News roundup, January 16, 2008

Cleveland National Forest Completes Hydromulch on Santiago Fire

The U.S. Forest Service completed their $5 million project to treat 1,241 acres with hydromulch in areas burned by the October fire in Orange County in southern California. The hydromulch is a wet mixture of 40% shredded wood and 60% paper with a gum-based tackifier, a sticky substance that helps the mulch material cling to terrain. Single engine air tankers and helicopters applied the green-dyed biodegradable material to help minimize erosion.

5th Fatality in Florida I-4 Smoke/Fog 50+ Vehicle Pileup

A 5th person has passed away as a result of the 50+ vehicle pileup that may have been caused by smoke from an escaped prescribed fire combining with fog on January 9. Smoke from the fire continues to cause lane closures on the Interstate. The Florida Division of Forestry is still mopping up the 380 acre fire which resulted from a prescribed fire conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. (see the posts on Jan. 9-10 for more information, here, here, and here)

Witch Creek Fire Was 2nd Costliest Disaster of 2007

The October Witch Creek fire which started near Santa Ysabel in San Diego County California was the second costliest incident in 2007 for insurance companies, causing $1.1 billion in damage. Started by downed power lines during a Santa Ana wind event, the fire burned 197,000 acres and destroyed 1,650 structures. The number one natural disaster for insurance companies was the four-day storm in mid-April that caused $1.3 billion in damages in 19 states.

Forest Fire J!had?

I don’t want to over react to this, but the World Tribune is reporting that on a “terrorist web site”, the writer is calling for “Forest J!had”. The writer is quoted as saying

“summer has begun so do not forget the Forest J!had”

and called on all Muslims in the United States, Europe, Russia and Australia to

“start forest fires.”

The posting mentioned imprisoned Al Qaida terrorist Abu Musab Al-Suri, and went on to say:

“The idea of forest fires is attributed to him….”


“Imagine if, after all the losses caused by such an event, a j!hadist organization were to claim responsibility for the forest fires. You can hardly begin to imagine the level of the fear that would take hold of people in the United States, in Europe, in Russia, and in Australia.”

All of this may be nothing more than one crazed person ranting on the Internet, but we’ll see what, if anything, develops.

(I changed the spelling of the J. word, replacing the “i” with a “!”.)

USFS Employee Convicted of Starting Fire May Be Released From Prison Early

In 2003, Terry Barton, a U.S. Forest Service Fire Prevention Technician, was convicted of starting the 2002 Hayman fire on the front range of Colorado. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison by the state and 6 years by a federal court. In an appeal, the 12 year sentence was thrown out. Since she has already served 5 years, she could be released in a year. But it’s not over yet. There is another hearing scheduled for February 11 when there could be another change related to the state sentence. Barton’s attorneys are arguing that the state judge’s sentencing decision, double the standard sentence, was affected by the fact that he voluntarily evacuated during the fire.

The Hayman fire burned 138,000 acres and 133 homes; 8,000 people were evacuated. Aside from prison, Barton also was ordered to pay $42.2 million in state and federal restitution.

IAWF Looking for Executive Director

After serving as the Executive Director of the International Association of Wildland Fire for three years, I have decided to retire (again) and concentrate on things a retired guy is supposed to spend time on, like traveling, motorcycles, and photography. And wildfire blogs. My last day with the IAWF will be March 31, (but this blog will continue, as always, not affiliated with the IAWF). More information about the job vacancy can be found at the website.

The IAWF is a dynamic organization serving the wildland fire community. It could be a great job for someone with both organization management experience and a fire background. We have managed to double the membership in three years and are doing more to support wildland fire such as offering scholarships , helping to support the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, monitoring wildland fire legislation, issuing position papers, establishing a Wildland Fire Event Calendar, conducting surveys on important issues, increasing the publication frequency of the International Journal of Wildland Fire, and putting on a variety of well-attended conferences.

Air Tanker Drops Retardant in Wilderness Area; No Fire Nearby

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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.

L. Dean Clark Retires

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.

(Photo by Marsha Rogers)