Wildfire briefing, November 16, 2012

Orion signal flare

Pennsylvania Firefighter sentenced for arson crimes

A 21-year old former volunteer firefighter pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to commit arson after igniting a wildfire in July 2010 in Northampton County. Cory A. Praschyk suffers from anxiety and depression and has been diagnosed as a pyromaniac, according to a psychological evaluation completed prior to sentencing. He is already serving time for arson in Lehigh County. The new sentence for the Northampton County offense is one to 12 months in county prison to run concurrently with his Lehigh County sentence, which will conclude in about three months.

Kentucky man dies suppressing debris fire

Robert Childress, 64-years old, died in a Lexington hospital from smoke inhalation and burns over 95 percent of his body after he was found by a Kentucky Division of Forestry fire crew that arrived to suppress a vegetation fire reported by an aircraft. According to a report at Kentucky.com, Mr. Childress was apparently attempting to put out a fire that was called a debris burn by officials.

California fire crew accused of drug use and murder threats

Television station 17 KGET in central California has an article about their investigation into what appears to be serious problems last summer within the Rincon hand crew, a Sequoia National Forest Type 2 crew based out of Kernville, California. Here is how it begins:

Fire crew members say drug and alcohol abuse, fighting, and even murder threats were just some of the reasons a Forest Service fire crew was grounded over the summer. Those allegations came to light after a four-month investigation by 17 News.

We received hundreds of pages of previously secret government documents. 17’s Rob Martin broke the first story in June and has been digging ever since.

Rincon, a National Forest Service, Type 2 fire crew based in Kernville, was grounded for months this summer.

Rincon was rife with salacious allegations, including years of drug use on the team. It’s something the Forest Service refused to talk to us about, so we did the story without them.

Koalas injured in large vegetation fire in South Australia

Animal hospitals are caring for koalas that were injured in a massive brush fire in South Australia.

(the video is no longer available)

Summary of this year’s wildfires in the west

Bill Croke has written an interesting article at Spectator.org that nicely summarizes the wildfire season in the western United States. Here are some excerpts:

…There were notable named conflagrations in Colorado such as High Park near Denver and Waldo Canyon near Colorado Springs, and in Idaho (Hallstead near Stanley; Mustang near Salmon; Trinity Ridge near Boise). New Mexico saw the Whitewater-Baldy Fire on the Gila National Forest, at 465 square miles (297,000 acres) the largest in state history. The Waldo Canyon Fire took the grand prize for structures burned with 347. A hot, dry summer coupled with ongoing conditions of heavy fuel loads in pine beetle-infested forests (thanks to past fire suppression and little timber harvest on federal land) has brought us record fire seasons in the West for the last two decades.

According to a story in Montana’s Missoulian newspaper, recent seasons have seen a sevenfold increase in fires greater than 10,000 acres as compared to the 1970s, and five times more fires larger than 25,000 acres. Current seasons are an average of 75 days longer. Is this last the result of the factors noted above, or those factors and climate change proceeding in tandem? So goes the endless argument on the public lands in the West.


A young woman named Anne Veseth, 20, a U.S. Forest Service firefighter, was killed when a burning tree fell on her in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest. She joined seven fellow firefighters (mostly air tanker crew members) who died in the field this year. In June a plane crash on a fire in Utah took the lives of two Idaho men, Todd Tompkins and Ronnie Chambers. Another crash in South Dakota this summer killed four, as a donated North Carolina Air National Guard C-130 went down. This brings to twenty the number of aircraft related fatalities recorded since 1987. An aging fleet of air tankers has become a chronic problem.

Fusees redesigned

Orion signal flare
Orion signal flare/fire starter. Photo by Orion

The Orion company is one of the companies that manufacture “fusees”, hand-held torches that wildland firefighters use to ignite prescribed fires, backfires, and burn outs. Now Orion is producing a modified version of the fusee that is designed to be a “signal flare/fire starter”.

It is much smaller than a fusee and does not have a handle. Apparently the entire device will burn up, so if someone is using it for signaling, they are cautioned to place it on the ground in an area where it will not start a wildfire. However, it can also be used to start a campfire while it burns for five minutes at over 3,400 degrees.

The standard fusee used by wildland firefighters. Photo by Orion.


Thanks go out to Dick

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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.