Last year wilderness rangers in the Inyo National Forest in California began receiving reports from hikers about a red stain near the 13,200′ Feather Peak in the John Muir Wilderness. It turned out to be retardant apparently dropped by an air tanker. This was very odd, since there had been no fire in the area.
Further investigation uncovered the fact that it was dropped July 8, 2007 by the crew of Tanker 55, a P2V launched from Porterville, California. The flight crew initially said that the aircraft developed engine trouble and they jettisoned the 17,500 pounds of retardant for safety reasons. This is standard procedure during some types of in-flight emergencies–a lighter load makes it easier to fly a crippled airplane. The crew, however, did not report the engine problem, or request any repairs upon landing.
Because some aspects of the crew’s story did not add up, US Forest Service Law Enforcement investigators got involved. There are indications now that there was no engine trouble, but the air crew had to dump the load somewhere, since they could not land with a full tank of retardant. Rather than drop it in the designated areas for retardant dumping, they, for some reason, chose to drop it near a peak in a wilderness area… a rocky peak with little vegetation. At 13,200′, the red retardant will likely be visible for years before it degrades.
Last night I went to a party in Idaho Springs, Colorado, to recognize the wildland fire career of L. Dean Clark (on the left in the photo). On January 3 Dean retired from the National Park Service as Deputy Fire Management Officer for the Intermountain Region, working out of Denver. He began his career in California (a long time ago!). He worked at Yosemite, Pinnacles, Yellowstone, Bandelier, and many other locations. One thing he is remembered most for is his acceptance of an assignment at Bandelier National Monument shortly after the May, 2004 2000 Cerro Grande fire which resulted from an escaped prescribed fire, ultimately spreading into the town of Los Alamos, destroying 235 structures. Dean rebuilt the wildland fire program. A couple of years ago he took the Regional office position, but in November Bandelier conducted their first prescribed fire since 2004, showing that confidence in their fire program has been reestablished within the National Park Service as well as in the local area.
The large crowd at the gathering passed the boot to collect donations for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Dean pledged to match a portion of the funds collected. Here is a 5 minute video that describes what the WFF does.
According to TampaBay.com, the prescribed fire in Florida that escaped and may have added smoke to existing fog, contributing to Wednesday’s 50+ vehicle pileup, experienced an unexpected 30% drop in relative humidity. A spokesman said the minimum RH was forecasted to be 60%, but it dropped to 30% in the morning an hour after they started the Rx burn.
“A weather forecast from the forestry staff showed that the humidity would not drop below 60 percent all day, a crucial factor in determining whether to proceed with a burn. If humidity dropped to 30 percent or below, the Division of Forestry would have denied the permit.
A form that Burger filled out to document the controlled burn showed that the humidity measured 63 percent at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, so he and a crew of five other employees started the burn at 10:15 a.m. They expected to be finished by noon.
“They do a lot of prescribed burning, and they do a good job at it,” said Department of Agriculture spokesman Terry McElroy. “But something apparently went awry.”
To the crew’s dismay, within an hour after they started the fire, the humidity abruptly dropped to 30 percent, Morse said. That wasn’t part of the forecast, he said.”
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.”