Colorado: 1,400 homes evacuated near Boulder

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Residents of the Dakota Ridge neighborhood watching the Neva fire near Boulder, CO on January 7, 2008. Denver Post photo by Jim Rettew.

At least two fires near Boulder, Colorado started Wednesday afternoon. Pushed by strong winds they burned thousands of acres and prompted the evacuation of at least 1,400 homes during the night. Another 11,000 homes were notified by reverse-911 calls to be prepared to leave if the fire moved closer to their communities.


This morning the evacuees are trickling back as the winds diminish after gusts over 100 mph were recorded west of Boulder and at Berthoud pass Wednesday afternoon.


Denver Post photo

The two fires are now being treated as one, named the Neva fire. It is 30% contained and has burned over “1,400 acres within a 3,600 acre perimeter”.


At a briefing Thursday morning Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said:

“The fire is rapidly becoming more under control”. And, “We’re very optimistic that it will be 100% contained by this afternoon, unless the winds whip back up.”

The evacuees included ex-FEMA head Michael Brown, famous for being praised by President Bush a few days after hurricane Katrina made landfall:

“You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie.”

Investigators today expect to confirm that wind-downed powerlines started the fires.



A sign near the fire showing, uh, “Low” fire danger. Photo from Denver Post, by wisco1878

As of this morning, three houses and two large outbuildings have been destroyed.


The weather forecast for Thursday calls for highs near 60 degrees with winds out of the west at 10 mph with gusts up to 25 mph.


Obama: stimulus plan recognizes importance of firefighters

President-elect Obama is making a speech at George Mason University about the economy and he is talking about the stimulus package that he hopes to push through the congress in the next few weeks. Recently he has been spending a lot of time trying to gain support for this “emergency legislation”.

Many federal agencies, as well as state and local governments, will have to cut their budgets over the next 1-2 years as our economy slides into a deepening recession. Already some local fire departments and the state of California have made cuts that have reduced the number of firefighters.

With that in mind, we thought some of the comments Obama made a few minutes ago were interesting:

“That’s why the overwhelming majority of the jobs created will be in the private sector, while our plan will save the public sector jobs of teachers, police officers, firefighters and others who provide vital services.”


“Government at every level will have to tighten its belt, but we’ll help struggling states avoid harmful budget cuts as long as they take responsibility and use the money to maintain essential services like police, fire, education, and health care.”

We are not naive, and know that a politician’s statements don’t always evolve into reality, but these statements bring a little positive light onto a depressing situation.

Lou the mule detects fire

A mule in McCinnville, Tennessee alerted a woman that her house was on fire, possibly saving her from being injured… or worse.

Jolene Solomon, 63, was sitting down to dinner on New Year’s Day when she heard her pet mule, Lou, come running out of the barn.

Lou was agitated, throwing her head back and braying. Wondering why her normally placid mule was acting so strangely, Solomon stepped outside. That’s when she saw the flames.

“When I looked around the side of the house, that’s where the fire was coming from,” Solomon told News Channel 5 in McCinnville, Tennessee. “And a fire blazing out just like it was wide open.”

Solomon called 911 and stood watching with Lou at her side as her house burned to the ground. Solomon lost the only home she’s ever known and everything in it, but considers herself lucky.

“I don’t know what I’d do without Lou. I been blessed”, she said.

Solomon doesn’t know how old Lou is. Years ago, her father bought Solomon a pair of mules–Lou and her sister, Blue–to help Solomon around the farm. Blue died six years ago; an incident that took Lou months to get over.

Solomon is staying with family until her home is rebuilt–whenever that may be.

Watch the Channel 5 News video interview with Solomon:


The Onion: "Grease Fire Rages Through Midwest"

The Onion does great satire, and here is another example of their imaginations at work.

Grease Fire Rages Through the Midwest
April 26, 2006 | Issue 42•17

MILWAUKEE—A raging grease fire has spread across the southern half of Wisconsin and into the neighboring states of Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota, killing at least eight and leaving hundreds injured or missing after the intense heat and acrid odor of charred pork and cheese-filled breading overwhelmed the region.

Six of the dead reportedly tried to put out the grease flames with water, causing the fire to spread; two others perished after running back into their burning homes to save bacon still cooking on their stoves.

By Tuesday evening, more than 700,000 acres of Midwestern greaseland—including tens of thousands of patio grills, outdoor beer gardens, supper-club kitchens, and barbecue pits—had been destroyed in the blaze.

Beloit, WI Fire Chief Paul Tolley said the fire was spreading faster than crews could react.

“The main problem is it’s being fed at every turn. The homes and businesses here are oversaturated with corn dogs, melted cheese, and any number of deep-fried items,” Tolley said. “Every time we think we have it under control, it hits a Hardee’s and everything turns to chaos.”

Officials said the grease blaze began after a Dodgeville, WI resident attempted to submerge an entire 21-pound turkey in a makeshift deep fryer Sunday. The fire then leapt rapidly from pancake house to pancake house, intensifying when flames reached a dense patch of diners at the peak of the brunch rush, which Dodgeville Fire Chief Ed Bouchard called “the worst possible timing.”

“With the fact that the nearby park was still greasy from Saturday’s brat fest, the situation quickly turned ugly,” Bouchard said. “My crews simply did not have the baking-soda reserves to contain it.”

The fire fanned out in all directions from the area, cutting a swath through truck stops, doughnut shops, and even mini-golf concession stands.

While most residents have fled to leaner ground, some have stayed behind to coat their homes in a flour, egg, and milk mixture in the hopes that it will protect the interior from the flames.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who recommended that citizens only deep-fry when absolutely necessary, said Tuesday that the fire could “cripple the economic and meal-time power of Illinois and the rest of America’s Grease Belt for a generation.”

Experts have warned for years that the region was overdue for a disaster of this kind, saying that decades of poor grease management and a culture of fried and heavily buttered food created a highly incendiary “grease core” spread across thousands of homes, restaurants, and offices. Landfills overflowing with greasy waxed paper and cardboard only added to the danger.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Of course, the article is fiction.

USFA: 114 On-duty firefighter fatalities in 2008

Firefighter Close Calls has forwarded the preliminary U.S. Fire Administration data about firefighter line of duty deaths in 2008. It is sobering to read that an average of 21 firefighters have died each year on wildland fires over the last 10 years. Here is the information from Firefighter Close Calls the USFA:

The USFA reports there were 114 on-duty Firefighter fatalities in the United States as a result of incidents that occurred in 2008. During this period, there were Firefighters lost from 34 states and one from the Virgin Islands. Each of the following states suffered more than 5 on-duty losses:

  • North Carolina (11) LODD’s
  • Oregon (9) LODD’s
  • Pennsylvania (9) LODD’s
  • California ( 8 ) LODD’s
  • New York (7) LODD’s
  • Illinois (6) LODD’s
  • Missouri (6) LODD’s
  • Ohio (6) LODD’s

“The tragic losses of on-duty Firefighters in 2008 are a reminder of the necessary commitment and efforts by all Firefighters to focus on and improve our operational safety,” U.S. Fire Administrator Greg Cade said…and further stated… “We understand all too well that many of these losses are preventable”

As the USFA continues to collect and evaluate information regarding the 2008 on-duty firefighter deaths, here are some of the early known facts:

Preliminary estimates indicate that heart attacks and strokes were responsible for the deaths of 50 firefighters (43.8%) in 2008. This shows a decrease from 54 of the 118 (45.7%) firefighters in 2007.

In 2008, 26 on-duty firefighters died in association with wildland fires. This loss is more than double the 11 wildland firefighter fatalities in 2007. The 2008 toll is also above the annual average of 21 wildland fire-associated fatalities over the past 10 years, 1999-2008.

For 2008, 64.9% of all firefighter fatalities occurred while performing emergency duties.

  • Twenty-nine firefighters died in 2008 as the result of vehicle crashes.
  • Fourteen of these deaths involved aircraft crashes.
  • Fifteen firefighters died in motor vehicle crashes. Six firefighters were killed in crashes involving their personal vehicles and three died in water tender (tanker) crashes. These two vehicle types have historically been most often involved in crashes that take the lives of firefighters. Speed and a lack of seat belt use historically contribute to these incidents.

Forests accused of being "gross polluters"

An editorial in the Redding Searchlight complains that wood stoves and industry are not the only sources of air pollution and that the government should do a lot more to prevent the massive amount of smoke from large fires.

Our view: The government shouldn’t ignore pollution from the public forests.

We think we have this straight.

If residents’ fireplaces and woodstoves fill the air with schmutz, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lays down the law, requiring no-burn days and other tough rules to keep the region in compliance with federal air-quality standards.

But if a wildfire does the same thing – indeed, even if it pushes pollution measurements off the charts for weeks – it’s something that “just happens.”

Funny, to the kids at soccer practice or the gardeners weeding their tomato patch, the smoke does the same harm.

Yet the EPA doesn’t take wildfire smoke seriously as a health threat, granting exemptions to counties that endure a summertime brown cloud blowing from neighboring forests on the theory that we can’t really control the blazes.


While last summer’s wave of lightning-sparked fires was one for the record books, the flames were remarkable only for their scope. In California, summer fires are as predictable as sunny 100-degree days. And while we can’t – and, biologists say, shouldn’t – stop all of them, we do know how to reduce the risk that those fires will blow out of control.

In the meantime, though, north state counties will seek waivers from the EPA so the fires won’t mar our otherwise fine air-quality record. Shasta and surrounding counties meet strict new rules for fine dust, a relatively rare feat in California.

As a bureaucratic imperative, that makes sense. Residents shouldn’t be forced to cure a problem that’s not of their making.

But maybe we’d be better off if we treated the forests as the gross polluters they’ve become. If federal management is part of the problem, the federal government should take responsibility for its share – just as Knauf Insulation or the drivers of diesel trucks must.

Wildfire smoke on the scale we’ve seen recently isn’t something that “just happens.” It’s the product of a paralyzing thicket of federal laws, along with the long-term failure to invest in the fuel management that the government’s own plans call for.

If the federal government were to commit the cash to seriously reduce wildfire risks in Northern California’s public forests, we’d all breathe easier each summer in more ways than one.