Infrared mapping, the New York Times on Lassen’s Reading Fire, and more Yarnell Hill articles

Reading Fire
Reading Fire. Photo by Lassen National Park.

Several online articles came to our attention today that you may be interested in.

New York Times

The Times has an excellent article about last year’s Reading Fire in Lassen National Park in northern California. It was a fire use fire that started on July 23, 2012, escaped the maximum management area, and burned outside the park, blackening a total of 28,000 acres. The author, Paul Tullis, oddly, but in a very interesting way, also writes about fire behavior research being conducted at the Missoula Fire Lab. Checking out the article is worth it, if only for the great photos taken by photographer Richard Barnes.

More articles about the Yarnell Hill Fire

The monthly magazines are now coming out with their articles about the fire on which 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots died. They pale in comparison to the good one that was in Outside Magazine, but if you are obsessed with that multiple fatality incident, like many of us are, you’ll want to see the articles in Popular Mechanics and Men’s Journal.

The USFS infrared mapping program

USFS IR aircraft, Cessna Citation Bravo
One of the U.S. Forest Service’s Infrared aircraft, their Cessna Citation Bravo, N144Z, parked at NIFC in Boise.

Earthzine has an article that does a good job of summarizing the U.S. Forest Service program that operates two fixed wing aircraft that map ongoing wildfires. Here is an excerpt:

…The two IR aircraft are a twin-engine Beechcraft Super King Air B-200 and a small jet, the Cessna Citation Bravo II. Both aircraft take off at between 7-9 p.m. and continuing mapping runs until 4 a.m.

Mapping flights follow a grid plotted out in advance, at an altitude of 10,000- 14,000 feet. From that height, each pass scans a swath 6.5 miles wide. For accuracy, passes overlap each other by 25-30 percent. Flying at 300 miles per hour, a map produced by the Super King is accurate by plus or minus 1 foot. The faster moving jet is only slightly less precise – providing maps accurate to plus or minus 10 feet.

The imagery is sent in real-time to interpreters on the ground while the aircraft are still making runs over a fire. Some 48 interpreters are scattered across the country and will have completed maps on the screens of firefighter command centers before the aircraft make their last landings of the night.

Rim fire burn area: “nuked” or not?

The Associated Press, in an article written by Tracie Cone, quotes Jay Miller, a U.S. Forest Service “Fire ecologist”, as saying the area burned by the Rim Fire in California has been “nuked” and “everything is dead”.

…The fire has consumed about 400 square miles, and within that footprint are a solid 60 square miles that burned so intensely that everything is dead, researchers said.

“In other words, it’s nuked,” said Jay Miller, senior wildland fire ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. “If you asked most of the fire ecologists working in the Sierra Nevada, they would call this unprecedented.”

Smaller pockets inside the fire’s footprint also burned hot enough to wipe out trees and other vegetation.

In total, Miller estimates that almost 40 percent of the area inside the fire’s boundary is nothing but charred land. Other areas that burned left trees scarred but alive.

The excerpt below was written by the Rim Fire Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team which paints a very different picture than the one above from the Associated Press and Mr. Miller.

SONORA CA (September 16, 2013) – The BAER team completed the soil burn severity map for the Rim Fire. The map using burned acres as of September 13 shows that approximately 56% of the 254 926 acres within the Rim fire perimeter are either unburned or received a low-severity burn 37% sustained a burn of a moderate severity and approximately 7% burned at a high severity.

BAER specialists concluded that the amount of high severity burn is fairly low given time of year and comparison to other fires. The moderate and low severity burned areas are fairly high for similar reasons. These values are for the entire burn area of the Rim Fire. The soil burn severity BAER map can be downloaded at the “Rim Post-Fire BAER” InciWeb site as JPEG or PDF.

Near the end of the AP article there is a different point of view from Mr. Miller’s”

“It really burned here much like a prescribed fire would to a large degree because of land management practices,” Holbeck said. “Fire plays a natural part of that system. It can’t all be old growth forests, though Yosemite holds some of the oldest trees in the Sierra.”

Rim Fire, east side of Bourland drainage, USFS photo by Louis Haynes
Undated photo of the Rim Fire, east side of Bourland drainage. USFS photo by Louis Haynes from the BAER team Inciweb website.

The Rim Fire, which started August 17, has burned 256,895 acres in and near Yosemite National Park in California and is listed at 84 percent contained. It still has 1,371 personnel assigned.

Our take on the Associated Press article

We don’t know if Tracie Cone accurately quoted USFS “Fire Ecologist” Jay Miller, but if so, it is inconceivable that Mr. Miller’s description of the burn severity would appear so starkly in contrast to that presented by the BAER team. It would also be interesting to know if Mr. Miller was on the BAER team or if he has been on the ground at the Rim Fire. We are not aware of any reputable, experienced wildland fire manager or fire scientist who would ever use the terms “nuked” or “everything is dead” to describe the effects found on a very large fire that burned for weeks in various weather, topography, and vegetation conditions.

Based on the AP article and the reports from the BAER team, we have little confidence in the accuracy of the information attributed to Mr. Miller that was presented by the Associated Press.

A call to Mr. Miller, who is listed in the USFS directory as a Remote Sensing Specialist, was not immediately returned. We also called the Rim Fire incident Management Team for a comment on the article, and spokesperson Sean Collins told us it was their policy to not comment on the “opinions” of others in regard to the burn severity.

(UPDATE September 23, 2013: more information about different kinds of maps showing vegetation and soil severity.)

Wildfire briefing, September 12, 2013

Live streaming of memorial service for Token Adams

The memorial service for Token Adams, the firefighter who was killed in an apparent ATV accident while scouting a fire in New Mexico, will begin at 10 a.m. MDT today, Thursday, at KRQE and also KOBT.

Inmate firefighter truck rolls over in Arizona

An Arizona Department of Corrections crew carrier transporting a wildland fire crew rolled over Wednesday afternoon on State Route 79 near Florence, Arizona. Several inmates and one corrections officer were injured, but none of the injuries were considered life-threatening. It is unclear what caused the accident but authorities are looking for a newer white Chevrolet Tahoe or Suburban that may have been involved. The older male driver of the SUV is believed to have left the scene traveling south.

Deceased person found in Clover Fire in Northern California

On September 10, 2013 during the late evening hours, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office located a deceased person inside the Clover Fire perimeter on Coal Pit Road in the community of Igo, California while conducting a welfare check. Next of kin was notified and the person has been identified as Brian Stanley Henry, 56. We send out our sincere condolences to the family of Mr. Henry.

Survey says voters have strong connection to national forests

A recent survey of voters commissioned by the National Forest Foundation concluded that they have a strong personal connection to National Forests. These connections are so strong that four in five voters polled said despite federal budget problems, funding to safeguard National Forests should not be cut. Seventy-two percent of voters surveyed would support additional funding to maintain and restore National Forest lands even if it meant a small tax increase.

Such supporters include groups that are traditionally more tax sensitive: 63 percent of seniors and 56 percent of conservatives said they would support additional funding even if it meant a small tax increase.
wildfire serious problem
Forty-four percent (44%) of voters see uncontrollable wildfires as a serious problem. Just under half (44%) of U.S. voters say “uncontrollable wildfires that destroy property and forests” “is a serious problem, facing the nation” – with one-in-four calling it an “extremely” or “very” serious problem. This is the highest proportion to register this view since 2007. Concerns about this issue are drastically different by region, with 67% of voters in the West saying wildfires are an extremely or very serious problem and two-thirds deeming them to be at least somewhat serious.

Distribution of federal disaster aid to states

Elected representatives of some of the states that received the most federal disaster aid for wildfires, crop insurance, and storm damage, voted against federal aid for victims of superstorm Sandy.

Thief hit fire stations while firefighters fought wildfire

While crews in Walnut Creek were out fighting the Morgan Fire east of Berkeley, California Sunday night, a thief broke into Fire Station No. 7 and rummaged through lockers, desks and gym bags making off with money, an iPad, two firefighters’ wedding bands, and a watch. A second firehouse was also targeted, but a sleeping firefighter scared away the thief.

Since then, firefighters say they’ve received endless food donations, hundreds of dollars in gift cards, and offers from multiple jewelry stores to replace the stolen rings.

Tanker 131 certified

T 131 taxiing
T 131 taxiing. Photo by Dan Megna.

Coulson’s Air Tanker 131, a converted C-130Q, has been fully certified by the FAA, the Interagency AirTanker Board, and the U.S. Forest Service. The 3,500-gallon aircraft was carded on Tuesday and the pilot check rides occurred Wednesday. It should be ready to drop retardant on fires today, Thursday.

Conair begins flight testing their BAe Avro RJ85 air tanker 

Conair RJ85 first flight
Conair’s BAe Avro RJ85 first flight. BAE Systems photo.

Conair Group of Abbotsford, British Columbia has started flight testing their BAe Avro RJ85, identified as Tanker 160, which is being converted from a jet-powered airliner into an air tanker. The RJ85 is a derivative of the BAe-146, but with improved engines. The 146 first flew in 1981 while the RJ85 was first delivered in 1993. Conair is the largest air tanker operator in the world with a fleet of around 50 fixed-wing special mission aircraft, including Convair 580s, Conair Firecats, Douglas DC-6s, and Lockheed Electra air tankers.

Tanker 160 first flight
Conair’s Tanker 160, a BAe Avro RJ85 after first flight, August 21, 2013. Photo by Coastal Pacific Aviation.

The aircraft still has to be certified by the FAA, the Interagency AirTanker Board, and the U.S. Forest Service before it can be used on federal fires in the United States, a process which could take days, weeks, or months.

More information about the BAe conversion projects going on at four different companies.

Fire department packs up Granite Mountain Hotshots memorial fence

From The Daily Courier:

The chain-link fence in front of Prescott’s Fire Station 7 stood bare Tuesday morning for the first time since soon after 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died in the line of duty more than two months ago.

In an effort to move forward from the June 30 Yarnell Hill wildfire tragedy, the Prescott Fire Department called for the removal this week of the thousands of items that materialized on the fence in the days and weeks after the Hotshots’ deaths.

Several dozen firefighters from around the area were on hand at the Sixth Street station to work with about 30 volunteers in taking down and packing up the curtain of interwoven flags, T-shirts, signs, and photos that had shrouded the fire station.

California: Clover Fire southwest of Redding

(UPDATE at 2:39 p.m. PDT, September 12, 2013)

There has not been much change on the Clover fire southwest of Redding, California. The satellite has not detected any large areas of heat for a couple of days, but the reported size, at 7,993 acres Wednesday night, increased by about 900 acres. This may be a result of firefighters burning out vegetation to construct control lines. The Incident Commander claims 50 65 percent containment.

Fire and law enforcement officials have developed a repopulation plan, with expectations of allowing residents back into the area between September 12 and 14.

This will be our last update of the Clover Fire unless there is a major change in the status of the incident.


(UPDATE at 4:43 PDT, September 11, 2013)

On September 10, 2013 during the late evening hours, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office located a deceased person inside the Clover Fire perimeter on Coal Pit Road in the community of Igo, California while conducting a welfare check. Next of kin was notified and the person has been identified as Brian Stanley Henry, 56. We send out our sincere condolences to the family of Mr. Henry.

Firefighters continued to work throughout Tuesday night and into Wednesday strengthening controls lines and mopping up hot spots around the fire perimeter. A Damage Inspection Team will continue to assess the properties today in the affected communities. Evacuations are still in effect.

CAL FIRE reports that the fire has burned 7,012 acres, is being fought by 1,346 personnel, and is 40 percent contained. The fire destroyed 30 residences and 50 outbuildings, and damaged an additional 30 residences.


(UPDATED at 8:02 a.m. PDT, September 10, 2013)

CAL FIRE reports that the Clover fire 6 miles southwest of the outskirts of Redding, California has destroyed 80 structures and damaged an additional 30. It continues to move toward the southwest. In less than 24 hours it has blackened 7,400 acres and has required the evacuation of the Happy Valley, Igo, and Cottonwood areas. The incident commander is calling it 40 percent contained.

A map of the fire is below shows heat detected by a satellite. If the fire is burning in light vegetation in some areas, such as grass, the fire may cool in those areas before the next pass of the satellite, resulting in no large areas of heat being detected at that time. This may account for the gaps shown in the heat map. Or, the firefighters may be burning out vegetation ahead of the fire.

Map of the Clover Fire  3:55 a.m. PDT September 10, 2013
Map of the Clover Fire. The red squares indicate heat detected by a satellite at 3:55 a.m. PDT September 10, 2013. The yellow squares were from 2:14 p.m. September 9. (click to enlarge)

CAL FIRE’s Team 5, a Type 1 Incident Management Team, is scheduled to assume command of the fire at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Resources assigned to the fire include 1,129 personnel, 107 engines, 36 hand crews, 6 air tankers, and 18 water tenders.


Overnight the wind slowed considerably and the relative humidity increased, allowing firefighters to make some progress. The forecast for the fire area for Tuesday calls for 101 degrees, a relative humidity of 13 percent, clear skies, and north winds of 6 mph changing to come out of the south after noon at about the same speed.


Residents have been advised to evacuate from the following areas:

  • Clear Creek Road and Cloverdale Road
  • Everything southwest to Gas Point Road and Small Farms and Marsha Way
  • Gas Point Road and Happy Valley Road
  • Small Farms track south to Black Pine Road
  • Cloverdale from Clear Creek to Oak
  • Oak to Palm

(UPDATED at 5:05 p.m. MDT, September 9, 2013)

Map of Clover Fire
Map of Clover Fire. The red squares represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:14 p.m. PDT, September 9, 2013 (click to enlarge)

The fire placed a large order for additional resources, including over a dozen strike teams of engines (five engines per strike team) and five strike teams of hand crews (two crews per strike team).

You can listen to some of the radio traffic here.


(Originally published at 4 p.m. PDT, September 9, 2013)

A fire that has only been burning for about three hours has already blackened approximately 1,500 2,200 acres in northern California and is causing evacuations. The Clover Fire was reported at 12:32 p.m. PDT today, Monday, and has spread to about 2 miles south of Igo, 6 miles southwest of the outskirts of Redding, and 10 miles west of Anderson (see the above map).

The fire started south of Clear Creek Road and east of Gas Point Road, but by 3:30 p.m. Monday had crossed Gas Point Road.

Evacuations are occurring in the following areas: Small Farms Rd., Clear Creek Rd., Cloverdale Rd. southwest to Gas Point Rd., Cloverdale Rd. from Clear Creek Rd. to Oak, Oak to Palm, Small Farm Track south to Black Pine Rd.

The two DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers had been ordered for the Morgan Fire east of San Francisco, but shortly after they arrived at that fire they were diverted to this new Clover Fire.


Strong winds and low relative humidities are challenging firefighters. The weather station at the Redding Airport 11 miles east of the fire Monday afternoon recorded 17 mph north and northwest winds gusting at 27 to 30 mph along with a relative humidity of 7 percent. The temperature at the airport reached 15 degrees. The forecast for the fire area for the next two days is slightly more favorable, calling for temperatures in the mid to high 90s, winds at 3 to 6 mph (north on Tuesday and south on Wednesday), humidities of 14 to 22 percent, virtually no chance of rain, and little if any cloud cover.


California: Morgan fire

(UPDATED at 8:30 a.m. PDT, September 10, 2013)

The spread of the Morgan Fire in Mt. Diablo State Park 18 miles east of Berkeley, California slowed late in the day on Monday. More accurate mapping resulted in a decrease in acreage, from 3,718 to 3,243 acres by Tuesday morning. The incident commander is calling it 45 percent contained, up from 20 percent on Monday.

KTVU has an interesting timelapse video of the fire.


Morgan Fire
Morgan Fire as seen from Brentwood, September 8, 2013. Photo by Brittney Lauren.

(UPDATED at 4:57 p.m. PDT, September 9, 2013)

The Morgan Fire east of the San Francisco Bay area has grown to 3,718 acres, and the Incident Commander is calling it 20 percent contained.


(Originally published at 12:33 p.m. PDT, September 9, 2013)

The Morgan Fire is burning in Mt. Diablo State Park 18 miles east of Berkeley, California (see the map below). It started Sunday at 1 p.m. and burned actively all night. The fire is currently threatening PG&E electrical transmission lines, communications infrastructure on Mt. Diablo, and historical buildings at the summit of Mt. Diablo. At 11:30 a.m. on Monday CAL FIRE said it had burned 1,500 acres.

Map of Morgan Fire 3:12 a.m. PDT, September 9, 2013
Map of the Morgan Fire. The red squares represent heat detected by a satellite at 3:12 a.m. PDT, September 9, 2013. (click to enlarge)

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for Oak Hill Lane, Curry Canyon, Curry Lane, Curry Point, Trail Ride Road, East Trail Road, Russelman Park Road, Upper Trail Road and Lower Trail Road.

The fire is being fought by 705 personnel, 85 engines, 30 hand crews, and 11 dozers.

Morgan Fire at 12:25 p.m. PDT, September 9, 2013
An engine with one firefighter out on the ground attempts to hold a road above a very active portion of the Morgan Fire at 12:25 p.m. PDT, September 9, 2013. Photo by NBC Bay Area.

These sites occasionally have live video feeds of the fire: KTVU, Dropcam, ABC7news, and NBC Bay Area. And there’s a web cam that needs to be refreshed to see the latest images: Mt. Diablo Cam.