Wildfire briefing July 19, 2013

Seven things to know about fire aviation

Check out the new article over at Fire Aviation about MAFFS, broken CV-580 nose gear, an update on next-gen air tankers, Neptune’s grid test, U.S. Forest Service C-27s, a shortage of lead planes, and an update on the 20,000-gallon 747 Supertanker

Senator Harry Reid talks about fighting fire “on the cheap”

It’s probably not likely that the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate reads Wildfire Today, but if he had he would have found that we have something in common, an aversion of trying to fight fire “on the cheap”. We have used that phrase many times, and Senator Harry Reid uttered the words Wednesday, according to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal in which he was discussing the Carpenter 1 fire just west of Las Vegas:

WASHINGTON — As firefighters head home from Southern Nevada, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid on Wednesday blamed “climate change” for the intense blaze that consumed nearly 28,000 acres and drove hundreds of residents from their homes around Mount Charleston this month.

Reid said the government should be spending “a lot more” on fire prevention, echoing elected officials who say the Forest Service should move more aggressively to remove brush and undergrowth that turn small fires into huge ones.

“The West is burning,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters in a meeting. “I could be wrong, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a fire in the Spring Mountains, Charleston range like we just had.

“Why are we having them? Because we have climate change. Things are different. The forests are drier, the winters are shorter, and we have these terrible fires all over the West.”

“This is terribly concerning,” Reid said. Dealing with fire “is something we can’t do on the cheap.”

“We have climate change. It’s here. You can’t deny it,” Reid went on. “Why do you think we are having all these fires?”

The thrill of covering a wildfire

Jay Calderon, a photographer for MyDesert.com, wrote an article in which he wrote, “Covering a wildfire is one of the more exhilarating things I get to do as a photojournalist.”

A premature and shallow examination of the Yarnell Hill Fire

I have mixed feelings about mentioning a report that has just been released about the Yarnell Hill Fire that killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. But, it is already being referenced in articles, so you may hear about it regardless.

An official investigation is going on now. After it is released we will have much more information about what did, or did not happen that resulted in the tragedy. In spite of the lack of details available, an organization called Pacific Biodiversity Institute wrote a 34-page document expressing the opinions of the authors, Peter H. Morrison and George Wooten. Mr. Morrison’s expertise, according to their web site, is in “conservation biology and ecology with additional expertise in GIS, botany, conservation planning and management”, while Mr. Wooten is described as a “botanist and website developer”.

Their report is shallow, relies on cliches, summarizes the fire behavior describing it multiple times by saying the fire “exploded”, does not understand the nuances of fighting fire or fire behavior, and reaches very detailed and specific conclusions about the vulnerability of hundreds of individual structures based solely on satellite imagery.

So even though they quoted our analysis of the facts about the weather that was recorded by a nearby weather station, and how that could have affected the fire behavior, we can’t recommend their report as authoritative.

Families of Granite Mountain 19 to receive large sums of money

The families of the firefighters that were killed on the Yarnell Hill fire could each receive payments of close to half a million dollars, according to an analysis by NBC News. They came to that conclusion after considering the donations that have been received, the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Programs for law enforcement and fire officers injured or killed in the line of duty, plus Workmen’s Compensation benefits. Hopefully this will do a lot toward taking care of the wives and surviving children.

Unusually high wildfire danger in Scotland

Due to very hot weather (for them) Scotland and other parts of the UK are experiencing many more wildfires than usual. Scotsman.com explains:

Devastating wildfires have ripped through parts of Scotland as the longest heatwave for seven years spread across Britain and forecasters warned temperatures could climb as high as 35C [95F].

Mountain blazes tore across the south Wales’ valleys while flames devastated swathes of Tentsmuir Forest in north east Fife, Scotland, last night, and London experienced its worst grass fires since 2006.

The spate of hot weather is believed to have caused up to 760 premature deaths already and weathermen today warned that the hottest day of the year is yet to come.

John Mayer’s Wildfire

I sometimes check out the hashtag #wildfire on twitter, but for the last few days it has been flooded with something about John Mayer and “Wildfire”. So finally I checked it out, and it’s the name of a new song which has the line “…You and me are catching on like a wildfire”. The video is below.

You may remember that a John Mayer concert in Livingston, Montana earlier this year raised more than $100,000 to help firefighters who battled the 2012 Pine Creek Fire that burned through the community of Pine Creek seven miles south of Livingston August 29, 2012.  He owns a home there but was not in the area when five homes and 8,500 acres burned.

So in my book, he gets a break when he sings about “Wildfire”.

Typos, let us know HERE. And, please keep in mind our commenting ground 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. Google+

12 thoughts on “Wildfire briefing July 19, 2013”

  1. Re: “A premature and shallow examination of the Yarnell Hill Fire”

    Fully agree!!

    They lost most credibility when I saw this sentence in the opening “Acknowledgements”:

    “This report draws on data provided to the public by the National Fire Information Center (NIFC), by GEOMAC and RAWS – all federal programs focused on providing timely information about wildfires.”

    NIFC = National Interagency Fire Center NOT National Fire Information Center.

    Definitely too early if the basics of acronyms and functions can’t be properly solidified by the “researchers” before the need of rapid “publication” of their “findings”.


    1. Regardless of the authors’ mistakes and the shallowness of portions of their report they have raised some serious questions concerning policies which we have established in order to manage land in the West and to address the wildland fire problems that we face.

      Their input is merely one source that have been prepared to garner exposure and attention close on the heels of the tragic event at Yarnell Hill. A much more exhaustive investigation is underway and it will reveal details which at present are not yet known to the public. This is the proper procedure of course. This early report, at least partially prompted by media requests, does provide insight and trends for that media. The media needs accurate and credible sources for their reporting and I think this report is just one of many such sources.

      Offhand I don’t agree with some of their findings, but I do appreciate that what they have offered in their report will raise questions which necessarily need to be answered. I also think Ms. Kolden, in her opinion piece in the ‘Washington Post’, presented concerns that most all of us share.

      Obviously there is plenty of room for disagreement in how we approach and navigate our way through solving our wildland fire problems, but for all of us who care we must realize that although we may approach the solution from widely different points of view we still share abundant common ground. And this is especially true when it comes to the safety of our brave wildland firefighters and everyone else involved including the general public and landowners.

      We should use these unfortunate episodes to explore our differences and then seek common ground where we can then put together meaningful policies with an emphasis on safety. Isn’t this the aim our fallen firefighters would have embraced? As a whole their admirable and honorable legacy clearly should illuminate our journey towards sensible and enduring solutions to our wildland fire problems.

  2. Nice to see some interest on the part of Mr. Reid. Too bad it took a fire in his home state to get him interested.

  3. Inappropriate and misled findings from non-fire professionals often lead to knee-jerk reactions from politicians, political appointees in charge of agencies, and the public as a whole who are entirely uneducated about wildfire suppression or fire science …… Those non-scientific and non-peer reviewed “research” items or published opinions in the media often cause more harm than good.

    The South Canyon and Thirty-Mile fires were great examples of STUPID POLICY and corrective actions being dictated by non-firefighters (Ologists, politicians, attorneys, etc) after a tragic event. In both of these examples, lessons learned were lost in favor of more checklists, blame, and misdirection away from the basics.

    In memory of the Granite Mtn. 19, WE OWE IT TO THEM TO NOT MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES again ..

    Getting tired of fighting the same battles over and over again…. and grieving the same losses year after year.


  4. “In memory of the Granite Mtn. 19, WE OWE IT TO THEM TO NOT MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES again .. ”

    Right on the mark ‘Ken’.

  5. One made the decision, three subordinates agreed, fifteen followed. Human error. We all know we react to slow for the fire behavior. It is not the DIVS fault, nor OPS, nor the IC,nor the govt, nor the president. Face the facts and quit trying to blame it on folks not involved.

    1. That’s one way to look at it. Not how I see it. Because one may produce success does not make one responsible for failure.

      The focus on what I think of as “the last hour” (not literally, but generally the time and events and persons and locations closest to the final efforts and failures) is a weak approach to reducing firefighting death and injury.

      In my view, “the last hour” and the tactics we use trying to avoid and survive it are NOT the key elements of firefighter safety.

      LCES, 18+, SA, trigger points, turndown, Risk Management, CRM, organizational culture, LUDA, et al. have just the same place as a shelter deployment — as last resort tools that firefighters and their immediate supervisors may use to puzzle an escape from a lethal predicament not of their creation.

      Sure, human error is the general cause of most firefighter deaths — but the cause is rarely the error of those who pay the highest price. Rather, exactly the DIVS and OPS who send them to the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong resources and the wrong assignment to support a safe outcome. The supervisors and trainers and senior agency officials who send them out with the wrong skills and the wrong attitudes to arm them against every error and oversight and inappropriate pressure. The media and the public and politicians at all levels who demand defense of the indefensible, and who celebrate the romance of tragedy while demeaning prudence and reason.

      And us. Firefighters who go along with the fictional construct that somehow those who died are entirely or mostly responsible for what happened to them. And that we are different.

      I think that continued emphasis on “the last hour” and possible flaws of low-level fireline personnel is the best way to assure that we needlessly kill wildland firefighters for another hundred years. Is there motivation to change?

      1. Very well said Mr. Groo!
        It is time for a change!
        Ending the “battle” metaphor and the “warrior” analogy would be a good place to start.

  6. You’re right ‘Rosie’. ‘Tyler Groo’ couldn’t have said it any better. Meaningful motivation must come from all levels in order to bring about necessary change(s).

  7. Well said , Rosie

    While all the years as I was swingin a Pulaski, running a shovel, at the business end of a shovel, and running around in a Bell 205 or Bell 206 product as a helitack or being transported…..

    All the while I was wearing a uniform for the US Army Reserve and Guard as a helo mech and traveling sometimes 4-6 hours to my drill weekend…

    I NEVER once equated my duty as a firefighter to that of ANYONE in uniform.

    Granted, it is like war. But it is all those in the LMA world that decided Staff rides, ICS, somewhat like military environment, “the proverbial USFS and USDOI chain of command without UCMJ powers or actions” are just a way to equate the firefighter to the levels of a soldier.

    There is a reason those new Vets work well in the LMA world of today’s hiring environment…..but I will tell you what…where they have been is a WHOLE lot different than resource protection.

    I agree in some terms.

    Nineteen perished due to some issues in the land management world, nor because the Prez and Congress sent them in harms way…….

    It is time for the LMA “battle” and “warrior” moniker that the LMA’s have decided for themselves in the last twenty years …to be toned welllllllll down.

    Time for the warrior mentality to battle themselves in new directions such as getting more productive in tight economies, stop trying to be “aviation warriors” dreaming of C27J’s and C130J’s and go clean up 30 to 60 years of Smokey Bear policy, warrior on the NEPA process to streamline it in 6 months or less, stop the crap about “responsible and safe retardants.”

    Time to be warrior and “soldier on” and enter into “battle” to reduce the numbers of policy and reams of paper, bandwith, and computer programs that should have been able to help those nineteen survive!!

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