Helicopter bucket drops used on Universal Studios fire

No doubt you heard about the huge fire at Universal Studios near Los Angeles today. The equivalent of two city blocks were on fire at the same time.

It burned furiously for hours. Early on, they had some water pressure problems, so they had engines drafting from a lake and even used some helicopters for water drops. Here is a still image captured from a video:

HERE is a link to the video on CNN.

The fire was adjacent to several acres of vegetation, and for a while they were worried about having a brush fire and a huge structure fire at the same time. It developed a convection column, not unlike a vegetation fire.

Still photos courtesy of ABC7 and LA Times.

Firefighters injured by lightning are now out of the hospital

On May 29 we posted information about two firefighters, members of a Hot Shot Crew, that were injured by lightning while working on a prescribed fire west of Whitefish, MT on the Flathead National Forest. We are pleased to report that they have been released from the hospital. Apparently lightning struck some trees near where they were working.

By the way, the photo is not of that incident.

Prepare, Stay, and Defend…..in Montana

The practice of “shelter in place”, also known as “prepare, stay, and defend” has been used in Australia and South Africa for decades, but it is rarely used as an official policy in the United States. However, the Painted Rocks Fire Rescue Company near Darby, Montana is hosting a public training session June 7-8 about Prepare, Stay, and Defend.

In addition to having a researcher from Tasmania at the meeting, a second researcher from the US Forest Service will be there to gather information about how the program is received by local residents. Battallion Chief Alan Tresemer will be the instructor.

The concept of prepare, stay, and defend involves having a homeowner in a rural area make their home as fire safe as possible by using fire resistant construction materials and removing flammable vegetation around the structure. Then, if the home is threatened by fire, the homeowner stays at the home, sheltering in place. By remaining at the house, they would be able to extinguish small spot fires near the structure, increasing the chances that the house will survive.

And by not evacuating, they would not be exposed to traffic tie-ups, or becoming entrapped by a fast moving fire. During the Cedar fire near San Diego in 2003 several at least five citizens died on Wildcat Canyon Road while they were fleeing the fire. And in the Tunnel (or East Bay Hills) fire near Oakland, CA in 1991 the same thing happened.

UPDATE, January 23, 2009
Further research about the Tunnel and Cedar fires reveals that 8 of the 14 citizens who died in the Cedar fire perished while they were evacuating. And 19 died while trying to evacuate from the Tunnel fire in Oakland.

San Diego Grand jury issues scathing report about fire preparedness

The Grand Jury of San Diego County investigated the response to the Witch Creek and Guejito fires of last fall that burned 368,340 acres, destroyed 2,653 structures, and claimed the lives of 10 citizens . They just issued their report and it pulls no punches.

They began by pointing out the recommendations that were not implemented within the city of San Diego after the Cedar fire of 2003 which burned 376,237 acres, destroyed 3,241 structures, and killed 15 citizens and 1 firefighter:

  • Fund staffing and resources needed for long duration incidents.
  • Remove open cab apparatus from service–partially completed.
  • Fund develop, and train personnel to function at all Unit Leader positions in the Logistics Section.
  • Establish a fleet of three fire-rescue helicopters.

Then they identified other problem areas within the city of San Diego, some of which include:

  • Serious gaps in fire protection coverage.
  • No comprehensive plan to improve coverage.
  • The fire department is not involved in the City planning process.

Issues within the county of San Diego include the fact that the budget for fire protection for the county is $8.5 million annually, as opposed to neighboring Orange County which spends $260 million and Los Angeles County that spends $860 million. Orange county has about the same population as San Diego county, but is only 18% of the size geographically as San Diego county.

Some of the recommendations:

  • The city should increase the Transient Occupancy Tax (bed tax in hotels, motels) in order to improve fire protection levels, including additional stations, engines, firefighters, training, and equipment. So…. they want tourists to pay for adequate fire protection, rather than the property owners who would benefit.
  • Consolidation of County Fire Agencies.
  • Increasing county funding for fire protection.
  • Staff 28 rural fire stations 24/7.
  • Create the position of San Diego County Fire Commander.

Call me a cynic, but I wonder if this report will just gather dust on the shelf like the others.

Arizona: more about the Frye Mesa fire

On May 22 we wrote about the Frye Mesa fire, the result of an escaped prescribed fire on the Coronado National Forest south of Safford, Arizona that eventually burned 3,100 unplanned acres. Today an editorial in the Eastern Arizona Courier blasted the US Forest Service for lighting the prescribed fire on a day when the National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning for Graham County.

Bill Turner of the NWS was quoted as saying:

“We strongly discouraged them from starting it. We had red-flag criteria everywhere.”

The NWS reported that a few hours after the fire escaped, the temperature was 102 degrees, the RH was 11%, and the wind speed was 22 mph.


Photo, May 21, by David Peters, BLM

Montana: two firefighters struck by lightning

Two firefighters working on a prescribed fire on the Flathead National Forest were struck by lightning Thursday. They were on on the Tally Lake Ranger District when lighting struck some trees near where they were working. The firefighters, a 25-year old woman and a 29-year old man are members of a Hot Shot crew. Both were both transported to hospitals, the woman by helicopter and the man by ambulance. They are listed in stable condition.

Thanks to Dick M. for the tip.