Davis fire update, Aug. 28

UPDATE @ 10:00 August 29, 2010

Davis fire
Davis fire, looking east. Aug. 28, 2010. USFS photo.

More accurate mapping of the Davis escaped prescribed fire reveals that the number of acres burned as of Saturday is 2,170. Fire managers are calling it 15% contained. The weather is cooperating, and the 50-60% chance of rain that was predicted turned into 0.04″ of rain early this morning at the weather station at Lincoln, which recorded a low temperature of 31 degrees Saturday morning. The spot weather forecast for the fire area calls for occasional rain showers today, northeast winds becoming west at 5-10, and a low of 35-40 tonight with rain showers overnight.

An updated map of the Davis fire is available HERE (it is a large file).

Information about road closures.

Here is information provided by the fire managers:

Saturday’s Activities: Saturday was a good, productive and safe day on the line. Crews built and improved fire lines with support from helicopters. No air tanker support with retardant was needed. Some air resources were released at the end of shift Saturday for reassignment.

Sunday’s Strategy: Crews and equipment will continue to construct and improve fire lines and work on spot fires outside the fire perimeter with support from helicopters. Hose lays are in place on the west flank of the fire to support mop up operations. The goal is for fire fighters to extinguish any hot spots within 120 feet of the fire’s edge.

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UPDATE @ 11:46 a.m. MT Aug. 28, 2010

We now have the first official map of the Davis fire near Helena, MT that has been released by the U. S. Forest Service. The fire perimeter and heat was detected during an infrared mapping flight yesterday at about 10:30 p.m. (disregard the “AM” on the map legend) by N144Z, a USFS-owned Cessna Citation Bravo jet. To see a higher resolution copy of the map, download the 670K pdf HERE.

Davis fire map 8-27-2010
Map of the Davis fire. Data from an infrared flight on Aug. 27. USFS map.

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Davis fire map August 28 2010
The map of the Davis fire shows heat detected by satellites at 2:54 a.m. MT on Aug. 28. Click to see a larger version of the map.

Continue reading “Davis fire update, Aug. 28”

Map and update of Davis escaped prescribed fire near Helena

UPDATE @ 9:15 p.m. MT, Aug. 27

The U. S. Forest Service has lifted the evacuation orders for some areas. More information is at InciWeb. They are now saying the fire has burned 2,050 2,800 acres as of approximately 6 p.m. today and it is 20% 5% contained. Jess Secrest’s Type 2 Incident Management Team will assume command of the fire at 9 p.m. tonight.

The weather forecast for the fire area brings some good news, including a 50-60% chance of rain Saturday night and Sunday morning. On Saturday the temperature will be 55 to 70, depending on the elevation, and winds should be light and variable, becoming 5-10 out of the northeast on the ridge tops in the afternoon.

Ellen Bacca, the meteorologist for the Helena NBC station, posted some photos related to the fire. I believe they were taken from Helena.

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UPDATE @ 11:00 a.m. MT, Aug. 27

The weather forecast is more favorable for firefighters on the Davis fire today than the weather conditions were on Wednesday and Thursday. The temperatures will be much cooler, maxing out at 53-58 at the fire, however it will still be breezy with west winds of 15-25 gusting up to 35 in the morning . The RAWS weather station at Lincoln, 11 miles northwest of the fire, received 0.04″ of rain at 2 a.m. today, Friday.

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map of davis fire August 27 2010
The map of the Davis fire shows heat detected by satellites during the early morning on Aug. 27. Click to see a larger version of the map.

The updated map of the Davis fire, an escaped prescribed fire between Lincoln and Helena, Montana, shows that the fire has spread to the east near the eastern boundary of the Helena National Forest.

Davis fire map 3-D 8-27-2010
A 3-D map showing heat detected on the Davis fire by satellites early on Aug. 27. We are looking West. Stemple Pass Road is on the right side of the map and the USFS boundary is the yellow line. The Red areas indicate the most recent heat. Click to see a larger version of the map.

The latest official update from the U.S. Forest Service late Thursday night said the fire had burned 2,000 acres and that “Lewis & Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton has ordered evacuations of homes located at the top of Stemple Pass over to Highway 279 (Lincoln Road)”. There are some media reports that the fire has burned 2,800 acres.

Helenair.com has an article describing a public meeting on Thursday at which the USFS District Ranger for the area, Amber Kamps, talked about what they were thinking when they decided to conduct the prescribed fire on Wednesday. On Thursday the high temperature of 97 set a new record in Helena. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Continue reading “Map and update of Davis escaped prescribed fire near Helena”

Escaped prescribed fire near Helena, MT

Davis fire near Lincoln Montana
The map shows heat detected by satellites at 3:35 p.m. today from the Davis fire — in red southeast of Lincoln. Click to see a larger map.

UPDATE at 10:00 p.m. August 26:

KXLH is reporting that the fire has now burned about 2,800 acres and is threatening almost two dozen homes. Also:

On Thursday evening, fire officials held a town hall meeting to explain the situation. Forest Service Ranger Amber Kamps told the residents that when Forest Service officials began the prescribed burn on Wednesday, the weather was good. She said, “I can not tell you how sorry I am that we have to meet under these conditions. That you are having to go through this. I can’t make it up to you. I can just tell you I am sorry and we will do the best we can from this point forward,” Kamps says.

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Davis fire near Helena and Lincoln
Davis fire, Aug. 26, 2010. Photo: markholyoak

Yesterday the Helena National Forest in Montana initiated a prescribed fire in the Virginia Creek area 11 miles southeast of Lincoln and 28 miles northwest of Helena. The fire weather forecast for today for western Montana included red flag warnings in three areas with the possibility of dry thunderstorms. Today the high temperature of 97 in Helena set a record that was two degrees higher than the highest ever recorded for this date. That, combined with strong winds and low humidities today contributed to “active burning and some spotting outside the planned fire area”, according to a news release from the U.S. Forest Service.

At 1 p.m. today the Davis fire was officially declared escaped and was designated a wildland fire. Helenair.com reported that the fire was spotting a half mile to a mile ahead. The Associated Press reported that the fire was pushed by 30 to 35 mph winds.

As of 5 p.m. today it had burned about 1,000 acres, structures were threatened, and the Sheriff had ordered evacuations of homes located at the top of Stemple Pass Pass over to Highway 279 (Lincoln Road).

Yesterday at the RAWS station in Lincoln the maximum temperature was 86 degrees, the minimum relative humidity was 13%, and the winds gusted up to 15 mph. Today at the same weather station the high was 91, the RH was 14%, and the maximum wind gust was 25 with an average wind speed of 5-10 in the afternoon.

The USFS said the prescribed fire was within prescription when they ignited it on Wednesday.

The video below is from KXLH.

UPDATE on August 27, 2010

Facilitated Learning Analysis released for firefighter injury and helicopter incident — Deer Park fire

“The organization is ethically and morally obligated to put an EMS program in place that is supported by the organization, and given the standardized training and equipment to make the program succeed.”

Senior Firefighter/Paramedic, Sawtooth Helitack Crew

That quote is on the cover of the Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA) that the U. S. Forest Service recently released about an incident on the Deer Park fire in central Idaho involving a helicopter and a firefighter with a broken femur.

Lifeflight helicopter
Lifeflight helicopter secured to trees using long lines, tow straps, and winches. Photo from FLA

Briefly, on August 6, 2010 a firefighter serving as a lookout for a burnout operation on the Deer Park fire in central Idaho suffered a broken femur, the large bone in the thigh, after being stuck by a 200-pound rock. The life flight helicopter coming to evacuate him landed on a very small helispot without being able to communicate with ground personnel. After the crew and the pilot shut it down and exited the aircraft, the ship rocked backward and settled on the housing around the enclosed tail rotor, damaging that system. The helicopter was in danger of sliding down a steep slope. This not only put the helicopter out of service, but also blocked the use of the helispot.

A broken femur can be a very serious injury. If the nearby large femoral artery is severed, a patient can quickly bleed to death.

transferring patient
Patient being “Conveyer Belt” transported by Flathead IHC and Texas Canyon IHC. Photo from FLA

A second helispot was then constructed and an agency-contracted helicopter landed and flew the patient to the fire’s helibase, where he was transferred to a larger and faster National Guard helicopter, then transported to Boise for treatment. He is now recovering from his injuries at his home.

The injury was first reported at 1027. At some time after 1450, at least four hours and 23 minutes after the injury was reported, the patient departed the helibase enroute to the hospital, about 55 air miles away. For comparison, it took 2 hours and 51 minutes for Andrew Palmer to be flown away from his injury site in a Coast Guard helicopter. Unfortunately Mr. Palmer, who was struck by a falling tree on a fire in northern California in 2008, was dead by the time he arrived at the airport in Redding, three hours and 20 minutes after his injury.

A person could argue that if the lifeflight helicopter had landed safely at the small helispot on the Deer Park fire and remained in service, the patient could have been transported off the fireline approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes after the first report of the injury, but he would have still been about 55 air miles from the hospital in Boise. Obviously this is not within the preferred goal of getting a seriously injured patient to an appropriate medical facility within the “golden hour”, as touted by Jim Milestone, superintendent of the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, who was on the investigation team for the Palmer fatality.

And, to borrow a few words from the firefighter/paramedic quoted above:

The federal agencies still have an ethical and moral obligation to develop procedures that deal with the time frames for providing appropriate medical treatment for their employees at their work place, where ever it may be.

Wildland firefighting is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. Injuries are going to happen in inconvenient locations. For the employers of firefighters to put their heads in the sand on this issue, hoping it will go away, is ethically and morally reprehensible. I am surprised that OSHA is not regularly citing them for repeated violations on this issue. The desk-bound ‘ologists, political appointees, and yes, some former firefighters that manage the fire programs in the federal agencies need to wake up and smell the coffee.

But despite the helicopter incident, a lot of things went right. The firefighters on the ground displayed a great deal of leadership and ingenuity in managing and organizing the tasks of treating and moving the patient, managing the two helispots, and constructing the second helispot. They are to be commended for dealing with the unusual obsticals that were thrown at them, which made me think of a training exercise in S-420 or S-520.

In addition, the U.S. Forest Service and the Sawtooth National Forest deserve praise for creating an excellent FLA in a short amount of time. We first heard about the completed FLA yesterday, only 15 days after the accident. This is a opportunity for the wildland fire community to benefit from the lessons learned.

As a person who has been instructing Incident Command System courses for a long time, I noticed one thing in the report:

1224 – Personnel on scene meet and clarify incident organization. Separate individuals are established as Incident Commanders of Helicopter Issue, Medivac Spot #2 construction, patient care, and fire suppression activities in Division C.

It’s great that they established an organization for each of the four tasks above. And maybe the people who wrote the report got confused about the titles assigned to the firefighters responsible for each task, but with the benefit of hind sight, it appears that having four Incident Commanders, plus THE IC for the fire, could lead to confusion. Another option would have been to establish Functional Groups with a Group Supervisor in charge of each.

To see a larger version of the FLA below, click on the “+” or “full screen”.
Deerpark Facilitated Learning Analysis

These are the links referred to in the FLA:

More information:
Official report on the Andrew Palmer fatality
A summary of the findings from the Andrew Palmer fatality
Reflections on the Andrew Palmer fatality
Medevac on wildfires: can we do it in one hour?

Effects of prescribed fire on archaeological artifacts

collecting fire effects data
Research team collecting data during burn experiments.

The National Park Service has completed a research study that analyzed the effects of prescribed fire in their Midwest Region on archaeological artifacts. Researchers placed artifacts in areas to be burned in six park units in South Dakota, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, and Kansas. Using thermocouples and data loggers, they measured the temperature every five seconds as fire moved through the plots containing the artifacts, while human Fire Effects Monitors recorded the type of fire spread (head, backing, or flanking) and the flame length, flame depth, and rate of spread.

Their major findings include:

  • The majority of artifacts subjected to fire during the six prescribed burns did not experience any significant impacts.
  • The adherence of combustive residue to artifacts was the most frequent impact observed on artifacts. Between 48 and 75 percent of each assemblage exhibited low to high amounts of combustive residue. With effort, combustive residue was removed from the more durable classes of artifacts, such as glass and stone.
  • Artifacts after grass fire
    Experimental artifacts in situ following a prescribed burn at Effigy Mounds National Monument.
  • Cleaning and weathering experiments on archeological materials demonstrated that most impacts to surface artifacts were of a non-permanent nature and could be removed with light to moderate cleaning.
  • Serious impacts to artifacts such as scorching, fracturing, or melting were observed in only 5-10 percent of the assemblages.
  • The incidence of serious or significant impacts to the artifact assemblages was a combination of fuel type/fuel load and artifact material. Artifacts such as bone, shell, leather, wood, and lead exhibited more frequent serious impacts when compared to materials such as ceramic, stone, metal, and glass.
  • Experimental prescribed burns demonstrated a significant amount of variability in fire conditions resulting from non-uniform fuel types and loads, particularly in wooded environments.

Report of rancher igniting uncoordinated backfire on Idaho’s Long Butte fire

The Times-News MagicValley.com is reporting that at least one rancher, feeling that his land was threatened by the 327,000-acre Long Butte fire in Idaho, ignited a backfire on the edge of his property without the knowledge of the firefighters. On a fire that huge, with only 374 fire personnel assigned, I am not surprised that this is happening. However, it can be a danger to firefighters who could become entrapped between the backfire and the main fire if they had no warning it was taking place. Here is an excerpt from the article:

It’s normal for landowners to want to defend their property from fire. But if the blaze is on public land, those who fight fire with fire may end up in court.

The Bureau of Land Management says it is investigating reports of at least on landowner burning the edges of his properties over the weekend to steer the Long Butte Fire away from his land. Such an action threatens to compound the risk a serious wildfire poses and put the lives of firefighters on the line, according to the agency.

Over the weekend, the Long Butte Fire took off near Hagerman, racing more than 20 miles in one night as firefighters struggled to get ahead of it. The blaze had blackened 328,000 acres by Monday, burning public and private land alike.

Loren Good, principal investigator with the BLM, said it didn’t appear any of the privately lit fires — known as “back burns” — got out of control. But he’ll confirm that during interviews over the next few weeks. Then he’ll present his findings to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

When done by professional firefighters, back-burning can be an effective tool for containing a wildfire. The BLM also uses controlled burns to reduce the fire hazard on public land. But it can be dangerous for landowners to light fires without proper planning and equipment and without informing authorities, especially near a wildfire.

“It’s an uncontrolled environment,” Good said. “If the firefighters don’t know that there are other fires, they could get trapped.”