Comparing the numbers of human and lightning caused wildfires

During a 21-year period 84 percent of the wildfires in the United States were caused by humans, but the ratio varies greatly across the country.

lighting human caused wildfires

A study published by the National Academy of Sciences looked at the causes of wildland fires, human vs. lightning, and their occurrence geographically and seasonally. The researchers analyzed 1.5 million fire occurrence records from 1992 to 2012.

I was interested in reading the paper after having been attracted to the compelling graphics comparing the numbers of fires caused by humans and lighting, ecoregion by ecoregion over time.

The research was conducted by Jennifer K. Balch, Bethany A. Bradley, John T. Abatzogloue, R. Chelsea Nagy, Emily J. Fusco, and Adam L. Mahood.

lighting human caused wildfires
Frequency distributions of wildfires by ecoregions, ordered by decreasing human dominance. Click to enlarge.

You might have noticed a large short-lived spike in the number of human caused fires in several of the ecoregions around June-July. That represents ignitions caused by fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Below is an excerpt from the research:

“In conclusion, we demonstrate the remarkable influence that humans have on modern United States wildfire regimes through changes in the spatial and seasonal distribution of ignitions. Although considerable fire research in the United States has rightly focused on increased fire activity (e.g., larger fires and more area burned) because of climate change, we demonstrate that the expanded fire niche as a result of human-related ignitions is equally profound. Moreover, the convergence of warming trends and expanded ignition pressure from people is increasing the number of large human-caused wildfires. Currently, humans are extending the fire niche into conditions that are less conducive to fire activity, including regions and seasons with wetter fuels and higher biomass.

“Land-use practices, such as clearing and logging, may also be creating an abundance of drier fuels, potentially leading to larger fires even under historically wetter conditions. Additionally, projected climate warming is expected to lower fuel moisture and create more frequent weather conditions conducive to fire ignition and spread, and earlier springs attributed to climate change are leading to accelerated phenology. Although plant physiological responses to rising CO2 may reduce some drought stress, climate change will likely lead to faster desiccation of fuels and increased risk in areas where human ignitions are prevalent.”

(end of excerpt)

You can download the paper HERE (it is a large 13 Mb file).

Winners announced for contest to build deployable device to monitor wildfire smoke

Wildland fires produce significant air pollution, posing health risks to first responders, residents in nearby areas, and downwind communities.

The existing air quality monitoring hardware is large, cumbersome, and expensive, thereby limiting the number of monitoring stations and the data that is available to help officials provide appropriate strategies to minimize smoke exposure. They can’t be easily moved to the latest areas that are being affected by wildfire smoke.

Last year the Environmental Protection Agency in association with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and other agencies issued a Wildland Fire Sensors Challenge to spur the development of a transportable device that could measure some of the byproducts of combustion produced by vegetation fires. They offered prizes for the first and second place entries of $35,000 and $25,000.

The goal was a field-ready prototype system that could be set up near a fire that was capable of measuring constituents of smoke, including particulates, carbon monoxide, ozone, and carbon dioxide over the wide range of levels expected during wildland fires. It was to be accurate, light-weight, easy to operate, and capable of wireless data transmission, so that first responders and nearby communities have access to timely information about local air quality conditions during wildland fire events.

The winners have been announced:

Sensor Challenge Winners

Jason Gu of SenSevere/Sensit, a co-developer of the first place winning system, said they have a number of units in the field now being tested under real world conditions. They also want to install them near existing air quality monitoring stations to ensure that the data from the new design is comparable to data from the old-school stationary equipment that has been used for decades. When they are satisfied with the results, manufacturing will be the next step.

smoke monitor air quality sensors

The SenSevere/Sensit unit has a battery that can last for three weeks but will have a solar panel to keep it charged. The device can transmit the data via a cellular connection or a radio. All of the sensors are made by SenSevere/Sensit. Their smoke sensor uses a blower that pulls air through a filter which removes the larger particles, and then a light beam detects the remaining very small PM2.5 particles, the ones that can be ingested deep inside a person’s lungs.

The video below has more information.

Roosevelt Fire in western Wyoming grows to over 31,000 acres

One structure burned Wednesday night

(UPDATED at 4:31 MDT Sept. 29, 2018)

The 31,681-acre Roosevelt fire continued to burn aggressively into Wednesday night 30 miles south of Jackson, Wyoming. Most of the growth was on the south and east sides according to mapping conducted during the night. The fire is three miles from Highway 191 and six miles south of Bondurant.

Windy conditions Wednesday afternoon resulted in  numerous crown fire runs and occasional extreme rates of spread and flame lengths. One structure burned Wednesday night, but it was not specified if it was an outbuilding or residence.

map Roosevelt Fire Wyoming
The red line was the perimeter of the Roosevelt Fire at 10:30 p.m. MDT September 19, 2018. The white line was the perimeter about 24 hours before. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:40 a.m. MDT September 20.

Additional resources continue to arrive to assist the existing 259 personnel already on scene.

To see the all of the articles about the Roosevelt Fire on Wildfire Today, including the most recent, click HERE.

A Red Flag Warning is in effect Wednesday for relative humidity below 15 percent and afternoon winds from the west at 15 mph, gusting to 25 mph.

A update issued by the Incident Management Team September 20 stated “no injuries have occurred”. However on September 16 the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported that two civilians were seriously injured:

…They were caught in the area and forced to retreat into a creek. They were transported to St. John’s Medical Center, and as of Sunday night were being transferred to a burn center in Salt Lake City, according to a press release [Denise] Germann sent.

Ms. Germann was providing information about the fire for Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

When asked about injuries on the fire, Lorisa, a spokesperson for the Roosevelt Fire, said they are only reporting injuries that have occurred since the Incident Management Team presently in charge has been at the fire.

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

Most of U.S. predicted to have above normal temperatures the rest of the year

temperature precipitation outlook

Today the National Weather service issued their long range temperature and precipitation outlooks for October through December. If their forecast is correct almost all of the United States is likely to have higher than normal temperatures the rest of this year. The precipitation outlook is more varied, with the Northwest expecting below normal amounts, while the Southwest, Southern Plains, the Gulf Coast and East Coast should receive above normal precip.


Four senators urge federal officials to publish fire training materials in Spanish

Incident Response Pocket GuideOn Tuesday four U.S. Senators signed a letter urging federal officials to resume publication of wildfire training materials in Spanish as well as English.

The letter from Senators Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley, Dianne Feinstein, and Kamala Harris follows a report that the National Wildfire Coordinating Group no longer publishes training materials in Spanish for wildland fire crews.

“Given that a significant number of these brave wildland fire crews speak Spanish as their native language, it would be wiser and safer to provide bilingual training materials,” the senators wrote in their letter to National Wildfire Coordinating Group Chairman Garth Fisher. “The alternative is to risk danger and harm by requiring that all firefighters rapidly attempt to understand training materials that are only available in English.”

The senators urged the NWCG to begin producing bilingual versions of key manuals like the Incident Response Pocket Guide.

“Firefighters must be provided with clearly understandable, updated training materials so that they can operate safely and respond to wildfires expeditiously and efficiently,” the senators wrote.


USPS honors first responders with a stamp

First Responders Stamp
First Responders Stamp

The U.S. Postal Service went to the Aerial Fire Depot and Smokejumper Center in Missoula, MT on September 13 for the first-day-of-issue ceremony for a stamp that honors first responders.

“Our nation’s first responders rush into life-threatening situations for the benefit of others,” said Guy Cottrell, the Postal Inspection Service’s Chief Postal Inspector and dedicating official. “The Postal Service is pleased to honor their skill, dedication and unfailing bravery with this stamp.”

Artist Brian Stauffer worked with art director and designer Antonio Alcalá and designer Ricky Altizer to create this stamp. As a contributing artist to The New York TimesTime magazine, The New Yorker and other publications worldwide, Stauffer’s illustrations are best known for bridging traditional and digital realms to create a conceptual take on social issues.

Our take:

It is wonderful that the Postal Service is honoring first responders. They don’t receive enough credit and recognition. Congrats, USPS. However, I doubt if the Postal Service personnel saw anyone at the smokejumper base outfitted like the folks on the stamp.

By the way if you have not bought any stamps lately, these babies will set you back $0.50.