Home destroyed in Camp Fire but coin collection found and restored

Joseph Best safe Paradise California Camp Fire
Joseph Best’s photo of his safe that stored his coin collection.

One of the 14,000 homes and businesses that burned in the Camp Fire at Paradise California in November belonged to Joseph Best. During the month evacuated residents were kept out of the burn area he worried about his coin collection that was stored in a “fire proof” safe. When finally allowed back, he found it in the ashes of his home, tipped on its side.

The video below tells the story of how Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, a company that cleans, grades, and packages coins for collectors, extracted Mr. Best’s coins from the melted holders, graded them, and reinstalled the coins in new holders — all at no charge.

Note about “fire proof” safes. The term is misleading. Safes have different levels of fire resistance. Some have more insulating characteristics than others, but if exposed to high enough heat for an extended period of time even the best may allow the inside temperature to rise high enough to damage the contents. Various organizations rate fire resistant safes for time and temperature, for example half an hour at 1,550 degrees, 1 hour at 1,700 degrees, or 2 hours at 1,500 degrees.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jim. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Senate passes bill that would enhance the situational awareness of wildland firefighters

Passed on a 92 to 8 vote

On February 12 the Senate passed the Natural Resources Management Act on a vote of 92 to 8. It directs the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to implement systems that would enhance the situational awareness capability of wildland firefighters — knowing the real time location of a fire and the resources assigned. This will affect firefighters in five federal agencies: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service.

Sen. Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul

A last minute attempt by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to add an amendment authorizing the sale of some U.S. Forest Service land in his state was shot down.

The bill also includes numerous other actions related to public lands including creating more than 1.3 million acres of wilderness out West, adding three national park units, and expanding eight others.

Now the bill goes to the House of Representatives where it will likely be considered after the mid-February recess.

More details about the legislation.

In settlement man agrees to pay nearly $400,000 for fire in Utah

The fire burned 75 acres near Bountiful, Utah in 2017

Bountiful Fire Utah
Bountiful Fire, August 29, 2017, near Bountiful, Utah. Screenshot from KSL 5 TV video.

A man has agreed to pay $395,914 in a settlement for suppression and other costs associated with the 75-acre Bountiful Fire that started August 29, 2017 near Bountiful, Utah.

The fire ignited on Jayson Ross Orvis’ Bountiful Bench Hillside Hollow Circle property and quickly spread to the adjacent Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.  It was caused by sparks from a power grinder used by James Golden, who was hired by Mr. Orvis to do work on his property.

The settlement includes a $14,123 payment for environmental remediation costs associated with multiple encroachments on U.S. Forest Service property in addition to the fire damage. Additionally, Mr. Orvis has forfeited $560 for two Forest Service violations that prohibit constructing, placing and maintaining structures without a permit on national forest land. During the fire investigation, it was determined that Mr. Orvis had placed a shooting pavilion and an outfitter tent on the national forest land.

“This settlement fully compensates the public for the expense of fighting the fire and restoring these public lands,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said today.

KSL 5 TV shot 20-minutes of video footage from a helicopter not long after the fire started. This is in addition to the 2-minute KSL video below.

Three people sentenced for starting Chateau Fire last summer in Colorado

Three people whose campfire ignited what became the 1,400-acre Chateau Fire seven miles northwest of Cripple Creek, Colorado were sentenced in Teller County District Court last week. Some of the owners of the 11 homes that burned asked for compassion and community service rather than the maximum of 18 months prison time that could have been imposed.

According to The Gazette, Kegan Patrick Owens, 19 and David Michael Renfrow, 24 will serve 60 and 70 days, respectively, in jail. They will both be on probation for 10 years and were ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. A third person who is a juvenile was sentenced to counseling, substance abuse therapy, and 24 hours of community service.

Restitution has not yet been determined, but it could be in excess of a million dollars.

The fire was first reported on June 29, 2018.

What is the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighter Safety?

Camp Fire Northern California
Firefighters on the night shift at the Camp Fire in Northern California, November 2018. Inciweb photo.

It has been a while since we wrote in detail about what in 2013 we first called the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighter Safety.

It is a system that could track in real time the location of firefighters AND the fire, all displayed on one screen. This data should be available in real time to key supervisors and decision makers in the Operations and Planning Sections on fires. Knowing the positions of personnel relative to the fire would be a massive step in improved situational awareness and could reduce the number of firefighters killed on fires. Too often firefighters have been surprised, overrun, and sometimes killed by a rapidly spreading wildfire when they did not know where the fire was and/or their supervisors did not know the correct, actual location of the personnel.

Not everyone on a fire would need to monitor the location data all the time, but at least one person should be given the responsibility to be sure that a rapidly spreading wildfire does not overrun the location of firefighting resources. Darkness, smoke, and terrain can obscure the location of the fire from firefighters on the ground.

A drone orbiting high over the fire far above air tankers and helicopters could use near infrared cameras to see through smoke. A safety officer, for example, could be given the duty of ensuring that firefighters are not surprised and become entrapped by flames. Depending on the size of a fire and its activity it might only take one person to be sure firefighters are in safe positions. More complex or more active fires might need more.

Several times the report on the Mendocino Complex issued last week mentions that firefighters did not know for sure where the fire was. In addition, for a while no one knew where the six firefighters were that had been entrapped and were running from the fire. All six of them had suffered injuries and needed to be rescued. It was quite some time before they were located after searching with trucks and a helicopter.

The locations of firefighters could be provided by the newer Bendix-King radios many firefighters are already using that have built-in GPS receivers. Small devices that could fit in a shirt pocket could do the same thing and be provided by the interagency fire warehouse system, shipped to the fire like radio caches. The data could be sent through an on-the-ground mesh network, device to device, and be relayed to a server by cell phone towers or through a receiver on the drone orbiting the fire and then to a cell tower or satellite.

Ideally a safety officer given this duty would be at the fire and would be familiar with the fuel, topography, and weather. But in a pinch, or perhaps during the very early stages of a fire it could be done by a qualified person anywhere, as long as they had an internet connection.

In addition, it is very important for the Planning and Operations Section Chiefs to know in real time where the fire is so they can better plan and deploy resources to locations where they will be the most effective. Often Incident Action Plans are made using obsolete fire location information. By the time firefighters get to their assignment in the field sometimes it becomes obvious that the fire has moved and the plan, tactics, and strategy have to be changed and resources are relocated. Real time situational intelligence will reduce the lag time for deployment of resources to the locations where they are most needed.

Fire Behavior Analysts that could continuously observe the fire with the available video could make much more accurate, valuable, and timely Fire Behavior Forecasts. The fire spread information that their models develop could be displayed immediately on the map, enabling the Operations Section Chief to make better-informed strategic and tactical decisions. Any firefighters that show up in the predicted growth area could be alerted.

The technology to provide real time personnel and fire location information has existed for years. A number of state and local agencies are already using various versions of the location tracking systems. Putting a drone in the sky with an infrared camera above the firefighting aircraft could be done today. Linking these two sources of information so that they can be displayed on a map can be done. The military does this every day, tracking the location of the enemy and the friendly forces. Firefighters lives are just as valuable as soldiers’.

The five federal land management agencies and the states with significant numbers of wildland firefighters need to implement a Holy Grail system as soon as possible. It can save lives. There is no acceptable excuse for not getting this done. Government officials that drag their feet on this should have trouble sleeping at night.

Some Senators and Congressmen have been mocked for their lack of knowledge about technology, but they are way ahead of the five agencies on this issue. The federal fire directors should be embarrassed that it is literally taking an act of Congress to get them to begin using a Holy Grail system.

And, please don’t say this system that can save lives is not necessary, and that all we have to do is to tell firefighters to follow the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders or the other check lists. The Orders have been around for 62 years. Someone just saying “follow them” will not magically make it happen. That has been said millions of times in the last six decades and still, between 1990 and 2015, an average of 17 wildland firefighters were killed each year. Continuing to do the same thing while expecting different results is not realistic.

I’m not saying the Orders should not be followed. They should be. But continually saying “follow them” has still resulted in too many fatalities. We need to do that, and a lot more.

21 issues frequently identified in firefighter entrapment reports

Can lessons actually be learned?

Horse Park Fire
The Horse Park Fire in Colorado, May 31, 2018. Screenshot from the Hotchkiss Fire District video.

The 43-page facilitated learning analysis about the entrapment on the Mendocino Complex of Fires was well-researched and skillfully written. Six firefighters received burns and other injuries when they had to escape from the fire by running through unburned vegetation.

The intent of the analysis and hundreds of others like it is for firefighters to gain knowledge from the dozens of identified lessons learned that were meticulously documented, hoping that they will not be repeated by those who read the report.

That sounds very straight forward and simple.

But will reading about something that occurred on a fire months or years ago and hundreds or thousands of miles away actually influence someone’s behavior, performance, or decision making ability? Intuitively, we may say, “Yes. Of course. Learning about something that went wrong on an incident will keep us from making similar bad decisions later.”

A comment left by Paul regarding the article about the facilitated learning analysis was interesting:

Nothing “new” in the “Lessons Learned”. After decades in the fire service, makes me wonder if Lessons can be really be learned (and applied) at an organizational level. Seems they are constantly learned at the personal level.

Paul makes a good point. Those of us who have read numerous after action reports have seen almost all of the identified lessons many times before. Below are 21 issues mentioned in the Mendocino Complex report that were identified on the August 19, 2018 incident-within-an-incident.

  1. Interpersonal communications
  2. Communications system (radios & repeaters)
  3. Organizational structure
  4. Inadequate briefings
  5. Span of control way out of whack
  6. Inadequate knowledge about the real-time location of the fire
  7. Crew resource management
  8. See something say something
  9. Play the what-if game
  10. Turn down assignment
  11. Interagency rivalry
  12. Inadequate lookout ability due to terrain
  13. Metro firefighters and those from a different fuel type thrown into a complex wildfire situation
  14. Escape routes
  15. Safety zones
  16. Not knowing the real-time location of firefighting resources
  17. Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighting
  18. Burn victims not being sent to a burn center
  19. Very long travel times to fireline assignments
  20. Personnel shortages on Incident Management Teams and Unable To Fill resource orders on fires affecting tactics and safety
  21. Failure to declare an Incident-Within-An-Incident

Will identifying these issues still another time in a well-written document help prevent them from recurring? We have always assumed it will. But if so, why do the well-intentioned reports continue to list many of the same items?

In a perfect world an important lesson to be learned would be described once in a report. It would then become global knowledge in the firefighting world and the issue would never again have to show up in an after action review.

If these documents and formal classroom training is what Paul refers to as the “organizational level”, does he have a point that the most frequent way firefighters learn is from personal experience?

How do we increase the effectiveness of lessons learned reports?

Is there a different, or innovative method that could transplant these lessons into the personal mental “slide shows” that experienced firefighters consult and refer to when they are faced with a tough decision in the field?

Without doubt, someone will say all we have to do is abide by the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders and 18 Watch Out Situations. The Orders have been around for 62 years. Someone else just saying “follow them” will not magically make it happen. That has been said millions of times in the last six decades and still, between 1990 and 2015, an average of 17 wildland firefighters were killed each year. Continuing to do the same thing while expecting different results is not realistic.