On August 29, 2009 two strike teams of engines were forced to retreat to a safety zone in Big Tujunga Canyon on the Station fire near Los Angeles as a massive convection column collapsed and sent strong winds and a flaming front through the canyon, leading to the loss of about 35 structures and burn injuries to three civilians who had refused to evacuate.
On January 7 the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center posted an After Action Review of this event written from the viewpoint of an engine strike team, number 1400C, from the Orange County Fire Authority. The AAR documents the preparation before the fire approached, the safety zone experience, fighting fire and saving structures after they could leave the safety zone, and the treatment and extraction of the burn victims.
The entire document is very worth reading, but below are the lessons learned:
A contract worker who is accused of accidentally starting a fire on Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles has been ordered by a court to pay an additonal $11.9 million in restitution. At an earlier hearing he had been ordered to pay $4 million.
Gary Dennis Hunt was a subcontractor doing some work on a radio tower on the island on May10, 2007 when his cutting torch started a few small fires that he put out. The next day, in spite of extreme fire danger warnings and a prohibition against the use of open flames, he continued to use the torch and started a fire which burned 4,000 acres and caused $20 million in damages to several structures.
Mr. Hunt’s employer is expected to pay the bulk of the restitution through their insurance company.
Here is a video that summarizes the latest developments.
The National Weather Service is experimenting with a system that will enable anyone with a Twitter account to submit weather reports from their cell phone or computer. The primary purpose is to collect “storm reports” or “significant weather reports”.
As long as the reports are formatted as prescribed by the NWS, the data, or the individual messages or “Tweets”, will be searchable and available to anyone who visits twitter.com or uses a 3rd party Twitter application on their computer (such as TweetDeck) or on their cell phone (such as TwitDroid, for Android-based smart phones).
To send a Twitter message or “Tweet” with a storm report or a significant weather report, it must be in this format:
The key is to use the searchable “hash tag” of “#wxreport”, then put “WW” both before and after your location, separated by a blank space. And after that goes your weather information.
The location can be an address, lat/long, airport identifier, city/state, or zip code.
If your cell phone has a GPS receiver and your 3rd party Twitter application has the ability to Geotag messages with your lat/long, then it’s even easier, but both your cell phone AND your Twitter account settings have to have geolocation enabled. Here is the format if your message is geotagged:
#wxreport <your signifcant weather report>
Anyone can go to twitter.com and search for #wxreport, even if you don’t have a twitter account.
According to the NWS:
Once an office decides that a posted report is reliable and applicable, it will be added to a Local Storm Report. LSR reports are available both via RSS feed and web pages directly from NWS web sites.
I found a web page for NWS Storm Reports, but even though there is a major winter storm affecting the central part of the United States today, the page contained no reports. Maybe I was looking in the wrong place.
More information about the system can be found HERE.
Google introduced their new new Nexus One cell phone today at a press conference. This is the first phone that is shipping with the new Android 2.1 operating system, which has at least a couple of interesting new features. Every field where you need to enter text is voice enabled. That is, you can either type the information, or you can speak it and the voice recognition system reportedly does a pretty good job of entering what you said .There is no physical keyboard, but there is a virtual one that pops up on the screen when it is needed. So if you need to do a lot of typing on your phone, it is not the phone for you.
The other feature that is now possible with the new version of the operating system is a weather widget. It uses the built-in GPS receiver to determine your location, then displays the weather conditions and forecasts for your area that it collects from Weather.com. But as Google tends to do sometimes, it does it in an innovative way, at least for a cell phone. It will display the temperature and the humidity for the day in a graph, both the past and forecast data. This is available from the home screen, so there is not a lot of clicking involved.
The phone can get the data from a wireless network or from a cell phone system as long as you have a signal from a tower. While this will never replace having a dedicated fire weather forecaster at your beck and call on a large incident, it could be quite valuable for the firefighter out on the fireline.
The phone is available today from Google, or from T-Mobile for $179 with a contract. In the spring it will be available from Verizon.
The new Android 2.1 operating system that ships with the Nexus One will be pushed out to the existing Motorola Droid owners in a couple of days, making the new weather widget available on those phones as well. I have a Droid and am very satisfied with it. (UPDATE, Jan. 29. The Motorola CEO, Sanjay Jha, who said the new operating system would be pushed out in a couple of days was wrong. As of today it still has not happened, and it may not occur for days, weeks, or months.)
T-Mobile does not have great coverage in the rural areas where most vegetation fires occur, but Verizon’s coverage is much better, making the Droid or the Nexus One when it is available from Verizon pretty good choices for wildland firefighters. HERE is a map on which you can choose a cell phone provider and “select layer to display” to compare coverage levels.
There is another weather application that is available now on Android phones that will collect data from the nearest weather station even if it is a RAWS station. Or at least once after I installed it today I saw that it displayed weather from a RAWS station, but later it got it from a conventional station. Maybe it just gets the latest data within a certain radius of your specified location, but unlike the new widget described above, it does not use your phone’s GPS to determine your location. The program can also display radar and satellite maps. It is called “Weather by Michael Bachman” and is free. It gets the weather data from the Weather Underground site.
In the United States, at least, 2009 was less busy than your average year, in terms of the number of fires and the total acres burned. In the lower 49 states, 2,720,903 acres burned, which is the lowest number since 2004.
But it was a fairly busy year for wildland fire news. We have put together some of the stories we consider to be the most newsworthy. They are listed here, and below you will have a chance to vote on the ones that you consider to be the top stories. This list does not include the line of duty deaths which we reported earlier, except in the case of the Andrew Palmer fatality investigation report which exposed a great many issues affecting firefighter safety, and survival following an accident.