Hackberry Fire burning near Prescott

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Fire crews are fighting the Hackberry Fire, burning seven miles west of Prescott, Arizona since Monday morning, according to the Arizona Emergency Information Network.

The fire had burned 30 acres as of Monday afternoon, Prescott NF firefighters said.

Hackberry Fire 12/18/2023
Hackberry Fire 12/18/2023

Updates:

  • Fire crews report there are no values at risk or threatened.
  • The cause of the fire is unknown and under investigation.

How many acres has it burned?
The Hackberry Fire has burned 30 acres and is zero percent contained.  Infrared imaging has not yet been done to get an accurate estimate of acres burned. Recreationists should avoid camping, biking, and hiking near the fires and use caution while driving the roads as firefighters will be traveling to and from the fire.

Are there any evacuations?
There are no evacuations yet announced, nor any communities warned to prepare for evacuation.

What roads or highways have been closed?
Authorities have not announced any road closures.

Wildfire Go-Kit:
Residents in wildfire-prone areas are urged to have an emergency supplies kit to bring with them if they are evacuated from their homes. An emergency supply kit, a “go bag,” should be put together long before a wildfire or other disaster occurs. Make sure to keep it easily accessible so you can take it with you when you have to evacuate.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that residents store emergency supplies in a plastic tub, small suitcase, trash can, backpack, or other container. Residents should make sure they have the necessities, such as three gallons of water per person and a three-day supply of ready-to-eat food, the NFPA said. A first aid kit, prescription medications, contact lenses, and non-prescription drugs should also be taken into account.

Copies of important family documents, including insurance policies, identification, bank account records, and emergency contact numbers should also be put into a waterproof portable container in your kit.

The NFPA lists other items that would help in a disaster, including:

  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio and a NOAA weather radio to receive up-to-date information
  • Dust mask or cotton T-shirt to filter air
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Complete change of clothing including long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and sturdy shoes stored in a waterproof container
  • Signal flare

The entire NFPA checklist of supplies can be found here.

near a disaster

Grassfires destroy far more homes than forest fires

A devastating series of wildfires that swept over forests in Idaho, Montana, and Washington more than a century ago — the Big Burn of 1910 — would forever change the nation’s perception of fire in forests. The lessons learned from that tragedy, however, may have been a bit misguided, according to new research.

Firefighters had been putting out fires for months in 1910 throughout the Western states. They’d finally begun to get ahead during the week of August 19, even beginning to dismiss some firefighters, according to the Forest History Society.

But then all hell broke loose. Hurricane-force winds roared across the states, turning numerous smoldering embers into firestorms.

“A forester wrote of flames shooting hundreds of feet in the air, fanned by a tornadic wind so violent that the flames flattened out ahead, swooping to earth in great darting curves, truly a veritable red demon from hell,” according to a summary document by the USFS.

1910 fires

What became known as the “Big Blowup of 1910” is largely remembered for killing 86 people (78 of whom were firefighters), burning 3 million acres, and completely destroying eight towns.

Wallace, Idaho -- the aftermath
Wallace, Idaho — the aftermath

The fire burned its way into the American conscious, one of the first widely reported wildfire tragedies in the nation’s budding national news system.

Three future Forest Service chiefs were directly involved in the Big Blowup, including W.B.Greeley, Henry Graves, and Ferdinand Silcox, and their experience would go on to shape decades of policy around aggressive fire suppression in U.S. forests. Not only has research shown aggressive suppression to be an ill-advised effort, but the heightened focus on fires in the nation’s forests may have also been misguided.

New research found rising wildfire risk for houses across the United States, with the number of homes within wildfire perimeters doubling since the 1990s, caused by both housing growth and more burned areas. Researchers also got a surprising finding from their study: grassland and shrubland fires destroyed far more houses than those lost to forest fires.

“This pattern was most pronounced in the Western U.S., which encompassed 69 percent of all the buildings destroyed by wildfires,” the researchers wrote. “There, 79.5 percent of all destroyed buildings were lost in grassland and shrubland fires. In the East, by contrast, 82.1 percent of destroyed buildings were lost in forest fires. In the West, even though forests had a high destruction rate (21.3 percent), only 2,367 buildings were destroyed by forest fires compared with 9,402 in grassland and shrubland fires.”

The researchers noted multiple potential reasons for the heightened number of homes destroyed by grassland and shrubland wildfires compared with forest wildfires, including the sheer acreage of grasslands and shrublands throughout the country. From 1990 to 2020, grassland and shrubland accounted for 64 percent of the total area burned by wildfires at ~91 million acres, while forests made up only 27 percent of burned areas at ~34 million acres.

Another reason is the difference in vegetation in the two environments. Wildfire management across grassland and shrublands requires frequent application of multiple types of risk-management strategies, including prescribed burning and fuel thinning, compared with forests — because of the quick recovery of fuel loads in grassland areas. The risk-management strategies, however, may not be advisable in all grasslands and shrublands, specifically those where fire-prone invasive species have replaced native vegetation.

In the West, 79.5 percent of all destroyed buildings were lost in grassland and shrubland fires.

Despite more homes being destroyed by grassland and shrubland wildfires, homes near forest wildfires reportedly have an above-average chance of being destroyed.

“Of the 151,725 buildings … that were exposed to wildfires from 2000 to 2013, 11.3 percent were destroyed,” researchers said. “However, buildings in evergreen and in mixed forests were almost twice as likely to be destroyed (20.1 and 22.9 percent, respectively). By contrast, the destruction rate for shrublands was similar to the average (12.7 percent), and rates for grasslands and deciduous forests were considerably lower (8.0 and 3.3 percent, respectively).”

Researchers believe this is the case partly because of forest wildfires’ higher intensity, but also couldn’t rule out the difference in the architecture of homes built in forests compared with homes built in grasslands and shrublands.

The study concluded by noting that stricter construction standards and land-use planning, specifically avoiding building in areas prone to fire, would help the Forest Service meet its goal of limiting wildfire risk for  newly developed housing.

France’s ‘Zombie Fire’ still alive after 1½ years

The soil under the Hostens Forest in Gironde, France is burning. Not only have numerous rains not been enough to snuff out the flame, but time itself seems to have had no effect.

Four major wildfires over the summer of 2022, totaling around 69,000 acres between July and August, caused the evacuation of 46,000 locals. Authorities suspect human involvement and an investigation has been launched.

Satellite images showing the impact of the wildfire in Gironde between 12 and 17 July 2022
Satellite images show the impact of the wildfire in Gironde in July 2022. Click for more.

Ever since, the fire has traveled from the surface to underground; it’s still burning despite weeks of rainfall. The underground fuel was partially created by an old lignite (brown coal) mine that produced electricity for the region until it shut down in 1964. After he heard it was partly the reason the fire was still burning, a reader of the Sud Ouest daily newspaper shared images of a field trip he’d taken to the mine as a child.

The continuous fire’s other cause, though, is the land itself. The Landes forest region, where the fires are burning, used to be an extensive marshland filled with moors. That changed in the early 1800s when the area’s sand dunes were stabilized by humans so they could set up plantations and plant a vast pine forest for timber purposes.

The drained, dried-out peatland is as perfect a fuel as you could find for a wildfire. Making matters worse, the artificial forest standing on top of the peat has dried out as well — a result of severe ongoing drought. The combination has forced French authorities to essentially gut the area of all vegetation until all fires are out.

“We are constantly on guard,” said Pascale Got, who handles environmental issues for the Gironde département, according to The Local. “When vegetation starts to grow again, we cut it down. Given the amount that we have cut down so far, I don’t think there will be a resumption of wildfires, unless there is an exceptional drought.”

This kind of continuous fire, or “zombie fire,” isn’t unheard of. A similar fire in Louisiana’s Bayou Sauvage Urban National Wildlife Refuge burned for two months before it was extinguished on December 4. The continual burning plagued the area with “noxious” smoke.

Overwintering fires, wildfires that continue to burn deep in a fuelbed until weather favors flaming behavior and firespread, have also occurred with increased frequency in North America’s boreal forests. Research published in 2021 found that flare-ups from these overwintering fires could partially be predicted by monitoring edges of fire perimeters from the preceding year.

Officials worry that another period of severe drought could start new fires; according to the Connexion, Gironde officials plan to reforest the area in France once the fires have been completely resolved.

 

Wildfire smoke toxicity worsened by heavy metals in soil, flame intensity

The job of wildland firefighters is grueling; long treks into the wild and countless hours of manual labor on the job take their toll. Because of this, gear is often reserved for the bare essentials like flame-resistant clothes, hard hats, and tools to cut a fireline.

Urban firefighters, on the other hand, are outfitted like armored tanks with gear that’s nearly triple the weight of what the wildland firefighter carries. The most obvious visual difference in their gear is a breathing apparatus, meant to protect structural firefighters from smoke. Despite this, cancer remains the largest killer of urban firefighters, in part because of the synthetic materials that burn inside buildings and release toxic chemicals into the air.

A self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is a device worn to provide an autonomous supply of breathable gas in an atmosphere unsafe for breathing — which structural firefighters often encounter.

Development of a wildland fire respirator. Two versions are being tested, with the filter being carried on the chest hip. Department of Homeland Security photo.
Development of a wildland fire respirator. Two versions are being tested, with the filter being carried on the chest hip. Department of Homeland Security photo.

A breathing apparatus or mask hasn’t historically been a staple of wildland firefighters’ gear, though some have been in testing for years. The added heavy carry capacity is one reason, along with the assumed lack of toxic chemical inhalation, since the fire’s burning in a natural area free from synthetic materials.

That assumption isn’t true, according to new research from Stanford University. Wildfire can actually create cancer-causing toxic heavy metals depending on where they burn and the severity of the flames.

“Soil-and plant-borne chromium is of particular concern,” the research team told WildfireToday. “Altered by fire, chromium is transformed into its toxic hexavalent state. We show that fire severity, geologic substrate, and ecosystem type influence landscape-scale production of hexavalent chromium in particulates during recent wildfires.”

The Stanford team researched soil and ash gathered from the 2019 Kincade Fire and the 2020 Hennessey Fire within the LNU Lightning Complex for their study. At the burn scars, the team measured the levels of chromium 6, which is known by most as the toxic chemical from the 2000 film Erin Brockovich, and they found dangerous levels of it in certain areas of the fire.

The chemical was present in heightened amounts where the soil had a greater concentration of metals from the area’s geology and had also been severely burned. Areas that weren’t on metal-rich geologies, or that had burned at a low severity, had either non-detectable chromium 6 levels or very low levels not of concern.

“Up until now, for wildfires at least, we’ve worried a lot about the fine particulate exposure … what we’ve been blind to is that those ultra-fine particles can differ in composition,” researcher Scott Fendorf said. “Even in wildfires that are completely removed from any dwellings, with certain geologies and certain vegetation types which are pretty common, we can see that the particles have these toxic metals in them.”

The team’s findings may not only help define the health risks wildland firefighters face in certain wildfires, but may also help in understanding what risks nearby populations may experience when inhaling air downwind of wildfires. In areas that experienced dry post-fire weather, chromium 6 was found to last on the soil’s surface in wind-dispersible particulates for up to a year after the fire was extinguished.

Researcher Alandra Marie Lopez hopes to further her research for this study and use the findings to examine what levels of chromium 6, if any, are found on landscapes post-prescribed burning. Additionally, the team hopes to use the research to create a risk analysis map to determine which areas and geologies after severe burns pose the greatest risk to human health.

Christmas Tree permits can help reduce wildfire risk

Federal land management agencies throughout the nation are offering a festive way for residents to reduce wildfire risk.

The USFS Christmas Tree Permit program gives people an opportunity to discover the national forests in interesting ways, while offering a Christmas tree at a cheap price. The agency lists 80 permit areas for forests from California to New Hampshire, each contributing to forest thinning programs.

The BLM also sells permits for trees, both online and in-person. The permit is valid through December 25. Check at  forestproducts.blm.gov and search for your area; cost per tree permit is $5 and a map and permit will be provided.

“For every tree that is found, cut and carried home as a holiday fixture, you’re also contributing to overall forest health,” according to the recreation.gov page. “Christmas tree permits are an opportunity for citizens to help thin densely populated stands of small-diameter trees – the perfect size for a Christmas tree.”

Cutting a Christmas tree
Cutting a Christmas tree — photo courtesy Curry Coastal Pilot

Forest thinning, or reducing the fuels beneath a forest’s tree canopy, contributes to a forest’s health by reducing resource competition. Trees growing too close together have to compete for nutrients, water, and sunlight, leading to weaker trees that are more susceptible to disease, insect infestations, or drought. These weaker trees can also contribute to future wildfire spread.

Western conifer forests have a historic relationship with fire. Fires long have burned the understory of forests, clearing out smaller brush and low branches. Modern-day treatments such as forest thinning and prescribed fire, replicate these historic fires by removing brush, lower tree limbs, and smaller trees (many of which make perfect Christmas trees).

BLM Christmas tree program
BLM Christmas tree program

“Venturing into a local national forest to find that special tree is an experience that creates treasured family memories and stories,” said U.S.  Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “It is through these experiences that people establish important connections to the forest that can lead to a lifetime of adventures and instill a commitment to stewardship.”

Permits from the USFS usually run $10 to $15. Check here to buy a permit from a national forest near you.

The annual Christmas tree market is one of the ways that a profitable “small tree market” can create carbon-beneficial forest management. Berkeley research from 2021 found that promoting innovative uses of wood residues can support extensive wildfire hazard reduction and maximize carbon benefits in California’s forests. Read the full scientific article here.

FORD TOWS TESLA

12/16/2023 — Update from California: The nice folks on the Stanislaus had to go rescue a Tesla cyber-truck driver who was out looking for a tree. The video would make a nice ad for Ford trucks.  WATCH IT HERE.

 

Reclamation of fire and water for Klamath River tribes

The elements themselves were taken from the Yurok Tribe when the federal government forced them onto a northern California reservation in 1855.

Gone was the earth of the tribe’s ancestral lands. Gone were the salmon-filled waters the tribe had relied on. Gone was the tribe’s access to cultural burning. And, earlier this year, the tribe even lost access to its air.

On the evening of August 15, the Six Rivers National Forest was hit with 150 lightning strikes that ignited 27 confirmed fires, according to inciweb. A dozen of those fires were ignited in Del Norte County, fires that would later be managed together as the Smith River Complex.

Smoke from the complex drifted down onto the town of Klamath on the Yurok Reservation, according to Arizona Republic reporter Debra Utacia Krol. The town’s air would go on to acquire the unmistakable odor of gas-powered generators after the local utility shut power off in fears of sparking another wildfire.

Smith River Complex
Smith River Complex, Mad River Hotshots, inciweb photo

The Smith River Complex would burn 95,107 acres before it was 100 percent contained nearly two months later on October 13. The complex’s BAER team assessment estimated that ~49 percent of the area’s soil was burned at either a moderate or a high severity. The assessment also found that multiple watersheds in the area were severely burned. While the fire didn’t burn on the Yurok Reservation itself, it stands as one of the many reasons the tribe is pushing to reclaim its elements.

In 2013, the tribe formed the Cultural Fire Management Council to keep alive the practice of cultural burning on the Yurok Reservation and ancestral lands. The group partners with numerous agencies and nonprofits, including the USFS, Cal Fire, and the Nature Conservancy.

Cultural Fire Management Council
Cultural Fire Management Council [CulturalFire.org] photo
The council pushes toward its goal through fuels reduction, cooperative burns, and returning the freedom to burn back to individual families and property owners on the reservation. The council also offers numerous workshops and trainings to get more people involved in cultural and managed fire.

“We’ve been suppressing fire and really, what we’ve been doing is suppressing this critical piece of who we are as humans,” the group’s treasurer and cultural fire practitioner Elizabeth Azzuz told High Country News. “Fire isn’t something apart from us. Fire is family.”

The tribe is also working to reclaim its waters by leading the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. Over the next year, four dams along the Klamath River will be deconstructed and removed as part of a 20-year effort by river advocates and tribal members to stop the devastation of the river’s salmon population. The deconstruction of the first dam occurred in early November.

Copco
Copco

The recent wins contribute to a sense of the tribe’s reclaiming agency over its natural resources for the betterment of the land and the tribe’s members.

“We’ve been talking and begging about doing this for so long, just spinning our wheels,” Yurok Forestry Director Dawn Blake told the Associated Press. “It feels like we’re finally being heard.”