National Geographic article about wildland fire

On May 16 Wildfire Today gave you a heads up about an article on wildland fire that would appear in the July issue of National Geographic. It should be arriving in mailboxes right now, but their web site has on online version of the article and some amazing pictures of fires. No one takes pictures like the NG photographers, and they did not disappoint this time. Here is an example (click on it to see a larger version):

Photographer Mark Thiessen took most, if not all, of the photos–some of which can be found HERE. The online version of the article is here. It’s lengthy, on ten web pages.

Be sure to read the interview with Thiessen about how he got the photos. One thing that helped….he has a red card and has shot photos of fires for 10 years. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Any other situations where you tempted fate?

I was in a helicopter over Lake Arrowhead [California] shooting aerials. It was really rough up there. We were the only aircraft in the air over those fires. The air tankers weren’t allowed to fly, because the winds were too strong for them. So that picture in the story where you see a bunch of homes burning down from the air—those are million-dollar mountain homes, and that’s when you need the air tankers the most. But it was just too windy for them.

Flathead Hot Shot lightning survivors tell their story

On May 29 we reported on the members of the Flathead Hot Shots that were struck by lightning while working on a prescribed fire. The Hungry Horse news interviewed them:

From left, squad leader Bert Smith, Beau Morin, Ichiro Stewart and Heather McEvoy. Chris Peterson photo

By CHRIS PETERSON/Hungry Horse News
Heather McEvoy remembers a flash of light off her shoulder. She remembers screaming for a minute. Somebody get this chainsaw off me. Somebody get my shoes off. Please get my shoes off. My feet. My feet are on fire.

Getting up to help her was co-worker Beau Morin. He, too, got hit by the flash light. He, too, got knocked to the ground. But it wasn’t as bad. He was sort of paralyzed on his left side. Body parts were tingling and weird feeling. But he had to help McEvoy. She couldn’t feel anything from the waist down. Except for that fire in her feet. Somebody put that fire out. Get this chainsaw off my chest.

All the while hail is pounding down on top of them. And there’s more lightning and more thunder in the skies. This is not a good day in May. May 29. McEvoy and Morin are members of the Flathead Hot Shot crew — an elite group of firefighters trained to work in the woods no matter what the conditions might be.

The crew was working the line of a prescribed burn that had been set the day before. Doing mop-up work. Morin was with firefighter Beau Richardson. McEvoy was teamed up with Ichiro Stewart.

They were on the line when thunderstorms started to rumble in. At first, the idea was just to hunker down, wait out the rain. But then it started to hail. So they decided to head to the “buggies” — Forest Service speak for the rigs that they ride in from fire to fire. They look like vans, only on steroids. The two groups met about a quarter mile from the buggies in a meadowy area. Stewart and Richardson were about 15 feet in front of McEvoy and Morin. Then the lightning struck. “I just had bright light on my shoulder,” McEvoy recalled during an interview with the team last week. She figured she was dead. “I thought those guys are going to have to do CPR on me.”

Stewart is an emergency medical technician. He heard the boom, turned around and saw burning debris falling from a tree. He went to McEvoy’s aid.

Morin’s assessment was more blunt. “It shocked me pretty good,” he said. But still he got up and despite the pain in his body, began helping McEvoy, getting the gear off her chest, helping her as best as he could. McEvoy would have to be carried out, even though she was starting to regain feeling in her lower extremities. Stewart radioed for two ambulances, and then carried her out.

THE TEAM PULLED together, like they’re trained to do. They credit their experience and training toward what could have been a terrible experience into a well-run rescue. Stewart was worried about hypothermia with McEvoy and it was clear Morin was hurt as well. “Our response was rapid,” Stewart recalled.

The radio for help went up through the chain of command. Ambulances were en route. ALERT was in the air. Bert Smith is the squad leader for the Hot Shots. “We operate in a high stress environment,” he noted. “But (this group) is easy to manage when you’re surrounded by leaders.”

Combined, they have years of experience fighting fires in awful conditions throughout the U.S. McEvoy, of Whitefish, has been a Flathead Hot Shot for three years, Morin of Kalispell nine years; Stewart also has several years as does Richardson. They all said Morin went above and beyond the call of duty, rushing to McEvoy’s side when he was injured himself.

He shrugs it off. “For some reason, I wasn’t too worried about it,” he said. In a little less than a half hour, the team was out of the woods and McEvoy and Morin were en route to the hospital. McEvoy says she has no long-term ill effects. She has some purple discoloration on her foot and was going back to work. Morin said he gets confused once in awhile. “But I think that’s normal,” he says with a smile.

Photo courtesy of Hungry Horse News

Are you driving less due to high gas prices?

Posted on Categories Uncategorized

Revenue from South Dakota state fuel taxes in the month of May dropped by 38%! Holy crap. This is the first time that this index of miles driven has ever declined. Apparently $4 per gallon gas is having a dramatic effect on the driving habits of South Dakotians. There are reports that small fire departments are having trouble paying for fuel for their apparatus.

Fire news roundup, June 20, 2008

Posted on Categories Uncategorized

The Indians fire in the Los Padres National Forest west of King City, CA is now 50,099 acres. Voluntary evacuations and evacuation advisories are in place for some residents. As of this morning, 2,551 firefighters and support personnel are working on the fire. The map below shows the heat detected by satellites last night (in black, orange, and red), while the perimeter uploaded by the incident management team is in yellow.


The spread of the Evans Road fire in North Carolina has slowed down in recent days. It is now reported to be 41,060 acres. They continue to pump huge quantities of water into the peat-infested soils.

The Rocky fire 35 miles west of Carlsbad, NM on the Lincoln NF has shown extreme fire behavior recently and has burned at least 13,000 acres as of the last report. Here is a map showing heat detected by satellites last night. The red areas are the most recently burned.


There is an article at Vail Daily.com about the Vail, Colorado wildland fire crew doing fuel modification in aspen stands. Here is an excerpt:

Two years ago, he and other firefighters were cutting down hundreds of aspen trees there. The goal was to allow some of the hillside’s aspen stand to regrow, preventing them from falling to the ground, where they could be fuel for wildfire. 

“Aspen, when it’s alive, is a wonderful ‘fuel break’ because it has so much water in it,” Talbot said. “When it’s dead, as well all know, in the fireplace, boy, does it burn hot. And fast.”

On Saturday the agencies around Hailey, Idaho will conduct a drill that is centered around the concept of a large wildland fire.

Extreme heat in southern California yesterday broke records and the hot weather is expected to continue through Saturday. Low humidities and winds along with the high temperatures are causing red flag warnings to be issued. Temperatures in some inland valleys today will exceed 100 degrees, challenging firefighters on the Indian fire that is already burning.

Yesterday a fatal car crash caused a 50-acre fire in eastern San Diego county. The fire near Carrizo Gorge off Interstate 8, burning during the record heat, caused six firefighters to seek medical treatment, with two of them being transported to a hospital. Five of the injuries were heat related, while the sixth was for a diabetic condition.

Firefighters' dirty drinking water, and "shift food"

The Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) just published the 12th edition of the “Wildland Firefighter Health and Safety Report” written by Brian Sharkey (if you don’t have the user name and password, go HERE):

Shift food…better than…?
Their research shows that when firefighters eat “small items” during the shift, every 1-2 hours, their total work output increased by 15-20%. Most of the firefighters preferred the shift food to the standard sack lunch. But, almost any food is better than the standard sack lunch, especially after eating the damn ham on Wonder Bread sandwiches for 2 weeks. How does the saying go? When trees burn pigs die?

Water bottles are filthy
Researchers found loads of nasty stuff in the water bottles and drinking systems of firefighters. They tested the bottles or systems of 15 firefighters and found that several of them had high concentrations of molds and yeasts. Legionella-like bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease, were detected in one water bottle and in one drinking tube.

The fatality rate from Legionnaires’ disease has ranged from 5-30% according to Wikipedia. Legionellosis infection occurs after inhaling water droplets containing the bacteria. Pontiac fever is caused by the same bacterium, but produces a milder respiratory illness without pneumonia which resembles acute influenza.

The molds growing in the water systems could be causing allergic responses in some firefighters. But water purifier technology, chlorine dioxide tablets, was found to clean the systems very well. Aquamira and Camelbak sell these tablets. The Camelbak site has instructions about how to clean their products.

In 2005 there was an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Rapid City, South Dakota that resulted in one death and 19 hospitalized and was sourced to a small ornamental fountain in a popular Mexican restaurant. The mayor of the city was one of those hospitalized. The restaurant went out of business and was torn down.

OK, quit reading this blog….get off your butt and go clean your water bottles and Camelbak!