Wildfire briefing, March 24, 2014

Research: global wildfires did not kill the dinosaurs

Contrary to what other researchers concluded, a new study revealed that an asteroid that hit the Earth 65 million years ago on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico did not cause global wildfires that wiped out the dinosaurs. The first study led scientists to think that the impact raised temperatures to 1,000 degrees C, igniting global wildfires that killed most organisms.

The latest research team from Royal Holloway, University of London, led by Claire Belcher, concluded that “…the amounts of thermal radiation released by the impact of an asteroid with the Earth 65 million years ago, were not as significant as previously thought, and the energy component of the K-T event was not responsible for the extinctions seen at this time”.

Research: Understanding evacuation preferences and wildfire mitigations among Northwest Montana residents

The paper with the above title, written by Travis Paveglio, Tony Prato, Douglas Dalenberg, and Tyron Venn, employees who work at state Universities in Idaho, Missouri, and Montana, is available for taxpayers to read if they pay $25 to an organization in Australia.

Public Service Announcements about wildfire

An organization in Nevada has produced and released nine 31-second public service announcements about wildfire evacuation and defensible space. The list is HERE, and below is an example:

Colorado state Senator has second thoughts about bill that would have limited agricultural burning

A Colorado state Senator who introduced a bill that would allow county commissioners to ban agricultural burning and campfires when fire danger is high has had second thoughts and now wants to pull the bill. Senator Larry Crowder from Alamosa, under pressure from farmers, said Friday that there could be a possibility of county officials over using the power. The bill already passed the House by a 36 to 27 vote on February 14.

A tweet from Smokey Bear

Tweets about a fire in Capetown, South Africa

(Hopefully the photos will appear below. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.)

Authorities in Australia recommend evacuation due to “catastrophic” fire danger

NSW fire danger January 8, 2013
New South Wales fire danger predicted for January 8, 2013

As we write this at about 11 a.m. Mountain Time in the United States, the sun will be rising in an hour Tuesday morning in New South Wales, Australia. Residents there will experience a day that could have the most extreme fire danger ever recorded. Predictions in the state for Tuesday range from Very High to Catastrophic.

Australia’s ABC News reports that Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said:

Catastrophic fire danger ratings are the worst you can get. We are talking about the most extreme fire behaviour – destruction is likely. We will see ember showers likely to be thrown 10 kilometres, if not 20 kilometres ahead, under the extraordinary conditions being forecast. We are looking at widespread areas of New South Wales likely to experience very high, severe, and even catastrophic conditions.

We’ve got 91 different fires … there’s a lot of work with firefighters on the ground at the moment – more than 650 firefighters working across those fire grounds, looking to bring those fires under control as much as possible.

About 20 of those 91 fires are not under control.

Here is the text of an emergency alert telephone message, a SMS, that was sent to the Illawarra, Shoalhaven, and Southern Ranges regions Monday night ahead of a 43C (109F) temperature forecast, recommending people escape while they can.

If you have received this message you are in an area that is forecast to have Catastrophic Fire Danger on Tuesday 8 January 2013.

For your survival, leaving early is the safest option. Leaving a bush fire prone area tonight or early tomorrow morning is recommended.

Make a decision about when you will leave, where you will go and how you will get there. Homes are not designed to withstand fires in catastrophic conditions.

Below is a screen capture from a cell phone of another similar message sent out by the RFS on Monday, January 7:

NSW RFS fire danger warning
Matt_1110 posted to Instagram this screen capture from his cell phone with a slightly different message, also from the RFS.

In my experience, this is unprecedented, at least in the United States, recommending that residents evacuate based on predicted fire danger — an example of proactive, forward-leaning leadership. If large, damaging fires erupt, the leaders will be praised as heroes. If not, there may be criticism.

The Premier, Barry O’Farrel, is also getting involved, and was quoted at ABC News as saying:

[It] is not going to be just another ordinary day. [It could] be perhaps the worst fire danger day this state has ever faced. If Sydney reaches 43C [109F] [Tuesday], it will only be the third time in the history of record keeping that the temperature in Sydney has been that high.

Last month we wrote an article at Fire Aviation which detailed the aviation resources that were going to be available in Victoria this 2012-2013 fire season down under. Last year they leased two CV-580 air tankers from Conair, but this year it appears there are no large air tankers in Victoria. UPDATE: The Australian states and territories each operate or contract for their own firefighting aircraft, but they are shared across lines as needed. This fire season among all the states there are no large air tankers, but they have 14 small single engine air tankers and 35 helicopters which are used for various purposes.

Current fires in Australia


Thanks go out to Dick and Kelly.

“Fatal flaws” in Aussie Stay-or-Go bushfire strategy

Some of the 172 people that died in the Black Saturday bushfires in the Australian state of Victoria in 2009 made a conscious decision to stay at home, rather than evacuate. The Stay-or-Go option that has been used in Victoria for years did not turn out well during the extreme fire behavior on Black Saturday.

Here is an excerpt from an article in The Australian:

…According to geographers Saffron O’Neill of Melbourne University and John Handmer with RMIT University, the state’s fire preparedness strategies must be “transformed” or the next “complex” bushfire will cost far more than Black Saturday’s 172 lives and $3.5 billion in damage.

According to Professor Handmer and Dr O’Neill, most people who died in the fires left the decision to leave their homes too late or had fire plans containing “fatal flaws” — such as sheltering in a bathroom or other small room — where they were unaware of what was happening to the rest of the house and had no way to escape when the house caught fire.

“This is not a small step or a small change,” said Professor Handmer of the vulnerabilities he and Dr O’Neill detail today in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“We are the victims of our own success,” said Dr Handmer, noting that strategies for preparing for and coping with ordinary bushfires were totally inadequate in the face of hot, fast-moving wildfires.

The researchers recommend policymakers focus on four areas: diminishing the hazard — for instance, by altering electrical power distribution systems; reducing the exposure of infrastructure and buildings by prohibiting housing in high-hazard areas; reducing the vulnerability of people — by, for example, identifying disabled people; and boosting the adaptive capacity of institutions such as insurers and firefighters.

Thanks go out to Dick

Stories from last week’s Browning, MT fires

The Glacier Reporter has an excellent article describing some of the firefighting and evacuation management during the wildfires last week near Browning, Montana that burned about 18,000 acres. Here are a couple of excerpts:


“The fire was just taking off,” [Blackfeet Homeland Security Director Robert] DesRosier continued. “I was just behind [Browning Fire Chief] Dustin Boggs, and what I saw was just amazing. It was moving so fast with the wind, around 40 to 50 miles per hour, across the prairie, so I made the call to evacuate the Boarding Dorm. That was the main priority, to get the Boarding Dorm evacuated, but high winds dominated and everything was happening so fast that we only had about 30 minutes to pull it off.”


…It was then that DesRosier got a call to return to Browning and set up an Incident Command Center at the Blackfeet Fire Cache. The Blackfeet Tribe designated the Tribal Offices as a temporary shelter for evacuees. “That’s a great community story right there,” said DesRosier. “I assumed Area Command because that’s when we heard about the Y Fire, so I had to divide resources.”

The second major conflagration began just west of the junction of U.S. Highways 2 and 89, called the “Y,” and eventually ran east over about 17 miles of prairie. DesRosier appointed separate Incident Commanders at each fire and designated the resources to be sent out.

“It went really smoothly, to divide the resources but still do the evacuations and warnings because life and safety are the number one priority – all our efforts are set to protect human life, then property,” DesRosier said.

Aussies hope to shock residents into evacuating before it is too late

The Victoria state government in Australia has introduced some videos that are intended to shock residents into evacuating before the approach of a bushfire makes it too late. The videos feature audio recordings of people panicking as bushfires approach their homes

HERE is a link to another version of the public service video.

And speaking of down under firefighting, here is a video about the trial of two Canadian air tankers in Australia, Convair CV580s:

FEMA warns Texans about driving into smoke

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued a news release which includes a statement saying:

Many Texans have lost their lives during severe wildfire seasons because a wildfire overtook them in their vehicles.

The release goes on to advise motorists that they should never drive into dense smoke or they could become a fire fatality. Makes sense, of course, and it’s always good advise.

We are aware of smoke-caused fatalities occurring on highways in other places, including Florida in 2008 and also during the Cedar fire in San Diego County in 2003 when residents were killed while trying to evacuate from the Wildcat Canyon Road area.

File photo of the wreckage from the January 9, 2008 crash on Interstate 4 in Florida caused by smoke from a prescribed fire. The Ledger.