Red flags, prescribed fires, and cannon fire

Red flag warnings 4-6-2012
Red flag warnings April 6, 2012

The map for April 6 shows Red Flag Warnings covering large areas of the United States. And again, the map shows the warnings-constrained-by-state-boundaries-syndrome. This makes a person wonder if the forecasters on one side of the state boundary were too aggressive with their warning, or if the folks across the border were too timid, or it simply didn’t occur to them to post a warning. Or none of the above.

Check out the map below showing the locations of spot weather forecasts.If you go to the National Weather Service web site and click on one of the large flame icons, you’ll see that most of them are for prescribed fires —  few are for wildfires. And almost all of the prescribed fires are less than 100 acres.

Spot weather forecasts 4-6-2012
Spot weather forecasts April 6, 2012

Two spot weather forecasts are for locations in the Pacific Ocean. One was for a prescribed fire near Coburn, North Dakota, and the other one, in the Gulf of Alaska, was requested by the Coast Guard. I’m thinking that the latter is for the incident involving the derelict ghost ship Ryou-Un that was set adrift during last year’s tsunami in Japan. The Coast Guard decided to use a cannon on one of their cutters to blast holes in the ship and sink it rather than risk the chance of it running aground or endangering other vessels in the busy shipping lanes between North America and Asia.

Spot weather forecasts, Pacific Ocean 4-6-2012

From the photo below, it appears that the ship took quite a few cannon rounds from the Coast Guard cutter.

Coast Guard sinks ship
The Ryou-Un is set afire after being hit by the cannon from a Coast Guard cutter. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard
Coast Guard sinks ship
Photo by Petty Officer 2Nd Class Charly Hengen, U.S. Coast Guard


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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 “Red flags, prescribed fires, and cannon fire”

  1. Based on this past 2 weeks and folks “touching one off” for the benefits of land clearing. It’s an unfortunate set of events for CSFS.

    But I am on the NWS and the weatherman’s side of this being a pilot..Anyone (other than pilots) flown a C172 or C182 25 to 50 miles out from thunderstorm outflow winds and having to adjust your course via pilotage and getting on the proverbial FAA Flight Watch frequencies?

    Bet not! OR maybe so..

    If I was a weatherman and giving spot WX forecasts, in today’s litigious (sp) society and seeing what has happened in the last 10 -12 years in Rx fire, and whether or not you have 30 yrs seasoned vets running these things, you can sure that I am going to put up a Red Flag Warning 50 to 100 miles either side of a line.

    I learned being a pilot, studying the WX, flying the WX whether in a fixed or rotary wing aircraft, AND taking S190/S390 series courses…..I learned one thing….when it comes to weather….there are NO EXPERTS as some think here.

    If you are “touching one off” based on February’s snow depths and not on today’s temps, RH, winds, and existing Red Flag Warnings that have existed now for the last 6 weeks in various parts of the country, and just itching to get the drip torch out….this year MAY have some smarter folks thinkin…

    Land clearing with fire with the last 6 weeks worth of winds and warning? You can bet, as a weatherman, I am “gonna” puts some parameters out there, “cuz” I KNOW there are folks out there wanting fire as opposed to mechanical means of fuels reduction.

    I am thinking there is “verwy verwy verwy” good reason for this (as Elmer fudd would say) putting up and standing by those “borders.”

    Biggest reason being….investigations that proceed after a Rx fire gone awry.

    Being a pilot and an amateur WX man, and a former practicing firefighter and degreed forester….I am on the local NWS and WFO side on this no matter the goals of ANY agency and there ability to think they are outsmarting nature due to perceived goals.

    Alternative means such as mechanical…after this CO fire….. and the bills that about to come due. ..You have already paid for this approx 4000 acre fire and then some for 35 acres…bet on it!!

  2. Lines have to be drawn somewhere… whether state lines, county lines, WFO boundaries, or city limits etc…

    The lines never make sense, so the folks on either side of the “line” should be aware of heightened fire weather concerns for their area.

  3. Some of the issue may be that the Red Flag Criteria is different among the NWS offices. Each of the three offices that cover South Dakota have different RH criteria! Some of it could be state/local agencies requesting that Red Flags be issued for close/marginal events even though it does not meet the established criteria. Looking at the map above, the same forecaster is responsible for southeast South Dakota and southwest Minnesota, so it may be a state/local request for something different.


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