Counter Rotating Vortex Pair: the 2020 El Dorado Fire

From: Mark Pieper
Subject: Counter Rotating Vortex Pair Technology Transfer Video Message
Body: Hello, I’m with the USDA Forest Service’s Innovation and Organizational Learning. We just released a 9 min. video about a fire behavior phenomenon called the Counter Rotating Vortex Pair. Investigators determined this occurred on the El Dorado Fire in 2020, killing Charlie Morton of the Big Bear Hotshots.
Here is the link to the video:    Qcode

This QCODE will get you more info plus the video.

Editor’s note
:  The El Dorado Fire burned 22,744 acres in San Bernardino and Riverside counties of California in September to November 2020. It was ignited on September 5 by a pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party in El Dorado Ranch Park, and quickly spread to the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area of the San Bernardino National Forest. Charlie Morton

Burning over a 71-day period, the fire destroyed 20 structures and resulted in one firefighter fatality, for which the couple hosting the party were charged with involuntary manslaughter. Charlie Morton, an experienced squad boss from the Big Bear Hotshots, was killed by the Vortex Pair detailed in the excellent video linked above.

In a report by the Victorville Daily Press, Martin Estacio explained, “When asked by reporters in July how prosecutors will argue the couple’s actions were responsible for Morton’s death, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson said the firefighter was “fighting a fire that was started because of a smoke bomb.”

“That’s the only reason he was there,” he said.

A Superior Court judge in San Bernardino on Monday, Jan. 23, dismissed one felony count against the couple accused of setting the El Dorado Fire in 2020 but let stand 29 other charges, including the most serious, according to a January 23, 2023 report by the Mercury-News.

[Bill Gabbert’s El Dorado Fire story ARCHIVES]

Trial begins with Pacific Power over 2020 wildfires

Opening arguments were heard yesterday in a lawsuit against PacifiCorp claiming that its negligence started several devastating 2020 wildfires that burned across western Oregon. KEZI-TV reported that the class action suit was filed in September 2020, not long after the fire’s containment, by Linn County residents who lost their homes in the Beachie Creek Fire. The suit grew to include plaintiffs from other Oregon wildfires.

The complaint alleges that Pacific Power and its parent company, PacifiCorp, did not deactivate certain powerlines during the heavy winds in the late summer of 2020. When those east winds brought down trees, they connected with live powerlines, igniting fires that destroyed hundreds of structures and killed several people.

“PacifiCorp chose not to protect Oregonians — it did not live up to its obligation, it didn’t take any action to prevent fires, and now, in this case, PacifiCorp should bear the consequences,” said Nicholas Rosinia, attorney for the plaintiffs. KOBI5 News reported that Pacific Power attorneys countered that a decision to de-energize powerlines is complex and can’t be based on fire risk alone. “The possibility of an ignition must be weighed against the dangers of de-energization when whole cities and towns can be blanketed in darkness just when they need power the most,” said Doug Dixon, an attorney for the defendants.

The attorneys acknowledged that both Portland General Electric and Consumers Power, Inc. decided to turn off power in parts of their service areas around the Labor Day storms.

The Beachie Creek Fire was reported August 16, 2020 in the Opal Creek Wilderness about six miles northwest of Detroit Lake in Oregon, some 38 miles east of Salem. According to records in the daily national Incident Management Situation Report and GIS data, the fire was:

      • 10 acres August 26, 10 days after it was reported
      • 23 acres August 31, 15 days after it was reported
      • 150 acres September 3, 18 days after it was reported
      • 469 acres September 7, 22 days after it was reported; (before the winds began that night).

Plaintiffs are asking for more than $1.6 billion in damages, according to court documents. The trial is scheduled to last until at least mid-June.

2020 Labor Day fires
GOES-17 photo of smoke from wildfires in Washington, Oregon, and California at 5:56 p.m. PDT Sept. 8, 2020. This image was captured during a very strong wind event. NASA photo

The Oregonian reported that the Labor Day fires burned more than 1.2 million acres in Oregon, destroyed upwards of 5,000 homes and structures, and claimed nine lives. PacifiCorp is the primary defendant in litigation from the fires; the Portland-based utility, Oregon’s second largest, did not shut down power to any of its 600,000 customers during the windstorm. Its lines have been implicated in six separate fires, one of which started in its California service territory and burned across the state line into Oregon.

Jurors will determine PacifiCorp’s responsibility, if any, in four of those fires: the Santiam Canyon fires east of Salem, the Echo Mountain Complex near Lincoln City, the South Obenchain Fire near Eagle Point, and the Two Four Two Fire near the southwest Oregon town of Chiloquin. This is a historic trial and will likely reshape the way Pacific Northwest electric utilities respond to increasing wildfire risks influenced by climate change, persistent drought conditions, and increasing numbers of acres burned each year.

In November 2022, PacifiCorp settled another case out of court with two families who sued over the Archie Creek Fire, which burned more than 130,000 acres in Douglas County in 2020.

A bit of Bill Gabbert history

We got a note yesterday from Marty Parish, who knew Bill Gabbert years ago. He was amazed to see names here from his IHC days; he said he met Bill when he was with the Laguna Hotshots in the early 1980s, when Bill was working in Prevention and lived at Camp Ole, near the Laguna IHC camp.

Marty sent us this photo that was sent to him by another firefighter. He does not know where or when it was taken.  But that’s for sure Bill Gabbert at far left. Who can identify more of the guys in this photo?

Radar Squadron on Mt. Laguna
Radar Squadron on Mt. Laguna

“At 17 I became a Young Adult Conservation Corps (YACC) member in late 1978,” wrote Marty. “We were based out of a work camp located off the same highway (Sunrise Hwy) about two miles north of Camp Ole (Al Bahr Shrine Camp, now gone after the 2013 Chariot Fire). We worked closely with the USFS as part of the program. I was hired in ’79 as an Engine Crewman (Corral Canyon) while working as a YACC with Mert Thomas in Recreation (Mert got me the job!) and I finished the second half of the season that year ending in early January of 1980. I returned in the spring to Camp Ole for my first Hotshot season.”

“I didn’t really know Bill well,” added Marty.  “We had lived for a short time in the same USFS realm on the Cleveland National Forest-Descanso District; he had left suppression before we met and was working in Prevention. He lived in one of the USFS employee residences at Camp Ole (on Mt. Laguna, San Diego County).”

“I was a Laguna Hotshot for three years, but not sure he was there all three years (we relocated for a year to Descanso, then returned to Camp Ole, only to relocate back to Descanso permanently after I left for FHS).”

Marty, who was also with the Flagstaff Hotshots 1983-1985, added this. “Not sure who is in this photo, but that’s definitely Bill on far left side. Again, my condolences for your loss. A couple of others from that era recently passed too, including my dear friend Brian Connelly from LHS and MCB/Camp Pendleton Fire. Let me know if you pick up other names of people in the pic.”

Hit us up if you recognize any of the other guys in this photo or can provide other details — just click “Leave a comment” under the headline above. THANKS!


Oregon cancels its long-held policy with Lloyd’s of London

The Oregon Department of Forestry has cancelled an insurance policy that has over the years reduced the cost of fighting wildfires; it had acquired sky-high deductibles over the last few years.

ODF said it will not renew its policy with Lloyd’s of London, a UK-based insurance market, in the 2023-2024 policy year. Longer, more complex, and costlier fire seasons over the last decade have led to higher premiums and deductibles, which in turn made the policy less attractive to Oregon officials. The policy was first acquired in 1973, according to KEZI-TV, to reduce the impacts of wildland fire suppression costs for Oregonians.

The decision was made after an April 3 meeting of the Emergency Fire Cost Committee (EFCC), which oversees the Oregon Forest Land Protection Fund (FLPF). After an extensive review, the EFCC recommended to the State Forester Cal Mukumoto that he cancel the insurance policy, and he decided not to renew it, explaining that the funds that would have paid for the policy can be better used directly paying for wildfire suppression efforts.

According to the EFCC, the 2023-2024 insurance policy would have had a deductible of over $78.5 million – 57 percent higher than in the 2021-2022 policy. Oregon’s historic fire season costs did not meet that threshold, so the policy was very unlikely to actually trigger this year and provide any financial benefit to the state. The 2023-2024 premium was quoted at $4.1 million for $25 million in coverage.

$11 million contest for innovation in fighting fire

Best-selling author and futurist Peter Diamandis became frustrated in recent years with the “craziness” of constant wildfire alerts he’d received. But unlike most people, Diamandis has a Rolodex full of wealthy benefactors and politicians, along with experience with a solution he had used before: Create a contest.

On April 21 his group XPRIZE launched its latest contest: finding new ideas to detect and suppress wildfires.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) said the prize threshold includes detecting and suppressing a high-risk wildfire in 10 minutes or less, and pinpointing from space all fire ignitions across multiple states or countries — in 60 seconds. These are the challenges for innovators in XPRIZE Wildfire, a four-year, $11 million competition to develop and demonstrate fully autonomous capabilities to find and fight wildfires.

XPRIZE Wildfire

The United Nations, the White House, and Congress recently have prioritized destructive wildfires as a major economic, environmental, and safety threat. Patti Poppe, CEO of PG&E, said they are co-sponsoring the project. “Today’s launch of XPRIZE Wildfire is a call-to-action to entrepreneurs, roboticists, artificial-intelligence experts, scientists, and innovators from across the globe to revolutionize wildfire detection and suppression,” she said.

XPRIZE Wildfire encourages teams from around the world to innovate across firefighting technologies in two different tracks designed to transform how fires are detected and suppressed.

    • In the Autonomous Wildfire Response track, teams will need to monitor at least 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles), and autonomously suppress a wildfire within 10 minutes of detection.
    • In the Space-Based Wildfire Detection & Intelligence track, teams will have one minute to accurately detect all fires across a landscape larger than entire states or countries, and 10 minutes to precisely characterize and report data (with the fewest false positives) to two ground stations.

The day before something is a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Palmer Luckey, a 30-year-old founder of Oculus, a virtual reality company that sold for $2 billion, announced that he was forming the first team to compete for the prize. He said he cares more about solving the problem than winning the money, but he believes the cash will motivate other contestants to form teams and compete.

“I sold my last company for billions of dollars so I can do whatever I want,” he said. “We started working on wildfire tech because I think it’s very, very important. The money in this prize to me is honestly immaterial.” Luckey said at the contest launch that he thinks software, not hardware, will make the difference in detecting and containing fires.

The four-year contest is not winner-take-all. Teams will compete for top prizes of as much as $3.5 million and a bonus $1 million prize to develop technology that can detect fires both from the ground and from space, and fight them using drones or other autonomous vehicles. They’ll compete, for example, to see which technology can accurately detect fires across a land mass the size of a state or country in one minute or suppress fires using an autonomous vehicle within 10 minutes.

Andrea Santy, who is running the competition for XPrize, also said the prize money may not be the most important driver. Teams will benefit from multiple rounds of live testing and validation that would be hard to organize independently. The group is spending an additional $11 million beyond the prize money to run the contest, she said; some of that money will fund a documentary about the competition.

XPRIZE Wildfire is offered in partnership with Co-Sponsors PG&E and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Presenting Sponsor Minderoo Foundation, Bonus Prize Sponsor Lockheed Martin, Supporting Sponsor Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and Benefactors Nichola Eliovits and Michael Antonov. Sixteen teams are already registered. For more information, to get involved, or to register a team to compete, visit the website.

Volunteer firefighter in Pennsylvania charged with 60 felonies after lighting two dozen fires

YET ANOTHER TOILET PAPER ARSONIST:  An 18-year-old volunteer firefighter allegedly started 21 wildfires over the last couple months; ABC-27 News reported that Adam Ewing, of Three Springs, was arrested by the Bureau of Forestry for setting wildland fires in February and March.

On Saturday, Feb. 11, a series of wildfires started in southern Huntingdon County. Just before 2:30 p.m., crews were called out to a fire near Captain Jack’s Road. This fire burned about a half acre in dead leaves and brush before firefighters could control the flames. About 20 minutes later, crews were dispatched to another fire along Old Tannery Road in the Saltillo Borough. Another third of an acre was burned before firefighters were able to control it, according to a criminal affidavit.

On Feb. 14, investigators from the Bureau of Forestry visited the locations of the two fires to determine a cause. They concluded the fires had been maliciously lit with the intention to burn or spread.

another toilet paper arsonist
Adam Ewing, of Three Springs, was arrested by the Bureau of Forestry for setting 21 fires in Huntingdon County in February and March. Huntingdon County Prison photo

WTAJ-TV News reported that just before 2:30 p.m., crews were called out to a fire near Captain Jack’s Road; it burned .51 acres of dead leaves and brush before firefighters were able to extinguish the flames.

Investigators then learned that Ewing was the one who had called in the fire along Captain Jack’s Road. Later on Feb. 14, multiple fire crews were called out after two wildfires were reported near Hamman Road and Sugar Grove Road in Cromwell Township. Investigators from the Bureau of Forestry responded to the fires and were able to confirm again that these fires had been intentionally lit, according to the criminal complaint. The Three Springs Volunteer Fire Company’s Chief Chris Grace told the forestry investigators that Ewing — a volunteer firefighter — was the first to arrive at the fire station for the call. On Feb. 23 and 24, another 10 fires were reported — and also called arson by state Forestry. Police noted in the filed charges that at three of the fires, they found pieces of toilet paper with a rose pattern. Investigators went to Ewing’s home, where they confirmed that the toilet paper at the burn sites matched the rose pattern toilet paper at Ewing’s home. Ewing has yet to post his $500,000 bail. He’s facing 63 felony charges