Wildfire news, February 26, 2009

“102-square feet per minute”

A grass fire near Purcell, Oklahoma shut down Interstate 35 for a while and burned 40 to 60 acres before being stopped by firefighters from several fire departments.

We are not sure if Purcell Fire Chief Mike Clifton was quoted correctly, but the Purcell Register has him saying in an article that the blaze was moving at “102-square feet per minute”. That is the first time we have seen a statistic like that in a newspaper article.

Prepare, Stay and Defend, or Leave Early– the debate continues

As the knee-jerk reactions to the unfortunate deaths in the February 7 fires in Australia continue to surface, some actual scientists with specific knowledge of the subject have written an article, suggesting that the policy could work in some areas within the United States. You should read the entire article, but here is a brief excerpt:

“The key element of Australia’s policy is to train willing homeowners to protect their homes in an active wildfire,” said Scott Stephens, associate professor of fire science and co-director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Fire Research and Outreach. “What the Australian strategy does is actively engage and help homeowners to become part of the solution rather than just to need evacuation. However, it should be noted that some California communities are so vulnerable that a ‘prepare and leave early’ strategy may be the only option.”

The Australian approach also includes a more strategic land-use management policy in which decisions about new housing in areas vulnerable to wildfires are overseen at the state level, ensuring a more consistent standard for fire-resistant building codes and in urban development, the researchers said.

In contrast to Australia, the researchers said, fire agencies in California focus primarily on mandatory evacuations followed by fire suppression. Not only has this approach not reduced property loss, it could increase the risk for people if the evacuations are carried out at the last minute, the researchers argued.


The researchers also emphasized that homeowners in Australia go through an annual training program run by local fire agencies, and are provided with appropriate supplies such as hoses, radios and protective clothing.

“The Australian approach is different from what many call ‘shelter-in-place,’ an American concept stemming from other environmental hazards and connoting more passive action by residents,” said co-author Max Moritz, cooperative extension specialist in wildland fire and co-director with Stephens of the Center for Fire Research and Outreach. “There is active participation from the homeowners before and possibly during a fire. In the process, they become more aware of the risks of living in an urban-wildland interface, and both homes and people are better prepared to handle fires when they inevitably occur.”

The Australian wildfire management strategy, adopted after the country’s 1983 “Ash Wednesday” brushfires, is based upon the premise that it is often riskier to leave a home as a fire front approaches than to stay sheltered while actively defending it. In that 1983 fire, 75 people died and many more were injured, most while outside their homes trying to escape.

Australia closes schools, anticipating resurgent wildfires

Starting four days before the disastrous Black Saturday fires of February 7, authorities in Australia began warning residents about the forthcoming danger of extreme fire weather. They have been doing this again this week, expecting Friday February 27 to bring high temperatures (100 degrees F), strong winds, and lightning.

Nearly 200 government schools and 146 children’s centers will be closed on Friday. Three schools burned on February 7.

Mannford, Oklahoma firefighter laid to rest

About 200 firefighters and 40 fire trucks participated in a two-mile long procession to the cemetery as firefighter John Adams was honored in services in Mannford, Okla. Mr. Adams died on Feb. 20 after he suffered a heart attack while fighting a vegetation fire.

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