Red Flag Warnings, April 29, 2013

Red Flag Warnings

Red Flag Warnings for enhanced wildfire danger have been issued by the National Weather Service for areas in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Montana.


The Red Flag Warning map above was current as of 9:45 a.m. MT on Monday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts. For the most current data, visit this NWS site.

Man who started 17,000-acre fire sentenced to probation

Sunflower fire
Sunflower fire. USFS photo by David Albo.

The man who started the 17,446-acre Sunflower Fire 34 miles northeast of Phoenix has been sentenced to two years of probation, a $2,000 fine, and 200 hours of community service to be served with the Forest Service.

It cost taxpayers $4.4 million to suppress the fire. The U.S. Forest Service did not seek restitution.

On May 12, 2012, Craig Shiflet and four of his friends woke up in the Sycamore Creek area of the Tonto National Forest during a multiday campout-bachelor party for one member of the group. Mr. Shiflet loaded a Fiocchi incendiary round into his 12 gauge shotgun and fired at a soda box, apparently unconcerned about the warning on the box of shells which stated:

Shoots 100 feet of fire, setting everything in its path ablaze. Warning: Extreme FIRE HAZARD

(Another incendiary 12 gauge shotgun shell that has a similar effect is made by Dragon’s Breath.)

The vegetation began burning and the group tried unsuccessfully to stomp the fire out. Mr. Shiflet reported the fire to 911 and was instructed to leave the area by the dispatcher.

Here is an excerpt from an article at The Smoking Gun:

Federal agents began investigating the fire the day after its ignition. Witnesses provided probers with the license plate number of a GMC Yukon that was seen departing the Sunflower Fire. The vehicle was “occupied by five white males in their 20’s,” reported Lucas Woolf, a Forest Service agent.

After tracing the SUV to Pace, Woolf approached him on May 19 (the day of Reeder’s wedding) and said he wanted to talk about the Sunflower Fire. “I think that we may have had something to do with that,” Pace replied.

Woolf then interviewed Shiflet, who recalled firing an “orange shotgun round” at a soda box, expecting the round to “shoot out flame or act like a flare gun.” Shiflet provided Woolf with the “exact same type of shotgun shell that he fired” on May 12, triggering the massive blaze.

The photo below is an example of the use of an incendiary magnesium-based shotgun shell.

flamethrower shotgun shell

Report on fatal engine rollover on Montezuma Fire

Montezuma fire, fatality engine

The recently released 2012 Incident Review Summary mentioned a report that we were not aware had been released — the engine rollover fatality that occurred June 9, 2012 on the Montezuma Fire in Arizona. Killed in the accident was the Bureau of Indian Affairs engine boss, Anthony Polk, 31, of Yuma, Arizona. Two crewmembers were injured, one very seriously.

The three-person crew was en route to their assignment that morning. The AD crewmember driving was in his first fire season and had started work five days before. He received a valid Federal Motor Vehicle Operator’s ID card on May 3, 2012 about a month before he started work.

Below is an excerpt from the report:

Approximately 0745-0800 – The engines left the spike camp with Engine 1252 in the lead. Engine 6351 followed Engine 1252. Engine 6351 was being driven by Crewmember 2. Crewmember 1 occupied the middle seat, and the ENGB occupied the passenger side of the engine. The engines headed south on Indian Reservation Route 19. The engines drove up a moderate grade for the first couple of miles, crested the hill, and then started down a slight decline.

Approximately 0800 – The driver (Crewmember 2) stated that as they were driving and without prompting, the ENGB passed Crewmember 2 a bottle of water that had been on the dashboard on the passenger side where Crewmember 2 had previously been sitting. Crewmember 2 took the bottle and put it between his legs. The ENGB passed Crewmember 2 a second bottle of water and told Crewmember 2 to put the bottle behind his back.

As Crewmember 2 put the water bottle behind the back of his seat, he drifted off the right hand side of the road. He tried to steer the engine back onto the road, but overcorrected and went across both lanes of the road into the dirt on the other side. The engine flipped forward, landing with the weight on the hood and cab. The engine bounced, landed on its wheels and coasted across the highway (from east to west), coming to rest on the west side of the highway.

Findings, from the report:

  • The driver (Crewmember 2) was an AD Employee who was on his first off-unit fire assignment.
  • The driver (Crewmember 2) had no previous experience driving an engine.
  • The driver (Crewmember 2) was distracted, as water bottles were passed to him while he drove Engine 6351 on Indian Reservation Route 19.
  • No manual direction exists within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to ensure employees are qualified to drive Type 6 and larger engines.
  • Indian Reservation Route 19 is a relatively narrow road with no shoulder. The drop off from the paved surface to dirt is 4 to 6 inches. There is no “rumble strip” in place to alert the driver to the outside edge of the road surface.
  • Engine 6351 is a Chevrolet C-5500 engine platform (Model 52) rated as 19,500 GVW that has unique road handling characteristics that differ from the average sedan or pickup.
    • 1. While this vehicle does not have a CDL requirement, the weight of the vehicle (19,500 GVW) contributes to its unique road handling characteristics.
    • 2. The front axle width is approximately 15” wider than standard size vehicles. The axle width results in the vehicle encountering road surface irregularities differently than a vehicle with a narrower axle width.


Two cousins owe $3.7 million for Wallow fire

Wallow Fire. Photo by Jason Coil
Wallow Fire. Photo by Jayson Coil.

Two men who are cousins have been ordered to pay $3.7 million for accidentally starting what became the largest fire in Arizona history. Last May David and Caleb Malboeuf left a campfire unattended in the eastern part of the state which escaped and became the Wallow Fire, eventually burning 538,040 acres, which includes 15,407 acres after it crossed the border into New Mexico.

The Malboeufs have asked the U.S. Magistrate to set the monthly payments for Caleb at $500 and $250 for David. At that rate it will take them about 4,900 years to pay it off.

The $3.7 million only includes claims that have been filed and approved by the court for actual damages that occurred, mostly on private land. The U.S. Forest Service agreed not to seek repayment for $79 million in suppression costs. However the agency and any of the victims could later initiate civil actions against the Malboeufs.

We initially reported on the early stages of this settlement in September.


Thanks go out to Mark and Kelly.

Prescribed fire smoke adds “texture” to views of the Grand Canyon

Smoke form Thompson prescribed fire, Grand Canyon
The caption for this photo on InciWeb reads: “Smoke from prescribed fires adds a special texture to the sunrise view from Mather Point.”

The Grand Canyon National Park employee who updated the InciWeb report for the Thompson prescribed fire put an interesting spin on the smoke visible from Mather Point,  describing it as as adding a “special texture” to the view. The park is conducting two prescribed fires in the North Rim area, the Thompson and Range projects totaling 2,600 acres.

Range Rx Fire, NPS photo
Range prescribed fire in Grand Canyon National Park. NPS photo
Cape Royal at sunset., NPS photo by Jessica Pope
Cape Royal in the Grand Canyon at sunset. NPS photo by Jessica Pope

Wildfire morning briefing, September 29, 2012

Men who started Wallow fire may owe more than $3 million

The two cousins who started the 2011 Wallow Fire may be on the hook to pay over $3 million. Caleb and David Malboeuf are on probation following last month’s sentencing for leaving a campfire unattended. During restitution hearings this week attorneys for both sides agreed that $3 million is appropriate, but they are still haggling over an additional $500,000, with the defendants’ attorney saying documentation is incomplete for those funds.

The Wallow Fire, which burned from eastern Arizona into New Mexico, became the largest fire in the history of Arizona. It burned over half a million acres and destroyed 32 homes and 4 commercial structures. At least $79 million was spent to suppress the fire.

Turn over federal lands to the states?

There is a growing chorus among certain political groups and at least one state to give away millions of acres of federal land. For example, the Governor of Utah signed a bill that demands that the federal government hand over almost 30 million acres to the state. Other states are looking to follow Utah’s lead, and a candidate for President, Mitt Romney, is on board. Timothy Egan has a thoughtful article in the New York Times about this expanding threat.

If the national parks, forests, and BLM lands are given away or sold, the 16,000 wildland firefighters that now work for the Department of Interior and the US Forest Service, if they still have jobs, may find themselves working for a state, or a private company such as British Petroleum, Weyerhaeuser, or Union Pacific Coal Company.

Waldo Canyon fire slowed air travel into Colorado Springs

While the Waldo Canyon Fire was burning in and near Colorado Springs, three of the four airlines serving the city reported a decline in passenger numbers. The fire started June 23, killed two people, and destroyed about 346 homes.

Fire activity in the Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains

Usually by early to mid-September the fire season in the northern Rocky Mountains and the Northwest is seriously winding down, but firefighters in those areas are still busy. It is very unusual this late in the year, but air tankers are still stationed at Billings, Montana.

Below is a map showing heat detected today by satellites on wildfires in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming and Oregon. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Map of wildfires detected by satellites, September 29, 2012

Interesting headlines

I like this headline in Utah’s Park Record:

Fire prescribed for 570 acres near Wyoming border

Here is another one, this time from the Ramona Sentinel in California:

Cal Fire crushes grass fire near airport



Thanks go out to Chris and Dick