New wildfire alert system cuts down warning times

Oklahoma is the testing ground for a new wildfire system that uses local National Weather Service (NWS) forecast offices to quicken alerts sent to nearby communities.

The alert system software, called “Wildfire Analyst,” was created by wildfire technology company Technosylva. Its promising results were backed up at a recent U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology hearing.

Oklahoma State Forester Mark Goeller explained the system to representatives while testifying at the hearing. He said the software, using NWS data and local emergency management warning systems, significantly reduces fire warning times by predicting a wildfire’s potential spread from the ignition point.

“The fire warning was issued in just six minutes on a recent wildfire occurring in a heavily populated wildland/urban interface area in the Oklahoma City metro,” Goeller said. “Oklahoma is the first state in the nation to use this system. Using our legacy process, it often required approximately 90 minutes to issue the fire warning.”

The Wildfire Analyst software has three core applications, according to Technosylva. The software’s “FireSim” application was the main tool Goeller referred to during the hearing. The application generates real-time fire spread predictions and supports wildfire planning through “what if” scenarios. The software’s other two applications, “FireRisk” and “FireSight,” predict wildfire risk days through forecasts and calculate risk reduction, respectively.

The state’s goal to overhaul its wildfire alert system started after its 2005-06 season when numerous fires burned in Texas and Oklahoma, Goeller said during the hearing. The fires resulted from prolonged drought and strong winds and killed 25 people and 5,000 head of cattle — and destroyed hundreds of homes, according to the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center.

Soon after that catastrophic season, the “Southern Great Plains Wildfire Outbreak Group” came together, including members of the Oklahoma Forestry Services, Texas Forest Service, and National Weather Service forecast offices. The partnership spawned from that group eventually led officials to look specifically at how weather dynamics did and could affect the states’ wildfire response.

“The things that I would emphasize as the lessons learned are for other states’ forestry agencies and local emergency management agencies to get to really working closely with their National Weather Service forecast offices,” Goeller said. “Look at the model we apply in Oklahoma, look at the process we went through … the research that went into what affects our weather systems would absolutely be employable in other places.”

Oklahoma is the testing ground for a new wildfire system that uses local National Weather Service (NWS) forecast offices to quicken alerts sent to nearby communities.

The alert system software, called “Wildfire Analyst,” was created by wildfire technology company Technosylva. Its promising results were backed up at a recent U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology hearing.

Fire is a lost tradition in Missouri but this council is reigniting the practice

French Jesuit priest Louis Vivier in 1750 described what 70 years later became the state of Missouri, and in his writings he told of Native Americans there setting fires to the prairies. “The trees are almost as thinly scattered as in our public promenades,” he wrote, and “the Savages set fire to the prairies toward the end of the autumn, when the grass is dry; the fire spreads everywhere and destroys most of the young trees.”
Vivier was right about fire being a frequent occurrence in Missouri, as reported in a feature story on KSDK.com. Midwest tribes had been purposely setting fire to the grasslands and prairies for centuries. They recognized the essential role fire played in the prairie ecosystem, and that knowledge, and the practice of managed burns, is being rekindled by the Missouri Prescribed Fire Council, a coalition of landowners and experts attempting to bring the state’s grasslands back to their once-thriving status.
PHOTO: Missouri Prescribed Fire Council

These practices have been recorded nationwide as the philosophy of fire as medicine, according to the National Park Service.

European colonists’ response to the tradition of cultural burning was the implementation of a century-long fire suppression regime. Missouri’s disappearing prairies in part have the resultant lack of fire to blame. Unregulated tree growth, known as woody plant encroachment into tallgrass prairie environments, has progressed throughout the Midwest as areas of saplings develop without needed periodic fire.

Missouri’s Ozark region, for instance, has existed in the “not enough fire” category for much of recent history, causing a drop in biodiversity and the domination of the landscape by oak, hickory, and cedar trees, according to the University of Washington and others.

The Missouri Prescribed Fire Council, though, is trying to reverse that suppression regime and reintroduce managed burns back into the state for the health of its natural environment.

“Almost all of Missouri’s natural plant communities have adapted with fire,” said Wes Buchheit, councilmember and prescribed fire coordinator biologist with Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever. “Fire is a natural tool and prescribed fire is mimicking that natural process in a more controlled setting … you can benefit a lot of different species, plant and animal, with prescribed fire.”

About 93 percent of Missouri’s 44.6 million acres is privately owned, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. The lack of public land means any substantive prescribed burning must come through community collaboration. In response to multiple recent historic wildfire seasons, a movement of Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs) has grown nationwide. Many RxFire efforts are led by federal agencies, but these PBAs are instead a collaboration among landowners. The Missouri Prescribed Fire Council is part of that growing movement, and because wildfires haven’t been a prevalent issue for Missourians, private landowners in the state haven’t been as hesitant to participate in prescribed burning as other wildfire-prone states.

Prescribed fires have burned tens of thousands of acres in 95 of Missouri’s 114 counties between 2020 and 2022, council data showed. Of those, just over 1 percent have escaped control, and most burned just 0.1 acres or less, which is on par with national averages. “The only time that folks ever heard about prescribed fire is when there’s an ‘oops,'” says Council Chair Mark Howell. “They don’t hear about the other almost 99 percent of the time that things go perfectly well.”

Credit: Missouri Prescribed Fire Council

Spruce Creek Fire burning near Haycamp, Colorado

Spruce Creek Fire from the lookout 05/20 -- ©2024 Rick Freimuth
Spruce Creek Fire from the lookout 05/20 — ©2024 Rick Freimuth

The Spruce Creek Fire took off on May 14 and is burning on  the San Juan National Forest northeast of Dolores, Colorado. The fire’s inside a network of FS roads within an established RxFire burn unit.

Two hotshot crews, two wildland fire modules, and an engine and crew are staffing the fire, along with a Type 3 incident management team.

Lightning ignited the fire Tuesday, and it had burned about 10 acres northeast of Dolores on the Haycamp Mesa by yesterday evening, according to The Journal.

Last month the Dolores Ranger District announced plans to burn 4,577 acres across Haycamp Mesa, and the lightning strike gave them a good start on the fuels reduction project.

Pat Seekins, prescribed fire and fuels program manager for the San Juan, said it’s thus far a low-intensity surface fire, and it’s doing exactly what they need it to do for fuels management in the area. Crews have prepped about 5600 acres. [As of 05/21 the fire’s estimated at 1640 acres; yesterday firefighters used a couple of drones in aerial ignition.]

Spruce Creek Fire on the San Juan
The Spruce Creek Fire is burning northeast of Dolores on the San Juan National Forest. Crews are using existing roads as containment lines, and hope to continue the 10-acre fire next week into the planned 4500-acre prescribed burn. San Juan National Forest photo

The Durango Herald reported that firing operations should begin Tuesday under the management of a Type 3 IMT and should wrap up by Friday. “This is a great opportunity to further reduce the long-term fire risk in this area,” added Seekins. “It’s early in the fire year and we have the resources available, in terms of engines, hand crews, and helicopters, that will help us keep the fire within pre-identified boundaries.”

map - San Juan National Forest
San Juan National Forest map

The ponderosa and aspen forest with gambel oak understory has a natural cycle of burning every 10 to 15 years. The Haycamp Mesa, though, has not seen fire in at least 40 years, according to Seekins; he said it’s had very little fire history and really needs fire in there.

Gambel oak in Colorado has a history in the records of dangerous fires.

1994 South Canyon Gambel oak
July 6, 1994 – Gambel oak on the South Canyon Fire – Storm King Mountain, Colorado

Vegetation on the 1994 South Canyon Fire consisted primarily of Gambel oak, which was more than 50 years old and did not contain much dead material.

It formed a dense, green, continuous closed canopy, 6 to 12 feet tall and appeared to be unaffected by spring frosts.

Visibility within the stand was limited. The surface fuels beneath the canopy consisted of a 3 to 6 inch layer of leaf litter.

The Spruce Creek Fire started in an area that local fire and resource managers have studied for years, according to Dolores District Ranger Nick Mustoe. He says fire managers are securing indirect boundaries along natural features and existing roads to take advantage of favorable weather conditions for managing the fire.

Burning along the northern perimeter 05/20/24 -- IMT photo
Burning along the northern perimeter 05/20/24 — IMT photo

The strategy of using naturally occurring wildfires for hazardous fuels reduction – a policy that officials refer to as “indirect containment,” as opposed to the more derogatory and incendiary “let it burn” label that detractors have coined – is relatively new in practice on the San Juan, which would need at least 30,000 acres burned annually to catch up with the historic natural fire cycle.

Spruce Creek Fire from the lookout 05/20 -- ©2024 Rick Freimuth
Spruce Creek Fire from the lookout 05/20 — ©2024 Rick Freimuth

Smoke will be visible to travelers along Colorado Hwy. 184 between Mancos and Dolores, and to residents of Montezuma County throughout next week. Updates will be posted on Inciweb.

Western wildfire camera detection network

The Oregon Hazards Lab has developed and operates a high-speed camera network that gives fire managers new ways to detect and track wildfires. Cameras are installed atop high peaks or even high-rise buildings with 360-degree views of the surrounding area. Each camera can zoom, rotate, and tilt, allowing users to monitor the landscape, smokes, fire behavior, and weather conditions in real-time, or review later through time-lapse footage. The Oregon camera network is integrated with those operated by collaborators including the University of Nevada in Reno and the University of California at San Diego, with dozens of cameras in Oregon and thousands in the Western states.

The Oregon Hazards Lab network at the University of Oregon has helped put together the largest public-facing camera system in the world.

Doug Toomey, the lab’s director, says, “The cameras are visible during the day, and you can see twenty to forty miles on a clear day. At night they go near infrared, and you can actually see much farther.”

He told KEZI that detecting smoke on the cameras is only the first step. “There’s an operations center where they’re alerted when this camera spots something.”

There are currently 45 wildfire cameras in Oregon, and the Lab plans to operate 75 across the state by late 2025.  These cameras help fire managers:

        • Detect, locate, and confirm ignitions
        • Quickly scale resources up or down
        • Monitor fire behavior from ignition to containment
        • Improve local evacuations and situational awareness

The increased situational awareness available with the cameras means fire managers can confirm 911 calls by reviewing camera footage instead of dispatching personnel or aircraft for reconnaissance. Not only is this safer and less expensive, but it frees up resources that may be needed elsewhere. Fire managers can also monitor prescribed fires, and utility companies can monitor their resources during red flag conditions.

Diane Braun, a former hotshot, said she thinks the cameras would have been a valuable resource when she was on the fireline. “It would have changed the industry,” she says, “from start to finish.” Toomey adds that the cameras play a role before a fire even starts; he says the cameras help to evaluate fuels and weather conditions in the area, including winds, humidity, and other factors before fire crews even arrive.

ALERTWest cameras live feed
ALERTWest cameras live feed

The network lets people monitor cameras online. Toomey said he thinks the system can help people watch fire conditions and understand the threats — and even take steps in wildfire prevention. Agencies including the Oregon Department of Forestry have access to the camera system. Jessica Neujahr with ODF said using the cameras helps them not only detect smoke, but also dispatch resources faster and get a preview of the landscape they’re heading into.

==>  WATCH LIVE CAMERA FEEDS HERE  <==

The detection cameras are powered by ALERTWest, a technology platform from DigitalPath. This platform uses artificial intelligence to enable rapid wildfire detection. AI technology pulls the camera feeds from cloud servers and scans images for ignitions using detection algorithms and then can alert dispatch centers. Dispatchers then confirm the detection before alerting responding agencies. Fire managers in Oregon will begin receiving the automated alerts during the 2024 season.

Calling all cooks!

New IAWF cookbook wants your recipes

Can there be too many cooks in a fire kitchen? The International Association of Wildland Fire doesn’t think so.

The IAWF will hold its annual national Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy Workshop in Atlantic City, New Jersey from September 16 – 19. Before that, the IAWF (in partnership with the Wildland Fire Leadership Council — WFLC) is asking people to submit recipes for the upcoming “Cohesive Strategy Cookbook” that will be ready in time for the workshop.

But hurry up! Deadline is June 7 and those who submit recipes should provide the following:

        • Name of recipe
        • Ingredients with measurements
        • Step-by-step directions
        • Prep time, cook time, and total time
        • Number of servings
        • Photo of the prepared dish

The association also asks contributors to share the source of recipes if they aren’t original, e.g. Betty Crocker recipes.

You can submit your recipe [HERE].

 Anyone who has been in a fire camp knows firefighters don’t have the privilege of gourmet-level meals. On the contrary, the USFS has received numerous requests to update and elevate firefighters’ food supply. University of Idaho researchers, for example, analyzed standard USFS food vendor menus for fire camps and found that most did not meet firefighters’ nutritional needs, including deficits of micro-nutrients, meals lacking electrolyte balances, and only minimal variety.

El Cariso fuels up

“We expect vendors to provide a variety of healthy options during fire season, but along with that firefighters need to understand that making healthier choices can have an impact on their performance,” researcher Heidi Holubetz said.

The USFS is expected to pass along the requests to their contract caterers  with the hope of making menu modifications for the 2025 contracts. Down the road, researchers hope they can work directly with vendors for future menu updates.

READ MORE: Behind the scenes at a fire camp kitchen

 

 

Canada fire smoke evacuates thousands

Smoke from a wildfire that’s burned more than 4,000 acres and forced thousands to evacuate is causing 2024’s first widespread drop in air quality, according to the British Columbia Wildfire Service.

The Parker Lake Fire, burning in the northeast section of the province, forced more than 3,000 residents from the nearby Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and Fort Nelson First Nation to evacuate.

BC smoke drift
BC smoke drift from Parker Lake Fire

“All remaining residents are urged to evacuate the community immediately,” a press release from the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality said. “As the safety of emergency personnel remaining in the community becomes the priority, residents remaining in place need to be aware that emergency medical services are not available, nor are groceries or other amenities. Utilities may be affected to support fire response efforts.”

BC Wildfire Service

While the evacuations are limited to the immediate areas near the wildfire,  the smoke is triggering air quality alerts throughout Canada and the northern U.S., according to Canada’s Weather Information Service and the AirNow Fire & Smoke Map.

Air quality is at the most dangerous reading of “hazardous” in areas directly southeast of the fire near the community of Grande Prairie. People  should avoid outdoor activities during hazardous air quality, especially people with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, or older adults, children, and pregnant women.

The smoke has caused “very unhealthy” air quality alerts in numerous communities in central and southern Alberta. Communities in southern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario, as well as areas in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota have “unhealthy” air quality.

The Parker Lake Fire is the first wildfire of 2024 to cause widespread air quality impacts, the beginning of what fire experts expect to be a growing trend throughout the year. Fire crews throughout British Columbia are actively fighting 134 wildfires, primarily in the Prince George region of the province, according to the province’s wildfire service.

Most of the fires are considered “under control,” with only four wildfires designated as “being held” and 13 others “out of control.” Another 102 BC fires have started since the beginning of the year, but are considered “out.”

BC map

wildfiresituation.nrs.gov.bc.ca/map

BC evacuations
BC evacuations

Canada’s early and busy start is on par with the fire service’s outlook for the spring 2024 season that was released in March. “The current long-range forecasts suggest a high potential for an active spring wildfire season in British Columbia,” the report says. “While recent snowfall may seem beneficial, its impact on the upcoming wildfire season is expected to be minimal due to sublimation (solid to vapor) and the dry nature of snow in Interior regions. The low snowpack will limit surface runoff, stream flows, and fuel moisture recharge, which could limit drought recovery into summer 2024.”

The intensity of the summer wildfire season is in British Columbia largely depends on the amount and duration of rainfall during May and June, the rainiest months in the BC Interior. Continuous rain could reduce the likelihood of wildfires, but meteorologists are currently skeptical that sufficient rainfall will occur.

The 2023 wildfire season in British Columbia ended with 2,293 wildfires and burned more than 7 million acres, costing the province $1.1 billion. Just over 70 percent of the wildfires were lightning-caused.

 

which is just one of over 100 active fires in Canada,