The new Director of CAL FIRE addressed climate change — 9 years ago

CAL FIRE Director Thom Porter
CAL FIRE Director Thom Porter taking the oath of office. CAL FIRE photo.

The new Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had strong feelings about climate change before that was cool. (And some people still deny climate change, the moon landings, and they think the Earth is flat.)

Thom Porter was appointed Director of CAL FIRE by Governor Gavin Newsom on January 8, replacing Ken Pimlott who retired December 15, 2018.

In 2009, ten years after he began working for CAL FIRE, Mr. Porter was featured in a 90-second video produced by Greenpeace USA in which he talked about how climate change was affecting wildland fire.

Below is a partial transcript from the video:

As a firefighter I’m a student of the weather, and I’ve noticed that there’s a change that’s occurred in the last several years.

CAL FIRE Director Thom Porter
Thom Porter as he appeared in a 2009 video.

These patterns are not what I have grown up with. They are also not what I have seen in the historical record. We’re starting to see more monsoonal type of weather that’s causing more dry lightning which ignites fires — sometimes thousands of fires in a 24-hour period. We’re stretched for resources when that happens. We don’t have enough fire engines and aircraft to take care of all those fires.

California has a very diverse economy. A lot of it depends on water. If the climate changes and we don’t have the water we need to support that business or the people who live here, we could see all of society start to have to move out of certain areas. California could dry up and blow away.


Before his appointment by the Governor, Chief Porter had served as Chief of Strategic Planning in CAL FIRE’s Sacramento Headquarters since January 1, 2018.

Prior to his CAL FIRE career, Chief Porter worked as a forester in the timber industry in Washington, Oregon and California, developing timber harvesting plans, planning and directing prescribed burns, and managing company safety programs.

He signed on with CAL FIRE in 1999 as a Forester I in the Forestry Assistance Program at the Southern Operations Center. He eventually served as the Southern Region Chief, Assistant Region Chief, and San Diego Unit Chief.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in forest management from the University of California Berkeley and is a Registered Professional Forester.

Legislation signed to provide back pay to furloughed federal workers

federal government sign Capitol building
Jewel Samad photo.

The House and Senate has passed and the President has signed legislation ensuring that furloughed federal workers or those working without pay during the partial government shutdown will receive pay.

The White House announced Wednesday that the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019 “requires the compensation of government employees for wages lost, work performed, or leave used during a lapse in appropriations that begins on or after December 22, 2018, and entitles excepted employees to use leave during a lapse in appropriations.”

Employees, who began last week or this week receiving pay stubs showing zero dollars paid, will still not be reimbursed until the shutdown is over. This provides some light at the end of the tunnel, but until then many who live paycheck to paycheck will still have serious financial difficulties in the meantime.

Bicycle with electric motor starts fire in Australia

bicycle fire battery Australia
Image from 9News video.

Until today I have never heard of a bicycle igniting a vegetation fire. You would think that a road bike being used on a highway would be one of the modes of transportation least likely to start a wildfire.

It turns out, if that bike is modified with an after market wheel hub using a battery-powered electric motor all bets are off.

bicycle fire battery Australia
The battery. Image from 9News video.

On Monday 79-year old Gary Ryan was riding his Pinarello Dogma F8 retrofitted with an electric hub motor when the device caught fire on Corkscrew Road in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia (map). (The device may have been similar to this one.) After receiving a slight burn on his leg he got off the bike and watched as flames reported to be 10-feet high shot out of the battery. The fire partially melted the bike’s frame and spread into the vegetation along the highway. Mr. Ryan and other riders backed away as CO² cartridges exploded that he carried on the bike for inflating tires.

Firefighters that happened to be working on a fire nearby responded quickly and knocked the blaze down after it spread for about 100-feet.

Residents and emergency crews in Australia have been on edge for the last four days as they deal with record heat approaching 50C (122F) in some areas.

As more devices used out of doors are battery-powered we are going to be increasingly hearing about fires like this. Wildfire Today has already written about two vegetation fires that were started by drones.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Paula.
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Concept for walking car explores advanced capabilities possibly useful for emergency responders

Hyundai unveiled their “Elevate” at CES

Hyundai Elevate
Hyundai Elevate. Image from the video.

Last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Hyundai displayed a scale model of a concept for an outlandish vehicle that they think could be useful for emergency responders and search and rescue organizations.

It truly looks like something out of a science fiction movie. And for now, anyway, it is just an idea since it hasn’t been manufactured.

Hyundai Elevate
Hyundai Elevate. Image from the video.

Their “Elevate” vehicle has four rubber tires and can travel down a road much like a regular car. Each wheel is driven by individual electric motors and is attached at the end of a “leg” that has three or four joints, or knees. The legs are folded unless the driver needs to navigate over rough, rocky terrain, or has to step over a five-foot wall, in which case the legs extend and can begin walking.

Hyundai Elevate
Hyundai Elevate in rescue ambulance mode. Image from the video.

There have been a number of wildfires that come to mind (in the U.S., Australia, Greece, and Portugal) in which residents fleeing by car became trapped on roads blocked by a fallen tree or traffic jams. Rescuers in an “elevated” vehicle might be able to quickly access the area, stepping over the trees or going off-road to bypass the obstacle. It could also be used as an all-terrain ambulance that could transport wildland firefighters out of terrain that is moderately steep and rocky.

Hyundai Elevate
Hyundai Elevate enabling access for person in wheelchair. Image from the video.

Hyundai admits that the Elevate is a pretty wild concept and has no plans to manufacture the vehicle, but is using the project to explore ideas and technologies that could be useful down the road.

In the video below a representative from Hyundai describes some of the features of the Elevate.

Lessons learned from Camp Fire could augment data utilization and community resilience

Camp Fire Northern California
Firefighters monitor the Camp Fire in Northern California. Inciweb photo.

A Mississippi State University civil engineering faculty member who researches resilience against extreme events and natural hazards is responding to lessons learned from California’s deadly Camp Fire by outlining how to utilize the power of data to improve disaster response and minimize economic loss and human harm in similar events.

In a letter published January 10, 2019 in Science Magazine, Farshid Vahedifard writes that in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Northern California, it is critical to examine how decision makers and first-responders can “prevent an extreme hazard like the Camp Fire from turning into a massive human disaster.”

Vahedifard is an MSU Bagley College of Engineering associate professor who also holds the Civil and Environmental Advisory Board Endowed Professorship. He penned the Science letter with MSU colleague Alireza Ermagun, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; Kimia Mortezaei, an MSU engineering postdoctoral associate with the university’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems; and Amir AghaKouchak, a University of California-Irvine associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

With reports pointing to shortcomings in disseminating critical information to warn residents before and during the November fire that killed 85 people, scorched more than 153,336 acres and destroyed more than 18,800 structures, the authors point out that a “lack of an integrated framework for circulating information among decision-makers and passing it to residents exacerbated the devastating impact of the wildfire.”

They assert that investment in an integrated system for identifying, harnessing, synthesizing, and communicating pertinent data would “enable decision-makers and communities to better anticipate, prepare for, respond to and recover from extreme events such as the Camp Fire.”

They continue, “We must identify relevant stakeholders, examine the required data, collect public and relevant private data efficiently, and develop platforms for processing datasets such as weather data, cell phone GPS data as proxy for people, social media feeds, and traffic cameras and sensors. We then need strategies to convert data sets into usable information by using artificial intelligence technologies for decision-support systems. To communicate the resulting information effectively, we need a reliable data infrastructure for real-time analysis that could alert residents by email, phone messages, text warning, television, radio, and ‘reverse 911.’”

Vahedifard and colleagues previously have published research and commentary highlighting how a chain of events, such as wildfires, landslides and mudslides, cascades like a series of toppling dominoes and leads to catastrophic disasters.

Facing liability over wildfires, PG&E to file for bankruptcy

The company may have $30 billion in potential liability costs related to their role in starting wildfires

PG&E service territory
Map showing the service area of Pacific Gas & Electric, and the land protected by CAL FIRE (State Responsibility Area).

Pacific Gas and Electric has announced that it will file for Chapter 11 protection before the end of the month as it faces $30 billion in potential liability costs related to their role in starting wildfires. The company already carries a heavy debt load of more than $18 billion.

A dozen of the fires that started in Northern California around October 8, 2017 have been blamed on PG&E’s electrical equipment, according to CAL FIRE investigators, who also are looking into power line equipment failures that may have caused the Camp Fire on November 8, 2018. Over 40 people died in the Northern California fires, and 86 perished in the Camp Fire which also destroyed more than 14,000 homes.

The bankruptcy process would put a halt to more than 750 civil suits brought by thousands of homeowners and insurance companies over the wildfires allegedly caused by PG&E’s equipment, some of it 100 years old. The suits would then be resolved in a bankruptcy proceeding.

PG&E supplies power and natural gas to approximately 5.2 million households in the northern three-fourths of California. The company also declared bankruptcy in 2001 which lasted until 2004.

State law requires the corporation to notify employees at least 15 days before any bankruptcy filing. Chief Executive Geisha Williams has stepped down after serving for less than two years, the company said on Sunday.

In a brief submitted to a federal court in December, the California Attorney General said PG&E could be prosecuted for murder, manslaughter, or lesser criminal charges if investigators determine that “reckless operation” of its power equipment caused any of the wildfires in which people were killed during the previous 15 months.