The National Park Service today released the report on last August’s Big Meadow escaped prescribed fire in Yosemite National Park. The report was completed on November 9, but it was not made available to the public until today.
The project was intended to be an 89-acre prescribed fire in a meadow in Yosemite Valley, but it was declared a wildfire 55 minutes after completing the test burn. The fire blackened 7,425 acres before being controlled by 1,300 firefighters at a cost over $15 million. It became the eighth largest fire in California in 2009.
Here are some key points from the report. (Passages in “quotes” are taken directly out of the report, word for word. Everything thing else is paraphrased or summarized.)
The test fire began at 10:15 on August 26, 2009. There is conflicting information in the report about the spot fire(s) that occurred at 11:00. There was either a small spot fire outside the perimeter, or there was “group torching of a thicket of small diameter Ponderosa pines” resulting in several spot fires that were suppressed.
The ignition of the main burn began at 11:15. Five minutes later at 11:20 a spot fire was found 10 feet outside the line in some pine regeneration. At 11:40 two burning snags were discovered outside the line. At 11:55 there were multiple spot fires burning and a helicopter was ordered for water bucket support.
The project was designated a wildfire at 12:10 and “aggressive suppression action began”.
In order to help deal with the state’s $438 million budget shortfall, Jon Baldacci, the Governor of Maine, is proposing that nearly all funding for wildfire suppression be eliminated. There is also a proposal to sell one of the newer helicopters owned by the Department of Conservation. Most of the helicopters the department operates are from the Vietnam war era.
As you probably know, there is a lot of this going around, with city, county, and state governments cutting or threatening to cut the budgets for their fire departments.
UPDATE Jan. 9:
The information above was obtained from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
The DC-10 air tanker has received all of the necessary certifications from the government in Australia so that it can be used on fires. The Victoria state government and the Country Fire Authority will be conducting a trial of the aircraft during their summer fire season. It arrived in Melbourne on December 14 and can carry about 11,000 gallons (42,000 l.) of retardant or about 12,000 gallons (45,000 l.) of water.
Interestingly, some of the media in Australia have nicknamed the DC-10 the “super soaker”. Officially in the USA, it is in the class of “very large air tanker”, but I guess “super soaker” rolls off the tongue a little easier down under.
UPDATE Jan. 9, 2010
Wildfire Today has discovered that the first recorded use of the term “super soaker” (according to Google anyway) when referring to the DC-10 air tanker was in an article that appeared on January 28, 2006 in the Press-Enterprise.
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.