Report released on USFS engine rollover in Wyoming

Engine 492, front

The U.S. Forest Service has released a report on the August 8, 2013 rollover of Engine 492 southwest of Newcastle, Wyoming. In August we provided some information from the 72-hour report.

Below is an excerpt from the summary — you can read the entire report HERE.


“On Thursday, August 8, 2013 Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grasslands Engine 492, a 2013 KME Type 4 engine was involved in a rollover accident along Wyoming State Highway 450. The accident occurred around noon, as Engine 492 was responding to the Osage Fire, in mutual aid assistance to Weston County, Wyoming. The accident occurred near mile marker 40, or approximately 10 miles east of the Thunder Basin Work Center.

The engine left the highway, veered slightly to the right side of the road hitting a paved apron to a side gate, with the driver seeking to decelerate and regain control of the engine. The engine returned to the road, with the engine brakes being heavily applied, then redirected back to the highway, which resulted in crossing the center line and going to the opposite road edge. Engine 492 rolled over a few times before coming to rest on its wheels (up-right).

At the time of the accident all three members of Engine 492 were wearing their seatbelts. Use of seatbelts and the integrity of the engine cab are likely the principal reasons for the survivability of this accident. All three crew members were hurt in the accident and the Type 4 engine was a total loss. Two of the crew members were transported by ambulance to Newcastle, Wyoming and the third member was transported by ambulance to the high school practice field in Wright, Wyoming where he was transferred to, and then transported by helicopter to the hospital in Casper, Wyoming. The two crewmembers that were transported to Newcastle, Wyoming were released later the same day. However, the injuries sustained by the third member resulted in a longer stay in Casper and release from the hospital on Saturday, August 10th…”

Engine 492, left side Engine 492, wide


Report released on escaped prescribed fire at Devils Tower


Devils Tower escaped prescribed fire

Map, showing the approximate location of the planned prescribed fire at Devils Tower (300 acres in white) and the 56 acres (in red) that escaped beyond the planned perimeter. Image from Google Earth. Perimeters by Wildfire Today. (click to enlarge)

Yesterday after Wildfire Today made inquiries about reports that may have been completed regarding the escaped prescribed fire on May 8, 2013 at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, the National Park Service released the official review of the incident.

The NPS ignited the 300-acre unit on May 7, 2013. Several spot fires occurred outside the planned perimeter that were contained the first day. But during mopup at 12:50 p.m. on May 8 fire became established again at one of the spot fire locations on the southwest side of the project. At that time the cooperating U.S. Forest Service resources present the day before had been released. Some of the remaining firefighters were concentrating on the previous day’s spot fires at another location, but most of the firefighters were attending an After Action Review of a non-injury tipover of a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) that occurred the day before. The 56 acres burning outside the burn unit were mostly stopped at the Monument boundary, but a few acres crossed over onto private land leased by Wyoming state Senator Ogden Driskill, but no structures were damaged.

Devils Tower Rx fire, May 8, 2013

Devils Tower Rx fire, May 7, 2013. NPS photo.

In the interest of full disclosure, Devils Tower was one of the seven National Parks for which I was the Area Fire Management Officer, from 1998 until 2003.

The review pointed out several times that one of the primary issues related to the escape was that in computing the fine dead fuel moisture, it was assumed that the fire would be shaded by the smoke column. However, some of the area was not shaded, and for two hours each day on May 7 and 8, at those locations the fine dead fuel moisture dropped below the 4 to 10 percent allowed in the prescription, down to 3 percent.

Other than how the weather affected the fuel moisture, the review barely mentioned the weather conditions and the forecast. Two spot weather forecasts were issued before the escape — one at 7:57 a.m. MDT on May 7 and another at 9:29 a.m. on May 8, the day of the escape. For May 8, both forecasts predicted fairly strong northeast winds, of 7 to 15 mph and 8 to 14 mph.

The Remote Automatic Weather Station at Devils Tower is very close to the location of the prescribed fire, in a low-lying area partially sheltered by trees from winds from all directions (see map above). Northwest, north, and northeast winds are additionally partially blocked by higher ground and the Devils Tower itself. Below are the weather observations from the weather station between 17:23 on May 7 through 17:23 on May 8. They show mild sustained wind speeds, with gusts around mid-day to late afternoon on May 8 of 13 to 22 mph. If the weather station was in a more exposed location the recorded speeds would have been higher.

Devils Tower weather, May 7 and 8, 2013

Devils Tower weather, May 7 and 8, 2013

The NPS committed four people to the facilitated learning analysis of the non-injury slow tip over of the UTV, and three to the review of the escaped prescribed fire.

UTV  at Devils Tower

Photo from the FLA for the UTV tip over, that presumably shows a UTV in the approximate location of the accident. NPS photo.

We initially covered the prescribed in 2013 fire HERE and HERE.


Wyoming man billed $6.3 million for causing wildfire

Horsethief Canyon Fire and bike race

Bicycle racers ride past the Horsethief Canyon fire. Photo by David Cernicek

The U.S. Forest Service has billed a 77-year old Wyoming man $6.3 million for causing the Horsethief Canyon Fire that burned 3,373 acres five miles south of Jackson, Wyoming in September, 2012.

Using a Freedom of Information Act Request, the Associated Press obtained a copy of the bill that was sent to James G. Anderson Jr. A breakdown of the charges included $3.6 million for the USFS, $2 million for the Bureau of Land Management, $54,000 for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, $154,000 for the National Park Service, and $252,000 for the state of Wyoming and Teton County. The total suppression costs of the fire was about $9 million.

Investigators determined the fire started from a rusted-out barrel Mr. Anderson was using to burn debris at his son’s home.

Burnout operation on Horsethief Fire

Burnout operation on Horsethief Canyon Fire, September 12, 2012. Credit: Horsethief Canyon Fire.


Fires in Yellowstone

(UPDATE at 12:30 p.m. MDT, August 19, 2013)

Alum Fire

Alum Fire, August 17, 2013. NPS photo. (click to enlarge)

Of the three significant active fires in Yellowstone National Park, the 6,150-acre Alum Fire northwest of Fishing Bridge is by far the largest and appears to have the most potential. It was discovered August 14 and did not do much until strong winds on Saturday caused it to grow to over 3,000 acres. The fire is within a mile of the Grand Loop Road north of Fishing Bridge. There is the potential for temporary closures of the road between Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge Junction. The latest road status information is available 24-hours a day by calling 307-344-2117.

Map of Alum Fire

Map of Alum Fire by NPS, August 18, 2013. The original version of this map can be found HERE. (click to enlarge)

The park reports that help is on the way:

Additional firefighters and engines arrived on Sunday and more are expected today and later in the week as fire mangers focus on protection of the road corridor, the boardwalk in Mud Volcano, and the nearby power line. As a precaution, structure protection efforts are already underway in Fishing Bridge, Lake Village, and Bridge Bay should the fire advance toward those areas in coming days. While area evacuations are not imminent, preparations are underway to assist residents and visitors in leaving the Fishing Bridge, Lake Village, and Bridge Bay area in the unlikely event that an evacuation is necessary in the coming days.

The 2,000-acre Alder Fire on a peninsula in the south end of Yellowstone Lake is constrained by water on three sides and a recent fire footprint on the other. The Druid Fire near Lamar Valley in the northeast section of the park has burned 75 acres.

The park sent out a Tweet Monday afternoon saying:

All roads leading into & through Yellowstone & all visitor services are OPEN. The Alum Fire is not a threat to visitors or residents.

Occasionally the fires can be seen from the two Mt. Washburn web cams, but sometimes drift smoke from fires outside the park degrade the visibility.


(UPDATE at 11:30 a.m. MDT, August 18, 2013)

Map of Alum Fire at 11 p.m. MDT, August 18, 2013

Map of Alum Fire in Yellowstone National Park, showing heat detected by a satellite at 11 p.m. MDT, August 18, 2013 (click to enlarge)

The Alum Fire has grown to 3,000 acres, the Alder Fire has burned 900 acres, and the Druid Fire is 60 acres. Below is an update Saturday morning from Yellowstone National Park:

“Alum Fire: This lightning caused fire was discovered Wednesday morning, August 14, burning in the backcountry west of Mud Volcano near Alum Creek. The fire had remained fairly quiet for several days and had grown only to 3 acres as of Saturday morning. However, as critical fire weather conditions developed early Saturday afternoon the fire sprang to life. Extreme fire behavior was observed including short periods where the fire advanced through the crowns of the mature lodgepole pine forest. The fire advanced at least six miles to the east-northeast in the span of a few hours. The head of the fire is within a mile of the Grand Loop Road near Mud Volcano. The Alum Fire is now estimated at 3,000 acres. Additional firefighting resources are on their way to the park to assist with protection of the road corridor, the boardwalk in the Mud Volcano, and the nearby power line. There is the potential for temporary closures of the road between Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge Junction.

Alder Fire: This fire on a peninsula at the south end of Yellowstone Lake experienced significant fire activity again Saturday, doubling in size from 450 acres to an estimated 900 acres as it burned in heavy timber and produced a tall smoke column visible all around the lake. The fire is hemmed in by water on three sides and by a recently burned area to the south. Several backcountry campsites on The Promontory have been temporarily closed. This fire was discovered on August 14th and was caused by lightning.

Druid Fire: Gusty winds, low humidity and hot temperatures resulted in active fire behavior on the Druid Fire Saturday, which is burning in a steep heavily timbered bowl in the backcountry high above the Northeast Entrance Road on Druid Peak. The fire grew from 30 to 60 acres on Saturday, and at times some smoke and flames were visible from along the road.”

Alum Fire in Yellowstone National Park

Alum Fire in Yellowstone National Park as seen through a dirty lens and drift smoke; Mt. Washburn web cam at 11:24 a.m. MDT, August 18, 2013

Continue reading


Engine rollover in Wyoming injures three

Engine 492 crash WyomingThe U.S. Forest Service has released a 72-hour report for an engine rollover in Wyoming that injured three firefighters. It occurred at noon on August 8 while the crew was responding eastbound on Highway 450 to a report of a fire near Newcastle, Wyoming. Here is a link to a map of the general area.

The engine, a new Kovatch Mobile Equipment (KME) Type 4, was totaled.

Below is the narrative from the report:


“Narrative: A type 4 wildland engine, traveling east along Wyoming State Highway 450, lost control and rolled over, approximately 10 miles east of the Thunder Basin work center. The engine, with a complement of three fire personnel, was responding to a smoke report near Newcastle, WY.

Following the accident, two personnel were transported by ambulance to Newcastle, WY and one by ambulance with life-flight assistance, to Casper, WY. Two personnel were released on the same day (August 8, 2013), while the third individual was released on Saturday, August 10, 2013.

Accident investigations are being conducted by Wyoming Highway Patrol (including an accident reconstruction analysis) and Forest Service law enforcement.

A Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA) team is on-site and has completed an in-briefing and delegation by the Regional Forester. The FLA team is conducting interviews, reviewing the accident site and assessing information from the accident.”


Forest Service bans exploding targets in Rocky Mountain Region

The U.S. Forest Service announced today that the agency has banned exploding targets on National Forest system lands in the Rocky Mountain Region. In October when we first wrote about these devices that explode when shot with a rifle, we listed 24 wildfires we found with a quick internet search that were started by shooters using the targets in 2012.

Exploding targets have become popular in the last year with shooters who get a thrill from seeing the explosion when their bullet hits its mark. The devices are sometimes called “binary exploding targets”, since they are completely inert until two powders are mixed by the target shooter. After they are combined, the compound is illegal to transport and is classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and is subject to the regulatory requirements in 27 CFR, Part 555.

In June a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed by an exploding target. After someone shot the device, shrapnel struck 47-year-old Jeffery Taylor in the abdomen causing his death.

The new ban affects national forest system lands in the states of Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, and Kansas. Under the Order prohibiting the devices, anyone using them can face a fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment of not more than 6 months. The Order is effective for one year and expires August 2, 2014.

The U.S. Forest Service has previously banned exploding targets on national forests in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas according to Forest Service spokeswoman Sarah Levy.

The Bureau of Land Management bans them during certain times on their land in some states — not only the use but the possession of the devices.

“The Bureau of Land Management is working on a Fire Prevention Order that will ban exploding targets on BLM lands in Colorado as well,” said John Bierk, State Staff Ranger for BLM Colorado/Eastern States.

They are also banned or soon will be when new legislation takes effect on state lands, at least under some conditions, in Washington, Utah, Oregon, and Idaho.

Exploding targets have started at least 16 wildfires since 2012 on Forest Service lands in 8 western states causing the federal government to spend approximately $33.6 million in suppression costs. The U.S. Forest Service provided the table below which lists seven fires started by exploding targets in the Rocky Mountain Region during that time period. The fires burned a total of 1,187 acres in the Region and cost $2.9 million to suppress.

Fires caused by exploding targets

“Exploding targets pose a very real safety threat to visitors and our employees” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

“We have seen a significant increase in the use of exploding targets on National Forest lands within the Region” said U.S. Forest Service Regional Special Agent in Charge Laura Mark. “Our objective is to educate the public on the dangers associated with the use of these targets in vegetation that can ignite a fire, as well as the safety risk they pose to the public, our employees and first responders. In addition to the seven fires caused by exploding targets on national forests in the Region since 2012, explosives ordinance demolition experts have had to respond on three occasions this year to safely dispose of unused targets that had been mixed but not yet used.”


Thanks go out to Rick