Wildfire briefing, June 17, 2013

The worst wildfires

The Mother Nature Network has assembled what they call “10 of the Worst Wildfires in U.S. History”. Check it out to see if you agree with their list.

Furloughs cancelled for NWS

As wildfire season heats up the National Weather Service has cancelled their plans to force their employees to take four days off without pay before September 30. While a memo to all 12,000 NWS employees did not mention fire weather forecasts or Incident Meteorologists, it did refer to the tornadoes that plowed through Midwestern states last month. The Las Cruces Sun-News has more details.

Photos and videos of the 747 Supertanker, and a new CWN contract for the 20,000-gallon beast

Fire Aviation has some photos and videos of Evergreen’s 747 Supertanker that is receiving a new call when needed contract from the U.S. Forest Service. When you see the two photos of the 747 dropping on a fire in Mexico, compare them to this photo of a P2V dropping on a fire in the San Diego area Monday.

Denver post on the shortage of air tankers

The Denver Post has an article about the shortage of large air tankers in the United States and how that may have affected the early stages of the recent fires in Colorado. They also quote a very reliable source about the number of Unable to Fill (UTF) requests for air tankers.

Aspen Fire on Mount Lemmon, 10 years ago

It was 10 years ago today that the Aspen Fire ripped across the top of Mount Lemmon in Arizona, destroying nearly 340 homes and burning 84,000 acres.

Birds start fires in California and Nevada

A deluded conspiracy theorist might assume that terrorists have trained birds to fly into power lines and start fires, since over the last two days it happened in Chico, California and in Reno, Nevada. But in spite of the tin foil hat I’m wearing, I don’t think this quite meets the threshold for our Animal Arson series, since it is fairly common.

Soldier Basin Fire, southern Arizona

Soldier Basin Fire

We ran across some photos of the Soldier Basin Fire that burned 10,775 acres in southern Arizona six miles north of the U.S./Mexico border near Nogales, Mexico. It started May 17 and by Saturday May 25 had been 75 percent contained and turned over to the Coronado National Forest’s Sierra Vista Ranger District.

Soldier Basin Fire

All of the photos are from InciWeb and are uncredited.

Soldier Basin Fire

Soldier Basin Fire

Soldier Basin Fire

Soldier Basin Fire
Aerial ignition with a Plastic Sphere Dispenser.

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.