Wildfire news, February 18, 2009

Australian death toll unlikely to rise much more

In spite of warnings earlier that the death toll in the Australian fires, now at 201, could go as high as 300, Deputy Commissioner Keiran Walshe said yesterday “At this point in time we are relatively comfortable all those unaccounted for have now been accounted for – their remains have been located”.

Tea fire: Ten people charged

Tea fire

Ten people have been charged with misdemeanors as a result of a three month investigation of the November 13 Tea fire that burned 2,000 acres and destroyed 230 homes in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, California. Each of the ten will be charged with two counts, of 1) trespassing and building a campfire and 2) failure to obtain a permit required for a campfire.

The ten individuals are Mohammed Alessam, Joshua Grant Decker-Trinidad, Hope Sjohnet Dunlap, Fahad Al-Fadhel, Hashim Ali Hassan, Casey James Lamonte, Natalie Rose Maese, Carver William McLellan, Stephen Reid and Lauren Elizabeth Vazquez. Nine of the ten were students at Santa Barbara City College in the fall of 2008.

The investigators could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the actions of the ten people directly resulted in the wildfire.

Noozhawk has more details.

Wildland firefighters explain digital pen to Business Week

You may have heard about the “digital pen” that can quickly and easily make notations and additions to paper maps. The new data can then be uploaded from the pen to a Geographic Information System. The new information will instantly appear in the GIS file and new updated paper maps can then be printed or the file emailed.

Firefighters, especially field observers, could use this for marking fire perimeters, constructed fireline, water sources, staging areas, safety zones, and dozens of other features.

Capturx pen firefighters
Photo: Business Week

Business Week, of all publications, has an article about this device, the Capturx digital pen from Adapx, as part of a series of articles called My Favorite Tech at Work. Michael Hoose, a firefighter with the Santa Barbara Fire Department, is shown as an example of how the pen can be used in the field.

There is also an excellent video (no longer available) that demonstrates how it can be used. I could not help but notice the spontaneous applause from the audience after the information stored in the pen appeared on the computer screen seconds after placing it in the little docking station.


UPDATE, Feb. 19, 2009

Michael Hoose, in the picture above, is all over the place. He wrote an article about another high-tech device which appeared in the January/February edition of Wildfire magazine that just arrived in my mailbox.

This time it is about a system called Fire Location and Incident Reporting, or FLAIR. To use the system you need, according to the article, a Ricoh 500SE camera and a “PDA” which can access the internet via a cell phone modem. The camera has a GPS and a compass and can geotag each image with the location and the direction in which the camera is pointing. The image and data can then be sent wirelessly via Bluetooth to the PDA where it can then be sent to a server which can be accessed by the personnel at the Incident Command Post.

The images, or icons representing them, can then be displayed on a Google or GIS map. Clicking an icon on the map will pop-up the image along with any notes entered by the photographer.

This could be a good way for fire or emergency managers to maintain better situational awareness.

Carrying the two pieces of electronic equipment along with a radio and other fireline neccessities could be a bit cumbersome. Garmin has already introduced and will selling sometime this year two versions of their “Nuvifone”, the M20 and G60, which combine a full-blown GPS with a smart phone and a three megapixel camera which will automatically geotag images. So you could take the geo-tagged image and e-mail it all within the same piece of equipment.

Pop-up brush fires?

An article in the Citrus Daily in Florida has the following headline:

Pop-up brush fires plague many areas of county on Wednesday

Is that what the kids are calling them these days? The article goes on to say:

Citrus County firefighters spent a busy Wednesday running around the county extinguishing brush fires.

They put out at least eight fires, most of which were less than an acre. The largest, near Floral City, was three to five acres. A large shed burned down in one fire in Lecanto.

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