Wildfire briefing, January 25, 2013

Caylym continues to develop containers for dropping retardant

Caylym system
Caylym system dispersing a liquid after exiting an aircraft. Photo credit: Caylym

Since Wildfire Today last covered their disposable container for delivering retardant over wildfires,the Caylym company has continued to develop and promote their concept. The system consists of containers constructed of cardboard, plywood, a plastic bladder, and dozens of yards of straps. They hold 264 gallons each and are designed to be carried in military aircraft such as the C-130 or C-27 using the standard cargo system. The containers when empty weigh 100 pounds.

At Fire Aviation we have more photos and a video, as well the results of our interview with Rick Goddard, the Managing Director of Caylym

South Africa: Firefighter Man killed fighting a fire near Clanwilliam

(UPDATE January 26, 2013: It turns out the man that was killed was not a trained firefighter, volunteer or paid. As so frequently happens in remote areas of South Africa, he lived nearby and was doing what he could to fight the fire while hoping that firefighters might show up.)

A man has died fighting a wildfire near Clanwilliam in South Africa (map). Christo Fourie, a retired bank manager, had been missing since Wednesday and his body was found Thursday in a burned area near his vehicle. A police spokesperson said Mr. Fourie was caught in the fire but the exact circumstances of his death were being investigated. A news report described the man as a volunteer firefighter.

The fire has burned 24,000 hectares (59,305 acres) and is being fought by firefighters supported by helicopters and four air tankers.

Missouri: Fire destroys Mammoth-area home 

A wildfire destroyed a home on County Road 527 off the T Highway near Mammoth, Missouri on Monday. The fire was fought by the Timber Knob and Pontiac VFDs for several hours but the home was a total loss.

Utah: fire baloons may become illegal

Fire Balloon, Mercedes
Fire Balloon — a screen grab from a Mercedes commercial on CBS, November 4, 2012.

Proposed legislation in Utah would outlaw fire balloons, sometimes called Chinese lanterns or sky lanterns. These devices are small, lightweight, inexpensive hot air balloons powered by burning material at the base. They can be made out of common household materials or purchased in large quantities online.

We first wrote about fire balloons in November after seeing the concept promoted by Mercedes in a car commercial on network television. An article in the Deseret News quotes Coy Porter, the Utah State Fire Marshal, as saying, “The biggest problem is just if they’re slightly damaged, there’s a small rip, they don’t get the elevation, they can still come down while the flame is still going in there.”

These incendiary devices are sometimes released by the hundreds at weddings or in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

More information from the article:

During the wedding rehearsal for former BYU and current NBA basketball player Jimmer Fredette last May, hundreds of lanterns were released into the Denver sky. One of those lanterns landed in a neighbor’s yard and lit a tree on fire. Fortunately, it didn’t do too much damage.

Last summer, Porter said a wildland fire in St. George was also started as a result of a sky lantern.

Links to information about a few fires that have been caused by these devices: here, here, and here.

Los Angeles: law firm has Wild Land Fire Litigation Practice Group

I guess there should be no surprise that a law firm has a “Wild Land Fire Litigation Practice Group”. In our litigious society there are probably lawyers that specialize in every conceivable niche. The Murchison and Cummings law firm in Los Angeles has such a group chaired by Friedrich W. Seitz. They are representing the Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative in defending them against the numerous lawsuits that have been filed relating to the September 2011 fire in Bastrop County, Texas that burned 34,000 acres and destroyed 1,600 homes. In an effort to try to get in on the action, a law firm in Texas created a web site in order to recruit clients to sue Bluebonnet for another fire in Bastrop County, the Wilderness Ridge fire, which burned 26 homes, 20 businesses, and 1,491 acres in Bastrop County, Texas in February, 2009.

Murchison and Cummings has defended Southern California Edison and Breitburn Energy Partners against litigation arising out of wild land fires for many years.

California incident management teams reunion

CA IMT reunion, 2013

This could be big. All of the past and present members of the Type 1 and Type 2 incident management teams in California are being invited to a reunion. It is the first time this has been attempted. I doubt if anyone knows how many people have been on all of those teams over the last, say, 20 years, but with five very large Type 1 IMTs, and quite a few Type 2 IMTs, we’re probably talking about thousands of people. Of course not all will attend, but they have a large base for possible attendees.

Below is an excerpt from the announcement. Clicking HERE will download Word document, and HERE is the registration form.

…The federal California Incident Management Teams Reunion 2013 is the first ever event to gather the past and present members of the Type 1 and Type 2 fire teams of Region 5 at the amazing Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, Nevada, where team members and guests can relax and visit.  Each day will feature special meals, exhibits and guest speakers with ample time to connect with colleagues and lifelong friends. Headed by the steering committee of Denny Bungarz, Charlie Gripp, Sid Nobles, and Jim Hanrahan, the reunion has the support of ICs Tom Hutchinson, Dave Kohut, Jack Lee, Jerry McGowan, Jeanne Pincha-Tully and Ron Raley.


Is prescribed fire in chaparral “irrelevant”?

Prescribed fire near Pine Valley, California, 1987
Prescribed fire in chaparral, near Pine Valley, California, 1987. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Some of the opinions of Jon Keeley, a fire ecologist with the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) at Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, are again in the news. A web site called OurAmazingPlanet has quoted him in a lengthy article about prescribed fire, titled “Fighting Fires: You’re Doing It Wrong”. While admitting that prescribed fire in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park “is extremely necessary”, he goes on to say:

In most of Southern California, [prescribed fire] is completely irrelevant. There is overwhelming evidence we’ve never come anywhere close to excluding fire on this landscape [through prescribed fire].

Mr. Keeley believes that manipulating the vegetation in chaparral-covered areas by masticating and prescribed fire, replaces the native vegetation with invasive species like cheatgrass. He thinks that instead, we should concentrate on planning and reduce the number of people that are put at risk.

This is not the first time Wildfire Today has written about Mr. Keeley’s opinions. In 2009 we covered his research that indicates it is unlikely that changing the age class of chaparral can prevent large fires. The details are in his papers HERE and HERE, and in a brief article by John McKinney HERE.

Conventional wisdom was that younger chaparral, less than 20 years old, had fewer tons-per-acre of vegetation than older stands, and also had a much different live/dead ratio, with fewer dead stems and plants. Less flammable fuels (higher green content with higher fuel moistures) meant fires would spread more slowly and should be easier to suppress.

Totally preventing or excluding fires in chaparral will never be feasible, but… it is hard for me to give up the idea that creating a mosaic of chaparral age classes does not have a significant effect on fire size and resistance to control.

Red Flag Warning for southern California

Red Flag Warning Southern California
Red Flag Warning 9:20 a.m. PT, December 9, 2012. NWS.

A Red Flag Warning is in effect for portions of the mountains and inland valleys of southern California Sunday night through Tuesday. The forecast calls for gusty northeast winds and low relative humidities. The strongest winds will be Sunday night and Monday with sustained winds of 15 to 30 with gusts up to 50 mph. The lowest humidities will occur Monday. The details vary across southern California — the specifics can be found at the National Weather Service.

The map was current as of 9:20 a.m. PT on Sunday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the dozens of National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts. For the most current data, visit this NWS site.

Electrical company contractors agree to pay $370 million for San Diego County fires

Two companies that performed work for San Diego Gas and Electric agreed to pay a total of $370 million for their roles in the 2007 Witch Creek and Guejito fires in San Diego County. Davey Tree Expert Company was a contractor doing hazard reduction for SDG&E, trimming trees near power lines. A fallen sycamore branch is believed to have started the Guejito fire near Fallbrook, Californina.

PAR Electrical replaced and modified a power pole that has been linked to the ignition of the 198,000-acre Witch Creek fire which started near Santa Ysabel during 100 mph Santa Ana winds. The fires destroyed more than 1,300 homes, killed two people, and caused massive evacuations.

The $370 will be paid to SDG&E which has already agreed to pay $686 million to insurance companies that paid claims to their customers for the Witch Creek, Guejito and Rice Canyon fires. The company also agreed in a 2010 settlement with the California Public Utilities Commission to pay the state of California $14.8 million for the three fires. The Commission accused SDG&E of obstructing their investigation of the cause of the fires. According to the San Diego Union, in the settlement the company admitted that it didn’t give investigators the information they asked for and nor did it let its workers talk to the investigators, as required by law.

Wildfire briefing, November 15, 2012

Burned firefighter dragged to safety

A 24-hour report about an October 29 incident on the Spur Fire on the Stanislaus National Forest in California is an example of extraordinary work by a couple of firefighters to assist an injured crewmember. Here is the narrative:

A Cal Fire crew was engaged in direct hand line construction during initial attack when a crew member fell and injured his knee. The fire crew captain directed his crew to retreat into the black, and with the help of another firefighter, dragged the injured firefighter through the flame front and into the black. In the process, the captain received a minor first degree radiant heat burn to the left side of his face with no other injury. Both the captain and the firefighter were evaluated at a local hospital and released. No other injuries were sustained by the crew. A Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA) team is on scene reviewing this incident.

As a reminder, HERE is a link to the guidelines for burn injuries that should be referred to a burn unit, according to Ameriburn.org.

Dave Thomas receives Safety Award

Dave Thomas receives IAWF Safety Award
Dave Thomas receives IAWF Safety Award. Photo by IAWF.

The International Association of Wildland Fire gave their Wildland Safety Award to Dave Thomas of Ogden, Utah. The IAWF said:

The award was given to Dave in recognition of his on-going study of and instruction on the implications of human behavior to firefighter safety. During a 33 year career with the US Forest Service, Mr. Thomas worked as a firefighter, fire manager, fire behavior analyst, regional fire specialist and review team member.

Currently, he’s working on capturing the “deep smarts” of retired fire management employees with high expertise in the fields of fire behavior, prescribed fire and wildland fire use with Harvard Business School.

Wyoming ran out of suppression funds

The busier than usual 2012 wildfire season has taken its toll on the budgets of federal and state agencies. Approximately 1,300 fires in Wyoming burned about 600,000 acres and consumed all of the money the state had allocated for fire suppression. The state’s share of fighting wildfires this season will total an estimated $42 million after accounting for the portion that will be paid by the federal government.

Senator says we need newer air tankers

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet has issued a press release stating that he is in favor of the modernization of the firefighting air tanker fleet.

More photos of firefighting aircraft on Google Earth

Remember when we told you that Google Earth had photos of aircraft working on fires? It turns out there are even more, this time on the Wallow Fire.