Canada fire smoke evacuates thousands

Smoke from a wildfire that’s burned more than 4,000 acres and forced thousands to evacuate is causing 2024’s first widespread drop in air quality, according to the British Columbia Wildfire Service.

The Parker Lake Fire, burning in the northeast section of the province, forced more than 3,000 residents from the nearby Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and Fort Nelson First Nation to evacuate.

BC smoke drift
BC smoke drift from Parker Lake Fire

“All remaining residents are urged to evacuate the community immediately,” a press release from the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality said. “As the safety of emergency personnel remaining in the community becomes the priority, residents remaining in place need to be aware that emergency medical services are not available, nor are groceries or other amenities. Utilities may be affected to support fire response efforts.”

BC Wildfire Service

While the evacuations are limited to the immediate areas near the wildfire,  the smoke is triggering air quality alerts throughout Canada and the northern U.S., according to Canada’s Weather Information Service and the AirNow Fire & Smoke Map.

Air quality is at the most dangerous reading of “hazardous” in areas directly southeast of the fire near the community of Grande Prairie. People  should avoid outdoor activities during hazardous air quality, especially people with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, or older adults, children, and pregnant women.

The smoke has caused “very unhealthy” air quality alerts in numerous communities in central and southern Alberta. Communities in southern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario, as well as areas in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota have “unhealthy” air quality.

The Parker Lake Fire is the first wildfire of 2024 to cause widespread air quality impacts, the beginning of what fire experts expect to be a growing trend throughout the year. Fire crews throughout British Columbia are actively fighting 134 wildfires, primarily in the Prince George region of the province, according to the province’s wildfire service.

Most of the fires are considered “under control,” with only four wildfires designated as “being held” and 13 others “out of control.” Another 102 BC fires have started since the beginning of the year, but are considered “out.”

BC map

wildfiresituation.nrs.gov.bc.ca/map

BC evacuations
BC evacuations

Canada’s early and busy start is on par with the fire service’s outlook for the spring 2024 season that was released in March. “The current long-range forecasts suggest a high potential for an active spring wildfire season in British Columbia,” the report says. “While recent snowfall may seem beneficial, its impact on the upcoming wildfire season is expected to be minimal due to sublimation (solid to vapor) and the dry nature of snow in Interior regions. The low snowpack will limit surface runoff, stream flows, and fuel moisture recharge, which could limit drought recovery into summer 2024.”

The intensity of the summer wildfire season is in British Columbia largely depends on the amount and duration of rainfall during May and June, the rainiest months in the BC Interior. Continuous rain could reduce the likelihood of wildfires, but meteorologists are currently skeptical that sufficient rainfall will occur.

The 2023 wildfire season in British Columbia ended with 2,293 wildfires and burned more than 7 million acres, costing the province $1.1 billion. Just over 70 percent of the wildfires were lightning-caused.

 

which is just one of over 100 active fires in Canada,

Oregon State research team pursuing “burn to learn”

Fire science researchers at Oregon State University launched  a new project on May 10 to study how embers from homes and other buildings spread to nearby structures. “Our motto is burn to learn,” said OSU full-time research assistant Adarsh Verma. “So we are burning stuff to learn more about fire and how it’s going to spread.”

From May 10 to 16, the research team will burn outbuildings in a field and  examine the effects that structures of different sizes have on the firebrands — the embers and coals produced by a fire. They’ll analyze the numbers of embers produced, the distances they’re lofted on the breeze, and embers’ potential for new starts on adjacent buildings or other fuels.

OSU sheds for burning
OSU sheds slated for burning — photo from video ©Albert James / KEZI

Research assistant Jonathan Carter told Albert James with KEZI-TV that researchers are tracking the number of embers generated by flames and how hot embers get. Firebrands must hit a minimum temperature before ignition occurs in adjacent fuels.

Undergraduate research assistant Jonathan Carter and research faculty member Deepak Sharma on the faculty carry a water barrel at the test site.
Undergraduate research assistant Jonathan Carter and research faculty member Deepak Sharma on the faculty carry a water barrel at the test site. Photo from video ©Albert James / KEZI
Burning shed close
Flames rip through the 6-foot shed. Photo from video ©Albert James / KEZI.
The project kicked off on Friday, and the research team members hope to learn from the experience for future planning. “As we increase the size of the structure, the number of embers and their spread will increase,” Sharma said. “They will spread over larger areas and the number of firebrands will increase.” He said their results could guide structure design in residential areas. He hopes to look into additional factors that could affect fire behavior, including wind and home building materials.

The KEZI broadcast with Albert’s video is online [HERE].

Fire science researchers at Oregon State University launched  a new project on May 10 to study how embers from homes and other buildings spread to nearby structures. “Our motto is burn to learn,” said OSU full-time research assistant Adarsh Verma. “So we are burning stuff to learn more about fire and how it’s going to spread.”

Injury burnover in Kentucky

UPDATE: Zach Garland, the state firefighter injured Thursday on a Kentucky wildfire, is now in stable condition at the burn center in Huntington, West Virginia. On April 25 the Pike County 2 Crew was working a wildfire when the fire shifted; Zach was trapped and burned and critically injured. He was building fireline when fire cut off his escape route. Crew members immediately called for EMS; Zach was flown to the burn center at Huntington, where he is in good spirits. Though he is medically stable, he faces a very long road to recovery; Zach suffered second- and third-degree burns to his face, arms, hands, and knees.

Zach Garland in the burn center at Huntington, West Virginia
Zach Garland in the burn center at Huntington, West Virginia
His friend and co-worker Trey Beam has started a GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses. “Zach was protecting our Kentucky land,” writes Trey, “as well as wild horses, homes, and civilians. Zach is a dad to two young children, the youngest of whom was born on the day after Zach was injured. We are requesting contributions of any size, to assist with out-of-pocket expenses for medical bills, travel, lodging, and Zach’s lost wages. Zach and his family face a very long road ahead.”
Zach Garland’s GoFundMe page is here:
gofundme.com/f/zach-garland-and-family-recovery
Update: Generous people like you have chipped in over $7600 toward
Zach’s unexpected expenses. If you have another $20 in your pocket, he
and his wife need it more than you do — and May the 4th be with you.

Zach Garland, Kentucky
Kentucky firefighters Teena Dunn and Zach Garland.

PUBLISHED 27. APRIL 2024 — On Thursday about a mile south of Stopover in Pike County, Kentucky, the Blankenship Hollow Fire early in the afternoon injured a firefighter in a burnover incident. A structure fire in Blankenship Hollow escaped into the woodland and was reported to the Hazard Branch forestry office; volunteer fire departments at the incident requested a forestry crew to assist. The Forest Ranger IC type 5 and a Pike County crew were dispatched just before 2 p.m. and arrived at 3 p.m.

Kentucky fires
Kentucky fires
Zach Garland running firing on burn out operations.
Zach Garland running firing on a burnout operation.

Initial size-up from the IC was 10 acres burning in timber with an uphill run and high spread potential.

The IC reported that several additional structures near the fire would be their initial focus.

About 45 minutes later with structure protection completed, the IC and the crew hiked up the mountain to engage the head of the fire directly. They said they had active behavior with short-range spotting and decided to wait for a break before engaging.

Blower line on the Blankenship Hollow Fire near the site of shelter deployment.
Blower line on the Blankenship Hollow Fire near the site of shelter deployment. The area is hardwood leaf litter — as was 90 percent of the burn area. The area around the deployment zone was 60-100 ft hardwood with 3-12 ft beech, maple, and mountain laurel understory.

At 5:15 the IC reported a break in fire behavior and they re-engaged with  direct handline construction. Firefighters began building line down both flanks and at 5:55 IC reported that a firefighter had become trapped by a spot fire, cutting him off. He said he was deploying a shelter; 3 minutes later the IC reached the crew member and began a medical assessment. Kentucky State Police out of Pikeville was contacted by dispatch; they sent EMS units and requested a life-flight medical helicopter be held on standby.

Zach and his Kentucky Division of Forestry crewmembers.
Kentucky Division of Forestry Pike 2 Crew — Zach Garland is third from left.

The IC and the fire crew were able to assist the injured firefighter, who walked mainly under his own power off the mountain to the waiting ambulance, where EMTs decided to request helicopter transport to the burn unit at Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. There were no reports of other injuries.

The burned firefighter is in stable condition at the burn center this evening and is in good spirits. He endured burns on the hands, knees, and face; there will be a 72-hour followup report.

A statewide burn ban is in effect through the end of this month.

 

Climate change will make wildfires worse, even in areas that don’t have wildfires today

Yet another destination known for its skiing and snowy winters will be forced to contend with growing wildfire severity and frequency.

The Alps, Europe’s largest mountain range and a world-renowned skiing destination, and the Alpine Foreland, a deep trough in southern Germany at the edge of the Alps, have both enjoyed minimal wildfire danger thanks to abundant winter snowfall and temperate summer conditions. But that will change by 2040.

A study published in Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences (NHESS) used climate models to forecast fire risk for the two locations and others from 1980 to 2099. Researcher Julia Miller used the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index (FWI) as a fire danger indicator.

The research forecasted a likely increase in wildfire danger in temperate areas through the 21st century, with fire danger increasing to high even in regions where it is very low today. The results displayed a continual trend of worsening wildfire danger in the Alps and Alpine Foreland, with the climate change trend exceeding natural variability in the late 2040s. The excess would likely have happened earlier if not for the area’s current low wildfire danger.

These areas are expected to see what’s today considered a “100-year” fire event every 30 years by 2050 and every 10 years by the end of the century.

Severe debris flow in Ascona, Switzerland, in summer 1997, five months after a forest fire. Photo: Lorenza Re, Forest Service Canton Ticino
Severe debris flow in Ascona, Switzerland, in summer 1997, five months after a forest fire — photo ©1997 Lorenza Re, Forest Service Canton Ticino

“Alterations in these variables are projected to more than double the frequency of occurrence of extreme fire weather until the end of the 21st century … and increase the duration, severity, and spatial extent of fires,” Miller said. “Due to climate change, fire weather and hence the likelihood of fire events are projected to increase in several regions of the world – including historically less fire-prone areas – in the future.”

A study posted on PreventionWeb indicates that fires in the Alps will increase because of growing intensity of drought periods and heat waves — and the increasing fire hazard resulting from rural abandonment and more recreational activities.

Alpine communities, such as the previously mentioned Canadian community of Whistler, may see this as a hard pill to swallow. The lack of historical fires in the area means local people also lack an established “culture” for living with fires, according to Switzerland’s University of Bern. Researchers there are currently working to identify the wildfire risk awareness of communities throughout the canton of Bern and determine the best approaches for specific groups in the area.

“Based on scientific findings, the project aims to develop optimized and/or new communication strategies and materials for implementation,” the university said. “These can promote behavioral changes regarding forest fire risks, thus helping to prevent such fires.”

La Grande lost Casey Budlong too

It’s with genuine sadness that we relay to you that Casey Budlong last weekend ended his battle with brain cancer; he passed away peacefully with his family by his side.

🌟  🌟  🌟  🌟  🌟

[ OBIT ]
His celebration of life is scheduled for May 4 at 2 p.m.
at the Gates Church in Gates, Oregon
🌟  🌟  🌟  🌟  🌟 

Gates, Oregon

Casey Budlong was diagnosed with brain cancer in August of 2018 and he went through two brain surgeries, six weeks of chemo and radiation, and another five months of intensive chemotherapy after that. He recovered  well, back home in eastern Oregon, but in early 2023 he developed a severe headache and had trouble with the peripheral vision in one eye. An ER visit and a CT scan showed a new tumor in the back right side of his brain. Physicians at La Grande referred Casey and his family back to Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland.

Casey had a long career in wildland fire on the Wallowa-Whitman. He was with the La Grande Hotshots and then worked at the airtanker base. He had an infectious smile and a heartwarming laugh.

Casey Budlong family
Casey Budlong family

Casey was able to go easy — he had hospice caregivers working with him and they kept him comfortable toward his last days and mostly not in pain.

For those who haven’t heard the story, when Casey was in the Neuro ICU at OHSU after surgery in the spring, one of his nurses briefed doctors out in the hallway and didn’t realize the family could hear … she told the doctors what he’d endured and said he was amazing. “You’ve got Captain America in there!” she told them.

Scan QR code to donate to Casey's family
Scan QR code to donate to Casey’s family ••• $23,255 USD raised of $30,000 goal ••• 202 donations

In true hotshot style, Casey endured all this with strength, bravery, honesty, and humor, more aware of and concerned with others around him than he was with his own needs. His friends and family plan to wear Captain America shirts for his memorial service.

His wife Katy Budlong still has unmet medical expenses for Casey’s care, and staff at the La Grande Airtanker Base established a GoFundMe account for Katy and the family.

 

Retired La Grande hotshot dies

By Lance Gomez  
It is with profound sadness that I write to announce the passing of a beloved community staple, coworker, friend, partner and father, Mark Gomez, 67.

Mark Gomez
Mark Anthony Gomez, November 19, 1956 — March 19, 2024

He passed away after a brief, yet fierce, battle with a respiratory illness. A light to all those who knew him, Mark “GoGo” Gomez was fittingly born in Los Alamos, New Mexico, known as the land of Enchantment, on Nov. 19, 1956. The middle child of Hilario and Emily Gomez, he learned from an early age how to become the glue that holds people together through laughter, storytelling and love. His early years were spent hunting and fishing in New Mexico, with some time spent in San Diego, where he honed his love of surfing and baseball. Both locations molded my father into the avid outdoorsman he was for the rest of his life.

After graduating from Pojoaque High School in 1974, this same love for the outdoors led him and his first wife, Wendy Friedman, to La Grande, Oregon, nestled deep among the forests and rivers he called home for the rest of his life. After two beautiful children, Sari and Lance, Wendy and my father parted ways. He settled into his careers at Blue Mountain Sports and on the Union/La Grande Interagency Hot Shot crews, where he forged his lifelong friendships and met my mother, Trish Wallace, his forever partner.

The next 37 years for them were filled with adventure, from backpacking across Mexico and mountain biking through Moab to skiing the mountains of the Northwest, hiking in the Eagle Cap Wilderness and firefighting during the summers on the La Grande and Union interagency crews. From fire to fisheries and recreation to engineering, my dad got to live out his passions in his work alongside his La Grande Ranger District family up until his retirement in 2019.

If I had to describe my dad in one word, it would be “fire.” Fire, for the job he cherished and the coworkers-turned-friends-turned family. Fire for his passion of fishing, exploring, and all things outdoors that fueled his career and lifestyle. Fire, for the one he lit under you when he saw your potential and pushed you toward it. Fire, because though sometimes it will burn you, it will always keep you warm and help you find your way.

In his last days, Dad’s doctor told us that “love cannot be divided, it only can multiply.”

Anyone who was lucky enough to know my dad knows this to be true. To know him is to feel infinite bounds of love. Whether he was yelling at you or for you, he was always in your corner, and I like to think we were all better people for being a part of his life. I dream he is at peace now, fishing and exploring on the great river of life. When the wind blows hard through the trees or thunder rolls in the distance, know that is my dad, sharing a bit of himself with you from above.

After many years apart, he joins his mother and father, and his oldest and youngest brothers in the afterlife. He is survived by his spouse, Trish; his sister, Cheryl; his brother, Jeff; his nieces and nephews, who adore him; his children, Sari, Lance and Logan; and his grandchildren, Tuko and Tule.

A celebration of his life will take place on May 11 starting at 1 p.m. at the Hot Lake RV Park at 65182 Hot Lake Lane, La Grande. Bring a potluck side dish and some stories. Hawaiian shirts are most certainly encouraged. Online condolences may be made to the family at lovelandfuneralchapel.com