Wildfire news, April 10, 2009

Li’l Smokey doing well

The bear cub that was rescued in a fire in northern California by a CalFire firefighter last July is doing well after being released in the Klamath National Forest.  A radio signal from the bear’s radio collar was detected, showing that he awakened from hibernation and traveled about 4.5 miles from his den. The bear was released on February 6 after being treated for burned paws at the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care center.

bear cub
Li’l Smokey, soon after being rescued last summer.

Drought Outlook, April through June

drought outlook

Funeral for Wisconsin pilot will be Monday

The funeral for Heath Van Handel is scheduled for Monday at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran church in Neenah, Wisc.  Mr. Van Handel died when his air attack plane crashed while circling a fire near Cary, Wisconsin on Wednesday.   Donations in honor of Mr. Van Handel may be made payable to the “Heath Van Handel Family Fund”, c/o Trent Marty, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921.

The video below includes more information about the crash and an interview with Mr. Van Handel’s wife, Jenny Van Handel.

Texas: 3 deaths and many large fires

Three people died in north Texas fires on Thursday that were pushed by strong winds with very low humidities.  A television station, WFFA, reported that a former reporter for the station and his wife, Matt and Cathy Quinn, were killed when a fire burned through their property in Montague County (map). Cathy Quinn’s son, Chris, was being treated at the Parkland Memorial Hospital burn unit in Dallas and was in fair condition, according to the television station.

A third person was killed in a traffic collision in Wichita County caused by smoke related visibility.

Some of the fires in Texas include:

  • 5,000 acres near Electra close to the Oklahoma border, 2 large commercial buildings burned, 800 residents and a nursing home evacuated
  • 25,000 acres near Stoneburg, 10 to “several dozen” structures burned, depending on the report
  • 35,000 acres near Bowie
  • 20,000 acres near Bellevue, 12 structures burned
  • 4,000 acres east of Archer City, 3 homes burned
  • 3,000 acres in Stephens County, an apartment complex was threatened
  • 1,000 acres near Bangs, 1 home burned

Oklahoma fires

Firefighters battle fires on both sides of the street in Midwest City, OK

In Lincoln County, a firefighter suffered major burns and was being treated at an Oklahoma City hospital after a fire truck was overrun by flames. The firefighter is in stable condition.

The Oklahoma Department of Health reports 34 injuries across the state related to the fires. One severe injury is reported in Stephens County, where a motorist lost vehicular control on a smoke-covered road.

Friday morning firefighters are still working on a fire that has burned 5,000 acres west of Stillwater, about 30 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.

In Midwest City east of Oklahoma City, about 100 homes were damaged by a fire spread by winds that gusted to more than 50 mph.

Arson registry

From the LA Times:

As a federal prosecutor, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) struggled to tie an accused arsonist to a string of fires in the San Bernardino National Forest.

But then authorities stumbled across an old file showing that the man had set fires using the same modus operandi years earlier. Once the accused arsonist was confronted with the evidence, he pleaded guilty.

Today, Schiff uses the story to make the case for legislation that would set up a national system for tracking convicted arsonists, a program similar to the sex offenders registry.

Had such a system been in place when Schiff worked on the arson case — providing the names, addresses, fingerprints and photographs of arsonists and their methods for starting fires — “we may have been able to stop him before he committed several later fires,” the congressman said.

California: Santa Maria air tanker base downgraded

From the Santa Maria Times:

Changes in air-tanker operations at the Santa Maria Public Airport will seriously impair aerial firefighting efforts in the event of a major local wildfire, according to an official at Los Padres National Forest.

Two key tanker base positions — fixed-wing base manager and assistant fixed-wing base manager — were eliminated as part of a March 19 reorganization of Los Padres National Forest staff, according to Joe Duran, San Lucia District wilderness and trail manager, who is also president of the National Federation of Federal Employees Local 2023,

The former base manager, Sheryl Woods, has been reassigned, he said. The assistant position was vacant.

Additionally, the Santa Maria Air Attack Base has been downgraded from a full-service operation to a standby “call when needed” center.

The cuts were made because of budget concerns, he said.

Duran said he believes initial air attack responses to fires within Los Padres National Forest and other locations will be crippled in the early hours of a reported wildfire.

Without base management on site, the Forest Service will have to get qualified managers to staff the center within 24 hours of an activation call, Duran said.

John Heil, a Forest Service spokesman for the Pacific Southwest Region, said the changes were made for cost effectiveness and more efficiency.

A Cal Fire tanker base in Paso Robles is 15 minutes away by air from Santa Maria, he said, and that facility has been used to fuel aircraft while Santa Maria has been used to load retardant materials. A consolidation of operations at the Paso Robles facility is more ideal, he said.

Santa Maria was never a permanent host to tankers, and the base was set up as “experimental” rather than permanent, he said.

The Santa Maria base will not close, but will be used when it is needed, he added.

During the Zaca Fire in 2007, 1,700 flights took off from the airfield in just two and a half months. At the height of the Zaca Fire, 18 aircraft were at the airport.

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