Aussie firefighters' orientation

The 45 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand finished their orientation on Thursday in Boise and traveled to Redding, California where they will be assigned to three incidents in Northern California. In addition to getting used to USA fire jargon and practices, they have to deal with jet lag. As one of them said:

On a side note, nearly everyone has got through the jet lag and are sleeping most of the night. It takes a few days to be able to sleep past 3am. The problem is that the sun stays up past 930 pm and it is daylight until after 10 pm so it is easy to loose track of time in the evening.

Firefighter rescues bear cub in fire, then begins treatment for rabies

Yesterday Wildfire Today brought you the story of the horse that was rescued by a crew on the Mill fire on the Mendocino National Forest. Now it’s a bear…. a story not unlike the original Smokey Bear.

A Cal Fire Field Observer on the Moon fire in northern California, Adam Deem, found a bear cub while he was scouting the fire. The bear had some burns on his paws and was having difficulty walking. Deem looked for the cub’s mother but could not find her, so he caught the bear and wrapped him in his brush jacket. In grabbing the cub, Deem received some scratches on his hands.

Deem cradled the bear in his arms as he drove his pickup to a staging area. From there he and the cub were driven to the Incident Command Post in Anderson. Deem said on the way to the ICP he comforted, petted and sweet-talked the little cub.

At the ICP the Medical Unit treated the bear for dehydration and let him lick a lollipop before a state Fish & Game wildlife biologist picked it up for the trip to the Sacramento area rescue shelter.

Deem and the bear developed a good rapport. “He was giving me some kisses,” Deem said.

Unfortunately, some of those licks were on Deem’s scratched hands, which later forced him to undergo preventative treatment for rabies at Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding. Deem said he had to have five rabies shots, and will need four more shots through next month.

“It’s absolutely worth it,” Deem said. “I don’t think anyone could have left that animal out there in that condition.”

The original Smokey Bear was a cub that was burned in the El Capitan National Forest in New Mexico.

UPDATE @ 0900 PT, July 18, 2008

Thanks to Tyler Dawn who let us know in the comments that the local media has a video story of the incident HERE.

California condors adapt to fire

Most of the 23 endangered California condors that were residing in the Big Sur area when the Basin and Indians fire began have been accounted for. Some of them were seen on the beach during the fire dining on a beached whale and a decaying California seal lion. Here is an excerpt from the

Two rare California condor chicks have survived the Big Sur-based Basin Complex fire, enduring dense smoke but untouched by flames.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Kelly Sorenson of Ventana Wildlife Society, which monitors each bird along the vast central coast. “We’re so incredibly relieved that two chicks survived.”

The fate of the third remains unknown. Unlike the two survivors, who lived in coastal nests, the nest of the third chick was located in a more remote interior part of Ventana Wilderness Area, where the fire burned especially hot.

In a brief visit to one of the nests on Tuesday, wildlife biologist Joe Burnett found a chick “fat and happy in the cave. Mom and Dad have been keeping this chick full of food despite the disruption of the fire.”

Among the rarest and most imperiled birds in the world, the chicks belonged to a small group of 23 wild condors in Big Sur. They are part of a reintroduction program administrated by the Ventana Wildlife Society. Only 151 wild condors remain in the world.

Because the young birds are only three months old – still covered in downy gray feathers yet already the size of chickens – they were too young to fly and escape the fire.

Sorenson and Burnett had hoped to rescue the birds ahead of the advancing fire, but were forced back by heat and smoke. For more than two weeks, they’ve been braced for bad news.

All but one of the older condors in the wilderness have been accounted for.

Wildland fire news, July 17, 2008

President plans flightseeing trip over fires

President Bush is expected to fly in to the Redding, California airport around 2 p.m. today. Then he and the Governor will cruise around in a helicopter looking at the fires. This will be the first time a sitting president has visited Redding since John F. Kennedy was there in 1963 for the dedication of the Whiskeytown Dam.

Bush will also attend a private Republican fund raiser in Napa.

UPDATE @ 2026 PT, July 17

A reporter for the Redding Record Searchlight, Ryan Sabalow, was at the Redding airport for the President’s visit and was using his Blackberry to send live updates to the newspaper. Here is his description of when the President stopped by to see the jumpers:


Prez Bush just walked into smokejumper room. Walked up to John Casey, a 38-year-old jumper with almost 200 jumps in his career.

“I couldn’t handle it,” he said to Casey.

Bush asked him how many jumps. His eyes got wide at the number — 200.

“I appreciate your service,” Bush said.

Bush went around the room shaking hands and greeting the smokejumpers, who appeared busy sewing and prepping their chutes.

One was so fixed on his work that he apparently missed the president’s approach from behind.

“I don’t want to interrupt,” Bush said, drawing laughter from reporters and firefighters alike.

Gov followed being giving kudos to the firefighters.

“Good to see you,” he said to Casey. “Keep up the good work.”


UPDATE @ 1413 PT, July 17:

Here is part of a transcript from a “press gaggle” that occurred today at 10:55 p.m. PT on Air Force One on the way to Redding, California. Mr. Stanzel is a spokesperson for the President. Under Secretary of Agriculture Mark Rey also participated in the gaggle.

Mr. STANZEL: At 2:30 p.m. today, when we arrive in California, the President will participate in a briefing on the California wildfires. That will be at — in Redding, California. We’ll have pool at the top, and he’ll receive a briefing on the response efforts from federal, state and local officials.


And as you — I’ll let the two experts here talk a little bit about the fires themselves, but I would just note that on June 28th, the President signed an emergency declaration for the state of California; that is providing federal funding and support. And we have lots of information about the fires, and these are the single-largest — this is the single-largest fire event in the history of California with over 1,300 square miles burned since June 21st.

After the President participates in that briefing on the California wildfires, he is going to participate in an aerial tour of the area, of Redding, and he will be joined in that by Governor Schwarzenegger. Administrator Paulison will also be there for an aerial tour of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. And following the aerial tour, the — Governor Schwarzenegger and the President will deliver brief remarks.


Q And square miles burned?

UNDER SECRETARY REY: I was afraid you were going to ask square miles burned — it’s about 900,000 acres burned. I’d have to get you the — it’s 66 acres per square mile, so — (laughter) — if you want the divide that number by 66 —

Q Can you give us an idea of what he’ll see in the aerial tour?

UNDER SECRETARY REY: What he’ll see in the aerial tour is areas of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest that have burned, as well as areas that have been thinned to reduce flammable materials. He’ll also see a couple of thinning projects that did result in our ability to put out a fire more easily.


UNDER SECRETARY REY: Let me correct a number I gave you. It’s 640 acres per square mile. So I’ve got to remember that. I have a hard time with the metric system and all that sort of stuff. I don’t trust it.

The President will be briefed at the U.S. Forest Service smoke jumper base before he departs for his flightseeing tour. He will meet with Cal Fire Chief Ruben Garijalva, Randy Moore, U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester, Gen. William Wade from the National Guard, and Henry Renteria, director of the California Office of Emergency Services. After his briefing he will visit the smokejumper loft and say hello to the jumpers working on their chutes before he departs on a helicopter for a tour of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.


Basin fire, Big Sur area

The satellites have detected quite a bit of heat north and south of the White Oaks area that is outside of yesterday’s fire perimeter, apparently the result of quite a bit of firing from the dozer lines. The update from the fire late yesterday had this information:

Today’s burnout operations went well on Chew’s Ridge. Burning conditions were optimal and a combination of tools, including the helitorch, was used to meet today’s objectives. It is expected that operations will extend east along the containment line to Carmel Valley Road tonight. Burnout operations in this area will continue through the coming days as weather conditions permit.


At the south end of the fire, along Carrizo Trail, the Cobra helicopter that is outfitted with an infrared camera found no remaining hotspots near the containment line.

Burnout operations also continued east of Devil’s Peak on the north edge of the fire, and will continue in the coming days as conditions permit.

The King City Incident Command Post and Carmel Valley Spike Camp have been combined and relocated to Carmel Valley Road near Tassajara Road.

At a public meeting Tuesday night a Forest Service spokesman used technical jargon to explain the slopover in the White Oaks area:

“Two nights ago, we had a little oops,” Buck Silva of the U.S. Forest Service told a group of more than 100 residents at a community meeting late Tuesday at Tularcitos Elementary School in Carmel Valley.


“We’re making progress,” he said. “We just had this little pooch-out that delayed us a couple of days.”

I can’t find “a little oops” or “pooch-out” in the glossary in the Fireline Handbook.


The fire is 122,980 acres and is 61% contained. The map below is of the White Oaks area.

This map shows how much heat (in red) was detected by the satellites outside the last perimeter (in yellow) uploaded by the incident management team. I am going to assume that all of the heat shown shown outside the perimeter, including that on the northeast side in the White Oaks area, was created by the burnouts from the dozer lines.

Cold Springs fire, Mt. Adams, Washington

The spread of the Cold Springs fire on the lower slopes of Mt. Adams in southwest Washington has slowed. After quickly burning over 7,000 acres, it is now about 7,900 acres. Yesterday morning it was 5% contained, but that percentage has increased since then.

Four men trapped, three burned on Motion fire

Four men wearing camouflage clothing were found in the Motion fire on the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in northern California after one of them made a call in Spanish to 911. The area was burning vigorously and several strike teams of engines, hand crews, and dozers were staged along roads preparing for a burning operation.

Of the four Hispanic males, three of them had burn injuries. Jose Alcazar Fernandez, 25, was flown to Mercy Medical Center with third degree burns and was later transferred to the UC Davis burn unit. A second adult and a juvenile were transferred by ground ambulance, then treated for first and second degree burns and smoke inhalation and released. The juvenile male was treated and released for minor burns. The treated adult and a fourth adult male were arrested on federal charges of being present in a closed area.

Law enforcement officers determined that the men were Mexican nationals unlawfully present in the United States. They claimed to have been hunting in the park but refused to say where their weapons were. A marijuana cultivation site had been under investigation nearby and fire overhead and suppression personnel had repeatedly been briefed over the previous few days as to the specific location of the site and the probability of armed suspects in the area.

Firefighting can be dangerous, and even more so around marijuana plantations. Be careful out there. The following statement was in an Incident Status Summary from the Soda Complex on July 13:

Armed Law Enforcment officers are needed to mitigate threats against fire crews and provide for safety on the fireline.

“Chopper Chick” is a helicopter pilot who, the last we heard, was assigned to the Mendocino Lightning Complex flying a Sikorsky 58T. She blogged about the marijuana on June 29:

The first few days I was mostly amazed at how many back yards grow “pot” in their yards. Pot up here is like rose gardens where I live. Every one’s got one. It’s pretty cool to see from above. Most of the dip sights (where I get water from for the bambi bucket) are sources of water for most of these little pot gardens.

For those who don’t know, it’s legal to grow pot with a doctors note up here. It’s all out in the open, fenced in according to law, completely visible to anyone who flies over. Here are the rules.

But she is referring to “legal” pot growing. The illegal growers too often defend their crops with firearms.

DOI authorized to rehire retirees

The U.S. Department of Interior has been authorized by the Office of Personnel Management to waive the dual compensation restrictions on hiring reemployed annuitants into positions directly related to wildland firefighting operations. According to documentation recently received by local fire offices:

This authority only extends to temporary, mission critical employment in positions that directly fight fires or immediately support fire fighting operations for no longer than the emergency exists. Management, at their discretion, may submit requests for approval of a dual compensation waiver to the Deputy Assistant Director, Fire and Aviation Directorate, Bureau of Land Management at the National Interagency Fire Center. This authority is limited to the conditions outlined in the memorandum from the Associate Deputy Secretary, Delegated Authority to Waive Dual Compensation Reduction in Support of Wildland Firefighting Operations, and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) memorandum, Delegation of Authority dated July 2, 2008.

Some of the documentation sent to the field included this information.

There are several requirements that would have to be satisfied before a retiree start work. Here are a few. See the above document for a complete list.

  1. It must be National Preparedness Level 4 or 5.
  2. There is no regular employee available to fill the position.
  3. Former employees who took a “buy out” are not eligible.
  4. The person must be used to fight fires, support fires, back fill behind someone assigned to fires, or train firefighters.
  5. The person must turn down working without the waiver of dual compensation and working as an AD.
  6. Process the personnel action, and process pay documents.
  7. Drug testing, a physical, and the work capacity test may be required.
  8. Mission critical fire suppression activities are expected to continue for at least 14 days.
  9. The BLM’s Deputy Assistant Director of Fire and Aviation must approve each re-hire.

Obviously it could take a long time to go through all of the steps before a person could begin work. By that time, the PL could have dropped below 4. In contrast, it’s very easy to begin work as an AD. Anyone considering this should run the numbers and compare how much they would make either way.

I made the comparison for a Type 1 Section Chief working 10 hours a day for 2 weeks, and the person would make 13% more by going the re-hired annuitant route if their last federal job was a GS-12 step 4. Working more than 10 hours a day would make the re-hired annuitant position even more favorable. But different AD jobs and GS rates would give you vastly different numbers.

As far as I know the U.S. Forest Service has not asked for this waiver for many years, and this only applies to former Dept. of Interior personnel.