Warm, dry weather increases wildfire activity in western Washington and Oregon

A fire southeast of Salem prompted evacuat.ion orders Tuesday

Numerous wildfires have broken out recently in western Washington and northwest Oregon after several days of warm, dry, and windy weather.

“That’s a result of very strong dry eastern winds that have been pushing across the cascade mountain range and through the Columbia Gorge,” Northwest Coordination Center fire weather program manager John Saltenberger told KGW8 news.

A fire southeast of Salem, Oregon near Lyons jumped the Santiam River and prompted evacuation orders on Tuesday, which were lifted Wednesday. Reported Tuesday afternoon near the North Santiam State Recreation Area off Highway 22, it was mapped at 189 acres after firefighters stopped the spread. By Thursday morning they had a fire line around 80 percent of the perimeter.

A three-alarm vegetation fire south of Seattle in White Center started in a vacant lot Wednesday afternoon. Burning embers landed on the roof of an apartment building and set it ablaze, damaging all seven units in the structure.

The King County Sheriff’s Office reported that a 34-year old man was arrested, suspected of setting the fire.

No residents were injured but two firefighters were transported to a hospital with injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

TDN.com reported that the Washington DNR responded to eight wildfires in its seven-county Southwest Region on Wednesday — three in Cowlitz, two in Lewis, two in Clark and one in Wahkiakum.  All of the personnel from Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue, were out on fires Wednesday.

Below is an excerpt from TDN.com:

About 40 firefighters and three state helicopters Wednesday fought a wildfire east of Cathlamet that was estimated Tuesday at 40 acres but had grown to 100 acres Wednesday. DNR Spokeswoman Mary McDonald said late Wednesday afternoon it is considered contained.

The fire, which broke out Tuesday and was spread by brisk gusts, burned up a steep slope on the north side of State Route 4 in the Little Cape Horn area. The highway remained opened, said Russ Truman, fire dispatch and prevention officer for the State Department of Natural Resources regional office in Castle Rock.

McDonald said a DNR helicopter was rerouted from the wildfire near Cathlamet to Tower Road after reports the brush fire had reached a structure there. Further details were not available.

“We are tapped,” [ Cowlitz 2 Fire Chief Dave] LaFave said. “Our people are worn out. This is a record. I’ve been in this department 36 years, and I’ve never seen this. People need to stop burning. … There can’t be anything so pressing that (burning) needs to happen right now.”

Russ Truman, fire dispatch and prevention officer for the State Department of Natural Resources regional office in Castle Rock said “Things are burning like they do in September.”

Eatonville (referenced in the tweet below) is about 50 miles south of Seattle.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Stanley. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Turn fire hose into animal enrichment items

fire hose animal enrichment

The U.S. Forest is cooperating with with Hose2Habitat to repurpose retired fire hose into items that can  improve the physical and psychological well-being of wild animals in human care. Fire hose can be used to make toys, browser racks for food, feeders, hammocks, cargo nets, and mats.

Hose2Habitat is a non-profit organization that helps to coordinate events for volunteers where they take a pile of old fire hose and make items that can enrich the lives of animals in zoos.

The tweet below has a link to photos at Flickr, some of which we used here.

fire hose animal enrichment

fire hose animal enrichment fire hose animal enrichment

fire hose animal enrichment fire hose animal enrichment

The last two photos are from the Hose2Habitat website.

fire hose animal enrichment

Hose2Habitat on Facebook

 

Researchers compare smoke emissions from prescribed and wild fires

DC-10 drop North Park Fire
A DC-10 comes out of the smoke dropping retardant on the North Park Fire in Southern California, October 12, 2018. Screen grab from @ABC7Leticia video.

Four researchers, in a study funded by the U.S. Forest Service, evaluated data collected in 25 previous studies to compare exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5) created by prescribed fires and wildfires. The authors were Kathleen Navarro, Don Schweizer, John Balmes, and Ricardo Cisneros. Titled, A Review of Community Smoke Exposure from Wildfire Compared to Prescribed Fire in the United States, it is published under Open Access guidelines.

Below are excerpts from the study — the abstract and conclusions. And, information about a March 21 webinar featuring Ms. Navarro about the health effects of vegetation smoke.


Abstract

Prescribed fire, intentionally ignited low-intensity fires, and managed wildfires-wildfires that are allowed to burn for land management benefit-could be used as a land management tool to create forests that are resilient to wildland fire. This could lead to fewer large catastrophic wildfires in the future. However, we must consider the public health impacts of the smoke that is emitted from wildland and prescribed fire.

The objective of this synthesis is to examine the differences in ambient community-level exposures to particulate matter (PM2.5) from smoke in the United States in relation to two smoke exposure scenarios-wildfire fire and prescribed fire. A systematic search was conducted to identify scientific papers to be included in this review. TheWeb of Science Core Collection and PubMed, for scientific papers, and Google Scholar were used to identify any grey literature or reports to be included in this review. Sixteen studies that examined particulate matter exposure from smoke were identified for this synthesis-nine wildland fire studies and seven prescribed fire studies. PM2.5 concentrations from wildfire smoke were found to be significantly lower than reported PM2.5 concentrations from prescribed fire smoke.

Wildfire studies focused on assessing air quality impacts to communities that were nearby fires and urban centers that were far from wildfires. However, the prescribed fire studies used air monitoring methods that focused on characterizing exposures and emissions directly from, and next to, the burns.

This review highlights a need for a better understanding of wildfire smoke impact over the landscape. It is essential for properly assessing population exposure to smoke from different fire types.

Conclusions

Destructive wildfires have higher rates of biomass consumption and have greater potential to expose more people to smoke than prescribed fires. Naturally ignited fires that are allowed to self-regulate can provide the best scenario for ecosystem health and long-term air quality. Generally, prescribed fire smoke is much more localized, and the smoke plumes tend to stay within the canopy, which absorbs some of the pollutants, reducing smoke exposure. Land managers want to utilize prescribed fire as a land management tool to restore fire-adapted landscapes. Thus, additional work is needed to understand the differences in exposures and public health impacts of smoke of prescribedfire compared to wildfire. One way to do this would be for managers to collaborate with air quality departments (internal to agency or external) to monitor PM2.5concentrations in communities near a prescribed fire.

Consistent monitoring strategies for all wildland fires, whether prescribed or naturally occurring, are needed to allow the most robust comparative analysis. Currently, prescribed fire monitoring is often focused on capturing the area of highest impact or characterizing fire emissions, while wildfire monitoring often relies on urban monitors supplemented by temporary monitoring of communities of concern. A better understanding of smoke impact over the landscape and related impacts is essential for properly assessing population exposure to smoke from different fire types.

(end of excerpt)


In a webinar March 21 at 11 a.m. CDT, Ms. Navarro will describe information from a different smoke study. She will present on a recent Joint Fire Science Program study estimating the lifetime risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease from exposure to particulate matter (PM) from smoke. This analysis combined measured PM exposures on wildfires, estimated wildland firefighter breathing rates, and an exposure disease relationship for PM to estimate mortality of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality from lifetime exposure to PM.

Sky lantern probable cause of fire at Vermont brewery

sky lantern fire roof structure burlington vermont
The fire department extinguished a fire on the roof of the Zero Gravity brewery in Burlington, Vermont Tuesday. Screengrab from WCAX video.

A sky lantern landing on the roof is the most likely cause of a fire that resulted in about $40,000 in damage to a business in Burlington, Vermont early Tuesday morning.

The Burlington Free Press reported that the fire department responded at 3:15 a.m. to the fire on the roof of the Zero Gravity brewery.

The fire is still under investigation but the fire department wrote in a report, “the most probable cause was identified as a ‘sky lantern’ landing on the roof of the building and igniting the roof.”

Officials said there were multiple reports of sky lanterns with open flames being launched earlier that night from Callahan Park.

Sky lanterns are prohibited in the City of Burlington, but there is no state law in Vermont regulating them.

These dangerous devices use burning material to loft a small paper or plastic hot air balloon into the air. The perpetrator has no control over where it lands. Usually the fire goes out before it hits the ground, but not always. Sometimes the envelope catches fire while in flight or it can get blown down to the ground or on the roof of a structure by the wind. Numerous fires have been started by sky lanterns. Even if they don’t ignite a fire, they leave litter on the ground. Metal parts have been picked up by hay balers causing serious problems when fed to livestock. They are banned in most U.S. states and many countries.

Dolly Parton’s foundation gives $200,000 to fire departments affected by 2016 Gatlinburg wildfires

Dolly Parton donation fire departments
L to R: Pete Kilman, Marvin Rolen, Tim Baker, John Satterfield, Heidi Satterfield, Dolly Parton, Joe Fields, Stephen Walley, Chris Young, Tony Patty, John Linsenbigler. Photo: Curtis Hilbun.

About 48 hours after the Chimney Tops 2 Fire spread from Great Smoky Mountains National Park into Gatlinburg, Tennessee November 28, 2016 burning 2,400 structures and 17,000 acres, country music artist Dolly Parton established the My People Fund.

In the weeks and months that followed, the fund provided $1,000 each month for six months to Sevier County families whose homes were uninhabitable or were completely destroyed in that fire and a few others that burned at the same. Any family that lost their primary residence (renters and homeowners) due to the wildfires in the county were eligible. Thanks to a tremendous outpouring of donations, the final distribution checks were $5,000 per family.

As if that were not enough, Ms. Parton continued with the generosity on March 16, 2019 when she met with the Fire Chiefs of the fire departments in Sevier County. In recognition of their roles in fighting the fires of 2016, the My People Fund donated the remaining dollars in the account — $20,000 to each volunteer fire department and $40,000 to their area training center.

Embers, firenados, and modeling wildfires

bonfire new years netherlands
The Hague firefighters on an aerial ladder apply water to the roofs of buildings as embers from a bonfire shower the neighborhood during a New Year celebration, January 1, 2019.

Knowable Magazine has an interesting article by Alexandra Witze on a variety of physics principles that affect wildland fires. She covers the research by Michael Gollner of the University of Maryland on how embers start spot fires, how Janice Coen, an atmospheric scientist who studies wildland fires at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado monitored the start of the Camp Fire as she sat in the back of a room at a conference, and the real time radar signature of the firenado (fire tornado) at the Carr Fire.

Below is an excerpt from a section about embers propagating spot fires.

It turns out that a single ember, or a handful of embers, can’t build up that much heat if it lands on a material such as a deck or a roof. But put one or two dozen embers into Gollner’s device and the heat flux goes up dramatically, he and his colleagues report in the March Fire Safety Journal. “You start to have re-radiation between them,” he says. “It glows, under the wind — it’s just beautiful.”

Just a small pile of embers can generate about 40 times the heat you’d feel from the sun on a hot day. That’s as much heating, and sometimes more, as comes from the fire itself. It’s also enough to ignite most materials, such as the wood of a deck.

So if there are a lot of embers flying ahead of a fire, but those embers land relatively far from one another, they may not build up the radiative heat needed to generate a spot fire. But if the embers pile up, perhaps blown by the wind into a crevice of a deck, they can smolder together and then trigger an ignition, Gollner says. Most homes that burn in the wildland-urban interface ignite from these embers, often hours after the fire front itself has passed.

Understanding the heat flux at these small scales can illuminate why some houses burn while others don’t. During the Tubbs fire, homes on one side of some streets were destroyed while those on the other side had hardly any damage. That may be because the first house that ignited radiated energy to its neighbor, which then burned neighboring homes like dominoes because of the radiative heat. When houses are closely packed together, there’s only so much homeowners can do to mitigate the danger by clearing brush and flammable material around the house.