Federal government still has not paid workers damages awarded from a lawsuit after the shutdown in 2013

White House seeks list of programs that would be hurt if shutdown lasts into March

US Department of Agriculture
Bill Gabbert photo.

After the last major shutdown of the federal government in 2013 which lasted for 16 days, a class action lawsuit was filed and won by employees who were forced to work and who signed on to the litigation. All employees received the back pay they missed, but the judge awarded additional liquidated damages as well to the 25,000 who proactively signed onto the case and worked during the period. The government still has not paid the damages ordered by the judge.

More than 200,000 employees  were forced to work in 2013. Approximately 800,000 are not being paid during the current shutdown that began December 22, 2018, and about half of those are being told they have to continue working.

A Senate Appropriations Committee report estimates that as many as 5,000 U.S. Forest Service firefighters may be working now without pay. A USDA spokesperson said an official shutdown plan ensures that workers “essential to protect life and property” remain on duty.

government shutdowns dates

In February, 2017 U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith ordered compensation for the 2013 shutdown alleging a violation of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. The delay in compensation for the damages, the government said, is due to the difficulty in obtaining pay records and then applying that data to the formula for payment.

The lawsuit was filed for the employees by Heidi Burakiewicz, an attorney at the law firm Mehri & Skalet.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Govexec:

The plaintiffs [from the 2013 shutdown] will likely receive an amount in the neighborhood of $7.25—the federal minimum wage—times the number of hours worked between Oct. 1 and Oct. 5, 2013, the period in which paychecks were delayed. This amounts to $290 for employees who worked eight-hour days, plus any overtime they are due.

After the court’s 2014 ruling, federal agencies were forced to notify hundreds of thousands of federal workers of their eligibility to join the suit. FLSA-exempt workers, such as teachers, nurses and high-level managers, and those who earned more than $290 on Sept. 29 (a Sunday) and Sept. 30 were not entitled to join the case.

The same attorney who won the 2013 case has filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government over the current government shutdown.

Employees being forced to work for no pay could possibly find temporary or even permanent work elsewhere if they were allowed to. It can be difficult to continue going to a non-paying job while incurring costs for commuting, gasoline, rent, house or car payments, medical bills, car repairs, day care, and food.


The Washington Post reported today that the White House is putting together a list of federal programs that would be hurt if the shutdown lasts into March.

White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has pressed agency leaders to provide him with a list of the highest-impact programs that will be jeopardized if the shutdown continues into March and April, people familiar with the directive said.

Mulvaney wants the list no later than Friday, these people said, and it’s the firmest evidence to date that the White House is preparing for a lengthy funding lapse that could have snowballing consequences for the economy and government services.

Wildfire burns 300 acres near Prescott, Arizona

Prescott Valley Fire Arizona
Firefighters conducted burn outs to secure portions of the fireline on the Prescott Valley Fire. Photo by Arizona State Forestry.

(UPDATED at 1:33 p.m. MDT January 22, 2019)

Arizona State Forestry reported at 1:14 p.m. MDT that the fire has burned 459 acres. Firefighters are mostly mopping up and monitoring the perimeter.

(Originally published at 9:40 a.m. MST January 22, 2019)

A fire that broke out Monday at about 1 p.m. MST burned 300 acres in Prescott Valley along highway 89A seven miles north of Prescott, Arizona.

Approximately 50 firefighters battling the blaze during strong winds were able to stop the spread within a couple of hours as it burned near Glassford Hill.

One lane of highway 89A was closed for a while, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Prescott Valley Fire Arizona
Prescott Valley Fire. Photo by Arizona State Forestry.
Prescott Valley Fire Arizona
Prescott Valley Fire. Photo by Arizona State Forestry.

Oregon county changes zoning to require new construction to be low density

Structures farther apart are less likely to ignite neighboring homes during a wildfire

Deschutes County in Oregon has approved new zoning that will require new construction on the west side of Bend to be low density and fire-resistant.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that the new regulation will result in 90 percent fewer homes in the area than the previous code permitted.

One contributing factor that led to more than 15,000 homes being destroyed in two fires in California in 2018, the Camp and Carr Fires, was the close spacing between the structures.

Paradise Camp fire homes burned
A neighborhood on Debbie Lane in Paradise, California, before and after the Camp Fire that started November 8, 2018. The homes were 14 to 18 feet apart.

Cities, counties, and planning boards (where they exist) are often under pressure to approve new housing developments. They want to expand their tax base. Developers try to fit as many homes into a new subdivision as possible to maximize their investment. This too often results in homes that are 20-feet apart. If one is ignited by a burning ember that may have traveled a quarter of a mile from a fire (or a burning home) the radiant heat alone can ignite the homes on both sides. Then you can have a self-powered conflagration spreading house to house through a city. As long as the structures are that close together, the homeowners have not reduced the fuel in the Home Ignition Zone within 100 feet of the structure, and the home itself is not built to FireWise standards, a massive disaster can be the result.

Reducing the chances that a fire in a populated area will turn into a disaster that burns thousands of homes involves at least three categories of factors, in addition to weather:

  • Envelope of the structure itself: characteristics of the roof, vents, siding, doors, windows, foundation, fences, eaves, and decks. A FEMA publication (13 MB) has excellent detailed recommendations. Headwaters Economics found that the cost of building a fire-resistant home is about the same as a standard home.
  • Home Ignition Zone — topography and fuel within 100 feet.
  • Community infrastructure and planning: distance to nearby structures, evacuation capability, safety zones, road and driveway width, turnarounds at the end of roads, signage, and emergency water supply. Again, the FEMA document has great recommendations.

More information about how to prevent wildfires from wiping out communities.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Will the government shutdown make it difficult to suppress wildfires?

wildfire danger New Mexico Arizona Texas
Elevated wildfire danger in parts of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas, January 21, 2019.

Today the wildfire danger was “elevated” or “critical” in parts of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas according to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.

Historically the spring wildfire season in New Mexico and Colorado begins in May, but in recent years large fires have occurred earlier. Last year on March 8 the Stateline Fire started that burned over 28,000 acres in New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma.

As the threat from wildfires increases into the new year I can’t help but wonder how the shutdown of the Departments of Agriculture and Interior will affect the suppression of wildfires. We already know that many meetings and important firefighter training sessions have been canceled, hiring of seasonals is affected, and little to no fuel management activities are being conducted to reduce the threats to private property in spite of criticism from the White House about inadequate forest management leading to large wildfires.

Stateline Fire
The Stateline Fire started March 8, 2018 in northeast New Mexico and burned into Colorado and Oklahoma. Photo credit: Albuquerque Fire Department.

Some of the more than than 10,000 wildland firefighters in those departments are still working but without pay. Others are furloughed, also without pay.

In addition to those dedicated firefighters, the “militia”, made up of non-fire federal employees who are certified to fight fire when needed, are furloughed. When large fires break out the militia is called upon to fill many of the operational and logistical roles necessary to manage and suppress a fire. Contractors are also called in to provide essential services on fires including fire crews, engines, dozers, water tenders, medics, air tankers, helicopters, generators, catering, and showers. It remains to be seen to what extent these important resources will be available while there is no federal budget for the two land management departments.

I have heard a few federal firefighters say they will not fight fire for free. Unpaid firefighters working in a job that in an average year kills dozens of them raises questions about liability, safety, workman’s compensation, availability of emergency medivac services, and medical care.

The federal agencies already attempt to fight fire on the cheap. With unpaid personnel and no funding, will that degrade even further?

Firefighters are dedicated professionals and routinely go above and beyond the call of duty to protect lives and property. Most of them love what they are doing but could make much more money in a conventional, less hazardous job. At the entry level in the federal government they only make a little more than minimum wage. Years later they may still be living paycheck to paycheck.  But when it can appear that they have been hung out to dry due to a petty political snit thousands of miles away in D.C., it may cause them to rethink what, if anything, they owe to the federal agency that is ordering them to work while not being paid.

Now that they all have missed a paycheck and next week will miss a second one, at some point they will have to make a choice about continuing to work for no money, or, to support themselves and their families — should they find another job that actually pays them to work, temporarily or for the long term.

Below is the Drought Monitor showing most areas in the western states in drought status ranging from Abnormally Dry to Exceptional Drought. The temperature and precipitation outlooks for February, March, and April predict higher than average temperatures in all of the western states for the next three months. These conditions, if proven accurate, could lead to higher than normal wildfire activity. But the actual conditions during that period, including wind speed, precipitation, and humidity, are also very important.

Drought Monitor
Drought Monitor
Temperature and precipitation outlook
Temperature and precipitation outlook for February through April, 2019.

California firefighter interviewed on NPR about shutdown

And, the time he was struck by lightning

Scott Gorman, the crew superintendent on a California hotshot crew, was interviewed on National Public Radio along with his wife Sarah Barnes. They talked about how the partial government shutdown is affecting their family, and the time that Mr. Gorman and three other firefighters were struck by lightning while working on the Noon Fire in Arizona in 2004.

The interview was posted by NPR on January 21, 2019.

Firefighters from NSW, Queensland, and New Zealand sent to assist with wildfires in Tasmania

wildfires in Tasmania satellite photo
Satellite photo of smoke from wildfires in Tasmania, January 21, 2019. The red dots represent heat detected by the satellite. NASA & Wildfire Today.

Wildfires that have been burning for weeks in Tasmania, the southernmost state in Australia, continue to spread and affect properties and air quality on the island. Some of the blazes in the central part of the state are burning in deep-seated organic soil, peat, and are likely to keep burning through the Australian summer.

Below is an excerpt from Radio New Zealand:

The fires have been burning since late December, in the Gell River area, after a heatwave and a period of lightning strikes and high winds. The fires were burning across 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) of mountainous terrain.

Haze from bushfire smoke is blanketing several Tasmanian towns, with hot and dry conditions across the state and more than 30 blazes already burning setting the scene for a nervous few days.

South of Hobart, air quality monitoring data measured smoke particles at 8.00am as being at elevated levels, with Geeveston at 35 times that of Hobart. Residents living in the Huon Valley, where smoke from the bushfire at Gell River has filled the sky, posted on social media that many had not seen conditions as bad, with some mentioning 1967 as the only year which came close – the year of Tasmania’s worst fire disaster.

On Facebook, George Henry Ross asked locals if they had ever seen so much smoke haze around the valley.

“I can’t remember a summer like it,” he said, with many agreeing.

Eric Bat said he had been chatting with a bloke who did remember a summer like it: 1967.

“We rather hoped things have improved since then.”

Reinforcements are being sent to Tasmania from New South Wales, Queensland, and New Zealand.

At least two large air tankers from the Australian mainland are helping out.

And personnel, as well…