Virginia deputy chief dies of heart attack after wildfire response

Chief Lauck
Chief Chester Lauck

A Virginia firefighter, Deputy Chief Chester T. Lauck with Frederick County Fire and Rescue, suffered a heart attack hours after responding to a wildfire and died the following morning.

The notice from the Frederick County Government Facebook page on Sunday announced “On behalf of Fire and Rescue Chief Steven A. Majchrzak, it is with profound sadness that we announce the Line-Of-Duty Death of Deputy Chief Chester T. Lauck, who passed away this morning at 8:09 a.m. at Winchester Medical Center surrounded by family and friends.”

Lauck LODD

In his most recent position, Lauck was responsible for the Emergency Management Division. Prior to that he had worked for the Winchester (Virginia) Fire and Rescue Department and had retired He retired from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) Fire and Rescue Department as a Battalion Chief of the Special Operations Division. He’d also worked as an Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighter (ARFF) for the Air National Guard and began service in 1984 as a patrolman for the Virginia Department of Forestry, where he worked on wildland incidents and events.

Another Earth Day voice … MSNBC’s Velshi: ‘Time to get creative on wildfires – fast’

Ali Velshi, a business correspondent and analyst for MSNBC, focused on wildfires for his Earth Day commentary.  He introduces his concerns by noting that “More than half of the most destructive wildfires in US history have occurred since 2018,” with annual acres burned doubling in the past 30 years and forecast to double again in the next 30. The intro to his report continues … “Meanwhile, wildfire fighting tactics for detection and suppression haven’t changed in decades – and as the fires get bigger, faster, and deadlier, firefighters can’t keep up. New technologies are needed – soon – to save ecosystems, property, and lives.”

His report expands on the recent years of record fires and the impact this has had on communities and the firefighters who work to meet this daunting challenge. His key point … after 53 years of protesting and calling for action and significant changes, we’re now amid the “behemoth challenges” of climate change. On this Earth Day, Velshi suggests for us all to face and address the wildfire crisis with new technology and approaches.

That technology and business approaches are a component of Velshi’s call may reflect his reporting focus. And it’s worth noting that Velshi sits on the board of the XPRIZE, and his Earth Day report echoes the XPRIZE’s recent challenge focused on wildfire.

Details on Velshi’s broadcast were also tweeted on Earth Day.

Earth Day is a quiet fire day – except for coastal North Carolina

On April 22, 2023, Earth Day 2023,  the largest fire of national note is burning in North Carolina.

For April 21, the most recent update of the national portal for the Geographic Area Coordination Centers – because it’s not quite busy enough for weekend staffing – there are three GACCs at Preparedness Level 2 – Eastern, Southern, and Southwest – while the rest of the country is at PL 1.  And a scan of national-level fire hazards doesn’t show any Red Flag Warnings or Watches for the day.

For the prior week, national initial attack activity in the National Sit Report was considered light at 1,075 fires, with 50 large fires reported and 50 contained. Fire names ranged from a label only an agency can love (AR-BUP-000924 in the Buffalo National River)  to a menagerie of animals – Swine, Third Goat, Antelope Flats, Wolf Creek, Otter Creek, Kingfisher Hollow – to the uniquely local – Natural Bridge (named for the actual Natural Bridge in Kentucky), Muzzle Loader Club (perhaps the local shooting range in Oklahoma?), Jimmys Water Hole in New Jersey and Shinhollow in New York, and Tinaja in southern Arizona (translated from the Spanish as “large earthenware jar”).

The Fire Weather Outlook for Earth Day was minimal except for southwest Arizona. The Day 2 Fire Weather Outlook for today noted that “Elevated conditions are likely near the international border in the Lower Colorado River Basin, as 15 mph sustained southwesterly surface winds overlap with 15 percent RH for a few hours around afternoon peak heating. Elevated highlights were added since fuels should be marginally receptive to fire spread.” Looking ahead, the only fire hazard of note in the fire weather outlook is for the New Mexico-Texas-Mexico area on Tuesday-Wednesday, April 25-26.

All this being duly noted, one can be certain that residents near the Great Lakes Fire will agree that this fire (also called the Great Lake Fire) likely holds claim to being Earth Day’s fire of note in the U.S. Named for a singular Great Lake, with other lakes around it, in the Croatan National Forest), the fire quadrupled in size in 24 hours, from 7000 to an estimated 30,000+ acres, with a national Southern Area fire management team being assigned.

As noted yesterday in our partner site,, the VIIRS satellite data offered space-based mapping of  yesterday’s growth that was confirmed in the map available today from the Risk Management Assistance Dashboard … compared to yesterday’s rapid spread, the majority of recent heat signatures are to the north, where the fire is burning into and between past fuel treatments. The fire has definitely outgrown the 21,000 acre footprint of 2012’s Dad Fire.

Great Lake Fire Croatan NF NC 2023-04-22

Additional mapping is being shared by Joseph Elfelt …

And current info arrives from a variety of Twitter posts with the handle of #GreatLakeFire (no plural) …

A recent tweet equated the fire’s size to the acreage of DisneyWorld, which, in case you were curious, was forecast to have average crowds for Earth Day according to the Magic Guides Crowd Calendar.

There is no current estimate for how many firefighters are working the Great Lake(s) Fire, though it’s certainly increasing. Yesterday’s census for the Southern Area had some 1200 resources assigned in the overall GACC area.

Firefighter procession in West Virginia; murder and arson charges filed

A procession today carried the body of Cody J. Mullens from the Medical Examiner’s Office in Charleston to Summersville. The West Virginia Department of Forestry employee died April 13 during firefighting operations in the Tucker Hollow area of Powellton.

A felony murder charge and four counts of felony arson were filed by the Fayette County Sheriff on April 14 against David Bass, 39, of Kimberly, who was being held in the Southern Regional Jail.

A joint investigation by the West Virginia Fire Marshall’s Office, the Department of Forestry, and the Fayette County Sheriff determined that the cause of the fire, reported April 12, was arson.

A tree fell on Mullens during the second day of firefighting operations. He was extricated by rescue teams and died from injuries. This is reported to be the first line of duty death in the history of the West Virginia Department of Forestry.

Tucker Hollow area, West Virginia, where Cody Mullens died while fighting a wildfire.
Tucker Hollow area, West Virginia, where Cody Mullens died while fighting a wildfire.

U.S. wildfire spring outlook — normal (mostly), with snowmelt

Pick a landscape, throw a dart, and in the U.S. you’re likely to hit a wildland fire outlook for a normal spring — normal, that is, except for the record snowpack in parts of the West and the above-normal wildfire potential for the southern half of Florida, much of Virginia and coastal North Carolina, and the Southwest, from southeast Arizona to the Rio Grande Valley and into eastern New Mexico and west Texas.

As noted in the April 2023 NIFC Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook, fire managers in most of the country may look forward to a spring of burn prep, pile burns and prescribed burning (where road conditions aren’t too soupy), while in drier locations the early-spring prescribed burning is turning to suppression and protection activities, with resources moving in support.

Consider Florida, where a recent prescribed burn is getting credit for corralling a wildfire in Big Cypress National Preserve (see an upcoming article for more on Florida). And on a particularly hot-dry-windy day in the San Pedro River of southern Arizona, a 1200-acre fire burned through an essential river corridor until it was boxed in with burnouts and air support in lighter grass fuels.

As April turns to June, with seasonal green up and precip, we can anticipate an entire county with normal fire potential.

April-June 2023 maps NIFC Wildland Fire Potential Outlook
Outlook maps foretell a shift to normal to below-normal fire potential by June.

While aspects of the winter-into-spring weather has been attributed to an extended and now transitioning La Niña pattern, the most recent NIFC Wildland Fire Outlook (April 2023) also noted the “active weather pattern emerged over the CONUS in March due in large part to a historically strong Madden-Julian Oscillation. Consistent upper-level trough passages moved across the West, with ample Pacific moisture leading to well above normal precipitation across most of the West except for portions of Washington, the Idaho Panhandle, northwest Montana, and southern portions of the Southwest. Much of the Plains had below normal precipitation except for portions of the northern Plains and near the Red River.”

If you want to know wet, talk to anyone in the path of the some dozen or so atmospheric rivers. And what remains is a considerable snowpack that will sublimate or melt (and flood, where it warms too quickly, and likely create a more continuous fuel beds once the spring flush cures.

For 2023, FEMA has declared four wildfire-based emergencies – three in Oklahoma and one in New Mexico.

Oklahoma sources reported more than 30 homes destroyed and at least 30 injuries in a 100-fire bust during a few windy days in late March/early April. With light though not season-ending moisture, fire danger has diminished but is expected to increase by mid-April – with parts of Oklahoma and Kansas remaining in the epicenter of drought.

The following graphics and links may help foretell the stories of our spring … depending on where your dart lands.

From the water year departure from normal for the U.S. West,  shared by the Atmospheric River Portal, we see that overall we’re in a wet yet variable and not extraordinary water year. Yet it’s wet enough to reduce drought impacts in many areas (particularly California) that have been dry.

In northern latitudes and higher elevations, the accumulated snowpack is beginning to melt and sublimate.

And what melts may increase flood potential … as noted in the mid-March Flood Outlook, with moderate risk in the Sierras and the upper Midwest. Gauge-level details and forecasts are monitored at the NWS River Observations page — with currently less than 500 of some 10,000 gauges nearing or at flood stage.

2023 U.S Spring Flood Outlook as of March 16, 2023.
2023 U.S Spring Flood Outlook as of March 16, 2023.

The April Outlook also shares a visual (on the fourth page below) of what a normal fire season may look like — with April activity in the Southeast and upper Midwest, expected to become more active in May-June in California and the Southwest, and then come July the expected normal fire activity will increase in the interior West and Northwest as fire activity diminishes in the Southeast and East.

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Wildfire Commission seeks ideas for science, money, workforce

Got a priority or idea when it comes to the work that firefighters and fire managers do, the science that informs the work, or the money and processes that pay for it all? The Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission is looking for your recommendations.

The three topics open from March 2-22 are gathering input for commission recommendations on Science, Data and Technology; Appropriations; and Workforce.

The commission’s “Opportunities for Engagement” page explains the process, with eight recommendation topics already recruited and concluded.

Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission header 2023-Feb
Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission

This month marks the final stage of the engagement process as the commission and its committees work to meet a Fall 2023 timeline for a report to the U.S. Congress, as stipulated in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The legislation created the commission, which is charged with developing two reports to Congress – one on aerial firefighting released in February and another scheduled for release in Fall 2023 – to collectively develop “a comprehensive set of recommendations to address the nation’s wildfire crisis,” as noted in a Department of Interior media release.

Grassroots WIldland Firefighters shared a call for recommendations in their  Stakeholder Update: “Currently the commission is taking on issues associated with OUR WORKFORCE. Such issues include recommendations related to compensation, recruitment and retention, staffing structures, and meeting the challenge of meeting workforce capacity (including support structures such as housing, health, and wellbeing).”

And they offered both encouragement and coaching: “It doesn’t matter if you have a small observation to share or a large well-researched manifesto ready for daylight. This is our time to be heard by the whole Commission. We urge you to PLEASE provide your submissions and make sure your colleagues do the same.”

The commission survey form reminds respondents to focus on issues and processes may be resolved by way of legislative process under the purview of Congress. And they too offer encouragement: “If you have multiple recommendations, please complete the form as many times as needed.”

Link to Submit Recommendation