U.S. and Canada send firefighters to Australia

A total of 42 firefighters from North America will be assisting with the suppression of bushfires

Canadian fire management personnel Australia
21 Canadian fire management personnel received a warm welcome at the Sydney airport December 5  from @NSWRFS, @AFACnews, and @canadadownunder. These personnel from Parks, ON, MB, SK, AB & BC, are expected to return to Canada in early January. CIFFC photo.

Australia has just moved into their summer, but firefighters in New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria have been dealing with exceptionally large numbers of massive bushfires for weeks.

Canada and the United States are each sending 21 firefighters down under to assist their Australian brothers and sisters.

The U.S. personnel will  be representing the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service. The employees are coming from Alaska, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, California, Oregon, Hawaii, and Virginia.

The U.S. firefighters departed from the San Francisco International
Airport on Thursday, December 5. The Canadians arrived in Sydney December 5.

This is the first time Canadian firefighters have been deployed to Australia under the Exchange of Wildland Fire Management Resources Agreement.

The last fire assistance between the U.S and Australia was in August of 2018 when 138 Australian and New Zealand wildfire management personnel worked in the U.S. for almost 30 days to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Northern California and the Northwest. The personnel from the Southern Hemisphere filled critical needs during the peak of the western fire season for mid-level fireline management, helicopter operations, and structure protection.

The last time the U.S sent firefighters to Australia was in 2010.

Technology may detect some power line faults before they ignite wildfires

A new system being tested seeks to provide continuous situational awareness of the condition of each circuit

Vegetation power line cause faults fires electrically
Vegetation can cause faults and fires electrically. Distribution Fault Anticipation can detect this type of vegetation fault before the dangerous situation escalates. (Texas A&M Engineering)

Technology recently developed can shut off the power to a broken overhead electrical line before it hits the ground, possibly avoiding the ignition of a disastrous wildfire. But not all of the numerous large fires started by power lines in California were caused by broken conductors. Often they originate from failing hardware, two wires blown by the wind briefly touching, or a tree limb coming in contact with a line. These situations do not always start a fire when they first occur, but over time can become more serious problems.

A team of Texas A&M researchers has developed a new technology that helps electrical providers find the cause of outages, and anticipate and predict some failures before outages occur. A few utility companies in Texas started using it a few years ago and tests in California by PG&E and Southern California Edison have just begun.

From Texas A&M:


When your power goes out, you probably assume that your utility provider has a monitoring system quickly telling them exactly where the problem is. After all, this is the era of smart technology and big data.

But the electric grid wasn’t designed or built in this era. Utility companies may know if there is an outage, but they likely don’t know exactly where or what the problem is until crews inspect it and find the problem. Utility providers are essentially blind to developing problems in the grid other than whether the power is on or off.

Not only is their ability to assess a current outage limited, they also have no way of identifying a problem that may not actually be causing an outage or anticipating where a problem may occur in the future. For example, a failing device could be sparking, creating a dangerous situation that nobody is aware of for days or weeks before it completely fails and causes an outage.

But, not anymore.

Applying concepts of pattern recognition and advanced signal processing to more than a decade of data, a team of Texas A&M University researchers has developed a new technology called Distribution Fault Anticipation (DFA).  It has the capability to not only help utility providers find the cause of outages, but to also anticipate and predict some failures before outages occur. (Their published research, Application of DFA Technology for Improved Reliability and Operations, was presented at the 2017 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Rural Electric Power Conference in Columbus, Ohio.)

“Power distribution system electrical signals include specific failure signatures, which tell a story — for instance whether potential faults and outages are about to occur,” said Dr. B. Don Russell, a power engineer and the Engineering Research Chair Professor and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M.

An entirely new technology
Simply put, they’ve been ‘listening’ to the electric grid for more than a decade to analyze signals and identify which ones indicate a potential problem. Conceptually, it is not much different from an auto mechanic who can hear a problem in an old engine and know exactly what is causing it. Practically, however, this is an entirely new technology.

“A practical benefit of using DFA is the ability to detect and repair arcing and misoperating devices that often cause wildfires. In a four-year study just completed at Texas A&M, it has been proven that many fires can be prevented with this technology,” Russell said.

The Texas A&M research team led by Russell includes Carl Benner, Jeff Wischkaemper and Karthick Manivannan. Their research, sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute, developed the DFA technology. It is an autonomous, distributed computing system that provides electric utility operators a continuous situational awareness of the condition of each circuit. The result is increased reliability of their network and reduced outages. It enables the utility operator to predict adverse power line conditions and events generally not detected by conventional technologies.

“DFA recognizes the impending failure mechanisms of most distribution hardware, often allowing operators to find and fix failing devices before catastrophic failure,” said Russell. “The devices report line events to a master station server, which provides access to reports from a fleet of DFA devices on circuits across the power system.”

An obvious example of the benefits from this technology is wildfire prevention. High winds can cause electric lines to contact, causing arcing on the line and damaging it, but not causing a complete outage. The sparks from these faults have been known to start wildfires, especially during dry conditions and often without the knowledge of utility personnel. Repeated contact can burn the line down. DFA has also helped utilities detect and locate tree branches making contact with power lines and causing faults, which can start fires directly or break a line and cause it to fall to the ground.

An example of this situation was the devastating fire of 2011 in Bastrop, Texas, where a true worst-case scenario unfolded when high winds and severe drought conditions caused the most damaging wildfire in Texas history. Many wildfires in the western United States last year were also linked to electric faults.

Russell explained that awareness of adverse events and conditions, even before they cause a failure, enables utility companies to take preventive action by performing repairs or condition-based maintenance. The DFA technology is a result of more than 15 years of continuous research collaboration, resulting in the only system of its kind.

“A practical benefit of using DFA is the ability to detect and repair arcing and misoperating devices that often cause wildfires,” said Russell. “In a four-year study just completed at Texas A&M, it has been proven that many fires can be prevented with this technology. Whether preventing wildfires or dangerous power lines on the ground, DFA is the new tool that improves reliability and safety.”

Industry tested
This technology is not just lab tested, it is field proven as well.

Robert Peterson, director of control center and emergency preparedness at Pedernales Electric Cooperative, the nation’s largest distribution electric cooperative, said DFA has been invaluable in providing information that is not available any other way.

“DFA has enabled us to identify potential issues like trees on lines, failing clamps, failing arrestors, etc. and resolve those issues before they create power interruptions,” he said. “In one case, we were able to pinpoint the location of a branch on an overhead line that could have become an ignition source for wildfire in a rural subdivision. We have also used the monitors to provide information allowing us to proactively address issues with capacitor switches in order to keep our power factor within regulatory prescribed limits. Overall, the technology has proven itself to the extent that our plans now include expanding their use to the rest of our distribution system.”

Dr. Comfort Manyame, senior manager of research and technical strategy, and Robert Taylor, engineering specialist, at Mid-South Synergy were also complimentary of the technology. Taylor said, “It makes me wonder what we did before DFA,” while Manyame said they are hoping to expand their use of DFA in the coming years.

“DFA has so far been the single most important operational technology we have implemented which has given us wins in the shortest amount of time,” Manyame said. “We want to multiply our DFA benefits and improve our overall system reliability and resilience by expanding our installation, possibly to our whole system, in the next few years.”

Thomas Ellis, manager of engineering at Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, said that their control center operators have used DFA information to accurately determine the cause and location of multiple faults, including a fault that affected just one single customer on a stretch of circuit with more than 160 miles of overhead line.

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European organization recruiting 15 fire-related PhD candidates

PyroLife will train a new generation of experts in integrated wildfire management

PhD candidates in Europe
Two of the 15 positions available for fire-related PhD candidates in Europe. Click to enlarge.

An organization in Europe is recruiting 15 PhD candidates who have wildfire-related  masters degrees. They will be part of the PyroLife Innovative Training Network (Marie Skłodowska-Curie) involved in integrated fire management.

Ten leading institutions will host and monitor the research done by the 15 individuals who are early-stage researchers. The interdisciplinary and intersectoral consortium spans across Northwest and Southern Europe and beyond, encompassing the key disciplines and actors in fire; from academia and research institutes to small and large businesses, advocacy, governance, and emergency management.

One of the announcements for the 15 positions has already closed, and the others will very soon. Here is a link to the individual announcements.

The project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, Innovative Training Networks.

The applicants will be based in various locations in Europe. Some of them will at times be in one or more of the following countries: Spain, Canada, France, Netherlands, Greece, United States, Poland, UK, Denmark, New Zealand, or Germany.

The positions may have unusual requirements concerning the location of the applicant. Here is an example:

PyroLife as a Marie Curie Action is a researcher mobility programme. You are therefore required to undertake transnational mobility in order to be eligible for recruitment. As such, you must not have resided or carried out your main activity (e.g. work, studies) in the country where you have been recruited for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately before the recruitment date.

Below is more information from the organization’s website:


Do you have a genuine interest in landscape fires and resilience? Are you up for an interdisciplinary challenge, looking and learning beyond your own field and assumptions? With an international team that is inclusive, collaborative, creative and open minded? Then we are looking for you!

The 2018 wildfire season was a glimpse of what to expect in the future: deadly mega-fires in Mediterranean regions and high fire activity in temperate and boreal areas outside the typical Spring fire season. We cannot solve this challenge with the old mono-disciplinary approach of fire suppression: there is a critical need to change fire management from fire resistance to landscape resilience: Living with Fire. This requires a new type of diverse experts, who not only understand fire, but who are also able to communicate risks, deal with uncertainty, and link scientific disciplines as well as science and practice.

The new Innovative Training Network PyroLife will train the new generation of interdisciplinary experts in integrated fire management, acknowledging that 1) knowledge transfer from southern Europe (and worldwide) to temperate Europe can support the new generation of experts; and 2) fire risk planning, communication and management can learn from cross-risk lessons including temperate European expertise in water management. In doing so, this project combines how the North solves community problems with the fire knowledge of the European South.

We are hiring 15 PhD candidates across Southern and Northwest Europe and across a range of scientific disciplines, from social sciences and policy to environmental sciences and engineering. We are looking for a diverse group of creative and open minded Early Stage Researchers who are able to link innovative science to society, and communicate with media, stakeholders, and policy makers.

These 15 positions are open at 6 universities, 2 research institutes, a foundation and a company across Southern and Northwest Europe. For an overview of all positions, please visit https://pyrolife.lessonsonfire.eu/

This PhD project will help formulate an effective temperate European Fire Danger rating system that is urgently needed to support the management of increased wildfire occurrence expected under changing climatic conditions.  The project will take a hydrological approach, predicting the moisture content of fuels (living and dead vegetation) at a range of spatial scales; from targeted high risk localised plots to temperate European regions. Fuel moisture predictions will be devised from the development of a low-cost wireless fuel moisture sensor network combined with remotely sensed water and vegetation data. Working with secondment partners, the impact of the refined temperate fuel moisture contents on fire behaviour and fire danger will be assessed at exemplar sites. The PhD project will be based at the University of Birmingham, UK, with secondments to both the University of Alberta, Canada, and to industry partners Tecnosylva, Spain.

Power company evaluating multiple failures on transmission towers as causes of large wildfires

jumper cable high voltage electrical transmission tower
File photo of a jumper cable on a high voltage electrical transmission tower.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) told a judge on November 29 that it is investigating whether there is a systemic problem with a piece of hardware on their high voltage electrical transmission towers that can start wildfires, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Investigators with PG&E and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection are looking at the possible failure of jumper cables on towers near the points of origin of two huge recent fires, the 2017 Camp Fire at Paradise, California and the Kincade Fire that started near the Geysers north of Santa Rosa October 23, 2019.

The Chronicle reported that “PG&E is also seeking more generally to determine whether there may be jumper cables that may be susceptible to failure for any reason in PG&E’s system,” the company told U.S. District Judge William Alsup.

It has been determined that PG&E equipment started the Camp Fire, but officially the cause of the Kincade fire is still under investigation.

On October 24 PG&E filed a required preliminary report with the California Public Utilities Commission that stated “at approximately (9:20 p.m.) on Oct. 23, PG&E became aware of a Transmission level outage on the Geysers No. 9 Lakeville 230kV line when the line relayed and did not reclose. At approximately (7:30 a.m.) on Oct. 24, a responding PG&E Troubleman patrolling the Geysers No. 9 Lakeville 230 kV line observed that CalFire had taped off the area around the base of transmission tower 001/006. On site CalFire personnel brought to the Troubleman’s attention what appeared to be a broken jumper on the same tower.”

Jumper cables are used on high voltage lines to route the wires around the metal tower so the electricity is not conducted into the structure. If a piece of hardware that supports the jumpers fails, the jumper wire breaks, or if it comes in contact with the steel tower, massive arcing will occur sending sparks and molten metal flying, which can ignite anything on the ground that is flammable.

The video below shows the ignition of the Kincade Fire on October 23 as seen in near infrared from a camera at Barham near Geyserville, California. Keep your eye on the bright light on the horizon left of center. It disappears at about 21:19:55 and 15 seconds later the fire can be seen growing rapidly.

Who has your back?

Football players and Vets help each other — maybe the program can be adapted for firefighters

Merging vets and players
Merging Vets & Players photo.

With the suicide rate of wildland firefighters being described as “astronomical” according to information developed by Nelda St. Clair of the Bureau of Land Management in 2017, we need to be situationally aware of any proven or innovative programs that can help mitigate the issues that lead firefighters to think that’s the only option they have.

Today I learned about a program designed to merge former professional football players with veterans of the military. The goal is to give them a new team to tackle the transition together. Called Merging Vets & Players, or MVP, it shows them they are NOT alone.

Fox Sports analyst Jay Glazer and Nate Boyer, retired NFL player and former Green Beret, created MVP in 2015 to address this important challenge.

So far MVP is active in four cities where once a week the former football players and military veterans meet for one hour and 45 minutes in gyms.

Here is how it is described:

The program starts with a 30-minute workout with a warrior to their left and right to get that familiar “burn” going again in them.

The magic of the MVP begins right after with The Huddle, an hour and fifteen minutes of peer-on-peer support, a group of badasses building up fellow badasses. It reminds us of our strength, even when it doesn’t seem clear.

Merging Vets & Players
Merging Vets & Players photo.

The Huddle is where they share their challenges in transition and offer each other support and resources. MVP coaches our vets and athletes to be PROUD OF THEIR SCARS, and to use what they experienced on the battlefield or football field to EMPOWER them through the transition. We don’t run from mental health challenges, we tackle it as a team.

Too many combat vets and former professional athletes think they are alone, MVP is here to show you’re not alone. Whether it’s combat camouflage or a sports jersey, our MVP members help each other find a new identity, — find greatness again — after the uniform comes off.

Wildland firefighters have some things in common with vets and professional football players. Wildland firefighters are tactical athletes, they are members of a team, they depend on each other for success and safety, what they do can be extremely mentally and physically difficult, they are often away from their friends and families, and there are times of the year when they suddenly transition to a much different life style away from their “team”.

Maybe the MVP program could be modified, merging vets with current or transitioned firefighters. Or, it could be just firefighters.

Take a look at the two-minute video that Fox aired on Thanksgiving before the football games.

I’d love to see a group of firefighters doing the “WHO’S GOT MY BACK” call and response.

Learn more about MVP at their website and Instagram.


Help is available for those feeling really depressed or suicidal.