Top wildland fire stories of 2010 – with poll

Vote on the most significant wildland fire stories of 2010

As we documented earlier this month, the 2010 wildland fire season, when measured by the acres burned in the 49 states outside Alaska, was the slowest since 2004. But in spite of that, there has been significant news about wildland fire. In fact, we posted over 670 articles this year.

In 2009 we listed some of the top stories and invited you to vote on the ones that you considered to be the most significant.

Continuing that tradition, below we have listed the top stories of 2010. The line of duty fatalities are not listed unless there was an unusual spin-off story associated with the fatality. Below the list, there is a poll where YOU can let us know which stories you feel are the most significant of 2010.

Top wildfire stories of 2010

Jan. 8: The National Park Service released the report on the August, 2009 Big Meadow escaped prescribed fire in Yosemite National Park. The fire blackened 7,425 acres before being controlled by 1,300 firefighters at a cost over $15 million. It became the eighth largest fire in California in 2009.

Jan. 11: One of the five Type 1 Incident Management Teams in California was disbanded. Bill Molumby, who had been the team’s Incident Commander for several years, retired in November, 2009 and apparently they were not able to replace him.

Jan. 21: Federal wildland firefighter bill introduced in Congress. The “National Infrastructure Improvement and Cost Containment Act” would affect the pay, retirement age, and fireline liability of federal wildland firefighters.

Feb. 1: Fire contractor sentenced to 10 months in prison for forging wildfire training certificates and task books.

Apr. 23: NIOSH to study long-term health effects of working as structural firefighter, but not as a wildland firefighter. In a follow-up a few days later, Brian Sharkey of the USFS’ Missoula Technology and Development Center downplays lung cancer risks for firefighters. NWCG later responds to our article.

Apr. 30: The International Association of Fire Chiefs, an organization that concentrates on structural fire, received at least $13.2 million from the U.S. Forest Service and DHS-FEMA over a seven-year period, reportedly for wildfire-related purposes. The IAFC became furious at Wildfire Today for exposing the information.

Jul. 5: Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, sues the Billings Fire Department over the loss of “trees and ground cover” on his property during an 1,100-acre fire in 2008.

Aug. 2: Hundreds of wildfires in Russia claimed more than 50 lives, left more than 3,500 people homeless, and caused massive air quality issues in Moscow and other areas.

Aug. 2: A BAe-146 jet airliner was converted to an air tanker and was tested in Missoula. The Interagency Air Tanker Board failed to certify it due to inadequate ground coverage of retardant.

Aug. 24: The 100th anniversary of the fires of 1910 and Ranger Pulaski’s incident are commemorated at several events in Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

Aug. 26: In spite of weather forecasts that would have alarmed most fire managers, the Helena National Forest in Montana ignited the Davis prescribed fire during a near record heat wave. The fire escaped and burned 2,800 acres. The report was released in November. The Forest Supervisor said the report did not point out “something clearly that we did wrong, done incorrectly or that we’re going to make big changes on”.

Sep. 6: The Fourmile Canyon fire burned 6,200 acres and 169 homes a few miles west of Boulder, Colorado. The fire was devastating to local fire districts within the burned perimeter in several ways, including the facts that a firefighter’s burn pile escaped and started the fire, the homes of 12 firefighters burned, and one fire station and an engine inside it burned.

Sep. 21: The Commander of the Utah Army National Guard assumed responsibility and apologized for the Machine Gun fire that burned 4,346 acres and three homes near Herriman, Utah. The fire started during target practice with a machine gun at a National Guard base.

Sep. 24: The Australian state of Victoria tested the U.S.-built DC-10 very large air tanker and concluded that it did not perform adequately and would not be suitable for use in their wildland-urban interface areas.

Oct. 13: The US Forest Service’s response to the 2009 Station fire is criticized, and Congress holds hearing in Pasadena, CA about the management of the fire, which burned 160,000 acres near Los Angeles.

Oct. 26: “Dirty Jobs” TV show features prescribed burning in a Florida wildlife refuge. Video footage captures some activities that are criticized by some viewers.

Dec. 2: A fire in Israel kills 43 prison guards and firefighters. Air tankers from the United States respond.

Dec. 7: NTSB holds a meeting about the helicopter crash on the Iron Complex fire in northern California in which nine firefighters and crew members died. Much of the blame was attributed to falsified helicopter performance documents supplied by Carson Helicopters when they applied for a contract with the U.S. Forest Service. Carson and the surviving co-pilot dispute that conclusion.


Honorable mention stories (not exactly top stories, but interesting; they are not part of the poll).

Feb. 24: Wood piles were burned on frozen Lake Pactola in South Dakota.

Mar. 29: Washington D.C. Metro train drives through wildfire, and stops in the middle of it. And on July 25 we posted a very impressive video that was shot from a Greyhound bus that drove past a large bushfire during the night in Queensland, Australia.

May 11: NWCG outlaws the use of some terms, including “appropriate management response” and “wildland fire use”.

Jun. 20: It was not a wildland fire, but every firefighter can relate to some of the problems encountered when a kinked fire hose and improper procedures delayed the rescue of IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro from her burning race car which crashed at Texas Motor Speedway.



Choose three of the wildfire stories you consider the most significant of 2010.

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Feel free to leave a comment (or “response”) explaining your choices, or to discuss other news items that did not make the list.

Australia to standardize air operations

Aussie helicopter
A helicopter works on a fire in Australia. Photo: Queensland Fire and Rescue Service

As a result of recent accidents involving aircraft working on wildfires, authorities in Australia are developing standardized procedures across the country in order to reduce the chances of additional mid-air collisions and other accidents involving firefighting aircraft.

Here is an excerpt from an article at Flightglobal:

Australia’s fire authorities are reviewing a draft firefighting operations manual designed to standardise aerial firefighting procedures across the country.

The development of the manual follows a firefighting review conducted in 2009 by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority after a number of accidents involving firefighting aircraft in the 2009 fire season.

The issue of a lack of standardised procedures was highlighted in the investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau of a midair collision between a Eurocopter AS350B and a Eurocopter/Kawasaki BK117 performing aerial firebombing operations 20km (11nm) south-east of Orange aerodrome, New South Wales in December 2009.

The final report into the accident was released in late November. During one of the water drop sequences, while in the vicinity of the drop point, the BK117’s main rotor blade tip contacted the trailing edge of the AS350B’s vertical fin above the tail rotor arc, resulting in slight damage to the latter.

Although there were no injuries, “the outcome could have been more serious”, the ATSB points out. One of the accidents involving firefighting aircraft in New South Wales during the 2009 fire season resulted in the loss of a life.

In its investigation of the BK117 and AS350B collision, the ATSB found that there were no published procedures for pilots to follow to ensure separation from other aircraft when there was no air attack supervisor present.

Rather, the system relied on the airmanship and experience of pilots to mutually arrange separation. The ATSB determined that neither pilot in that incident was aware of the position of the other helicopter as they approached the drop point.

Thanks Shane

Australia’s Royal Commission releases final report on 2009 bushfires disaster

Royal Commission Final Report
Click to see a larger version

The Royal Commission has released their final report on the bush fires of February, 2009 that left 173 dead in Australia. Interestingly, the Commission recommends keeping the “stay and defend or leave early” policy after augmenting and improving it in a number of areas.  The report consists of five volumes and thousands of pages. HERE is a link to the report, and below is an excerpt about it from the Telegraph:

The report into the worst bush fire in Australian history, which killed 173 people, described the authorites’ response as “inadequate”.

The detailed document recommended building bush fire refuges and shelters in vulnerable areas, buying land back from home owners who are living in the most at risk parts of the countryside, and implementing a new emergency evacuation strategy.

It also recommended appointing a new independent fire commissioner to oversee the state’s firefighting operations after leadership during the deadly blazes was found to be lacking.
However, the commission, which was set up by the federal Australian government to investigate the causes and responses to the bush fires, recommended that the controversial “stay and defend or leave early policy” – which has been blamed for putting scores of people in the path of the catastrophic blazes – be thoroughly overhauled but not abandoned.

A total of 173 people died when the worst bush fires in Australian history engulfed rural towns and communities in the southern state of Victoria on Feb 7 2009. Temperatures soared to 118F and strong winds fanned the flames.

Of those who died on Black Saturday, 113 were found in or near houses that were burned to the ground by towering flames that outran fire engines and swept across 1.1 million acres of countryside in a matter of hours.

The commission, which has spent 17 months hearing evidence from more than 400 witnesses, found that the policy, which encourages home owners to decide when and if to leave their properties, was “sound” but needed to be revised.

“Leaving early is still the safest option. Staying to defend a well-prepared defendable home is also a sound choice in less severe fires but there needs to be greater emphasis on important qualifications,” the report said.

The report stated that the power of the infernos generated on Black Saturday exposed weaknesses in the “stay or go” policy.

The policy was too “simplistic” and “realistic advice is unavoidably more complex”, it said.

“As a consequence, although the Commission suggests retaining the effective elements of the existing policy it also recommends augmenting and improving the policy in a number of areas.”

Thanks Chuck

Australian Royal Commission told to abandon “stay or go”

Here is an excerpt from the AAP:

The policy that people in well-prepared homes can save their property and their lives in the face of a raging bushfire is a myth and should be abandoned, the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission has heard.

The stay or go policy failed the community on Black Saturday because many people who prepared to stay and defend their homes were killed, lawyers assisting the commission said.

But the state government’s solicitor argued it was still safer for people to shelter in houses during a bushfire than be caught in the open when trying to flee at the last minute.

The commission has been told that 113 of 173 people killed in the February 7, 2009 bushfires died sheltering in homes.

Senior Counsel assisting the commission, Jack Rush, QC, said the government’s policy didn’t work because many people don’t make preparations to stay and defend, and fewer left early.

He said the assertion in the stay or go policy that “people protect houses, houses protect people” was a myth and the policy should be abandoned.

“We call for a replacement of the policy with a new policy based around evacuation as the primary protective action for a community that is threatened by fire.

“If evacuation is not possible, shelter options should be available to all communities that are threatened by fire.”

Thanks Dick

Australia: chief fire officer of Country Fire Authority resigns

From the HeraldSun


UPDATE 4.35pm: A COLLEAGUE of Russell Rees says he fears the CFA [Country Fire Authority] chief was pushed from office and that he had been happy to stay on in the role.

Mr Rees will leave his position a month before the final report of the bushfires Royal Commission is handed down, after he was heavily criticised in the interim report.

He said today the decision was one he made entirely on his own. He had 18 months left to run on his contract.

Russell Rees
Russell Rees, CFA photo

But Paul Hendrie, who was captain of Kinglake brigade on Black Saturday, suspects Mr Rees was pushed.

He said Mr Rees was positive about the job when he spoke to him three days before the February 7 first anniversary of the fires.

“I was actually talking to Russell out there and he said he was happy in the job and he was staying and all that sort of stuff,” Mr Hendrie said.

“It just surprises me today to hear that he’s resigned.

“He might have said ‘well the pressure is too much’ and he might have moved on but in the back of your mind you think that maybe someone, somehow, somewhere along the line, someone has pushed him.”

Premier John Brumby today said Mr Rees made the right decision to quit his post because new blood was needed in the CFA.

Continue reading “Australia: chief fire officer of Country Fire Authority resigns”

Victorian government approves fire bunker

The Victorian government in Australia has introduced new interim regulations for bunkers in which residents can take refuge when threatened by a bushfire. In order to install a fire bunker, a building permit must be obtained and the bunker must comply with performance requirements such as accessing and exiting the shelter, as well as utilities and the air supply. Residents need to purchase a bushfire bunker or shelter which is accredited, or satisfy a building surveyor that it meets the requirements contained in the regulations.

Under the new interim regulations, the first fire bunker has been accredited by the Victorian government. It is built by the Melbourne-based company Wildfire Safety Bunkers and is designed to be installed underground to shelter up to six people. The company emphasizes that the bunker should be used as a “last resort” and evacuation should be considered first.

wildfire bunker
The bunker, shown with optional water tank, sprinkler, and solar-panel-powered battery charging system. Credit: Wildfire Safety Bunkers
wildfire bunker
Credit: Wildfire Safety Bunkers

The interim regulations will be in effect until proposed new national regulations are approved later in the year.