Top Wildland Fire News Stories: January-April, 2008

2008 was a busy year in wildland fire. Yesterday we posted a list of fatalities on wildland fires. Our next project was combing through the stories on Wildfire Today to sort out some of those that are the most interesting and important.

Today, December 30, we have the top stories for January-April; on December 31 we’ll cover May-August, and on January 1, September-December. Posted below are excerpts from the articles. To read the entire articles, click on the links.

January 8
Smoke From Escaped Rx Fire and/or Fog Contribute to 3 Deaths & 50-Car Pileup

According to reports, smoke from an escaped prescribed fire combined with fog contributed to a 50-car pileup and three deaths on Interstate 4 in Florida between Orlando and Tampa.

(Update: a 4th person later died as a result of this incident.)

January 16
Major Die-Off of Lodgepoles in WY and CO

The Rocky Mountain News reported this week that every large, mature forest of lodgepole pines in Colorado and southern Wyoming will be dead in three to five years.

January 19
U. S. Wildland Fire Fatality Report–2007

The Safety and Health Working Team, part of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, on January 15 released a “Safety Gram” listing the wildland fire related fatalities in 2007.

“Nine fatalities occurred in 2007 when employees were performing wildland fire management activities. This is a substantial decrease from the 24 fatalities that were reported in 2006. Also noteworthy is the absence of any entrapment or burnover related fatalities.

January 26
Another “Blue Ribbon Task Force” Makes Recommendations in California

The second Blue Ribbon Commission Task Force in California since the fires of 2003 presented it’s report yesterday about how to deal with large wildland fires in the state. The recommendations include more engines, more aircraft, more firefighters, fire safe construction, and better systems for real time communications and intelligence. Many of these were in the report following the 2003 fires but were not implemented because of the state’s fiscal problems.

January 28
Marc Mullenix passed away on January 28.

Last year Mark was a Type 1 Incident Commander trainee on Kim Martin’s Incident Management Team in the Rocky Mountain Geographic Area. Some of his past jobs included Wildland Fire Division Chief for the Boulder Fire Department, Fire Management Officer for Mesa Verde National Park, and Fairmont Fire Protection District, all in Colorado.

February 14
Report Released on 2007 Southern California Fires

The Lessons Learned Center organized a group of five people to analyze the fires in the fall of 2007 in Southern California to determine the potential for lessons learned. They just released their 44-page report. It is very interesting reading.

February 28
Mark Rey; Not Going To Jail
The U.S. District Court Judge cleared Mark Rey of the contempt charges yesterday. From the Missoulian:

“U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey walked out of federal court a free man Wednesday in Missoula, wearing not an orange inmate’s jumpsuit but the gray business suit with American flag lapel pin he had donned for his contempt hearing.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy cleared Rey, the Bush administration’s top forest official, and the Forest Service of contempt and withdrew his threat to jail Rey or ground all fire retardant air tankers until the agency evaluated the environmental impact of the chemical slurry.”

March 5
Kansas Firefighters Burned Over in Engine


Two McPherson firefighters are recovering after being burned when their firefighting brush truck was swept over by a grass fire Saturday southwest of McPherson.

Lt. Randall Willems and firefighter Josh Brewer were treated at the burn unit of Via Christi St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Wichita.

Brewer was treated for burns to his hand and face, and smoke inhalation. He was released from the hospital Sunday. Willems was treated for burns to his hands, arms and face and was released Monday morning, McPherson Fire Chief Dennis Thrower said.

March 6
Patrick Henning, RIP


Patrick Henning, a Fire Apprentice on the Trabuco RD – Cleveland NF, was killed in a single-vehicle accident last Friday evening (Feb. 29) on his way home from work. He was member of the El Cariso Hotshots this past season and currently worked on the district fuels crew. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Patrick’s family and friends during this difficult time. He will be missed !!!

March 10
Six People Die in Forest Fire on China

This initially was reported on March 3 by Reuters:
BEIJING, March 3 (Reuters) – Six villagers died in central China’s Hu
nan province as they tried
to battle a forest fire in an area ravaged by severe winter storms, state media said on Monday.

March 11
CalFire Proposes to Close 20 Fire Stations

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which now prefers being called CalFire, may have to close 20 fire stations due to a $50 million budget cut for the agency being ordered by the Governator.

March 18
Oklahoma State Trooper Burned on Grass Fire

Trooper Josh Tinsler, 23, was severely burned Friday while checking to see if there was anyone at home in a house that was threatened by a grass fire near Hollis, OK. While handling evacuation on the fire, the second-year trooper’s car became stuck while turning around and the car was overrun by the fire. His injuries included second- and third-degree burns on his face, chest, back and arms, including most of the right side of his body.

March 24
Poway, Calif., FF’s Were Ordered To Not Fight Fires

Firegeezer has a story about how during the large fires last October in southern California, Poway firefighters were ordered to withdraw from an area and then waited for 7 hours in a staging area while 23 homes in that community burned.

March 25
B-1 bomber may have started multiple fires

A B-1 bomber based at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, South Dakota, apparently started seven vegetation fires last Thursday. The flight crew declared an in-flight emergency and made an emergency landing at Ellsworth. Construction workers in the area reported seeing smoke and flames coming from the aircraft. The B-1 landed safely while Air Force and Box Elder fire departments put out the fires.

March 26
Farmer dies on a fire in Colorado

From 7 News in Denver, March 26:

ORCHARD, Colo. — A farmer trying to control a fire on his property died Wednesday afternoon when the tractor he was driving flipped into an irrigation ditch.

Morgan County Sheriff Jim Crone said the man was driving his tractor on top of a ditch to get ahead of the fire when the ground shifted or partially collapsed, causing the tractor to flip and roll on top of the farmer. The farmer was killed instantly.

March 28
Santiago fire AAR released

The Orange County Fire Authority has released their after action review on the October, 2007 Santiago fire, southeast of Los Angeles. The document is 138 pages long and 7.3 Mb. The fire burned 28,517 acres and destroyed 42 structures, including 14 homes, 4 commercial buildings, and 24 out buildings.

On a quick review, I did not see any earth-shaking revelations. There were some challenges with communications (i.e. 800 Mh vs. VHF systems) but have you ever seen an AAR for a large incident that did not mention problems with communications?

March 31

BIA cuts hot shot crews

Due to budget reductions within the 2008 Interior Appropriations budget, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is reducing their hot shot crews from nine to seven. Effective immediately, according to a memo dated March 19, the Mescalero Hot Shots of their Southwest Region, and the Bear Paw Hot Shots of their Rocky Mountain Region, are disbanded. A Reduction-in-Force, which means employees may be fired, is to begin within 10 days.

April 7
Illinois: prescribed fire training

I ran across a photo essay about what is apparently a rather informal prescribed fire by students at Knox College. Knox is in Galesburg, IL.

There are 11 photos on the web page that would be interesting to those who are used to having to follow certain, uh, policies, about safety and personal protective equipment. Here are a couple of the photos. You gotta love those safety glasses.
April 11
Garry Briese, new Regional Admin. for FEMA

Garry Briese was the Executive Director for the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) for 20 years until he resigned in February, 2007. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced this week that Briese has accepted a position as Regional Administrator for FEMA Region 8, which includes the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

April 12
Snowpack in western United States

The snowpack in most of the western United
States is average to much above average. The exceptions are southern Arizona and New Mexico. In the map below, the green, blue and purple colors are 90% to more than 180% of normal, while the orange and red colors are 69% to less than 25% of normal. (Click on the map to see an enlarged version.)

UPDATE, December 30
If you click on the map to enlarge it, you will see that most of the mountain areas in California had close to normal snow pack on April 1, 2008, with the exception of the central Sierras which was at 70-89% of normal. Just imagine what those thousands of dry lightning strikes on June 21-22 would have done if they had just experienced a dry winter.

April 22
Court of Appeals: backfire was “discretionary function”

On the Spade fire in 2000 in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula, Montana, firefighters ignited a backfire in order to keep the fire from jumping a highway and possibly entrapping firefighters on other fires and threatening other homes and property. In 2002, 114 families filed a $54 million lawsuit against the federal government claiming that the backfire burned their property and homes.

In a very important decision that will affect wildland firefighters, a Court of Appeals just affirmed a District Court judge’s opinion that the actions of the firefighters was within their “discretionary function”. More information is at The Missoulian.

April 28
Fire near Santa Anita, California
Today the Santa Anita fire near Sierra Madre, California, made some upslope runs and also spread to the southwest. As of 8:00 PM today (Monday) it was 538 acres and 21% contained.

April 29
Ellreese Daniels pleads guilty to two misdemeanors

At the federal district court today in Spokane, Washington, Ellreese Daniels plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of making false statements to investigators. The federal prosecutors dropped the four federal felony charges of involuntary manslaughter related to the deaths of the four firefighters on the Thirtymile fire near Winthrop, Washington in 2001.

In addition to the four involuntary manslaughter charges, Daniels had been charged with seven counts of making false statements to investigators, a federal misdemeanor.

Daniels could have faced as much as six years in prison for each of the four manslaughter charges. Now he faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for each of the two remaining misdemeanors, although the standard range is much less.

To be continued-
May through August stories will be in an article on December 31. The final installment of September through December stories will be posted on January 1.