Wildfire news, July 23, 2008

Firefighters dodge cluster bombs

A fire near Aley, Lebanon, is presenting firefighters with the usual hazards of a wildland fire, and one not so usual. Bombs. They are fighting a fire in what was the front lines of the 1975-1990 civil war. Left behind from that war are cluster bombs and landmines. An official said:

At least eight landmines exploded and two of them were large bombs causing huge explosions. It is a very large, steep, wooded area that is hard to get around and we can’t send our men through due to the bombs. 

More information is here.

Homes burned like dominos falling

Researchers determined that of the 199 homes destroyed in last October’s Grass Valley fire near Lake Arrowhead, California, only 6 of them were directly hit by the fire. The other 193 homes ignited and burned due to surface fire contacting the home, firebrands accumulating on the home, or an adjacent burning structure. The report, by Jack Coen and Richard Stratton, concludes:

In general, the home destruction resulted from residential fire characteristics. The ignition vulnerable homes burning in close proximity to one another continued the fire spread through the residential area without the wildfire as a factor. This implies that similar fire destruction might occur without a wildfire. A house fire at an upwind location at the same time and under the same conditions as the wildfire could have resulted in significant fire spread within the community. 


Grass Valley fire, Lake Arrowhead, California

The complete report can be found HERE. Links to other reports by Jack Cohen on similar subjects are HERE.

Basin fire, east of Big Sur, California

The fire is 139,167 acres and is 72% contained. From this morning’s report:

Burnout operations were conducted yesterday along Blue Rock Ridge to Los Padres Reservoir and progress was made in the burnout along Chew’s Ridge north of the Mira Observatory. The smoke from these operations carried over Carmel Valley Village. 

Today burnout will continue from Miller Canyon to the Los Padres Dam and smoke will be visible.

Burnout operations are continuing around Tanbark and Arroyo Seco to widen protection zones.

Senator Conrad Burns and the Hot Shots

Two years ago today, on July 23, 2006, the Augusta Hot Shots from Virginia were at the Billings, Montana airport waiting for a flight home after working on the Bundy Railroad fire near Worden. The fire had been contained on July 19 and was being demobilized.

Montana Senator Conrad Burns approached them and told them that they had done “a poor job” of fighting the 92,000 acre fire.

Burns went on to say to the Hot Shots:

“See that guy over there? He hasn’t done a God-damned thing. They sit around. I saw it up on the Wedge fire and in northwestern Montana some years ago. It’s wasteful. You probably paid that guy $10,000 to sit around. It’s gotta change.”

The firefighters had a lot more class than the Senator. Their response to him was:

“Have nice day.”

Folks got mad. Everyone in Montana and in most of the West is a firefighter, was a firefighter, is related to a firefighter, or knows a firefighter. Almost all, except for the good Senator Burns, respect the work that firefighters do.

Burns was up for re-election, running against Democrat Jon Tester. Soon, 1,000 “Wildland Firefighters for Tester” bumper stickers appeared. Tester won by about 2000 votes, and the leading political columnist for the Lee Newspaper chain credited the “firefighter flap.” The Democrats took control of the U.S. Senate by a margin of one.

On this 2nd anniversary, as firefighters we need to remember that even though our numbers are small, our impact can be impressive.

Wildfire news, July 22, 2008

Total suppression or defensible space?

An article in the Red Orbit discusses the effectiveness of suppressing every wildland fire vs. preparing homes to withstand a frontal assault from a fire.

More provocatively, the research suggests that fighting fires on public lands to protect homes is ineffective and, in the long run, counterproductive.

It is also far more expensive.

This is the paradox of wildland fire management in America: Most scientists and fire managers agree that fire is a healthy and needed part of the forest, and that fighting these blazes serves only to build up fuels and boost the size and frequency of catastrophic fires.

But federal agencies keep attacking almost every wildfire, many deep in the woods, and the rising costs of suppression divert money from protecting homes and communities _ which can be saved with the right, often inexpensive, measures.

The result: Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on what most experts agree is the wrong approach. The lives of firefighters are put in danger on fires that don’t need to be fought. And homes are left vulnerable, their fate often decided by wind direction and the availability of federal firefighters to protect private property.

Railroad to pay $102 million for fire

The Union Pacific Railroad Company has agreed to pay $102 million for starting a fire north of Sacramento in 2000 that burned 52,000 acres of the Lassen and Plumas national forests. The government was seeking damages of $190 million, but a settlement of $102 million still sets a new record for the largest damage recovery for a wildfire by the U.S. Forest Service.

Sparks from welders repairing tracks caused the Storrie Fire on August 17, 2000, in Plumas County. The suppression costs were estimated at $22 million. A judge said the government could seek more than $13 million for “damage to wildlife habitat and public enjoyment of the forest,” as much as $33 million to plant new trees, and $122 million in lost timber. More information is HERE.

Basin fire, July 22 update

Firefighters have completed quite a bit of burning from the dozer and hand lines on the north and east sides. From this morning’s report from the incident management team:

Burnout operations over the past 24 hours were extremely successful. Firelines were burned out along Blue Rock Ridge and the lower portion of Chew’s ridge. Today crews will continue burning on Hennickson’s Ridge and Chews Ridge.

Burnout operations will be conducted in the Tanbark area to widen the protection zone around structures.

The fire is 138,220 acres and is 72% contained. The map shows the completed and open fire lines.

Report: Elkhorn II escaped prescribed fire

On June 12, 2008, a prescribed fire was ignited on the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada. Two days later it was declared an escaped fire and eventually burned 3,724 acres outside the project boundary. A report has been released which shows a degree of cooperation and openness by those who were involved, contributing to possible lessons learned. Here are some examples of those from the report:

  • Use normal fire behavior for normal planning but extreme fire behavior for contingency planning.
  • Make your test fire a real “test” of the burning conditions. Put it in a place where it represents worst case burning and in a place where you can put it out if the test tells you the fire will exceed your prescription.
  • I’ll never believe anyone that says, “It’ll stop when it hits the rocks”.
  • My slides failed me. We can no longer rely on Recognition Primed Decision-making.
  • A good snow pack does not mean high spring fuel moisture. Don’t trust the snow to wet your dead fuels.
  • The project boundary for this prescribed fire was identified in the EA and through an interdisciplinary team. The boundary was located along contour lines corresponding with archeological survey requirements and in some cases vegetation changes (Pinyon-Juniper to Sage). Consequently in many areas the boundary was located at mid slope in dense continuous Pinyon-Juniper stands. The boundary did not consider a road (nearby to the north and east), natural barriers or afford the ability to [prevent the fire from] …. crossing project boundaries.
  • Make sure the project boundary is a boundary that you can realistically defend.
  • Make sure your holding and lighting bosses know exactly where that boundary is.

Wildlandfire.com has a copy of the report HERE.

Wildland fire conferences

Three major wildland fire conferences organized by the International Association of Wildland fire and others are on the horizon.

The ’88 Fires: Yellowstone and Beyond, September 22-27, 2008, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The IAWF in association with the 9th Biennial Scientific Conference on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will be sponsoring a major Conference to remember the events of the Yellowstone area fires of 1988. The last day for reduced registration rates is July 25.

Aerial Firefighting Conference, October 21-22, Athens, Greece. This is the first conference to focus its attention on technologies and operations of aerial fire fighting, fixed and rotary-winged.

Tenth Wildland Fire Safety Summit, April 28-30, 2009, Phoenix, Arizona. This conference continues the tradition begun by the IAWF in 1997 to provide a forum for sharing the latest developments in wildland firefighting safety. A call for papers has been issued.

In the mid-1990s, the interagency wildland fire community commissioned the groundbreaking Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study. The final TriData report, released in 1998, made specific recommendations for implementing cultural changes for safety in the areas of organizational culture, leadership, fire management, training, human factors, and organizational learning, to name a few. To revisit the impact of this landmark initiative, a major emphasis of the 10th Wildland Fire Safety Summit will be “10 Years after the TriData Study: What is different?” Other topics will be covered also.

These conferences, historical wildland fire events, and other notable dates of interest are on the Wildland Fire Event Calendar. If you have not seen it, it’s worth a visit.