Wildfire news, September 14, 2016

Highlights of recent news about wildland fire.

California has fewer inmates available for fighting wildfires

With fewer inmates available for fighting fires, the state of California is turning to civilian crews within their Conservation Corps.

From KCRA:

…But the number of available inmates is declining because counties now oversee most lower-level felons under a law aimed at easing prison overcrowding. In addition, there are fewer incentives for inmates to risk their lives since a federal court broadened an early release program for firefighters to include other inmates.

The state is about 600 inmates short of the 4,300 prisoners who could be available for fire lines. So this year, the California Conservation Corps reopened a camp to train three crews of young civilians to do the same backbreaking work as the inmates. Corps Director Bruce Saito expects to create at least four more fire crews with roughly 15 members each by next summer and a half-dozen new crews during each of the next two years.

The corps has more than 1,400 members, but fewer than 200 currently work alongside local, state and federal firefighters battling blazes in rural areas.

The members include both men and women and range in age from 18 to 25. They enlist for one year and earn the state’s minimum wage of $10 an hour. Military veterans can enroll until they turn 30…

Oregon sues 3 people responsible for starting the Ferguson Fire

Oregon hopes to recover $892,082 from three individuals who they say are responsible for starting the Ferguson Fire that burned 200 acres and destroyed two structures in Klamath County in July 2014.

The suit alleges that Joe Askins started a campfire, then took a nap. When he awoke, the campfire had escaped. Askins also said “I’ll take all the blame for the fire,” according to the lawsuit.

More evidence that beetle-killed forests do not increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

An article at News Deeply summarizes several research studies which mostly concluded that beetle-killed forests do not burn more severely than forests that have not been attacked by the insects. This is in spite of statements to the contrary by the Secretary of Agriculture, a spokesperson for CAL FIRE, and media stories about trees that are now part of a “tinder box”.

Air tanker 132 starts contract in Australia

air tanker 132 australia
Air Tanker 132 is reintroduced to the media in New South Wales, Australia. Photo by Sgt. Brett Sherriff, Royal Australian Air Force.

Fire Aviation reports that Coulson’s Air Tanker 132 started its contract with New South Wales on September 6, helping to provide air support for wildland firefighters in Australia. This is the second year in a row that the L-382G, a variant of the C-130 platform, has worked down under during their summer bushfire season.

Cheyenne is concerned about the effects of the Snake Fire on their water system

“The location of the fire is close proximity to our major watershed collection area for the Hog Park Reservoir” said Dena Egenhoff, the Board of Public Utilities’ (BOPU) Water Conservation Manager. “We are unable to know the impact of the Snake Fire at this time, but the location suggests there may be some adverse impacts to the City of Cheyenne’s water collection system.” As of September 11, 2016, the Hog Park Reservoir is 91.8% full

For Cheyenne, BOPU collects water in the Little Snake River drainage from snow melt and streams and transports it under a mountain by a tunnel to the eastside of the Continental Divide. That water is then stored in Hog Park Reservoir. From there, the collected water from Hog Park Reservoir is traded for water in Rob Roy Reservoir which can more easily be transported without pumping to Cheyenne. “In this way, the amount of water can be exchanged between the two different Mountain Ranges with all water rights being satisfied,” said Dena Egenhoff.

The Snake fire is in south-central Wyoming just north of the Colorado border. It is 115 air miles miles west of Cheyenne, and 20 miles west of the 38,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire that has been burning in Colorado and Wyoming since July 19, 2016.

Precipitation on Berry Fire allows reopening of south entrance to Yellowstone

The highway reopened September 13 after being closed since September 11.

Originally published at 1:39 p.m. MDT September 14, 2016.

Precipitation, which included snow in the higher elevations, put a damper on the Berry Fire and allowed officials to reopen the south entrance into Yellowstone National Park and Highway 89 on September 13. The highway had been closed since September 11 when the fire ran to the northeast for six miles in northwest Wyoming. The blaze ran for about six miles from Grand Teton National Park toward the northeast, burning another 6,000 acres, and forced evacuations at the Flagg Ranch, the north entrance station into Grand Teton National Park, and Sheffield Campground on the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

On Wednesday crews will continue to secure the Flagg Ranch area, which is still closed, and improve safety along the Grassy Lake Road corridor.

Mt. Washburn Yellowstone
This was the view from Mt. Washburn in Yellowstone National Park looking northeast at 1:44 p.m. MDT, September 14, 2016. NPS photo.

Yellowstone’s Maple Fire slowed by rain and cool weather

Above: Rainbow over the Maple Fire at 9:50 Monday morning, September 5, 2016, as seen from West Yellowstone, MT. Photo by Ray Mines.

Rain on Sunday and Monday accompanied by cool weather has slowed the spread of the Maple Fire that has come within three miles of West Yellowstone, Montana. Since it started on August 8 it has burned 40,443 acres just north of the west entrance road, Highway 20/191.

The small amount of rain on Sunday was followed by about 0.15″ Monday, as recorded at the weather station east of the fire at Madison Junction.

Ray Mines, who took the photo above from the Incident Command Post at West Yellowstone, said it was 34 degrees Monday morning with a wind chill of 28.

Satellites have not been able to find any large heat sources over the fires in the park for the last couple of days. There are no doubt many small ones that the sensors 200 miles overhead can’t detect. But drier weather later in the week will bring the potential for the fire to become more active.

map Maple fire
The red line was the perimeter of the Maple Fire at 9 p.m. MDT Sept 2, 2016. The white line was the perimeter on August 29.

About 200 lightning strikes occurred in the eastern part of Yellowstone Sunday, resulting in at least two new fire starts. The Petrified Fire was near the Petrified Tree west of Tower Junction in a fire suppression zone. Firefighters extinguished the single-tree fire with the help of helicopter water drops. Firefighters are monitoring the one-tenth acre Jasper Fire east of Tower Junction near Specimen Ridge.

South entrance to Yellowstone opens after being closed by the Berry Fire

The Maple Fire in Yellowstone spreads closer to West Yellowstone and Hwy. 191


The video above was uploaded Monday August 29 the day before Highway 89 opened.

The south entrance to Yellowstone National Park opened Tuesday morning after having been closed for the last week after the Berry Fire burned across U.S. Highway 89 at the north end of Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

The fire was active Monday on the northeast, south, and west sides and has burned about 13,200 acres. A large smoke column actually assisted firefighters working on the east side of the highway Monday by shading the fire on that side of the lake, slowing the spread.

Fires Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
Fires in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, August 30, 2016. The green lines are the boundaries of the two parks. The white line is the Wyoming/Montana boundary.

A new fire in Yellowstone National Park is named the Central Fire, probably because it is in the center of the park. It is 9 miles west of the Lake developed area and 2 miles south of Hayden Valley. The fire is just northwest of the 2015 Spruce fire which is expected to block the fire’s growth to the east. Currently it is burning in mature lodgepole pine.

The Maple Fire has spread considerably over the last several days and is within about 2 miles of Highway 191 north of West Yellowstone, Montana, and about 3.5 miles from the community. It has crossed from Wyoming into Montana and on the south side is burning along the Madison River very close to the West Entrance Road (Highway 20). It has reached the east side of the Boundary Fire that spread on its west side to within a quarter mile of Highway 191.

The staff at Yellowstone wants visitors to know that all entrances and roads within the park are open. Visitor facilities and businesses in the park and surrounding communities are not impacted by the fires and remain open.

The Buffalo Fire is in the north-central part of Yellowstone about 2 miles north of the Northeast Entrance Road (Highway 212). The fire has burned about 4,000 acres, a few of which may be just across the state line in Montana.


Above: the Maple Fire burns along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park August 29, 2016. Video by Jeremy Weber of the West Yellowstone News.

South entrance to Yellowstone still closed by Berry Fire

The Berry Fire in Grand Teton National Park continues to spread to the east and south.

Above: Berry fire, as seen from Leeks Marina. Undated/uncredited InciWeb photo.

The National Park Service said Saturday morning that US Highway 89 and the south entrance into Yellowstone National Park will be continue to be closed through this weekend. On Saturday even firefighter traffic was limited through the area due to fire activity and hazards from falling trees.

During the previous two days a moist air mass brought higher humidities to the fire area, and even a very small amount of rain fell in locations to the east. That changes today, Saturday, with a Red Flag Warning which covers much of Wyoming, introducing higher temperatures and lower humidities.

3-D map of the Berry Fire
3-D map of the Berry Fire. Data from 1 a.m. MDT August 27, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Since Tuesday the fire has grown along most of the perimeter, especially on the north, east, and south sides, and now covers 12,378 acres according to the NPS. From east to west it is 7 miles wide and it stretches for almost 4 miles along the west shore of Jackson Lake.

The National Park Service is not aggressively suppressing the fire, but is managing it for ecological benefits.

Resources assigned to the Berry Fire include 351 personnel, 6 hand crews, 18 engines, and 5 helicopters.

Berry Fire
Filling an engine from a lake on the Berry Fire. Undated/uncredited InciWeb photo.

Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are open for visitors, but anyone planning to enter Yellowstone from the south on US Highway 89 will have to take a very lengthy detour. All other entrances into Yellowstone are open, as are all of the roads in that park.

Yellowstone’s 30,309-acre Maple Fire a few miles east of West Yellowstone, Montana, has not crossed US Highway 20, also known as the West Entrance Road. There are at least two other significant fires in Yellowstone, the 3,024-acre Buffalo Fire near the north boundary, and the 1,922-acre Fawn Fire in the northwest corner. These fires are not impacting visitors except for the smoke being created that degrades visibility of the beautiful landscape.

map Fires in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
Fires in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, August. 27, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Our other articles on these fires in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

Berry Fire closes south entrance to Yellowstone National Park

Above: Berry Fire. Undated NPS photo.

(More recent article on the Berry Fire published August 27, 2016.)

(UPDATED at 11:10 a.m. MDT August 24, 2016)

The south entrance into Yellowstone National Park is still closed by the Berry Fire which is being monitored, rather than suppressed, in order to benefit the ecosystem.

On Tuesday the fire spread farther into the Bridger-Teton National Forest after burning out of Grand Teton National Park. The northeast and south sides were the most active where it moved about half a mile beyond the previous perimeter.

Map Berry Fire
The red line was the perimeter of the Berry Fire at 8 p.m. MDT on August 22, 2016. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 4:12 a.m. MDT August 24, 2016. Click to enlarge.

A Type 2 incident management team led by Incident Commander Tim Rodie is now in place. He is assisted by 115 personnel, which is an increase of 77 over the previous day. There are 4 hand crews, 5 engines, and 3 helicopters assigned to the fire.

The incident management team is calling the fire 6,819 acres.

****

(UPDATED at 5 p.m. MDT August 23, 2016)

The Berry Fire continued to spread Tuesday into the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway.

US Highway 89/191/287 in Grand Teton National Park is closed at Leeks Marina on the south, and at the South Gate of Yellowstone National Park on the north.

Berry Fire map
Berry Fire. The red line was the perimeter during an 8 p.m. mapping flight August 22. The red shaded areas had the most heat at that time. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:16 p.m. MDT August 23, 2016. Click to enlarge.

The weather recorded at the Coyote Meadows weather station 12 miles west of the fire has been fairly moderate for the last 24 hours, showing 2 to 6 mph winds out of the southwest and west and 70 degrees Tuesday afternoon. The exception to the “moderate” weather has been the relative humidity which got up to only 35 percent overnight, and at 5 p.m. Tuesday was 12 percent. That will change Tuesday night when the RH increases to 71 percent, but it will fall to 19 percent Wednesday afternoon. The wind Tuesday night and Wednesday will be out of the northeast and north at 5 to 13 mph. This could influence the fire to move to the south over the next 24 hours.

There are still no plans to put out the fire. Grand Teton National Park explained on Tuesday in a statement:

Fire management goals for the Berry Fire include providing for public and firefighter safety; suppressing fire to protect structures and campgrounds; and monitoring fire growth as it burns in wilderness and contributes to long-term forest health.

****

(Originally published at 10:14 a.m. MDT August 23, 2016)

Map Berry Fire
Map of the Berry Fire. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 4:31 a.m. MDT August 23, 2016. The yellow dots were detected within the previous 6 days. Click to enlarge.

The Berry Fire in Grand Teton National Park more than doubled in size Monday, closing Highway 89 which leads to the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The highway is closed at Leeks Marina road (south) and the Flagg Ranch (north) and will remain closed indefinitely, a park spokesperson announced Tuesday morning.

Pushed by a 5 to 8 mph southwest wind gusting up to 22 mph, the fire ran out of the park to the northeast crossing the northern tip of Jackson Lake, the Snake River, and Highway 89. It then spread into the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway and the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Lizard Creek Campground has been evacuated.

Map Berry Fire 3-d
3-D Map of the Berry Fire looking north. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 4:31 a.m. MDT August 23, 2016. The yellow dots were detected within the previous 6 days. Click to enlarge.

The rapid fire spread on Monday added about 3,800 acres, bringing the size of the Berry Fire up to approximately 6,900 acres as of 4:31 a.m. on Tuesday.

Motorists expecting to enter Yellowstone from the popular south entrance will be forced to take long detours stretching for hundreds of miles. They may not be pleased to learn that National Park Service officials decided on July 25 when the Berry Fire started to allow the fire to “enhance the area’s natural resources”, rather than suppress it. 

The moderately strong winds that caused the fire to leave Grand Teton National Park were accompanied Monday by 7 percent relative humidity and 80 degree temperatures.

Grand Teton National Park brought in a Type 3 incident management team for the fire on August 21 when Red Flag Warnings for extreme wildfire danger appeared in the weather forecast. At that time there were 25 personnel assigned. As of August 22 that had increased to 39. Eight fires listed on the August 23 National Situation Report have more than 500 personnel assigned. Five have more than 1,300. However, those fires are larger and are threatening more structures.

Now that the fire has closed Highway 89 and burned outside the park they have ordered a higher level team, a Type 2 team to manage the fire, with Incident Commander Tim Roide. The next level up would be a Type 1 team.

map fires yellowstone grand teton national parks
Wildfires in Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP. The red areas represent heat detected by a satellite at 4:31 a.m. MDT August 23, 2016. The yellow areas were detected within the previous 6 days. Click to enlarge.

There are three active fires in Yellowstone National Park, the Maple, Fawn, and Buffalo fires. We covered these earlier. They all continued to spread on Monday. The Maple fire east of West Yellowstone, Montana marched another mile to the north, but was active on most of the perimeter. The park says all roads and businesses remain open, including the east and west entrances and the highway that goes right by the Maple Fire, Highway 20.