Documentary — The Black Forest Fire

Last year’s Black Forest Fire was the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history, claiming two lives, 14,000 acres, and nearly 500 homes. Why did some neighborhoods survive and how do fire fighters determine which homes can be safely defended? This excellent 13-minute video answers those questions and shows many success stories.

Residents in the wildland-urban interface need to see this. It illustrates that clear cutting or removing all trees around a house is not necessary to prevent it from burning when a wildfire approaches — just thinning, reducing ground fuels, and fire-safe home construction is required.

After the video starts, click on full screen at the bottom-right to take advantage of the very good photography.

The Black Forest Fire – PPWPP.Org from Andy Lyon on Vimeo.


Thanks and a hat tip go out to Allen

Wildfire briefing, January 23, 2014

Island fire to be allowed to burn out

A wildfire on an island in Suisun Bay east of San Francisco Bay will be allowed to burn out, according to Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Capt. Robert Marshall. Wednesday afternoon U.S. Coast Guard and fire protection district equipment responded to the fire on Winter Island (map) , which is mostly uninhabited, having just one structure that was not threatened by the fire. They figured it could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days for the fire to burn out. The island is two miles long and about 0.3 mile wide.

Three men charged for Colby Fire

The three men that were arrested January 16 soon after the Colby Fire started above Glendora, California east of Los Angeles, have been charged in federal court. The men, who allowed an illegal campfire to escape, were identified as Jonathan Carl Jerrell, 24; Clifford Eugene Henry Jr., 22; and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. Aguirre and Henry were ordered to remain in custody without bail, while Jarrell was scheduled for a Friday detention hearing. All three are scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 11.

Two of the men seen hurriedly moving away from the fire were apprehended by a Glendora police officer. The third was found and taken into custody by an employee of the U.S. Forest Service. The fire destroyed five homes, damaged seven, and burned 1,952 acres.

Mike Wakoski’s incident management team is calling the fire, which has not spread since January 17, 98 percent contained.

After the men were arrested there were discussions between the Glendora PD and the U.S. Attorney’s office whether to charge them with state or local crimes or use federal statutes, since the fire burned both U.S. Forest Service land as well as private property within the city. But the decision was made to charge them in federal court.

Black Forest fire department hires PR firm

The fire-rescue district that managed the Black Forest Fire during the first hours has hired a public relations firm to deal with the fallout caused by the intense criticism directed at the district by El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. The Sheriff has been carrying on a war in the media against the fire district, saying they should have turned the fire over more quickly to the Sheriff. Colorado is one of a few states that still have the elected county sheriff responsible for suppressing wildland fires in unincorporated areas. The fire killed two people, destroyed 486 homes, and damaged 37 others in June.

The sheriff’s office has been investigating the cause of the fire, in addition to a separate investigation by the fire district, which, according to the Chieftain, has paid an investigator $13,000.

Researchers test new firefighting gel

Researchers with Texas A&M recently tested a new gel that can be used for suppressing active structure or wildland fires, and may have the potential to be effective if used for pre-treating fuel in advance of a fire.

Called TetraKO, it is claimed by the company to be “biodegradable and non-toxic to water, fish, plants and mammals by independent research organizations”.

In a MyFoxAustin video report on the test, the reporter seemed to be surprised that gel applied the day before to the vegetation was not effective in stopping the spread of the fire. However it did keep some treated fence posts from igniting.

Colorado politician wants to modify firefighting chain of command

Black Forest Fire
Firefighters on the Black Forest Fire, June 15, 2013, cut down a hazardous tree that was partially burned through on the other side. Photo by Bill Gabbert

The campaign of the County Sheriff in Colorado’s El Paso County against the fire chief responsible for the initial attack of the devastating Black Forest Fire is having an effect. Sheriff Terry Maketa has been EXTREMELY critical of Bob Harvey, the Fire Chief responsible for the first two hours of the fire.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that state Senator Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs is drafting a bill that “would empower county authorities to take over command during an emergency without permission or a request from the local jurisdiction”. Sheriff Maketa has complained that Chief Harvey did not turn over the management of the fire to him early enough.

Several states, including Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, stipulate that on state and private land in unincorporated areas the County Sheriff is responsible for fires. Texas also has an archaic system, and puts a County Judge in charge of fires in some areas. These systems date back to a time when areas with sparse populations had very few government officials and little firefighting capacity of any kind. But the Sheriff was one of the first government positions filled. Now fire protection districts have sprung up in many areas that have firefighters and chief officers with far more knowledge, skills, training, and abilities related to fire suppression than the typical elected County Sheriff. Yet the laws are still on the books.

How about an alternative to Senator Lambert’s proposal. Make the local fire chief responsible for all law enforcement incidents. That would be just as logical as the current situation where the Sheriff is responsible for fires. (kidding, of course)


Thanks and a hat tip go out to Bean and Rick

Wildfire briefing, January 6, 2014

January wildfires in northern California

Map northern California fires

Even though a major winter storm has caused 4,121 flights to be cancelled and another 11,284 to be delayed today across the United States, northern California has experienced four medium to large fires already this year.

  • The Campbell Fire, which started January 2 on the Lassen National Forest 24 miles southeast of Red Bluff, according to the U.S. Forest Service has burned 600 acres and is 40 percent contained. No structures are threatened and no evacuations are planned for this fire that is burning in the proverbial “steep, rugged terrain”. Minton’s NORCAL Incident Management Team 1 is assigned.
  • The Red Fire, south of Berry Summit in Humboldt County, has burned 350 acres and is 40 percent contained. It started January 4.
  • The Bridge Fire, near Bridgeville in Humboldt County, started January 3 and burned 18 acres. It is 100 percent contained.
  • The Honcut Fire, started January 1 in Butte County near Honcut and burned 60 acres before it was contained.
  • The Grant Fire, started December 31 and burned 40 acres in Santa Clara County near Grant Ranch County Park before it was contained.

On Sunday the U.S. Forest Service activated one large air tanker, Minden’s Tanker 48. CAL FIRE has been using multiple helicopters and air tankers on these fires.

Timeline released for Colorado’s Black Forest Fire

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has released their own timeline for the early stages of the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs that burned 486 homes beginning on June 11, 2013. Below is an excerpt from an article at The Denver Channel:

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has released its own timeline of events for the Black Forest Fire which indicates the fire was first reported nearly two hours earlier than the Black Forest Fire/Rescue District reported.

In a Dec. 10 news release, the Black Forest Fire/Rescue District said the fire was first located at 1:45 p.m. on June 11.

However, the sheriff’s office timeline released Monday shows callers to 911 started reporting a haze and the smell of smoke at 11:54 a.m.

At 1:40 p.m., emergency radio traffic is heard saying, “you might start getting more call of localized smoke,” but they blamed it on the Royal Gorge wildfire burning in Canon City, saying”looks like there is a fire in Canon City.”

However, in the same report, the person says, “pretty good column on Hodgen Rd.,” which is near the Black Forest area.

County Sheriff Terry Maketa has been EXTREMELY critical of Bob Harvey, the Fire Chief responsible for the first two hours of the initial attack of the fire.

Prescribed fire workshops in Nebraska

Prescribed fire workshops will be held in eight locations across Nebraska between January 21 and March 19, 2014. Hosted by Pheasants Forever, Nebraska Game and Parks, and several other organizations, the one-day sessions are broken down into basic and advanced classes.

The workshops for landowners will discuss benefits of prescribed fire and how to safely conduct a project. Topics covered include equipment and safety, environmental factors, techniques for conducting prescribed fires, briefings, items to consider when writing a burn plan, possible funding sources, and how to factor in weather conditions. There will also be an exercise on how to write a burn plan. The registration fee of $10 includes lunch and training materials.

In order to conduct a prescribed fire in Nebraska, a landowner needs to have a burn plan and a permit from the local fire department.

More information, including dates and locations.

Recent articles at Fire Aviation

Here is what you may have missed at Fire Aviation:

County Sheriff criticizes Fire Chief over Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs

(Originally published at 7:54 p.m. November 26, 2013; updated at 1:21 p.m. November 29.)

Origin of the Black Forest Fire
Origin of the Black Forest Fire

The public battle between the local county Sheriff Terry Maketa and Bob Harvey, the Fire Chief responsible for the first two hours of the initial attack of the Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs continues to heat up. On November 21 we wrote about the disagreement between the two over the cause of the fire. Now the Sheriff is criticizing the Fire Chief for not agreeing within the first two hours of the fire to turn it over to him.

The fire killed two people, destroyed 486 homes, and damaged 37 others in June.

Colorado is one of a few states that have the ridiculous policy of assigning the suppression of wildfires in unincorporated areas to the county employee with law enforcement responsibilities in those areas — the County Sheriff — rather than a person with expertise in fire suppression.

The video above is part one of a three part series by KRDO.


(UPDATED at 10:26 a.m. MT, November 27, 2013)

KRDO has published parts two and three of the three-part series. The videos are below.


And as you will see in the video below, a petition is circulating at several businesses in the area calling for the immediate dismissal of Fire Chief Bob Harvey. This is occurring after blistering attacks by Sheriff Terry Maketa and many stories on KRDO News Channel 13 which presented Sheriff Maketa’s version of the facts. We hope that an impartial, professional investigation discloses what actually happened during the first two hours of the fire, which is the time frame that Sheriff Maketa is criticizing. We also hope that KRDO covers that as well.


Black Forest fire, June 15, 2013
Black Forest fire, June 15, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.


Thanks go out to Micah

Fire Chief and Sheriff disagree about cause of Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs

Black Forest Fire Colorado Springs
Firefighters mop up on the Black Forest Fire, June 15, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 1:05 p.m. MST, November 21, 2013; updated at 9:20 p.m. Nov. 21)

The Fire Chief responsible for the suppression of the Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs is disagreeing publicly with the county Sheriff about the cause of the fire that killed two people, destroyed 486 homes, and damaged 37 others in June.

Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey told KRDO recently that the fire was caused by a human and “appears intentional”. He said he felt obligated to inform the public adding, “I think the worst thing is this person still is out there.” He said he consulted with outside experts in coming to that conclusion, but did not provide any more details.

Chief Harvey told KKTV that he has been working with investigators over the past few weeks, and they reached the conclusion that the fire was “likely intentional.” He stood by that conclusion Thursday.

However, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, whose department is leading the investigation, disagrees vehemently with the Chief, accusing him of being “less than truthful” about other details concerning the fire.

Below is the text of a press release distributed by the Sheriff just after midnight very early this morning:

DATE: November 21, 2013 [12:30 a.m.]


Sheriff Terry Maketa was shocked to see recent reports in the local news media where Black Forest Fire Chief Harvey was quoted concerning the active investigation into the cause of the Black Forest Fire. On more than one media source, Chief Harvey was quoted as saying the cause of the fire had been determined to be “intentional”.

Sheriff Maketa offered these comments concerning the inappropriate remarks.

“Do not buy into Chief Harvey’s claims until it’s confirmed by the actual agency that has been the lead of the investigation and will base its findings on indisputable scientific evidence that can withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice system. Right now that isn’t the case. His comments are nothing more than an attempt to mislead the public and a mere witch hunt. Numerous national experts and federal resources have been involved in this investigation and have not and cannot substantiate Chief Harvey’s unqualified knee jerk claims. “Human caused” has been known for a long time but this Chief is not involved in the investigation nor qualified to offer legal and scientific evidence. He does not know the point of origin and has been less than truthful about other circumstances with this disaster and just may be merely covering his own mishandling of this event in an attempt to avoid responsibility for allowing the fire to get out of hand. Furthermore, this Chief didn’t even know homes were burning at a time several were engulfed and never even requested evacuations of nearby households as the fire rapidly grew out of control, clearly placing citizen’s safety in jeopardy. It’s an injustice that he has chosen to jump to these unjustified and inconclusive assumptions without any effort to coordinate with local investigative authorities that have expended extensive resources to identify the cause and manner of this serious tragedy. Chief Harvey’s comments are reckless, irresponsible and lack what is in the best interests of the community following this tragedy.”