Jones said, “Preliminary reports state that the firefighters were caught when strong winds caused the fire to suddenly change direction on a slope”.

Two Royal Flying Doctor Service aircraft transported the women to Perth. One aged 45 suffered burns to 60 per cent of her body and other aged 24 suffered burns to 40 per cent of her body, a Royal Flying Doctor Service spokeswoman said.

The fire, which is now contained, has burned about 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) near the Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve east of Albany.

We will keep the two firefighters in our thoughts and hope for a speedy recovery.


Report issued about escaped prescribed fire in Western Australia

A report recently released about an escaped prescribed fire in Western Australia said some employees of the Department of Environment and Conservation are overworked and are performing above their skill levels. The prescribed fire in Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park escaped on November 23, 2011 and pushed by strong winds, destroyed 40 structures and burned over 8,400 acres. Residents who had refused to evacuate later had to take refuge from the fire on a beach. They were rescued by jet ski and ferried to a search and rescue boat offshore.

Here are some excerpts from an article at www.watoday.com.au

…The damning report by former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty, released [February 23], found DEC made a series of omissions and mistakes during the planning and implementation of a prescribed burn that led to devastating consequences.

More than 40 properties were destroyed or damaged when the burn became out of control and raged across 3400 hectares.

Rather than pointing the blame on any individual, Mr Keelty said the errors that led to the bushfire were made by people making decisions beyond their expertise and using the available resources.

“Many officers are required to make decisions affecting the lives and livelihood of the community which, on the face of it, do not match their pay scale,” the report says.

The union representing most DEC employees, the Community and Public Sector Union, claims the poor resources at DEC have forced some employees to work in excessive of 36 hours without a break and many others to regularly work 20 hours.

When they finished their ordinary day job with the department they were then on-call in case of a bushfire outside of hours.

“They’ll go home and be on-call to manage a fire incident, whether it’s small or big,” state secretary Toni Walkington said.

“They’ll spend whatever amount of hours that it takes and then they’ll report back the next day and do their parks and services job. So they don’t get breaks and that’s because DEC isn’t funded to have more people in those fire roles.”

Ms Walkington said their jobs also were made more difficult because of a lack of technology, including no electronic operational processes, meaning staff still had to do paperwork by hand.

They were also reluctant to put themselves on the on-call roster or take responsibility for fires because some employees had been publicly named and identified during the Margaret River inquiry.

“The spotlight is on them and criticisms have been made,” Ms Walkington said.

August-Margaret River Shire Mayor Ray Colyer said DEC employees now feared walking the street in their work uniforms following community outrage over the department’s failure to contain the prescribed burn.


Thanks go out to Dick