The hazards of snags

Here is the beginning of an article in the Great Falls Tribune about the hazards of snags.

Weston Spotted Eagle stuck yellow plugs in his ears, picked up his chainsaw and went to work cutting down a potential killer.

“Falling!” he shouted.

When he was finished, the forest fire near Neihart was a safer place to work.

The old lodgepole, its shallow root system compromised, could have tipped over on its own and landed on one of Spotted Eagle’s co-workers, who are firefighters.

Falling trees, which last week sent one of Spotted Eagle’s colleagues to the hospital and killed a firefighter in California, have always been a threat in the unpredictable workplace of the wildland firefighter. There are 34 fires burning nationwide, including three in Montana.

But forests with aging, diseased or previously burned trees, which can topple seemingly out of nowhere, are a growing concern in today’s fire camps, fire officials say.

“There’s a large number of dead and dying trees in the woods, and those trees tend to fall over,” said Dick Mangan, a wildland fire consultant who is retired from the U.S. Forest Service.

Accidents, vehicle crashes, heart attacks and burnovers accounted for 89 percent of the 310 wildland firefighting deaths between 1990 and 2006, according a report by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.

The rest of the article is HERE.

National Park Service firefighter Andrew Palmer was killed during a tree falling operation in northern California on July 25.

Update on fires, August 3, 2008

LeHardy fire, Yellowstone National Park

UPDATE @ 11:14 a.m. MT August 3

Here is an update from the Park this morning:

LeHardy Fire In Yellowstone Grows To 4,260 Acres 

Gusty winds and low humidity resulted in a very active fire day Saturday on the LeHardy Fire in Yellowstone National Park.

Visitors to Yellowstone witnessed huge, billowing smoke columns and torching as the LeHardy Fire grew over 2500 acres Saturday. A Red Flag Warning was issued for Saturday and the three weather components required came together to create the perfect conditions for rapid fire growth. Visitors lined the roads to take pictures of the impressive smoke columns and fire activity.

The fire is moving in a northeast direction into the back country away from Fishing Bridge. Hotshots and engine crews, with the help of water drops, are continuing to reinforce a control line along the section of the fire on the west bank of the Yellowstone River.

Cooler temperatures and possible isolated showers are predicted for Sunday, but firefighters are still preparing for a busy day. Mop up operations will continue on the west side of Grand Loop Road while crews on the east side will continue developing a buffer zone between the fire and Fishing Bridge.

Joe Krish, Incident Commander for the LeHardy Fire, stated “This is a long term fire. We expect it to be with us for awhile and are currently developing a long range strategy.”

The map shows the fire perimeter as of 6:30 p.m. August 2; 4,260 acres.

9:21 a.m. MT, August 3

On Saturday the fire grew from 1,795 to 4,260 acres. The fire is north of Yellowstone Lake three miles from Fishing Bridge. Very little additional information is available but here is a photo taken on July 31.

Cascade fire, Red Lodge, Montana

Saturday’s Activities: Containment on the fire increased to 33%. There was minimal fire spread east, south and west with a total acreage of 10,071. On the east side of the fire helicopters dropped 60,000 gallons of water, and 7,100 gallons of retardant. Six air tankers assisted with 15,000 gallons of retardant. Crews worked the north, south and east sides of the fire, mopping up on the north, working the Cole Creek quad spots on the east and continuing with line building on the south. The fire remained active till 10:00 p.m. and then laid down as the humidity increased.

Sunday’s Planned Activities: Crews will continue to mop and secure the line from Senia Creek Trail east and along the north side of the fire. Resources will improve dozer line and establish control line from the end of the dozer line south towards West Fork Rock Creek. On the south side of the fire crews will hold and mop up line from Basin Creek trailhead to marsh area. Crews will construct handline from the lower marsh area south going direct and securing with black line as needed. Firefighters will be finding and putting all spots out. Burning snags within a 300 foot perimeter will be dropped and extinguished.

Gunbarrel Fire, west of Cody, WY

UPDATE 2:10 p.m. August 3

An update from the incident management team at 12:49 today:

The fire is now about 22,000 acres. Today is the third day in a row of red flag fire weather warnings for strong dry wind. About ten miles of the highway’s edge are now burned and tentatively secured. In the Wilderness, fire has spread east as far as the upper Sweetwater drainage in bug-killed timber that needs to burn. 

The last five words from the team are words that you seldom see in a news release from a fire. However, it is a “fire use” fire, and they would not have declared it as such unless it “needed to burn”.

9:21 a.m. MT August 3

The fire was very active on Saturday, making some large runs on the east side. Fire crews are conducting burnouts around the Absaroka Mountain Lodge and other structures, and are installing sprinklers, pumps, and hose lays near vacation cabins. The last size reported was 15,529 acres, but this was before the fire expanded on Saturday.

The most recent map available, below, was produced at 1 a.m. August 2, but it does not include the large runs made on the east side on Saturday. If a more current map becomes available later today, we will replace this one.


The map below shows the heat from the Cascade, Gunbarrel, and LeHardy fires, as detected by satellites last night. The last perimeters uploaded by the incident management teams are shown in yellow.

Wildfire news, August 3, 2008

One person killed and 59 houses burn in Turkey

A fire in the province of Antalya is now partially contained after very strong winds decreased. One person was killed and another one is reported to be missing. The fire burned 59 houses and about 9,000 acres.

Idaho Statesman Fire Wise series

Fire Wise series part one: Are we wasting billions fighting wildfires?
Fire Wise series part two: Firefighting burns money, manpower
Fire Wise series part three: ‘Only you’ can change how we deal with fire

The articles prompted a response from Gary Brown, the Fire and Aviation Staff Officer for the Payette National Forest in Idaho. Here is an excerpt:

…..However, it is an oversimplification to say that we can stop fighting fire and spend all our suppression funding on “firewising” structures and communities. As a fire staff officer I understand my agency’s limited jurisdiction when it comes to activities off the national forests. But we do provide federal grants for fuel treatments on private land, which are passed through to county, state, fire protection districts and others who get the work done. Homeowners do have a responsibility in protecting their property and we wish to be partners.There are also other good reasons for putting out fires, such as protecting grazing and timber lands, recreational values and water supplies. We simply can’t stop putting out fires, and we can manage some fires for specific reasons. Suppression objectives are valid, when needed, as is allowing a fire to fulfill its ecological role, given the proper conditions and objectives. The bottom line is that fire managers should be able to describe what it is we wish to accomplish on the landscape with every fire. Fire managers along with their cooperators must do the difficult of work of balancing what is best for the land with what is best for people, with firefighter and public safety as the overriding concern.

Fuel breaks saved homes

The San Bernardino Sun has an article about how fuel breaks prevented some homes from burning during the Grass Valley fire near Lake Arrowhead in California last year.

“CNN Drops” on Long Island fire

In 1995 after a fire had burned through an area of Long Island, Senator Alfonse D’Amato yelled at Incident Management Team member Harry Doughty, “Get me the planes, get me the planes!” He had it in his mind that national guard C-130 MAFF air tankers were needed on the fire, even though the fire had slowed, and the incident already had 6 air tankers and 12 helicopters.

D’Amato, who was leading the Senate investigation into Whitewater against President Bill Clinton, called Clinton and demanded the C-130s. Clinton sent three top aids to Long Island to placate D’Amato, but D’Amato was not deterred, and that is when he yelled at Doughty, who finally called the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise and ordered the planes.

By the time they were dispatched, configured, and arrived from North Carolina the fire had been contained. For public consumption (and for CNN footage), they searched for a moderately active section of the fire and dropped along a strip of burning grass near a highway.

Doughty retired in 2000 after working for the Main Forest Service for 26 years. More details of the story are here.

Pine beetle damage in Colorado

Posted on Categories Uncategorized

I have heard about the extensive mortality inflicted on some of the pine forests in Colorado by the pine beetle, but I did not have a full appreciation for it until last weekend when I attended a Yamaha FJR 1300 motorcycle gathering in Boulder, Colorado. On Saturday I went for a ride through Rocky Mountain National Park and was stunned by the impacts. A few tracts of hundreds of acres each on my route had 100% mortality. I shot the video below in an area that had 30-50% mortality.

It is going to be very interesting when a fire burns through these areas. Some urban locations are affected as well, with some houses having several dead trees towering above them, creating a major problem for homeowners.

Here are articles on the subject by Newsweek, USA Today, and Colorado State University.

The video is 53 seconds long.

Wildfire news, August 2, 2008

The Billings Gazette has an interesting article about state of the art of mapping wildland fires.

The San Diego Union has the latest news about the status of the California Condors affected by the Basin fire near Big Sur, California. Most of them came out OK, but two are missing.

Too-frequent fires in southern California are causing the vegetation in some areas to be converted from native shrubs to mustard, wild oats, and red brome.

A judge may consolidate the 29 lawsuits seeking to make San Diego Gas and Electric pay damages for their powerline starting the Witch Creek fire last year which burned nearly 200,000 acres and many homes. So far, 49 attorneys are involved and more filings are expected.

The county fire department near Camarillo, California is constructing firelines around a naturally occurring underground heat source, worried that it may start vegetation fires.

Wildfires have blackened 25,000 acres in Turkey’s prime tourism region, leaving at least one person dead, authorities said Saturday.

Smokejumpers on the Cascade fire near Red Lodge, Montana are using fireline explosives to construct fireline.

The explosive is 1 1/8 to 1¼ inches around and looks like a 50-foot-long strand of sausage links, Jeff Gildehaus said. 

The ropelike material is filled with a gel-like PETN-based explosive that blows at about 22,000 feet per second, he said. PETN is pentaerythritol tetranitrate, one of the most powerful high explosives known. Because the material comes in sections, it can be laid out as far as the crew wants to build fire line and ignited with one detonation cap.

“You can lay it out for miles,” Gildehaus said.

Update on fires, August 2, 2008

Cascade fire, Red Lodge, Montana

The fire is 9,701 acres and is 32% 10,071 acres and is 31% contained. Most of the heat detected by satellites last night was on the east and southeast sides of the fire. There is a red flag warning for Saturday for strong winds and low humidities.

This is the update from the incident management team this morning:

Yesterday’s Activities: Containment on the fire increased by 21% yesterday for a total of 31% containment. There was minimal fire spread east, south and west with a total acreage of 9,701. Helicopters dropped 235,000 gallons of water on the fire. A cold front passed through the fire area late last night. Crews picked up some spots in the ski area. All other lines held. The continued burning of interior islands of fuels contributed to the smoke. Two additional radio repeaters were put up yesterday. 

Today’s Planned Activities: Crews will complete and secure line from Senia Creek north to Bald Mountain. They will also mop up with in one hundred feet of the line on the west, and north sides of the fire. Dozer lines will be improved and mop up will also take place around structures along the West Fork Road. Firefighters – on the ground and in the air will aggressively search and fight spot fires and continue to build and reinforce fireine.

See yesterday’s report for a detailed map of the Cascade fire.

The map below shows heat, in red, orange, and black, detected by satellites last night on the Cascade, Gunbarrel, and LeHardy fires last night, with the red areas being the most recently burned. The yellow lines are the latest perimeters uploaded by the incident management teams. Click on the map to see a larger version.

Our new sponsor has yard signs and banners that you can put on your place of business or in your front yard that say “Thank You Firefighters-Residents of Red Lodge”. T-shirts of the Cascade fire are also available. They also have yard signs and banners saying “Thank You Firefighters” that can be used near any fire.

Gunbarrel fire, Wyoming

UPDATE @ 2:30 p.m. MT Aug. 2

From the incident management team:

On most days the fire has been most active in late afternoon, so it has not yet today shown its full intensity. However, so far buildings in the drainages closest to the fire are doing well. Some sprinklers are at work in Moss Creek to complement the fire hoses and pumps installed in the last couple days. Because of the complicated air flow this morning, no additional burning out was done around Absaroka Lodge. Again today firefighters are working hard to remove brush, install hoses and pumps, and otherwise prepare for the possibility fire will approach buildings. 

The fire has moved east as far as the highest upper reaches of Clearwater Creek.

UPDATE @ 11:50 a.m. MT Aug. 2

The incident management team released new information this morning:

Fire Activity: The 15,500-acre fire was more active yesterday than fuel conditions and area weather would typically imply. Several pulses spread downhill and to the south, despite upper winds pushing the fire northeast. The fire is large enough that at times it is a strong influence on nearby weather. Today’s forecast includes a red flag fire warning for strong, dry winds. 

Management Actions: Firefighters expect a second day of high-energy firefighting today. Yesterday afternoon and evening as fire approached they burned out around some of Absaroka Lodge and for about a mile along the highway. Water drops from several helicopters supported them.

Today firefighters plan similar operations. Patrol, preparations, and burn out are planned around buildings from Goff Lodge to Aspen Creek, including in Moss Creek. Locations will evolve in response to fire behavior.

9:10 a.m. MT Aug. 2

The Gunbarrel fire has been very active on the south and east sides over the last 24 hours. The size is still being reported as 9,560 acres and it is about 6-7 miles from the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Yesterday’s report has the map that is still the most current available. The fire is a “fire use” fire, meaning the firefighters are not totally suppressing it as long as it remains in their “maximum management area”.

From the incident management team last night at 9:45 p.m.:

August 1, 2008, 9:45 p.m. 

Guests Temporarily Depart Two Lodges to Facilitate Firefighting Update: Advsiory for Tomorrow

The Gunbarrel fire spread aggressively today. With that in mind, residents and campers on both sides of the North Fork Shoshone between Chimney Rock and Wapiti Ranger Station are encouraged to recognize the possibility the fire will spread quickly again tomorrow afternoon. Residents are encouraged to be prepared in case any additional evacuations become necessary tomorrow.

·· This is not an evacuation notice. However there is always the possibility that rapid fire spread could make evacuation necessary. Please be prepared.

Current fire status: Firefighters have burned out around Absaroka Lodge. The operation went well

Fire has not spread south toward Elephant Head Lodge in several hours, and remains about a third of a mile north of the buildings.

The fire is close to the road on the north side of the river for about three miles east of the Elephant Head Lodge as far as Newton Creek. From Newton Creek further east another two miles to Moss Creek, the fire is about a quarter mile north of the road.

In Moss Creek fire remains north of the fireline constructed this afternoon, which is above the highest cabin. Engine crews are using pumps, hoses, and sprinklers to raise the humidity along the developed portion of Moss Creek.

From the Casper Star-Tribune:

Though winds from the southwest and west are pushing the Gunbarrel Fire mostly to the north and east, the southern edge of the fire continues to creep downhill toward the North Fork corridor, said Terry Root, Wapiti district ranger for the Shoshone National Forest. 

Winds gusted to more than 60 mph along ridgelines Wednesday night, Root said, pushing the fire into an extremely active phase and raising concerns among fire managers about defending lodges and cabins to the south.

Root sai
d the fire was at times sp
otting, or starting in new locations from blown embers, at distances of a half-mile.

“It seemed fairly scary, and it had me pretty nervous,” he said, adding that further assessments Thursday left fire managers optimistic that it would continue mostly north and east, away from structures to the south.

“Our strategy is to let Mother Nature do its thing, as long as it doesn’t cause problems for people,” said Todd Richardson, deputy incident commander of a team of about 100 people working on the Park County blaze.

LeHardy fire, Yellowstone National Park

This fire in Yellowstone National Park north of Yellowstone Lake spread quite a bit to the northeast yesterday and is now 1,795 acres. It is moving toward old burns of 1988, as well as the East (18,050 a.) and Grizzly (4,460 a.) fires of 2003. The Grand Loop road is now open. The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for Yellowstone National Park for Noon to 9:00 p.m. Saturday. Firefighters are preparing for another day of active fire behavior and fire growth.

Telegraph fire, California

All evacuation orders for the Telegraph fire have been lifted. The acreage is listed as 34,034 and it is 80% contained. They are still showing as being threatened 2,000 residences in the communities of Midpines, Briceburg, Mariposa, Greenley Hill, Coulterville, Bear Valley, and Mt. Bullion Camp. Assigned to the fire are 4,057 people, 350 engines, and 94 hand crews. The current map can be found HERE.

Al Golub took some excellent photos of the fire and assembled them into a slide program. It’s worth viewing HERE.

Telegraph fire T-shirts are available HERE.