Montana Senator Max Baucus used the US Forest Service’s DC-7 jump plane as a backdrop as he made a speech on Monday outlining two bills related to wildland fire:
The Stable Fire Funding Act, which would establish a trust fund with $600 million in seed money for the Forest Service and $200 million in seed money for the Bureau of Land Management.
Baucus included a provision in the America’s Climate Security Act which was passed in December to provide up to $1.1 billion every year to combat catastrophic fires. The provision is intended to cover the annual cost to the federal government of the largest 1 percent of “escaped” fires, which currently account for 85 percent of wildfire suppression costs.
On May 15, 2007, a New Jersey Air National Guard F-16 ejected a flare during a low-level pass on a training flight, starting a fire which grew to 17,000 acres. The fire destroyed four homes in two senior citizen housing developments, and damaged 37 others. Some 6,000 people were evacuated. Ocean County agencies will receive $320,000 from the Air Force as reimbursements for their costs during the fire. The Air Force has already paid nearly $2 million in private property claims and other losses, but many claims are still unsettled.
There are conflicting reports about the role smoke from a prescribed fire may have played in the massive vehicle crashes on Interstate 4 in Florida yesterday. Some law enforcement officials are saying that smoke and fog combined to cause low visibility. Others are saying smoke was not a problem, that it was only dense fog. Describing the current activities on the fire, the Division of Forestry said:
“Smoke is going to continue to be our number one concern until this is over.”
The prescribed fire was conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who started it at 9 a.m. on Tuesday in an area called the Green Swamp. Within three hours it was out of control. Now it is 500 acres and 90% contained.
The Leger has more information about the escaped prescribed fire:
“As the flames picked up, Division of Forestry firefighter John Wurster arrived to help Fish and Wildlife workers. The workers were equipped with a bulldozer that was cutting a fireline in an attempt to stop the flames from spreading.
Conditions suddenly worsened. The wind changed, humidity dropped, and flames increased, Wurster said.
Ten minutes later, Wurster’s fellow firefighter had been burned on his hand and face, the Division of Forestry had lost a $150,000 bulldozer, and firefighters were running from flames.
By late evening, nine Division of Forestry workers helped contain 90 percent of the fire. Smoke continued to billow from the swamp into the morning.”
The death toll has now risen to four. It’s probably going to be long time before the investigation reports (and the civil suits) are complete. Smoke from the escaped prescribed fire may or may not have contributed to the visibility problem. It seems clear that there was some smoke, and some fog, but in what combinations? Here is what the Orlando Sentinel is saying this afternoon:
“But news of a possible problem had been brewing since the night before.
The Division of Forestry notified the FHP at 7:03 p.m. Tuesday night of potential smoke problems from the controlled burn, as part of a formalized interagency agreement. FHP said they would monitor I-4 and close it if needed. FHP also notified the state Department of Transportation, which put out signs with flashing lights that warned of the smoke.
The National Weather Service in Melbourne this morning issued a special weather report warning commuters that visibility in the Polk County area would be down to zero because of smoke from brush fires and fog.
Throughout the day, officials disagreed about the role the smoke and fog played in the crash.
FHP Sgt. Jorge Delahoz said the smoke from the fire may have had some impact, but at the time of the crash it was the fog that reduced visibility in the area. He said people were probably driving at 50 or 70 miles per hour or faster.
A forestry official said he would not say conclusively what caused the pileup until his investigators issued a final report, possibly in the coming week. But the official cautioned that his team could be on scene of the burn for weeks, even months.”
According to reports, smoke from an escaped prescribed fire combined with fog contributed to a 50-car pileup and three deaths on Interstate 4 in Florida between Orlando and Tampa. ABC Action News reported yesterday, January 8:
“POLK COUNTY– Crews are working to put out an oversized brush fire in Polk County.
Officials with the Division of Forestry say they issued a 50 acre prescribed burn today in the area of Old Grade Road and I-4.
They believe the wind may have led the fire to grow by an extra 200 acres.
They say no homes are being threatened at this time.
There are concerns that if the fire burns overnight, drivers may face smoky conditions by Wednesday morning.”
Then today ABC Action News further reports in a story about the incident:
“A mixture of fog and smoke from a controlled burn near Old Grade Road created extremely hazardous conditions early this morning.
The burn was supposed to cover only 50 acres, but got out of hand late yesterday and grew to more than 300 acres.“
“POLK CITY – Smoke and fog are causing a surreal scene in Polk County that’s forced the closure of a stretch of Interstate 4, and contributed to a massive pile-up.
All lanes of I-4 are closed between the Polk Parkway and U.S. 27.That’s roughly from Polk City to the Osceola County line.
The lingering smoke combined with the morning fog has brought visibility down to near zero, and deputies say at least 50 vehicles are involved in the massive wreck, and 20 of those are semi-trucks.Several vehicles caught fire, though most of the blazes seemed to be out by 8:30 a.m., judging by the diminishing amount of black smoke rising from the scene.
At least three people are dead, and several more motorists are trapped and waiting for emergency crews.
Those who are unhurt are being asked to stay in their cars for their own safely and the safety of rescue workers.
Yesterday’s brush fire began as a controlled burn, but it jumped a firebreak and eventually grew to 250 acres before being contained.”
According to TheLedger.com a Division of Forestry dozer was burned in the fire yesterday.
The International Association of Wildland Fire just sent out this announcement:
“In 2008 the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF) will be again awarding two graduate-level scholarships each valued at $2,500USD to Master of Science (M.Sc.) or Ph.D. students studying wildland fire or wildland fire-related topics. These scholarships are not intended for Masters of Forestry degrees in wildland fire or for non-thesis graduate programs.
One of the two scholarships will be awarded to a student from the United States or Canada, and the other will be awarded to an individual from outside of these two countries. The application period will open January 15 and close March 31, 2008. Award winners will be announced the following May.
For more information, including how to apply, see the web site”