Thousands told to evacuate below burn scars in Santa Barbara area as heavy rain is predicted

The evacuation order begins at 10 a.m. January 15

Fire debris flow flooding Santa Barbara evacuation map
Map showing areas under evacuation orders beginning at 10 a.m. January 15, 2019. Santa Barbara County. Click to enlarge.

Three to four thousand residents in areas below the footprints of three recent fires in Southern California’s Santa Barbara County have been ordered to evacuate as a winter storm approaches which could lead to debris flows below the Sherpa, Whittier, and Thomas fires burn areas. The evacuation order is in effect beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday January 15.

Thomas Fire debris flow flooding
Mud and debris flow in Montecito below the Thomas Fire, January 9, 2018. Photo by Mike Eliason, Santa Barbara FD.

Santa Barbara County has more information about the evacuation, including a map. A Red Cross shelter will be open at 10 a.m. at Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave., Goleta. Two schools are closed and three are holding classes at alternative sites.

The National Weather Service is predicting 1.5 to 3 inches of rain in the Santa Barbara area with up to 4.5 inches locally on south-facing slopes. Peak hourly rainfall rates could reach 0.75 to 1.25 inches. The heavy rain should taper off Tuesday night, followed by showers on Wednesday which will increase to heavy rain again Wednesday night.

Fire debris flow flooding Santa Barbara

Honda designs an autonomous ATV to carry equipment for wildland firefighters

Honda Autonomous firefighter vehicle
Screengrab from the video

In the fall of 2018, the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting (CoE), along with wildland firefighters from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) worked with Honda in testing their Autonomous Work Vehicle in wildland firefighting support scenarios.

Located at the site of the Lake Christine fire, a destructive wildfire that took place the summer of 2018 in Eagle County, Colorado- CoE, DFPC and Honda tested the work vehicles using realistic scenarios that occur during a wildfire. The team focused on utilizing the vehicle to support wildland operations with the goal of enhancing safety and effectiveness. Three missions were tested including initial attack support for dismounted firefighters, support of active fireline development, and autonomous deployment of a communications repeater to a remote site.  This evaluation was performed at the Lake Christine fire site after the fire was fully contained and controlled. The initial results of the tests were promising and the CoE looks forward to working with Honda to further this mission.

Honda debuted the vehicle at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.  At CES 2019, this week, Honda and the CoE are sharing some results of that testing. While further development is required before the device can be used on active wildfires, the potential of an autonomous vehicle is clear.

Couples workshop for firefighter families

This is a very interesting concept — a couples workshop (or therapy or counseling?) for firefighter families. Daycare provided.

Firefighters have a lot of stress to deal with, but so do their spouses.

We have no more information about this than what is available in the tweet, and therefore can’t endorse it. But, maybe this concept will be useful and if so, could spread like wildfire. (sorry)

The firefighting agencies and departments should provide this service. It is in their best interests to have healthy employees that can be depended on who can serve out their full careers in spite of stress and difficulties. It could even have a positive effect on the astronomically high suicide rate among firefighters. Arguably, the investment might even save departments money in the long term.

This period during the shutdown of 40 percent of the government would be a good time for something like this. It makes the scheduling easier and could address the additional stress of the layoff and possible financial problems.

We also should remember that not all firefighters are part of a couple.

Prescribed burning in Western Australia

Their Rx season is usually from early spring to early summer.

prescribed burning in Western Australia
Smoke from a prescribed fire in the Warren Region of Western Australia. Screenshot from the Western Australia Parks and Wildlife Service video.

The prescribed burning season in the Warren Region of Western Australia usually winds down this time of the year during the early summer months. Their wildfire season typically extends from October to May.

The official designations of the seasons south of the equator in Australia are laid out like this:

  • Summer: December – February
  • Autumn: March – May
  • Winter: June – August
  • Spring: September – November
Map Warren Region Western Australia
Map: Warren Region of Western Australia. Click to enlarge.

In addition to telling us about the prescribed burning video (below), Dr. Lachlan McCaw, Senior Principal Research Scientist with Western Australia’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, sent us an overview of of their prescribed burning program in the Warren Region:


The Region is situated in the southwest part of Western Australian and features extensive areas of native vegetation, including designated wilderness areas and the state’s tallest forests. The region is also home to iconic tourism destinations, a rich and diverse agricultural industry, and unique conservation values associated with the highest rainfall area of Western Australia.

Public lands within the region are managed by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions Parks and Wildlife Service and include 0.65 million hectares (1.60 million acres) of national parks and nature reserves, 0.25 million hectares (0.617 million acres) of state forest and timber reserves, and a lesser area of unallocated crown land and unmanaged reserves.

Southwest Western Australia has a Mediterranean type climate with warm dry summers and the fire season typically extends from October to May. Open forests and heathlands become dry enough to burn in early spring whereas tall dense forest types may retain moisture into the early months of the austral summer.

Prescribed fire is an important tool for land management in southwest Western Australia and in the Warren Region the annual burning program undertaken by the Parks and Wildlife Service may vary from 30,000 ha (74,000 a.) to 70,000 ha (172,000 a.). Prescribed burning is undertaken for a number of purposes including:

  • To mitigate the risk and severity of bushfires and assist in the protection of lives, property and infrastructure by reducing the build up of vegetation fuels;
  • To maintain biodiversity and habitat diversity;
  • To reestablish vegetation after timber harvesting and disturbance by mining operations;
  • To understand the behaviour of fire and its interactions with the environment.

Shutdown affects firefighter hiring, training, fire conferences, and many other programs

If the shutdown continues much longer, training and the hiring of seasonal firefighters will be seriously affected

Firefighters training Guernsey, Wyoming
Firefighters training at Guernsey, Wyoming. File photo.

The most serious effect of the federal government furloughing 40 percent of their full time employees is the fact that they are not being paid. Most of the 800,000 people will begin receiving nothing on their regular paydays this week or next. After political circus is over, Congress and the President may or may not arrange for them to receive lump sum payments for the laid off period, but until then many folks and their families that live paycheck to paycheck could have difficulty making payments for rent, mortgage, vehicles, medical bills, and food. In addition, health insurance premiums will have to be paid at some point, possibly after the furlough is over.

Firefighter hiring

This is normally the time of the year when federal agencies that fight wildfires are heavily into the hiring of seasonal firefighters and other workers. The process may vary a bit among the federal agencies and from region to region, but generally by the first part of January they have been accepting applications for several months — officials could have started evaluating candidates in mid-December.

A furloughed firefighter told us what will happen next under the current conditions:

[This time] there is no local contact at each of the districts for applicants to get more information about the location, help in using the USA Jobs site, and just general information. It will be a huge catchup game once the government does “reopen” in terms of getting interviews scheduled, seeing who is still available and interested in the job, and getting those new people scheduled for medicals, pack tests,  and rookie schools.

Conferences

We are aware of at least one fire-related event that has been canceled. A three-day workshop in Missoula that is part of a multi-year project titled “Identifying ecological and social resilience in fire-prone landscapes” was scheduled to begin January 29. Two-thirds of the 25 attendees who planned to attend were from the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management. Room blocks in hotels had been reserved and some had bought airline tickets. The organizers hope to reschedule the workshop when that becomes possible.

The five-day American Meteorological Society annual meeting that usually attracts thousands of participants is occurring now in Phoenix. Hundreds of employees from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (which includes the National Weather Service) and possibly some land management agencies as well, will not be able to have their travel expenses paid by the federal government. Last year NOAA sent more than 400 scientists to the meeting.

From the Washington Post:

This meeting is where scientists hatch new ideas for lifesaving methods and warnings, said Dan Sobien, the president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization. “Any delay in that research could someday cost someone their life, and that person could be you or me,” Sobien said. Not having NWS meteorologists there to collaborate “will likely cost many more lives than the absence of any border wall, anywhere.”

Some attendees at the meeting tweeted about the effects of the shutdown.

Wildland fire training is being affected

Firefighters in state and federal agencies have clearly defined paths to qualify for the career ladder of jobs, as well as specific firefighting positions defined in the National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS). Every position on the organization chart at a fire or other incident is supposed to be filled by a person who has advanced through previous lower level positions, and for the next position has completed all of the classes and on-the-job training that is required. If one step is missed, because a training class was cancelled during the shutdown, it can set the individuals back for at least a year until they can compete to reschedule the class. They will be told, “maybe next year.”

“Some (most) firefighters look at training as a way to further their career and some look at it as a reward for busting ass the previous season”, one firefighter told us. “It allows one to further their career  or branch out into a different area. If you are stuck as an Engine Boss because you can’t get into Strike Team Leader class, it wears down on you. ”

Most of the wildland firefighter training is conducted during the off season, from late Fall into Spring. One firefighter told us that the training calendar in some areas is scrubbed for the month of January, including at least seven classes in Boise.

(If you know of other effects of the shutdown on individuals, training, or events, tell us about it in a comment.)

Shutdown stories from firefighters, Chapter 2

800,000 people and their families are directly affected, in addition to contractors, concessioners, and businesses.

Great Plains Dispatch office
The Great Plains Dispatch office in Rapid City, South Dakota as seen in 2012. (The person who provided the information below does not work in this state.)

The shutdown that affects 800,000 people and their families, or 40 percent of the federal government’s full time employees, continues. A meeting Wednesday afternoon of the principles in Washington about how to find a resolution to the crisis was very brief, with no progress being made. The President said a few days ago the shutdown could last up to a year.

On January 9 we published a perspective written by a federal wildland firefighter that explained how the shutdown affected his or her family. Today we have another view. It has been lightly edited for length and readability.

A U.S. Forest Service employee in California supervising a staff that provides support for wildland firefighters told us that the shutdown could lead to retirement earlier than previously expected:


“Thanks for digging into this and making folks aware”, the person wrote. “I am not politically active because I can’t be. We have been reminded that under this Administration we are under rules to not engage. We don’t have a voice and can’t speak out. Many of us are very frustrated with the way we get treated as hostages.

“I am pretty fed up with this BS. My contracts are now a mess. My contractors are about to run out of work — they will never get back pay. They are the ones that really get screwed.

“My bank is allowing interest free “furlough” loans with deferred repay for 90 days. I am taking advantage of this so I can hold out. Many others are signing up for unemployment now if they don’t have a bank as nice as mine. Some banks are attempting to make money on this with absurd costs for a loan.

“Most of us take a federal job because we care, it’s not to make money, it’s to make a difference. I know I can make thousands more elsewhere, but I love my job and I respect the work I do to protect the tax payers money. I pay taxes too. As I look to close out my career, I hope that politicians will stop using staff as pawns.

“Most Federal employees don’t make much money. They live pay check to pay check and worry about family and friends. They commit to volunteer work and support others when they are in need. It is not our choice to be off. Getting paid afterwards is an embarrassment, so much so that many of us put in 100’s of extra hours to make up the lost days. In all of the previous furloughs where we were paid afterwards I spent many hours catching up.

“A lost paycheck can impact your mortgage, credit card payment, utility bills, rent, etc. it takes up to a month to get any back pay, if it comes through, this is never guaranteed. What if you or your loved ones are sick, or you are supporting sick kids, aging parents, or friends that have lost everything? Many Federal employees lost their homes this year in fires, yet they continued to go to work with the only clothes they had — to help the recovery process. They fought fires to save other’s homes, while their own burned and their families were at risk. They continue to rebuild their communities while being on furlough. That is commitment — this is how they get treated.

“Sadly this will lead, again, to loss of quality staff, fed up with being treated as a pawn in high politics. Some will retire, some will go find other jobs, morale will again be terribly low — we don’t recover easily from these things. When you treat your staff like crap it is really hard to bring them back to feeling good about what they do.”