Sierra Pacific, a timber company in California, has agreed to pay nearly $50 million and donate 22,500 acres of land to settle a federal government lawsuit over the Moonlight fire that burned about 65,000 acres in 2007, including 46,000 acres in the Plumas and Lassen National Forests in the northern part of the state.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said the fire was caused by two dozer operators working on a red flag warning day.
Wagner’s office claimed employee negligence led to the growth of the fire. The person who was designated to watch for fires left the work area and drove 30 minutes to get a soda, and when he returned more than an hour later, there was a 100-foot wall of smoke, he said.
In addition, there was no access to fire suppression equipment at the site, Wagner said.
He estimated firefighting costs at $22.5 million.
The settlement includes a cash payment of $47 million from Sierra Pacific, a $7 million payment from private landowners and managers of the property where the fire started, and $1 million from the logging contractor.
Wagner estimated the value of the land at $67.5 million, but Sierra Pacific challenged that number, noting the U.S. Forest Service has not yet selected the land to be donated.
Firefighters from the San Bernardino National Forest successfully kept a recent motorhome fire in Oak Glen, California from spreading into the national forest. Engine 34 was first on scene and was assisted by water tender 234 and engines 34 and 3569.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has released a preliminary accident report, a “Green Sheet”, for an accident on the Pond fire in the northern part of the state, June 14, 2012 in Mendocino County. The dozer was privately owned and there were no injuries to the operator.
The fire occurred in an area of steep slopes, heavy fuels in a Wildland Urban Interface/Intermix setting. The fire was spotting in areas due to winds, steep slopes and receptive fuel beds.
As the dozer operator took action along the road, he observed the fire had extended below the road at a bend. The operator attempted to flank the fire and tie a dozer line in between the two road segments. The operator stated the visibility was very poor due to heavy smoke lying down in the area. The operator stated as he began to climb uphill to tie the line in, the slopes became very steep. Due to the steepness of the slope, the operator made three unsuccessful attempts to connect the line to the upper portion of the road.
On his third attempt to connect the line, the operator encountered a log in his path. As the operator attempted to move the log, his dozer slid perpendicular to the slope, reducing the dozer maneuverability. The operator then stated he attempted to make his way off the slope. As he moved down the slope, he encountered a soft spot of soil which caused him to slide a short distance downhill (approximately 10 feet). The operator stated the slide caused his downhill tracks to settle on a loose root wad mass. The operator said as he began to move the dozer the root wad mass acted like a fulcrum and flipped the dozer onto its side/top. The operator said he shut the dozer off and waited to ensure the dozer was done moving. Once he was confident it wasn’t moving any further, he released his seat belt and exited the dozer without any further incident.
The equipment operator self extricated himself from the dozer and did not complain of any injuries.
The dozer has a bent grab handle on the right side of the cab. No other cosmetic damage was noted. The extent of the mechanical damage has yet to be determined.
It is dry in much of the southwestern and eastern United States
Average precipitation, January through April, 2012:
Drought conditions as of May 1, 2012:
Escaped prescribed fires complicate future projects in Australia
Last year we first wrote about the prescribed fire in Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park that escaped on November 23, 2011 and pushed by strong winds, destroyed 40 structures and burned over 8,400 acres in western Australia. Residents who had refused to evacuate later had to take refuge from the fire at the ocean on a beach. They were rescued by jet ski and ferried to a search and rescue boat offshore. The report on the incident was very critical of the government’s prescribed fire program, saying some employees of the Department of Environment and Conservation were overworked and performing above their skill levels.
A recent article in The Independent examines further the prescribed fire program in Australia in light of the recent failures. Here is an excerpt:
…A lobby group called the Bush Fire Front, which was set up by a group of retired foresters in western Australia, is also predicting dire consequences unless the burning programme is “greatly expanded”. The Front’s chairman, Roger Underwood, deplores a backlash against DEC’s staff, who have stopped wearing uniforms after being hissed at and abused in the Margaret River shops.
“DEC has been looking after their fire safety for years, doing all the dirty work,” says Mr Underwood. “They make one mistake and are crucified for it.”
However, as locals point out, it was not just one mistake. On the day of the fire, another controlled burn escaped near Nannup, east of Margaret River, incinerating 125,000 acres of national park and state forest, and damaging a farm part-owned by Stewart and Alison Scott. Mr Scott was about to start the afternoon’s milking when he saw flames sweeping towards his property. He dashed over to warn his family, but the smoke was so thick that one of his farmhands – who had leapt on a quad bike – collided with a car. The man suffered head injuries and spent months in Royal Perth Hospital.
California wildfire burns structures
A wildfire near Acton, California in southern California yesterday burned 126 acres and several structures. Inspector Quvondo Johnson of Los Angeles County Fire Department said an aggressive air attack, which included five helicopters and fixed wing air tankers, helped the crews on the ground contain the fire.
CAL FIRE sent S-2 air tankers from Porterville and Hemet, 120 miles and 90 miles from the fire, respectively. There were no federal air tankers at the air tanker base at Landcaster, 18 miles from the fire. The DC-10 very large air tankers are based at Victorville, 60 miles east of Acton.
Is fire suppression causing water shortages?
An opinion piece in the LA Times claims the 100-year old policy of wildfire suppression in the United States has caused water shortages. The theory is that over-stocked forests that have become that way due to successful suppression of fires, have locked up moisture in the trees and reduced runoff. Here is an excerpt from the article:
Today, the hottest and thirstiest parts of the United States are best described as over-forested. Vigorous federal protection has stocked semiarid regions of public land with several billion trees too many. And day after day these excess trees deplete a natural resource that has become far more precious than toilet paper or 2-by-4’s: water.
I will have to go on record as being skeptical of this trees-causing-water-shortage theory.
2011 summary of incident reviews
The Wildfire Lessons Learned Center has released a report summarizing the information gleaned from the seventy-eight 2011 incident review reports—from various agencies—submitted to and gathered by the LLC.
New Mexico establishes fire notification system
The state of New Mexico has established a system by which residents can be notified about wildfires. Emails will contain information including when the fire started, the cause, and a description of threatened homes and communities. For now, the system will send people who sign up for the service information about all fires within the state. Later it will be refined so that notifications can be filtered to more specific locations, such as counties. Anyone can sign up HERE.
Inmate Firefighter Dies of Presumed Natural Causes
SAN LUIS OBISPO – A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) inmate firefighter assigned to Cuesta Fire Camp at the California Men’s Colony died of presumed natural causes Wednesday afternoon January 4 during a training exercise with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CAL FIRE).
The inmate, Crisanto Leo Lionell, 54, was participating in a training exercise at the California National Guard’s Camp San Luis when he lost consciousness. Emergency personnel transported him to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead at approximately 4:45 p.m.
Lionell was received by CDCR on February 10, 2010, to serve an 11-year sentence for transportation and possession for sale of controlled substances in Tulare County.
CDCR and CAL FIRE will conduct a review of the incident.
CDCR currently operates 44 adult and two Division of Juvenile Justice Conservation Camps in California. CDCR jointly manages 39 adult and juvenile camps with CAL FIRE and five adult camps with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Nearly 4,000 offenders participate in the Conservation Camp Program (CCP), which has approximately 200 fire crews.
Since 1946, the CCP has provided the State’s cooperative agencies with an able-bodied, trained workforce for fire suppression and other emergencies, such as floods and earthquakes.