Whole-house fire shelters

It’s incredible what you can find on the Internet.

Many of us are familiar with the practice of wrapping a house that will be threatened by a wildland fire with “fire shelter wrap“… similar to the material used in personal fire shelters–as in the picture below, taken on the Big Fish fire in Colorado in 2002. (It worked, by the way.)

But a number of patents have been issued for devices or systems that would wrap an entire house, theoretically in short order, by one-piece units or systems that would deploy the fire resistant material mechanically.

The unit below, patent #5,860,251, issued January 19, 1999, uses inflatable tubes to erect the flexible fabric over an entire structure. Many large fires are wind-driven. I wonder what the effect of a 50 MPH wind would be on the inflatable structure? It would probably end up in the next county.

The system in the photo below, patent #5,829,200, issued November 3, 1998, uses winches, rollers, and pulleys pre-installed on the house to deploy fire resistant material stored on rolls.

I have no idea if these two systems have ever been developed or manufactured, but you have to admit they are, uh, interesting.

New Poll about videos

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You may have noticed that we have put a few YouTube videos on the blog. I have an attention span shorter than that of a newt and can’t get into long videos unless they are EXTREMELY interesting. So we try to be very selective and generally choose outstanding, short, videos. And we’ll try to be sure at least 90% of them are about wildland fire….. or SOME kind of fire…. or 50,000 fire-breathing rockets. Having said that, I totally could not resist posting the one about the lighter than air, jellyfish-like, mesmerizing, unmanned aerial vehicle. Did I mention that it is mesmerizing?

But perhaps not everyone likes videos. And some companies or agencies block YouTube on their computer networks.

So we ask you–to find about 4 seconds in your day and let us know what YOU think–by taking the poll on the right.

Insurance company will pay $500,000 for Arizona fire

On June 1, 2006 an employee of a fence company started the La Barranca fire by grinding on a metal fence post south of Sedona, Arizona. Six days later the fire was 95% contained after burning 836 acres and 3 houses. At the time, the Coconino National Forest reported that the estimated fire suppression costs were $1.2 million.

The fence company’s insurance company just agreed to pay $500,000 to the US Forest Service to cover a portion of the suppression costs.

HERE is a link to the InciWeb data about the fire.

John Maclean's forward for Stephen Pyne's book

John Maclean has written three books about wildland fire: “Fire on the Mountain”, “Fire and Ashes”, and “The Thirtymile Fire”. Recently he wrote a foreword to Stephen J. Pyne’s “Year of the Fires: The Story of the Great Fires of 1910”, first published in 2001, which is being reissued in 2008 by Mountain Press in Missoula.

We have permission from John and Mountain Press to reprint the foreword here. In the excerpt below, John writes about the fires of 1910 and the cabin at Seely Lake, Montana that has been in his family for generations. The entire foreword is worth a read.

“This summer a palpable cloak of heat and expectation hung over the landscape as though the predictable and cherished past had been replaced by an unfamiliar monster. Make no mistake, northwestern Montana is fire country and has been for centuries. The marks of fire, discovered in tree rings when one of the giant larch trees finally thunders to the ground, show that for centuries fire occurred along the shores of Seeley Lake every quarter century or so – until our forebears stopped the cycle in the wake of the Great Fires of 1910, the subject of Stephen Pyne’s Year of the Fires. When I was growing up, the Forest Service, the agency responsible for the federal land around the cabin, did not allow us to cut a tree and even discouraged clearing brush. The offset was the promise that the Forest Service would contain any fire that threatened the area under the full suppression policy that was adopted in response to the 1910 calamity.

That full suppression policy now has been formally abandoned – along with the rule forbidding the cutting of trees around Seeley Lake. In recent years, the Forest Service itself undertook a forest thinning and light burning project in the area. The treated zones provoked complaints in the first year or two because they looked rough, but they have become a glorious sight since then. Densely packed stands of “dog hair” lodgepole pine have been opened up, disclosing centuries-old trees. The big trees, whose growth was stunted in recent decades because they were deprived of moisture and light, now can take their place as giants and future giants. Fuzzy new trees and low brush carpet the forest floor. Wildlife can move freely. Humans can hike or snowmobile through the stands without battling brush. The forest is not fire proof, but a low-intensity fire would likely burn through here without catastrophic damage. Regular clearing by fire is what allowed the giants to grow big in the first place.

During the summer, I mowed down the tall grass near the cabin, felled a couple of dead lodgepole pines, and cleared a year’s accumulation of duff from near the cabin. Then I left the place to its rendezvous with fire – which was not long in coming.”

Maclean’s and Pyne’s books can be found at the International Association of Wildland Fire Books page.

Smoke plumes in the southeast

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NOAA is now generating maps that not only show heat from vegetation fires detected by satellites, but now they have maps that show graphic depictions of smoke plumes from fires. On the map below, the red dots are heat sources, but not all are necessarily vegetation fires. The gray smoke plumes are visible from the larger fires.

Florida has a number of fires going including two fires that burned together forming a 3,500 acre fire that is burning grass islands in Lake Okeechobee. Arson is suspected as the cause of those fires. The names of the fires are “Myakka Cut” and “Grassy Island”.

Below is a photo of the fire on a grass island in Lake Okeechobee. Photo courtesy of CBS.