Poll: Most significant wildfire stories of 2011

Vote on the most significant wildfire stories of 2011.

2011 was a busy wildfire year in some areas of the United States. In Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, it was  extremely busy, in fact several records were set for the largest fires in recorded history and number of acres burned.

DC10 dropping
Tanker-911, a DC 10 airtanker, drops retardant on the Wallow fire above Greer, AZ; the Del Rosa Hotshots wait in a safety zone and watch the drop, June 11, 2011. USFS photo by Kari Greer

As we did for 2009 and 2010, we are conducting a poll, allowing our readers to determine which were the most significant wildfire events of 2011. We sifted through the 641 articles we wrote in 2011 and compiled the list below which includes a short description of each of the nominated topics. Below the list is the poll. The line of duty fatalities are not listed. While they are very significant of course, we don’t want to try to rank them, one over the other.

By the way, you can still vote, if you have not already, in the 2009 and 2010 polls.

Nominations for the most significant wildfire stories of 2011

January 13: Director of college fire program arrested. Retired Chief Jerry Austin was arrested for stealing $500,000 from students in the Fire Technology progam at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, east of Los Angeles.

February 7: Bushfires in Western Australia burn 64 homes.

April 30: Georgia swamp fire burns 309,000 acres. Honey Prairie fire in Georgia starts, eventually burns 309,000 acres in Georgia and Florida. In the December 15, 2011 update on InciWeb it was listed at only 76% contained.

May 15: Northern Alberta fire burns 400+ homes. Fire burns 40% of the homes, over 400, in the northern Alberta town of Slave Lake.

May 29: Wallow fire largest in Arizona history. It burned 538,049 acres and destroyed 32 residences.

June 13: USFS management of the air tanker fleet. This has been an onging story for years but came close to making it into the mainstream on June 12 when the Washington Post wrote an article titled “Firefighting planes have perhaps been too long on job”. At that time there were 18 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. By late summer there were only 11, compared with 44 in 2002.

June 26: Las Conchas fire largest fire in New Mexico history. It burned 43,000 acres in the first 14 hours, ultimately blackened 156,593 acres, and burned 63 residences.

July 5: Nine USFS firefighters injured in crash. Nine U. S. Forest Service firefighters were injured when their crew carrier crashed in southern California

July 6: CAL FIRE budget cuts. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection suffered a $34 million budget reduction resulting in 730 fewer seasonal firefighters, reducing engine staffing from four to three, and cancelling the exclusive use contract with the DC-10 air tanker.

August 15: Aero Union closes their doors. Aero Union which owned 8 large P3 air tankers comprising 42% of the U.S. large air tanker fleet shut down after the U.S. Forest Service cancelled their contract saying certain required safety inspections were not completed. This left 11 large air tankers, down from 44 in 2002.

September 5: Fires in Texas. This was a year-long event due to drought, but especially notable were the fires on Labor Day weekend in Travis and Bastrop counties which burned over 1,600 homes.

September 12: Pagami Creek fire in Minnesota. After burning about 130 acres while being monitored for 12 days, the fire took off under strong winds and burned 92,000 acres, costing over $22.3 million to suppress.

October 5: Three engine burnovers on same day in South Dakota. On three separate fires on the same windy day, three engines and their crews were burned over by wildfires. At least four firefighters suffered burn injuries.

November 7: Santa Maria air tanker base to reopen. After almost 3 years of controversy and criticism over the 2009 closing of the Santa Maria air tanker base near Santa Barbara, California, the Forest Supervisor of the Los Padres National Forest decided to staff it again.

November 12: Congressman Rehberg drops suit against fire department. Facing an election for the U.S. Senate, congressman Denny Rehberg dropped his lawsuit against the Billings, MT fire department in which he sought monetary reimbursement for a wildfire that burned some undeveloped land owned by the congressman and his wife.

December 1: USFS to contract for 7 to 35 “next generation” air tankers. The U.S. Forest Service issued a request for proposals for “new generation air tankers”, saying they may contract for 7 to 35 turbine-powered large air tankers over the next several years.

Choose THREE 

Poll: what were the most significant wildfire stories of 2011?

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “Poll: Most significant wildfire stories of 2011”

  1. Our wildfire investigator conducted more wildfire investigations across the U.S for insurance companies, private individuals and utilities in 2011 than all the proceeding 11 years combined. And of course we are already off to a challenging year here in our home state of Colorado.

  2. Actually since working in the fire service there were alot more other topics discussed than what was being allowed to vote on.


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