Wildfire briefing, April 3, 2014

Three firefighters injured in South Carolina

Three firefighters were injured while fighting a 12-acre wildfire that spread to a structure in Florence County, South Carolina late Wednesday afternoon. One firefighter suffered second and third degree burns to his face and neck while suppressing fire in a mobile home.

wistv.com – Columbia, South Carolina |

Arizona Forestry Division outlines changes for 2014

According to an article at KNAU, Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt told reporters on Wednesday:

“Our first priority is firefighter and public safety. And it’s always going to be our first priority,” he said.

But, Hunt did say that he expects when there is an initial report of a fire that there will “heavier responses” than in the past.

On June 30, 2013, 19 firefighters were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire which was being managed by the Arizona Forestry Division.

Los Alamos National Laboratory under pressure to move radioacitve waste before wildfire season

From TheState.com:

Los Alamos is under a tight deadline to get nuclear waste off its northern New Mexico campus before wildfire season peaks, and the New Mexico dump [temporarily closed due to a fire] is the federal government’s only permanent repository for waste from decades of nuclear-bomb building.

Aerial firefighting training for California National Guard

California National Guard aerial firefighting training

File photo of California National Guard aerial firefighting training, April, 2010. Photo by Bob Martinez.

Helicopter units of the California National Guard are scheduled to conduct their annual aerial firefighting training Friday through Sunday at the CAL FIRE academny in Ione.

Colorado Senate passes funding bill for aerial firefighting

The Colorado state Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would provide $21 million for a portion of the aerial firefighting program recommended by the Colorado Firefighting Air Corp (CFAC) in a report the agency released on March 28. The funds would enable contracting for four helicopters, four Single Engine Air Tankers, and the purchase of two fixed wing aircraft for fire detection and remote sensing, but not for the two large air tankers called for in the report.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who has been quoted as saying farmers and ranchers should be the state’s first defense against wildfires, is opposed to spending the additional $11.9 million for contracting for two large air tankers.

Wildfire season begins early in Russia


Forest fires have broken out early in a season dubbed “tense this year”, Minister of Natural Resources Sergei Donskoi told a conference chaired by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and addressing preparations for difficult days ahead.

“The situation is tense in Russia this year. Because of low precipitation, the season has begun almost 1.5 months ahead of the norm,” the minister said. Seventeen fires have already been registered across a territory of 2,000 hectares, the minister said.

Citing reasons for danger, the minister noted an early spring and a shallow layer of frozen soil. This was only 40-50% of normal levels and was leaving dry surface soil.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has adopted an inter-regional fire prevention plan employing an additional 3,000-strong contingent of firefighters, 800 units of firefighting equipment and 4,000 fire extinguishers, the minister said.


Wildfire briefing, March 30, 2014

Prescribed fire smoke in Manhattan, Kansas

Prescribed fire smoke in Manhattan, Kansas, March 29, 2014. Photo by Eric Ward.

Prescribed fire smoke in the Flint Hills

In light of the discussion on Wildfire Today about prescribed fire as a tourist attraction in the Flint Hills of Kansas, Eric Ward sent us the above photo that he took Saturday afternoon in smoky Manhattan, Kansas. He explained that many of the ranchers in the area conduct extensive burning projects this time of the year in order to enhance weight gains of cattle if they plan to stock pastures in May. On days when the relative humidity and wind speed are within an acceptable range, the evidence of the burning is very visible in the atmosphere, especially if weather for the previous week or so has been bouncing between snow and red flag weather conditions, as it has this year.

Colorado report recommends contracting for air tankers and helicopters

Colorado Firefighting Air CorpsA long-awaited report about aerial firefighting by state agencies in Colorado was released Friday by the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC). Some of the more significant recommendations include:

  • Increase the number of Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) on exclusive use contracts from two to four.
  • Contract for the exclusive use of four Type 3 or larger rotor-wing aircraft. (Type 3 helicopters can carry 100 to 300 gallons.)
  • Contract for the exclusive use of two Type 2 or larger air tankers. (Type 2 air tankers can carry 1,800 to 3,000 gallons). The contingency, if the State is unable to contract for two air tankers, is to contract for two helitankers, or a combination of one fixed-wing air tanker and one helitanker.

More details are at Fire Aviation.

Arizona seeks to immunize the state from liability from wildfires

A bill that was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee, House Bill 2343, would exempt the state and state employees from prosecution for harm resulting from the action, or inaction by state employees on state lands. Hundreds of millions of dollars in claims have been filed by the families of the 19 firefighters killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire and by property owners whose homes burned. The fire was managed by the state of Arizona in June, 2013.

Firefighters assisting with Oso landslide

Personnel that usually can be found at wildfires are helping to manage the response to the tragic landslide at Oso, Washington. We have reports that some of the resources assisting include Washington Incident Management Team #4 (a Type 2 team), miscellaneous overhead, and some Washington Department of Natural Resources chain saw teams. The IMTeam was dispatched on March 27.

New topic from “Safety Matters”

The “Safety Matters” group has released their “Topic #5″, and they are seeking input from wildland firefighters. Below is an excerpt:

…2014 marks the 20th Anniversary of South Canyon and the 38th Anniversary of Battlement Creek. Both fires fit the model of firefighters dying in a brush fuel type, on a slope, during hot and dry conditions.

The loss of the Granite Mountain Hotshots indicates that a significant accident occurs every 18 to 20 years. Is there a reoccurring cycle, and if so why? Could it be related to a cyclic turnover of firefighter culture, training and attitude? What are the thoughts of Safety Matters readers?

Bushfire season ends in New South Wales

The bushfire season has reached its official end in New South Wales.

Tribute to author Norman Maclean

The Daily Beast has reprinted an excellent essay that Pete Dexter wrote for Esquire in 1981 about Norman Maclean. It explores a side of of the author that is not revealed in his book about firefighters, Young Men and Fire. Mr. Dexter spent quite a bit of time with Mr. Maclean, who at that time was writing the final chapter. Mr. Maclean also wrote A River Runs Through It, which was made into a movie starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. The Esperanza Fire, a book written by his son John N. Maclean, is working its way towards becoming a movie.

U.S. National Guard assists with fire in Puerto Rico

From the AP:

Puerto Rico has enlisted the U.S. National Guard to help extinguish a fire that has ravaged a forest in the island’s central region. Firefighting Chief Angel Crespo says that about 40 percent of the Modelo Forest in the town of Adjuntas has been destroyed. Authorities say they believe the fire was intentionally set and that it has consumed up to 290 acres (117 hectares). A U.S. National Guard helicopter helped dump water over the area on Friday.

Fantastic photo


Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Granite Mountain Hotshots sticker

I missed it while watching the Phoenix NASCAR race Sunday, but apparently driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a Granite Mountain Hotshots sticker on his car. I don’t know how long he has had the sticker, but maybe it brought him luck because he won the Daytona 500 the previous week and came in second yesterday. Last June, 19 members of the hotshot crew were entrapped and killed while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire 90 miles northwest of Phoenix.

Earnhardt Granite Mountain Hotshots sticker

In last year’s race at Phoenix one of the cars was wrapped in an image resembling a wildfire.

via @CWCGprevention


Leader of Yarnell Hill Fire investigation says one firefighter should be able to attack a fire — alone

Yarnell Hill Fire, June 30, 2013

Yarnell Hill Fire, June 30, 2013. Photo by Joy Collura.

The leader of the 54-person team that conducted the Serious Accident Investigation Team’s investigation into the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona that killed 19 firefighters was quoted as saying that individual firefighters should be able to attack wildfires alone. Florida State Forester Jim Karels’ reasoning seems to be that it is too expensive to send two firefighters to a fire.

Below is an excerpt from an article at WFSU explaining that the Florida state legislature is considering a recommendation from the Florida State Fire Service Association that firefighters should not be sent alone to a fire:

…Florida Forest Service Director Jim Karels says the increased staffing mandate is not necessary because the lowest-risk fires only require one firefighter—and if he sends two to one fire, it’s possible nobody will be available when the next one breaks out.

“Safety-wise, purely, if I can send two firefighters to every fire every time with no other decisions, I’m good with that. But we’ve got to look at it on effectiveness and efficiency too,” he says.

But Rep. Mike Clelland (D-Lake Mary) says his experience as a firefighter makes him question the department’s refusal.

“I just can’t imagine one person responding to a forest fire or a brush fire,” he says. “I spent my whole adult life in the fire service.”

The article also has a 50-second audio recording in which you can hear Mr. Karels actually speaking those words.

This helps to explain how Mr. Karels’ 54-person investigative team came up with their analysis of the fatal Yarnell Hill Fire:

The judgments and decisions of the incident management organizations managing this fire were reasonable. Firefighters performed within their scope of duty, as defined by their respective organizations. The Team found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol.

Many people, including this writer, disagree with the conclusion reached by Mr. Karels and his team. The article we wrote on February 15 is an example of some, but not all, of the negligence, reckless actions, and violations of policy or protocol that have been documented about the fire, in spite of Mr. Karels’ analysis. Other examples surfaced after the release of the second official report on the fire which was issued by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Many people, after studying for weeks how 19 firefighters were killed on a fire, would be hyper-aware and sensitive to firefighter safety issues, but not in this case. Florida State Forest Service Director Jim Karels is a danger to firefighters and should get out of the business. We don’t use term idiot often at Wildfire Today, but it is well deserved in this case.


Arizona releases statements from Blue Ridge Hotshots about Yarnell Hill Fire

Granite Mountain Hotshots hike to the fire, June 30, 2013

Granite Mountain Hotshots hike to the Yarnell Hill Fire, the morning of June 30, 2013. Photo by Joy Colura.

Written statements that members of the Blue Ridge Hotshots provided about the Yarnell Hill Fire have been released by the Industrial Commission of Arizona. The documents, even though they are heavily redacted, provide more information about what happened on June 30, 2013 before and after 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were overrun by flames and killed on the fire.

The statements from approximately 12 members of the crew provide more insight about what the Blue Ridge Hotshots were doing that day on the fire, including some of their communications with the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

The general atmosphere on the fire that day, according to how we interpreted some of the statements, was chaos and disorganization.

  • Neither of the two hotshot crews received a briefing that morning.
  • Blue Ridge never really had a significant assignment during their one shift on the fire, other than prepping a dozer line for 30 to 65 minutes, and one person from the crew who worked with a dozer that originally did not have a radio.
  • When Blue Ridge had to disengage and move to a safety zone, there were “still people milling about in town” (Yarnell). At about 1600 some of the residents, who had no information about the fire, asked crewmembers why they were leaving.
  • There was a “debate” on the radio about the border between two geographical divisions. (Other reports confirm this, and the fact that one of the Division Supervisors left the field and did not return.)
  • Firefighters working on the north side of the fire, far away from where the fatal entrapment occurred, were:

…burning around structures and having to use alternate escape route since some have been compromised.

As Blue Ridge was forced to leave the fire and was heading toward a safety zone they:

…find engine crews hiking out and we urge them to move as fast as they can.

The first of the statements mentions what appear to be communications with the Granite Mountain Hotshots at some time before 1615, telling them they are moving Granite Mountain’s crew carriers for them so that they would not be consumed by the fire, and informing them of the current fire behavior:

…I explain that we will keep their rigs with us too because things are very dynamic now, and [redacted] mentions that they are trying to come down off the hill, he mentions traveling through the black.

And later at 1655:

Radio traffic is overheard on A/G or TAC about Granite Mountain IHC needing to deploy shelters and they were in the process of cutting deployment site and trying to burn out around it. No other radio traffic is heard from Granite Mountain over TAC or A/G, we arrive at the Ranch House Restaurant staging area and I jump in Granite Mountain’s chase rig and try to listen on their crew channel and all I hear is a keyed mic, I try to raise them but with no success. I tell [redacted] to sit in the truck and monitor their crew channel for any traffic.

Comments that our readers leave about these statements will be allowed as long as our rules about commenting are respected. If there is a problem, we will close this article to comments.

The entire document can be downloaded, but be aware that it is a huge 18MB file.


Wildfire briefing, February 7, 2014

Pioneer smokejumper laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery

Casey Walden smokejumper

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., former chief of staff of the Army, talks to Lt. Col.
Roger Walden during a recognition ceremony at the Pentagon on March 25,
2010. (U.S. Army photo)

During World War II, a time when segregation was still a part of everyday life, a group of 17 brave men took the plunge to serve their country and become the first all African-American paratrooper unit known as the Triple Nickles.

The battalion’s original goal – to join the fight in Europe – was thwarted when military leaders in Europe feared racial tensions would disrupt operations. At about the same time, the U.S. Forest Service asked the military for help to minimize damage caused by balloon bombs launched by the Japanese across the Pacific Ocean with the intent to start forest fires in the western U.S. during World War II.

In the end, few of the incendiary devices reached U.S. soil, but the Triple Nickles were instrumental in helping the Forest Service fight naturally-caused fires. They became history’s first military smokejumpers who answered 36 fire calls and made more than 1,200 jumps that summer of 1945.

On Jan. 6, Lt. Col. Roger S. Walden, who passed away on Sept. 17, 2013, was remembered and given full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Walden holds a special place in U.S. Forest Service history. He will be remembered for his bravery, sacrifice and groundbreaking achievements in wildland firefighting. During a time of war and social prejudices, the commitment to serve his country through wildland firefighting was challenging and unique.

Casey Walden laid to rest

The body of Lt. Col. Roger Walden is unloaded from a caisson at Arlington
National Cemetery. (Photo by Donna Sinclair)

California PUC approves new rules to reduce fire hazards from power poles

Yesterday the California Public Utilities Commission approved dozens of new rules aimed at strengthening overhead power and communications poles.

San Diego Gas and Electric, SDG&E, whose power lines started three huge fires in southern California in 2007, agreed in 2009 to pay $686 million to insurance companies that paid claims to their customers for the Witch Creek, Guejito and Rice Canyon fires.

The PUC told us the new rules can be found here.

Yarnell Hill Fire survivor takes new job

Brendan McDonough is the lone surviving member of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew. He was serving as a lookout in another location when the other 19 men on the crew were killed as they were overrun by the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2014 in Arizona.

Brendan McDonough

Brendan McDonough, surviving member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on the Yarnell Hill Fire. Photo courtesy of Brendan’s father, who placed the photo on his Facebook page.

Since that day he has been on a leave of absence from the Prescott Fire Department, but he now has a new job working for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. He will be conducting fundraising and helping to raise awareness of how firefighters deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Below is an excerpt from KPHO:

McDonough says he is battling PTSD manifested in dreams.

Acting Prescott Fire Chief Eric Kriwer says McDonough left his city job in good standing, and McDonough says he still has strong bonds with department personnel and continues to live in Prescott.

Pete Wertheim, City of Prescott communications and public affairs manager, told CBS 5 News, “Brendan was a seasonal wildland firefighter and he left in good standing with the City. The City appreciates Brendan and his service to the community and we wish for him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.”