Wildfire briefing, January 14, 2015

Hawaii’s Kīlauea volcano lava ignites brush fire

A lava flow from the Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii ignited a brush fire on Tuesday that burned 270 acres. It was surrounded by fire breaks, but at 5:30 p.m. local time a dozer was working to clean up the existing break and construct a new line closer to the head of the fire. According to a Hawaii County Civil Defense update, the brush fire was west of Highway 130, about 1.5 miles from the Aina­loa subdivision. The agency said Tuesday afternoon that neither the brush fire nor the stalled lava flow pose an immediate threat to communities.

Granite Mountain Hotshots’ families treated to European boat trip

From the Daily Courier:

The families of Prescott’s fallen [Granite Mountain] Hotshots participated in a unique trip over the holidays. They were given an opportunity to see and visit the historic sites along Europe’s Danube River while finding solace amongst others who also have experienced the tragic loss of loved ones in recent U.S. tragedies.

Family members of the Hotshots were joined by family members of the victims of the 9/11 tragedy and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died battling the Yarnell Hill wildfire on June 30, 2013 in the worst wildland firefighting tragedy in more than 80 years…

The paper said 19 family members participated in the trip.

News from Australia:


Firefighters stop a 16,000-acre fire in Western Australia

Bullsbrook fire smoke

Firefighters have stopped the spread of a fire that burned 16,300 acres (6,600 hectares) in Western Australia north of Perth. At one point the fire was described as having an 18-kilometer wide front.

Bullsbrook fire map

Below is an excerpt from an article at Australia’s ABC news, published Sunday morning MST in the US:

A bushfire in the northern Perth suburb of Bullsbrook has been downgraded to a watch and act after firefighters controlled the blaze.

The fire was upgraded to an emergency warning on Sunday, after a wind change drove the blaze north-east, but at 9:00pm (AWST) the Department of Fire and Emergency (DFES) advised the fire was contained and stationary.

“Firefighters have been working very, very hard over night, strengthening containment lines – they’ve actually widened them considerably,” Mr Allen Gale, spokesman for WA’s DFES said.

“That’ll reduce the risk of fire hopping over into another area, particularly an area where there’s unburnt fuel.”

However, the fire is still not contained and remains a possible threat to lives and homes, the DFES said. Firefighters are expecting the wind to shift from south-westerly to easterly overnight, which means the fire may be moving in a westerly direction by morning.

Mr Gale confirmed it could be days before the fire is blacked out completely.

So far the fire has burnt 6,600 hectares of land and damaged two derelict homes and five sheds. On Sunday afternoon there was a risk the northern flank could become the new head of the fire and push north into suburbs including Chittering and Muchea, the Department of Fire and Emergency (DFES) said.

The video below shows a map of the fire from many different angles:

Bullsbrook fire radar Bullsbrook fire camels


Firefighters entrapped in engine near Perth, Australia

Bindoon  Bushfire Brigade truck damaged

The fire-damaged Toyota Land Cruiser, of the Bindoon Bushfire Brigade in Western Australia. Photo: Department of Fire and Emergency Services

From The Guardian:

“Two volunteer firefighters were trapped in a burning ute while fighting a bushfire at a Department of Defence facility east of Perth [ in Western Australia (WA)] on Tuesday. Emergency services minister Joe Francis said the Bindoon Bushfire Brigade volunteers were forced to shelter in their LandCruiser after being surrounded by flames.

It’s one of the most potentially serious incidents survived by firefighters in a week that has seen 40 firefighters injured while fighting the Sampson Flat fire in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia, and a Victorian firefighter receive facial burns while fighting a grassfire.

Francis said he did not yet know how the volunteers had become trapped or why they were working in an area that became dangerous.

“Any fire is unfortunately very unpredictable in its behaviour,” he said.

“They were in a situation where they could not move their light tanker out of the way of the fire, the fire came towards them, and they deployed their fire protection gear.

“I can tell you they were in a situation they couldn’t get out of, otherwise they would have just driven away.”

Francis said the volunteer firefighters were “unharmed but very shaken”. The Department of Fire and Emergency Services is conducting a review into the incident.

The light tanker they were driving – a LandCruiser ute with a 600 litre tank on the back – is one of the WA fire trucks that has been fitted with extensive crew protection gear after the death of a firefighter in a burnover incident near Albany in 2012.

Wendy Bearfoot, 45, died and several other firefighters were injured after their trucks were trapped during the Black Cat Creek fire.

A Dfes review of the Albany incident found that WA was “out of step” with other states in providing crew protection in vehicles, and said all vehicles entering the fire ground should have one fire blanket per person and roll-down radiant heat shields “as a minimum requirement.”

The Barnett government committed to fulfil that recommendation at the 2013 state election. Francis said that so far all 1,200 fire trucks in WA had heat blankets, and “a few hundred” had heat shields and critical component lagging, which protects the electrical and mechanical components of the truck. He said the full fleet would be protected by the 2017 election.

The state opposition has criticised the government for the time taken to install adequate fire protection.”


Bushfire threatens community near Perth, Australia

Whiteman Park Fire, Perth, Australia

In spite of these very impressive photos of a bushfire in Australia, the reports we have seen indicate that it started Sunday morning and had been knocked down but not contained by nightfall — no homes had been lost at that time. The fire was fought by several fire crews and water-dropping helicopters. It burned at least 140 hectares (346 acres) northeast of Perth in Western Australia.

Perth fire

Bushfire northeast of Perth in Western Australia. Photo by Cate White.

Whiteman Park Fire, Perth, Australia Whiteman Park Fire, Perth, Australia Whiteman Park Fire, Perth, Australia


Wildfire briefing, December 4, 2014

Fires in U.S. and Australia determined to be caused by power lines

Map of Pfeiffer Fire

Map of Pfeiffer Fire at Big Sur, California, looking northwest, showing the fire perimeter at 10:34 p.m. PST, December 18, 2013. (Click to enlarge)

Two fires, in Western Australia and California, have recently been determined to be caused by electrical power lines.

The Pfeiffer Fire at Big Sur, California started on December 16, 2013 and burned 34 homes and 917 acres in the coastal community 23 miles south of Monterey. The U.S. Forest Service reported on Wednesday:

The cause of the fire was determined to be high resistance heating of the Pfeiffer Ridge Mutual Water Company electrical control wires immediately adjacent to a steel water pipe line. The high resistance heating of the electrical control wires created a competent ignition source for this fire. The first fuel ignited was accumulated dried leaves and redwood needles.

The other fire was in Western Australia. Below is an excerpt from an article in Western Australia Today:

A rotted power pole infested with termites has been blamed for the Parkerville bushfire which destroyed more than 40 homes this year. But EnergySafety director Ken Bowron said the organisation would not take action against Western Power or the landowner.

The EnergySafety report into the cause of the fire on January 12 was released on Thursday and found the bushfire originated from a private pole at 180 Granite Road, Parkerville.

“There was no evidence to suggest the work performed by Western Power to replace the surface aerial seven months before the incident, or the work to replace the adjacent pole two day before the bushfires, causes the PA pole to fail,” Mr Bowron said.

“Based on the available evidence and legal advice, EnergySafety will not be taking any legal action against any party. The clear finding of the report is that the pole failed because it was rotten and had been infested by termites.

Hearing in Prescott on Granite Mountain Hotshots’ retroactive retirement benefits

From the Daily Courier in Prescott, Arizona:

Now nearly a year and a half after 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire, the matter of retroactive retirement benefits continues to play out at Prescott City Hall.

With its earlier decision granting retirement benefits to the family of fallen Hotshot Andrew Ashcraft still under appeal, the local fire retirement board will take on two new retirement cases today.

During a 9 a.m. Thursday hearing at Prescott City Hall, the Prescott Board of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System Board will turn to the retirement claims by the families of Sean Misner and William Warneke, and whether the scope of the actual hearings on the claims should be limited…

Tree ring researcher at the University of Arizona honored

Thomas Swetnam

Thomas W. Swetnam with tree-ring specimens in the UA’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. (Photo courtesy of Michaela Kane/Arizona Daily Wildcat)

Thomas W. Swetnam, Regents’ Professor of dendrochronology and director of the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.

As part of the Section on Geology and Geography, Swetnam was elected as an AAAS Fellow for his investigations of tree rings as a record of past changes in climate, allowing scientists to predict future forest-fire frequencies in the Southwest.

Mr. Swetnam specializes in analyzing climate changes through history and prehistory, dangerous insect outbreaks and forest fires. In recent years, enormous blazes, some 10 times greater than those that firefighters have been accustomed to seeing in California and Arizona, have forced scholars to attempt to understand this phenomenon. The conclusions from Swetnam’s studies of these so-called megafires and their alarming size, duration and frequency have made the scientific community, governments throughout the world and media to pay close attention. Swetnam has appeared on programs such as PBS’ “NewsHour” and CBS’ “60 Minutes.”


Wildfire briefing, November 11, 2014

Lightning injures three people in Australia

Lightning in Western Australia struck and injured three people, including a person near his home who was believed to be a volunteer firefighter. According to a neighbor the man later walked to an ambulance but was holding his arm. A spokesperson for the Department of Fire and Emergency Services said the man fell to the ground after being hit.

“He had an initial check and was cleared, suffering a little anxiety, and was transported to hospital,” the spokesman said.

Firefighters in Victoria contained the spread of a fire that came within 250 meters of properties in the state’s north-east on Monday.

U.S. Representative activated with the National Guard in response to volcano lava flow in Hawaii

Tulsi Gabbard national guard

Tulsi Gabbard working in the Command Cell at Joint Task Force Response in Pahoa, Hawaii. (Photo: SSG Katie Gray/DVIDS)

The lava from the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii continues to spread and ignite vegetation that it contacts, but for now the threat of significant wildfire has decreased

U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard completed her State Active Duty orders with the Hawaii Army National Guard last week in response to the lava flow.

The Congresswoman served as a military police captain in the command cell at Joint Task Force Response in Pahoa, assisting with personnel and logistics.

Gabbard worked with approximately 80 other National Guard soldiers and airmen working to patrol the area and assist the Hawaii Police Department with traffic control points.

Planes: Fire and Rescue released on DVD

planes fire and rescue

DisneyToon Studios has released the animated film Planes: Fire and Rescue on DVD. The movie about fire aviation hit theaters in July and had a domestic and overseas box office of $219 million. It was in the top five highest-grossing family films of the summer.