She was arrested in Pennsylvania and initially charged with starting six fires in the Moran, Wyoming area
Above: Flagstaff Fire on the Bridger-Teton National Forest near Moran, WY. Credit USFS
(Originally published at 2:41 p.m. MST January 12, 2018)
Stephanie Joy Nicole Dodson, 45, of Everett, Pennsylvania, was sentenced by Federal District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson on January 2, 2018 on two felony counts of timber set afire. Ms. Dodson was arrested in Pennsylvania. She received 53 months of imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised probation upon release from custody, and was ordered to pay a $200.00 special assessment and $105,712.68 in restitution to the United States Forest Service.
Ms. Dodson was charged with eight felony counts related to various fires that investigators believe she started between August 14, 2016, and August 29, 2016, in the Buffalo Valley Region, six of which she started on August 29.
In exchange for dismissing six felony counts, Ms. Dodson pleaded guilty to starting two fires, the Pacific Creek Fire in Grand Teton National Park on August 22, and the Flagstaff Fire on August 29 in Bridger Teton National Forest. The Flagstaff Fire was by far the most serious due to the property threatened and the number of resources used to extinguish the fire.
Above: Wildfires in Western Montana, July 25, 2017.
(Originally published at 10:30 a.m. MDT July 25, 2017)
Residents of Missoula, Montana are used to the impacts wildfire season brings to the area. Occasionally the area is inundated with smoke for days or weeks at a time. Today at least a dozen large wildfires are burning within 70 miles of Missoula. Most of them are south or east of the city so the northwest wind predicted today will blow much of the smoke from the fires away from town.
The national Incident Management Situation Report groups fires by Geographic Area and lists those Areas by priority, and within each Area the fires are listed by priority. The Northern Rockies Geographic Area, identified as the highest priority today, is comprised of Northern Idaho, all of Montana, most of North Dakota, and relatively small portions of Wyoming and South Dakota.
Today’s report lists 21 large fires in the Northern Rockies with 18 of them being in Montana. The first 10 priorities are in Montana and 8 of them are in the western part of the state.
The two that are in the eastern part are the top two priorities in the Area:
Lodgepole Complex of Fires: 250,000 acres, 16 homes have been destroyed. Firefighters are making good progress. Over the last 48 hours the only large growth has been on the northern end near Lake Fort Peck. More information.
Buffalo Fire: This is a new fire reported July 24. At last report it had burned 2,000 acres and is near the Wyoming/Montana state line. An Incident Management Team from Alaska that was staged in the state has been assigned.
Below is some information about a couple of fires closer to Missoula:
Lolo Peak Fire; 1,090 acres 17 miles southwest of Missoula and 10 miles southwest of Lolo. It was active Monday and Monday night on the north, west, and south sides, spotting across a drainage and advancing to Lantern Ridge.
Sapphire Complex comprised of Sliderock, Little Hogback, and Goat Creek fires: 20 to 31 miles southeast of Missoula. All three fires were active Monday, primarily on the east and southeast sides. Combined they have burned 4,539 acres.
An executive order signed by the Governor of Montana Sunday will enable the state to mobilize National Guard helicopters (Blackhawks and CH47), some firefighters, and kitchens. It also makes it possible for local governments to access the Governor’s emergency fund if they have enacted their own 2 mil levy.
On July 29 a member of the Great Basin Smokejumpers was injured while scouting fireline on the Tokewanna Fire near Mountain View in southwest Wyoming. The firefighter sustained burn injuries to the hands, calves, knees, elbows, cheeks, nose and ears. He was transported by air ambulance to the Salt Lake Burn Center where he was admitted.
The fire started at about 1500 on July 28. The overhead structure worked through the night and began transitioning to replacement personnel after smokejumpers arrived at approximately 1252 on July 29. The person that was later burned became the new Division Supervisor (DIVS) on Division W at 1300. Official transition to the new Incident Commander occurred at 1505.
Below is an excerpt from the Factual Report that was completed September 15, 2016:
“Between 15:30 and 15:45 the DIVS was scouting fireline and reached the highest point of where the fire had progressed on the ridge. At this location a flare up occurred downhill from the DIVS on the other side of a large stringer of lodgepole pine which had been heavily treated with retardant (Reference Materials photos 2-5). The DIVS stated, “I heard something I didn’t like and determined I needed to leave.” He retreated to his predetermined safety zone, which was the black and opted to continue downhill rapidly. While retreating he experienced an extreme pulse of radiant heat coming from the right accompanied by smoke and blowing ash. Because of the pulse of radiant heat, he used his helmet to shield the right side of his face. In recounting this he expressed “I wish I had my gloves on, but prior to the event I was away from the fire edge using a GPS and taking notes in my notepad.” The radiant heat caused burns to the DIVS’s hands, calves, knees, elbows, cheeks, nose and ears.”
Also from the report:
Three key findings were brought out during this investigation:
Timely recognition and reporting of burn injuries is critical
The absence of PPE can contribute to the severity of injuries
Firefighters were unable to contact the air ambulance utilizing pre-established radio frequencies
Lessons Learned from the Interviewees:
When asked if there were any lessons learned or best practices the interviewees would take away from the incident the following was captured:
Recognize your own limitations and don’t expect to have all of the answers or information on a rapidly emerging fire.
Time of day and incident complexity were not optimal for transferring command, but in this case it was a better option than continuing to utilize fatigued resources.
Sometimes you just need to safely engage to ensure you are not transferring risk to someone else later.
Make the time to tie-in with your overhead to assure face-to-face interactions occur during transition.
Participation with district resources in pre-season scenario based training alleviated tension while coordinating a real life medical incident at the dispatch center.
Frequency sharing with local EMS will help facilitate efficient medevac procedures.
Continue to encourage EMS certifications among line firefighters and/or identify ways to improve access to Advanced Life Support on emerging incidents.”
An unprecedented 40-year experiment in a 40,000-acre valley of Yosemite National Park strongly supports the idea that managing fire, rather than suppressing it, makes wilderness areas more resilient to fire, with the added benefit of increased water availability and resistance to drought.
After a three-year, on-the-ground assessment of the park’s Illilouette Creek basin, University of California, Berkeley researchers concluded that a strategy dating to 1973 of managing wildfires with minimal suppression and almost no preemptive, so-called prescribed burns has created a landscape more resistant to catastrophic fire, with more diverse vegetation and forest structure and increased water storage, mostly in the form of meadows in areas cleared by fires.
“When fire is not suppressed, you get all these benefits: increased stream flow, increased downstream water availability, increased soil moisture, which improves habitat for the plants within the watershed. And it increases the drought resistance of the remaining trees and also increases the fire resilience because you have created these natural firebreaks,” said Gabrielle Boisramé, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and first author of the study…
…”Largely up until this point, fire has not necessarily carried well through the ’88 fire scars,” Yellowstone fire ecologist Becky Smith said. “I mean, it definitely has before, but it usually takes very specific conditions, like high winds or a very specific fuel bed. But this year, we’re definitely seeing it burn much more readily in the ’88 fire scars.”
The park has called in a special federal team that studies fire behavior to find out why.
“We’re trying to use it as a good learning opportunity to try and really narrow our focus on how and when the ’88 fire scars will burn,” Smith said. The 1988 wildfires burned 36 percent of the park.
It’s the first time Yellowstone has used the special team’s services, she said.
The 13-member team is studying two fires burning in the 1988 fire scar. It has deployed special heat-resistant equipment with sensors, cameras and other instruments to measure things like temperature and wind where the fires are burning…
Rainfall over the last two weeks has slowed or in some cases, ended the wildfire season in some areas.
On October 19 we ran the numbers for the accumulated precipitation for the last 14 days in the western states. These maps show amounts that exceeded 0.05 inches at some of the Interagency Remote Automatic Weather Stations (RAWS).
Washington, Oregon, and northern California have received a good soaking and I would imagine that local fire officials may be declaring an end to the fire season. Of course this is not unusual for these areas this time of the year, and some locations had already seen their season end. But what IS unusual, is the high amount of moisture that occurred in just two weeks.
You can click on the images to see larger versions.