Wildfire briefing, June 30, 2012

Court rules company must pay $18 million for 2002 Copper fire

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that a company must pay $18 million for “Intangible environmental damages” caused by the Copper fire that burned 20,000 acres in 2002, most of it within the Angeles National Forest in southern California. The company had not contested a previous jury award of $7.6 million for fire suppression costs, but they balked at the “intangible” damage.

USFS Director of Fire has an opinion about resource orders placed by Incident Commanders

The authors of an Associated Press article interviewed Tom Harbour, the U.S. Forest Service’s Director of Fire and Aviation Management, who talked about Incident Commanders not always receiving the type of resources they say they need. Here is an excerpt from the article:

…Despite some criticism, Harbour said the U.S. Forest Service has been working to position resources where they’re needed most.

There’s a difference between what incident commanders want and what they need to fight a fire effectively, he said. For example, a commander’s order for 10 hot shot crews — among the most elite firefighters — might be filled instead with a mix of hot shots and initial attack crews, which can be just as formidable but with less experience.

This is insulting to Incident Commanders who are out on the ground in the heat, smoke, and dust after having qualified for their position through 15 to 20 years of wildland fire experience. For someone in Washington or Boise who stares at a computer screen all day to decide what Incident Commanders out in the field REALLY need, is absurd.

Report: U.S. company buys 10 Russian air tankers

There is a flurry of chatter that a company in the United States has purchased 10 Russian-built air tankers. This is not exactly true. David Baskett, President of TTE International Inc.,  has said for years his plan is to purchase 10 BE-200 amphibious air tankers and then lease them to operators in the United States.

Mr. Baskett told Wildfire Today Friday that he “signed a contract to buy 10 planes to be delivered over a few years”. He did not specify if any money has actually changed hands, but until the FAA approves the aircraft to be used in this country, which may or may not happen any time soon, and until he has a contract from the U.S. Forest Service or another agency, which may or may not happen at all, it would be foolish to spend $300 to $400 million on Russian-built air tankers.

BE-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California
BE-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California, April, 2010. Photo courtesy of Michael Lynn.

But we have to give Mr. Baskett credit for pursuing his dream with vigor. He arranged for the expenses to be paid for two USFS employees to travel to Taganro, Russia the home base of the Beriev company, the manufacturer of the aircraft, to conduct the first phase of an air tanker evaluation using specs of the Interagency Air Tanker Board. Reportedly the result of that evaluation was mostly positive in relation to performing as a scooper air tanker, but not as a conventional retardant-carrying air tanker. The IATB requirements are very different for the two types. In the future it may also be qualified for retardant.

Mr. Baskett is in discussions with the USFS and the Bureau of Land Management about using the aircraft in this country, and is attempting to set up a test of the air tanker in the U.S. to compare its performance to other aircraft, including the military MAFFS C-130.

In April, 2010, Mr. Baskett brought a BE-200 to the United States to attempt to drum up some interest in the aircraft. It was on display at Santa Maria, California for a couple of days and made some demonstration drops.

The BE-200 can carry 3,000 gallons of retardant loaded at an airport, or water it scoops from a lake.

A question from a reader: can wildfires cause higher temperatures down stream?

Susan sent us this question:

Wow–great website. Very impressive!

That there’s a causal connection between hot, dry weather and wildfires is clear to me. What I am wondering about right now, though, is whether or not the reverse can be true. Colorado has several large fires going at once, right now, and coincidentally we have also had several days of record-breaking, 100+ degree days, including two in a row of 105 degrees in the Denver area. Is it possible that 800 degrees, spread out over a large area, could raise the ambient temperature by a degree or more?

I could not say either way, definitively, so I asked someone who is actually smart (unlike myself) — Janice Coen, Ph.D., a Project Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who conducts wildfire-related weather studies, among other topics. Here is her answer:

No, the fires are just too small compared to all that air. However, a big fire may affect the air temperature by the plume shading the ground from sun for hundreds of miles downstream. And affecting the cloud particles to reflect more sun.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

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.

11 thoughts on “Wildfire briefing, June 30, 2012”

  1. So what exactly are the qualifications and experience necessary to be in these director positions? Have they been IC s? Are they former tanker pilots or smoke jumpers? What qualifies them to lead? (genuine curiosity- no disrespect intended)

    1. Mr. Harbour has a great deal of wildland fire experience. A few others that are very high up in D.C. or at the Regional level, while they may or may not be good leaders and managers, have little or no fire experience. Opinions differ about the necessity of a person having wildland fire experience if they are running a fire program. I tend to think it is important, while some others say management skills trump fire experience.

      The wildland fire programs in the federal land management agencies are part of organizations that were created to do just that… manage land, manage wildlife, manage natural resources, and grow timber. There are advantages and disadvantages to having resource managers run an emergency service such as wildland fire suppression and management.

  2. There is a history of rat holing resources. Especially smokejumpers.

    On a related subject.

    The day the Biscuit Fire started ( 1 billion in supression cost) there were 77 smokejumpers available in the lower 48. None were dispatched.

    1. Biscut fire- you mean the murder of
      most of the Kalamiopsis Wilderness…?
      I was furious with the way that was handled…

  3. As I understand it, USFS is part of USDA, while BLM is in Dept. of Interior. Seems like there would be more efficiency if USFS were merged with BLM in Dept of Interior. Right now, we seem to have petty jealousies guiding the decisions on deployment of resources.

  4. Whenever a General has thought and acted the way TH has many of our finest were killed. Bill, I think you have been right on the money. And Anon sounds like a lot of people I have heard. I decided years ago to leave any room TH is speaking in. Pretty sad.

  5. Bill,

    Simple answer about Harbour and several other higher level fire management folks:

    They became SES (Senior Executive Service) employees. Their continued pay and yearly bonuses are directly tied to several mission items.

    If they don’t tow the party line, they can/will lose significant bonuses and are subject to non-punitive reassignment.

    When a manager goes from GS to SES/ES, they basically sell their soul for whatever administration is running the show.

  6. Tom Harbour should have retired 5 years ago after he lost his ability to properly represent the troops (AND THE ICs) in the field against the nonsense from the WO.

    Instead, his quest for a legacy sent him towards a goal of being the longest ever serving National Fire Director.

    Unfortunately, in many ways, his “legacy” will be remembered far differently by folks trying to implement his “visions”… (and I mean “visions”)… and how they have killed the Forest Service Fire Management Program over the last 5 years.

  7. Bill, you need temper you commentary to give the whole story. IC’s may need specific resources but when everyone needs the same thing and there is only so much of any resource then they rely on the sit reports from incidents to understand what the situation is and dole out resources based on the situation. This isnt someone purposly withholding resources based on what they “think” the IC needs.
    Commentary like this is what creates the wedges between the ground pounders and those helping to support them.

    1. I respect the opinion, Bryan, but see it another way. Mr. Harbour may be attempting to justify the number of Type 1 crews that are now funded nationwide, saying that there are plenty of them, and ICs don’t always need them, even though they request them. It’s possible that he’s toeing the party line, which is — the USFS and other land management agencies have plenty of funding for fire suppression, in spite of the budget reductions in recent years.


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