Florida: prescribed fire escapes at St. Johns National Wildlife Refuge

Saint Johns National Wildlife Refuge, map

A prescribed fire escaped at a national wildlife refuge east of Orlando on Monday. The plan was to burn 660 acres within St. Johns National Wildlife Refuge, but multiple simultaneous spot fires outside the burn unit exceeded the capability of the firefighters from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge who were conducting the burn. An additional 72 acres of private land and 200 acres of Brevard County property outside the refuge burned — 600 acres in the original planned unit were completed.

The escape was knocked down by 43 personnel on Monday. Today spokesperson Candice Stevenson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the fire is 70 percent contained. Agencies involved in the suppression of the escaped fire included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Brevard County, Florida Forest Service, the City of Titusville, and the U.S. Forest Service.


Leader of Yarnell Hill Fire investigation says one firefighter should be able to attack a fire — alone

Yarnell Hill Fire, June 30, 2013
Yarnell Hill Fire, June 30, 2013. Photo by Joy Collura.

The leader of the 54-person team that conducted the Serious Accident Investigation Team’s investigation into the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona that killed 19 firefighters was quoted as saying that individual firefighters should be able to attack wildfires alone. Florida State Forester Jim Karels’ reasoning seems to be that it is too expensive to send two firefighters to a fire.

Below is an excerpt from an article at WFSU explaining that the Florida state legislature is considering a recommendation from the Florida State Fire Service Association that firefighters should not be sent alone to a fire:

…Florida Forest Service Director Jim Karels says the increased staffing mandate is not necessary because the lowest-risk fires only require one firefighter—and if he sends two to one fire, it’s possible nobody will be available when the next one breaks out.

“Safety-wise, purely, if I can send two firefighters to every fire every time with no other decisions, I’m good with that. But we’ve got to look at it on effectiveness and efficiency too,” he says.

But Rep. Mike Clelland (D-Lake Mary) says his experience as a firefighter makes him question the department’s refusal.

“I just can’t imagine one person responding to a forest fire or a brush fire,” he says. “I spent my whole adult life in the fire service.”

The article also has a 50-second audio recording in which you can hear Mr. Karels actually speaking those words.

This helps to explain how Mr. Karels’ 54-person investigative team came up with their analysis of the fatal Yarnell Hill Fire:

The judgments and decisions of the incident management organizations managing this fire were reasonable. Firefighters performed within their scope of duty, as defined by their respective organizations. The Team found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol.

Many people, including this writer, disagree with the conclusion reached by Mr. Karels and his team. The article we wrote on February 15 is an example of some, but not all, of the negligence, reckless actions, and violations of policy or protocol that have been documented about the fire, in spite of Mr. Karels’ analysis. Other examples surfaced after the release of the second official report on the fire which was issued by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Many people, after studying for weeks how 19 firefighters were killed on a fire, would be hyper-aware and sensitive to firefighter safety issues, but not in this case. Florida State Forest Service Director Jim Karels is a danger to firefighters and should get out of the business. We don’t use term idiot often at Wildfire Today, but it is well deserved in this case.

Florida to install sensors to detect degraded visibility on highway subject to smoke and fog

January 9, 2008 crash on Interstate 4 in Florida
The wreckage of the January 9, 2008 crash on Interstate 4 in Florida. The Ledger.

In 2008 and 2012 two massive car pile-ups on Florida Interstate highways were caused by poor visibility due to combinations of wildfire smoke and fog. A total of 16 motorists were killed in the crashes. At the location where 11 people died on I-75 in 2012 the Florida Department of Transportation will be installing sensors and warning systems to detect dangerous conditions and notify drivers of the deteriorating conditions.

Standard and infrared cameras, visibility sensors, dynamic messaging signs and vehicle detection devices will be set up south of Gainesville where I-75 crosses Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The infrared camera and 18 visibility sensors will monitor will measure fog, while other devices will detect moving traffic.

The equipment will be installed in a low-lying area where cold air settles, sometimes causing fog. If a vegetation fire is nearby, as was the case in both pile-ups, the mixture of fog and smoke can cause very poor visibility.

The crash in 2008 on Interstate 4 was caused by fog that combined with the smoke from an escaped prescribed fire.

Florida Forest Service tracks the location of firefighters

A Firefighter on the White Draw Fire in South Dakota, June 29, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert
A Firefighter on the White Draw Fire in South Dakota, June 29, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert

We have written several times about how the inability of fire supervisors to always be situationally aware of the location of firefighters has contributed to at least 24 deaths in recent years — 19 on the Yarnell Hill Fire and 5 on the Esperanza fire. Last month we told you about a system the Florida Forest Service is installing in their radio systems that tracks the location of firefighters. The Orlando Sentinel has an article about this system which provides a few more details. Below is an excerpt:

…To cut through the fog and friction, the Florida Forest Service has been rolling out its Asset Tracker System, equipping all of the nearly 400 bulldozers and fire engines statewide with GPS receivers and radio transmitters. System software will be installed in the laptops of nearly 60 supervisors.

Ralph Crawford, assistant chief of forest protection, said the largely home-built system will cost nearly $2 million but won’t have major, ongoing costs because it doesn’t rely on cellphone or Internet service.

Among the first crews equipped with tracking units were those responding to the Blue Ribbon Fire. But the system was still new, and only one of the ill-fated bulldozers had a location transmitter.

Since then, the system has been refined, and its capabilities are becoming more apparent, said John Kern, a deputy chief of field operations.

Every 30 seconds, the units blurt out an electronic warble, confirming that a packet of data containing unit identification, location, speed and direction had been transmitted by a 40-watt radio able to reach supervisor laptops within 2 miles.

The system doesn’t provide a complete picture of a wildfire; the blaze, for example, isn’t outlined on maps depicted on laptop screens.

But Kern said supervisors are learning to correlate the GPS tracking data with their knowledge of tactics used when fighting fires with bulldozers. Supervisors also will know where to direct a helicopter to drop water should trouble occur.

“If one of our guys calls in, ‘I’m stuck and about to be burned over,’ we’ll know where to go,” Kerns said.


Thanks and a hat tip go out to Kraig

Large group of researchers hopes to develop more accurate fire models

From the RxCADRE overview report.

“Fire science is not rocket science—it’s way more complicated.”

That quote comes from research ecologist Matt Dickinson of the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station who said he borrowed it from a colleague. Mr. Dickinson was one of 36 researchers who collected data over a two week period during a series of extensively instrumented prescribed fires at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle last year.

The Joint Fire Science Program organized and helped fund the project, called RxCADRE, which collected 10 terabytes of data using many, many ground based sensors and four orbiting aircraft. Their goal was to obtain a comprehensive dataset of fire behavior, fire effects, and smoke chemistry, using measurements taken systematically at multiple, cascading scales. The information will help scientists and fire modelers test their models and develop better ones, ultimately making them more reliable.

Part of the project included hiring a writer to produce a 12-page overview of their work. It provides a great deal of information about how they planned and conducted the field work, and is for the most part well-written and worth reading, but occasionally lapses into flowery language for the sake of … flowery language.

For example,

36 scientists watch as fire’s ancient energy is captured, photographed, mapped, sensed, counted, measured, weighed, and rendered into data.


The fire catches, wavers, and bellies gently before the wind. It spreads unevenly, then comes together, licking the grasses.

The Joint Fire Science Program deserves kudos for organizing this important research and for arranging to produce the 12-page overview.

Friday’s fire photo identified

Cypress Creek NA Rx Fire
Cypress Creek Natural Area Prescribed fire, Florida, Palm Beach County photo by Kraig Krum

On Friday, May 10 we posted a photo that Stefan Willet of Daytona, Florida, AKA @bassking511, placed on Twitter. Mr. Willet described it as “huge fire off the highway”. One of our loyal readers, Kraig Krum, the Fire Management Coordinator for Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management, sent us the photo above and identified both of them as a prescribed fire:

…The photo captioned “Fire in Florida”  with your Wildfire Briefing 5/10 was actually a prescribed burn conducted by ERM staff at our Cypress Creek Natural Area.  The fire was in slash pine/gallberry/palmetto (FM 7) and included about 200 acres.  It was the 5th prescribed burn we have done this year for a combined 800 acres.  I took the attached photo during Friday’s burn.  ERM staff manages approximately 31,000 acres of conservation land in Palm Beach County, with much of it being in densely populated WUI areas.  More information on our prescribed burn program can be found at http://pbcgov.org/erm/natural/burn-program/.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  Thanks for all the great information you have on Wildfire Today!  Kraig

Thank YOU Kraig!