360-degree video inside a forest fire

NIST designed a water-cooled camera

video in forest wildland wildfire fire

(From the National Institute of Standards and Technology)

Conservation Foundation’s Franklin Parker Preserve in the New Jersey Pine Barrens conducted on March 27, 2019 by the U.S. Forest Service and New Jersey Forest Fire Service. This video shows a forest fire that spreads along the forest floor, called a surface fire. The video was captured using a water-cooled glass enclosure developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to protect 360° cameras in fires. For more information and additional 360° fire videos visit the 360-Degree Video in Fire Research project webpage. The burn was performed in conjunction with work by researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s Fire Safety Engineering program to study ember generation and transport.

360° video  of a prescribed forest management fire in the New Jersey. (CLICK AND DRAG CURSOR IN VIDEO BELOW TO CHANGE ORIENTATION)

Some of the most useful and compelling information obtained during a fire experiment comes from visual observations. However, the extreme environmental conditions present in a fire necessitate limited access during experiments. Current solutions to collect visual data from fires have largely been limited to two-dimensions, often with a narrow field of view and for limited periods of time; e.g. until the camera is destroyed. High-resolution omnidirectional cameras are rapidly getting smaller, better and cheaper and the 360-degree images and video they capture provide a more immersive viewing experience. However, to use such cameras in a fire, two problems must be solved: how to keep the camera cool and how to protect the camera sensors from the intense thermal radiation given off by a fire.

In a 2018 Engineering Laboratory Exploratory Project, NIST researchers designed, fabricated and tested a transparent, water-cooled enclosure to house various commercial 360-degree cameras to record video from inside a fully-developed fire. We successfully recorded 360-degree video in two compartment fires, including stereo sound inside of a compartment fire in one test. Details about the development and construction of the enclosure are here .

NIST water-cooled camera
NIST water-cooled camera

Chief John Hawkins honored at SoCal Foresters & Fire Wardens conference

After his scheduled presentation he was surprised with gifts and was recognized for his service

Chief John Hawkins retired honored
Chief John Hawkins was honored by the Southern California Foresters and Fire Wardens for his 55-year firefighting career. Photo by Joy Collura.

Former CAL FIRE/Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins was honored last month at the annual meeting of the Wildland Fire Training and Safety Conference put on by the Southern California Foresters and Fire Wardens at Yukaipa, California. Chief Hawkins retired on Christmas Day in 2018 after his 55-year fire career. As Fire Chief he directed a cooperative regional fire protection district with 97 fire stations, three fire camps, one air attack base, and 1,600 personnel, responding to over 160,000 emergencies over a large unincorporated county area and 21 partner cities. He also supervised the CAL FIRE resources that provide services under contract to Riverside County, the 4th-most populous county in California and the 11th-most populous in the United States.

After his presentation at the conference about the key elements of leadership and the importance of mentoring successors he was surprised to be honored and presented with gifts, including a chromed double-bit axe.

Some of the topics from Chief Hawkins’ talk explored day to day human factors that firefighters are exposed to, such as stress, PTSD, suicide, and their supervisors, but most were about the characteristics of a good leader of firefighters. Used with his permission, below are 10 images that I selected from his 114-slide presentation at the conference:

Chief John Hawkins presentation

Chief John Hawkins presentation

Chief John Hawkins presentation
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House approves amendment that could prevent transfer and closure of Job Corps Centers

Schenck Job Corps Center Chief Christiansen
Photo of the Schenck Job Corps Center in North Carolina September 26, 2018 operated by the Forest Service, taken during a visit by Forest Service Chief Christiansen (third from the left). The center was ranked as the number one Job Corps Center out of 123 nationwide during the program year that ended June 30, 2018.

On Wednesday the House of Representatives voted 313-109 to approve an amendment to an appropriations bill that would preserve the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center program administered by the U.S. Forest Service. The Trump Administration’s intends to transfer the management of  25 Job Corps Centers from the Forest Service to the Department of Labor (DOL) and permanently close 9 of those 25 centers.

The amendment introduced by Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio would prohibit the government from spending any funds to “alter or terminate the Interagency Agreement between the United States Department of Labor and the United States Department of Agriculture governing the funding, establishment, and operation of Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers”. It would also prohibit funds being used to close any of the 25 Job Corps centers that are now operated by the Forest Service.

Transferring the Centers to the Department of Labor could result in the loss of over 1,000 jobs within the Forest Service.

The centers currently employ more than 1,100 people, operate in 17 national forests and grasslands across 16 states, and provide training to over 3,000 youth and young adults according to Congressman DeFazio.

Information from the U.S. Forest Service said 1,200 CCC students provided the equivalent of 450,000 hours of wildfire support during the height of the 2017 fire season.

If you would like to get into the weeds about how this amendment was introduced and debated on the floor of the House, you can read the transcript published in the Congressional Record, beginning on page H4541.

Representatives who spoke in favor of the bill during the debate included Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Sanford Bishop of Georgia, Dan Newhouse of Washington, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington.

The lone representative speaking against the measure was Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. Interestingly, the Schenck Job Corps Center in her state was ranked as the number one Job Corps Center out of 123 nationwide during the program year that ended June 30, 2018.

A letter from the National Association of Home Builders backing the amendment was included in the official record. Here is an excerpt:

The recent termination of the Department of Agriculture’s training partnership with Job Corps and subsequent announcement by the Department of Labor (DOL) of nine center closures is deeply concerning to NAHB and its workforce development arm, the Home Builders Institute (HBI), which has trained and placed thousands of students for careers in residential construction through its 45-year partnership with Job Corps. HBI Job Corps programs are offered at 65 centers across the country, and have equipped at-risk youth with the skills and experience they need for successful careers through pre-apprenticeship training, job placement services, mentoring, certification programs, textbooks and curricula.

DOL’s planned Job Corps center closures stand to impact more than 43 construction training programs, six of which are operated by HBI at three of the affected locations. Many of these centers serve rural and dislocated communities and have enrollment numbers exceeding national and regional averages. However, the Department of Labor has not disclosed any performance metrics or data to support its closure determinations and it has provided little information on how it will continue to serve the thousands of at-risk youth who will be displaced from their local centers. Further, DOL has not informed contracted training partners like HBI whether their successfully operating programs–and their administering staff–will be relocated or simply terminated along with the centers they have served.

The amendment passed with a voice vote, but  Chip Roy of Texas objected and forced a recorded vote — which also passed, 313-109. All Democrats voted in favor; Republicans voted 81 for and 109 against.

The legislation the measure is attached to is a major bill, the “Fiscal Year 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Legislative Branch, Defense, State, Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act”, H.R. 2740.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Senate Committee hearing on outlook for the 2019 wildfire season

Very pointed questions were asked about the Forest Service adopting technology to track locations of firefighters and fires

Senate committee hearing outlook for wildland fire 2019
When the Senate Energy Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing began on June 13, 2019 to “Examine the Outlook for Wildland Fire and Management Programs for 2019” seven Senators were present. They came and went throughout the one hour and 54-minute hearing, with a total of 11 making statements or asking questions.

In what has become an annual routine in recent years, today the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a “Hearing to Examine the Outlook for Wildland Fire and Management Programs for 2019”.

The contingent from the land management agencies providing testimony were:

  • Shawna Legarza, Director, Fire Aviation and Management, Forest Service
  • Jeff Rupert, Office of Wildland Fire, Department of the Interior
  • Wade Crowfoot, Secretary, California Natural Resources Agency
  • Chris Maisch, Alaska State Forester & National Association of State Foresters
senate committee hearing fire four-person panel
The four-person panel providing testimony.

One topic that came up was the Trump Administration’s plans to transfer the management of  25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers from the U.S. Forest Service to the Department of Labor (DOL) and permanently close 9 of those 25 centers. Since then, the decision to close one of the Centers in Montana was reversed. Now we have the back story on how that one Center was taken off the chopping block.

Senator Steve Daines of Montana Job Corps
Senator Steve Daines of Montana discussed the transfer and closing of Job Corps Centers.

During today’s hearing Senator Steve Daines of Montana said it he called President Trump and convinced him to keep the Anaconda Center in his state open. The Senator said after talking with the President he confirmed it with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Mr. Rupert said the DOI “plans to deploy nearly 4,500 firefighting personnel, 500 tribal firefighters, 151 smokejumpers, 17 interagency hotshot crews and 4 Tribal hotshot crews.”

Mrs. Legarza did not specify how many firefighting resources the Forest Service will have this year, but we asked agency Spokesperson Debra Schweizer who told us they will have “more than 10,000 firefighters and 900 engines” plus 324 smokejumpers and 87 hotshot crews. The FS has exclusive use contracts with 18 large air tankers and one single engine air tanker (SEAT). On call when needed contracts at substantially higher hourly and daily rates, they can access, if available:

  • 14 large air tankers
  • 4 scooping CL-415 air tankers
  • 8 military C-130 aircraft outfitted with temporary Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS)
  • An unknown number of old CV580 air tankers from Canada
  • 9 scoopers from Canada

The Forest Service also has on exclusive use contracts this year, 20 air tactical supervision fixed-wing aircraft, 6 smokejumper aircraft, and 15 lead/aerial supervision module aircraft. Plus, 6 agency-owned smokejumper aircraft, 1 air tactical supervision fixed-wing aircraft, and two infrared fixed-wing aircraft.

For a couple of years the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has been pushing the federal land management agencies to work toward what I call the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighter Safety, knowing in real time the locations of firefighters and the fire. Fourteen months after it was first introduced, the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act became law after it was included in an omnibus bill, the Natural Resources Management Act. The Senate passed it with a vote of 92 to 8, and the House followed suit, 363 to 62. On March 12, 2019 it was signed by the President.

Now that the legislation has become Public Law 116-9 the federal land management agencies are directed to adopt or build on a number of new technologies that can enhance the safety of firefighters and aid in the suppression of wildfires. Some of the requirements have deadlines:

    • Establish a research, development, and testing program, or expand an applicable existing program, to assess unmanned aircraft system technologies, including optionally piloted aircraft, across the full range of wildland fire management operations. (180 days, due by September 8, 2019)
    • Develop consistent protocols and plans for the use on wildland fires of unmanned aircraft system technologies, including for the development of real-time maps of the location of wildland fires. (within 180 days, March 12, 2020)
    • Develop and operate a tracking system to remotely locate the positions of fire resources, including, at a minimum, any fire resources assigned to Federal Type 1 wildland fire incident management teams. (within 2 years, March 12, 2021)  According to a press release by Senator Maria Cantwell, by the 2021 fire season, all firefighting crews – regardless of whether they are federal, state, or local – working on large wildfires will be equipped with GPS locators.
Senator Maria Cantwell location tracking firefighters
Senator Maria Cantwell asked when the Forest Service would implement location tracking technology.

During today’s hearing, Senator Maria Cantwell asked Shawna Legarza, Fire Director for the U.S. Forest Service, “What are you doing to implement the tools that we gave you?

Below are partial transcripts of the back and forth that begins at about 1:21:30 in the video which can be viewed at the Committee’s website:

Senator Cantwell: We are seeing other people implementing these GPS systems as it relates to resources and fire engines, and moving forward I know that BLM has now agreed to doing this immediately. What can we do to get the Forest Service to immediately implement that GPS system so we know the location of resources and assets and hopefully onto our firefighters as well so we can protect them this season.

Mrs. Legarza: Thank you Senator. So what we are doing in the Forest Service, actually interagency at the National Interagency Fire Center in just a couple of weeks we are having a three-day industry technology day to find out what is out there, and then together we’re gonna figure out what do we need interagency, not just the Forest Service, but with the BLM and the states, and then put together a request for information and RFP for proposal to find out how much that costs so that we can all talk together and be integrated.

Senator Cantwell: …With the fire season upon us, the fact that the BLM has implemented this right away, why can’t we get the Forest Service to do the same?

Mrs. Legarza:  We’re putting (inaudible) together to do that.

Senator Cantwell:   …I get that there are a lot of new tools. I guess what we are saying, pick the most urgent one that you can implement today. Do not study this for an entire year.

Shawna Legarza, Fire and Aviation Director, Forest Service
Shawna Legarza, Fire and Aviation Director, Forest Service

In 2014 when Mrs. Lagarza was the USFS Fire Director for the agency’s Region 5 (California), she was interviewed by CBS News and talked in positive terms about tracking the locations of firefighters and the fire. Unfortunately the video is no longer available.

Our Take:

The fact that the Forest Service needs a three-day meeting “to find out what is out there”, makes it appears that the agency collectively knows practically nothing about these technologies and is basically starting from scratch in order to appear to be trying to meet the mandate in the recently passed law.

At least four to five years ago one of the National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) Incident Commanders was tasked with addressing the issue of tracking the locations of fires and firefighters.

On January 31, 2017 I asked Forest Service Spokesperson Jennifer Jones about the status of the effort to adopt these technologies. I was not getting very detailed answers, so finally I asked, “Is this a low priority effort that has one person working on it as a collateral duty when he or she has time in the winter, or is it an all-out effort that is full time for 5 people?”

She responded: “This was proposed and accepted as a formal U.S. Forest Service Technology Development Program project. It has been funded for the last two years and we expect that it will continue to be funded until it is completed. The project is being led by a U.S. Forest Service Technology and Development Program staff member with the participation of additional subject matter experts as needed.”

So, to schedule a meeting to “find out what’s out there”, sounds like little to nothing has been accomplished during the last four years in the funded “formal U.S. Forest Service Technology Development Program project”.

Taxpayer funds have supposedly been spent for at least four years on adopting this location technology, but results of their study are hard to identify.

The Forest Service appears to be using their often-implemented and very effective slow-walk tactic. Study an issue for years and years and in some cases don’t even release the findings —  like the Rand air tanker study, incorporating seven Coast Guard HC-130Hs into their air tanker fleet, and the Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness (AFUE) study that began in 2012.

Officials still investigating cause of death on prescribed fire in South Carolina

Angela (Nicole) Chadwick-Hawkins was killed

Nicole Hawkins
Nicole Hawkins, the wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson’s Directorate of Public Works Environmental Department, sets up an artificial cavity box 20 feet up in a tree at Fort Jackson Nov. 6, 2015 in preparation for a soon-to-be arriving endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. (U.S. Army photo by Jennifer Stride/Released)

Officials from three agencies have not released much information on what caused the death of wildlife biologist Angela (Nicole) Chadwick-Hawkins while she was working on a prescribed fire at Fort Jackson Army Base in South Carolina Wednesday, May 22.

Below is an excerpt from an article published June 11 at The State:

…Three federal agencies investigating her death aren’t saying much about the cause, but information her family has received from the Army and others knowledgeable about the death suggests some kind of equipment malfunction led to the fatality that stunned friends from Alabama to Virginia, family members say.

Chadwick-Hawkins’ son, Dakota Bryant of Myrtle Beach, said fuel was found on her upper body and on equipment she was using that day. A charred all-terrain vehicle sat near her body and a gas cap was missing from a fuel tank, family members said. The Alabama native had been in contact with base officials by radio, just before she died, they said.

“I don’t know definitely that it was an equipment malfunction, but it is likely based on the fact that there was fuel found on her gear,’’ the 24-year-old Bryant said, noting that fuel on her gear “was not normal.’’

She had worked as a civilian at the base since 2007, with much of her time spent in helping to bring back an endangered species, the red-cockaded woodpecker. One of the techniques used to improve the bird’s habitat was the use of prescribed fire.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Trump administration seeks to streamline environmental review of prescribed fire and logging projects

The U. S. Forest Service is planning to streamline the environmental reviews of certain prescribed fire and forest management projects, including logging.

Below is an excerpt from a June 12 article at NPR.org.

Federal land managers on Wednesday proposed sweeping rule changes to a landmark environmental law that would allow them to fast-track certain forest management projects, including logging and prescribed burning.

The U.S. Forest Service, under Chief Vicki Christiansen, is proposing revisions to its National Environmental Policy Act regulations that could limit environmental review and public input on projects ranging from forest health and wildfire mitigation to infrastructure upgrades to commercial logging on federal land.

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen budget FY2020
Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen testified about the White House’s proposed budget for FY2020 on May 15, 2019.

“We do more analysis than we need, we take more time than we need and we slow down important work to protect communities,” Christiansen told NPR.

The proposed rule changes include an expansion of “categorical exclusions.” These are often billed as tools that give land managers the discretion to bypass full-blown environmental studies in places where they can demonstrate there would be no severe impacts or degradation to the land.

John Gale, with the conservation group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, says that if applied carefully and narrowly to certain projects, these exclusions could help lower the fire risk. But he’s skeptical because the administration recently rolled back protections for clean water and wildlife

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Rick. Typos or errors, report them HERE.