Many firefighters have seen Kari Greer on firelines in the western United States. She is a NIFC contract photographer with a Red Card which enables her to take assignments where she shadows firefighters as they work. These photos were taken within the last few weeks on fires near Lake Chelan, Washington. You can see more of the photos she has taken this summer here.
The Happy Camp “megafire” that blackened over 134,000 acres in northwest California in 2014 is not out. Last weekend firefighters found four small areas that were still burning inside the fire perimeter. During normal weather conditions snow and rain in the winter would usually fully extinguish a wildfire, but the drought and warm weather has allowed some areas within the Happy Camp Complex to continue to burn. There was no indication that the small hot spots were any threat to cause the fire to consume additional acres. Fire managers have re-activated the InciWeb page for the fire.
Florida Governor vetoes pay increase for state firefighters
Florida Governor Rick Scott on Tuesday vetoed a bill containing $1.5 million for state wildland firefighter pay increases that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam had requested. Some Florida firefighters complained earlier this year that they are “grossly underpaid”, and that their salaries are comparable to cafeteria workers.
Drone grounds air tankers over the Lake Fire
A “hobby drone” spotted over the Lake Fire east of San Bernardino, California grounded firefighting aircraft that were working on the fire Wednesday. The drone was seen flying over the Onyx Summit area around 5:30 p.m., Cal Fire officials say.
A collision between a drone and a helicopter or fixed wing aircraft could be fatal if it damages the windshield, the engine, props, or rotors.
More evacuations on the Lake Fire
Late Wednesday night, June 24, the San Bernardino County Sheriff Department initiated a mandatory evacuation for the Burns Canyon and Rimrock areas. The fire spread significantly to the east on Wednesday. More information at Wildfire Today.
Calgrove Fire north of Los Angeles
The Calgrove Fire burned 398 acres Wednesday afternoon near Santa Clarita, California. Fire Aviation has a video of one of Erickson Aero Tankers’ DC-7s making a retardant drop on the fire. The aircraft, Tanker 60, is sporting a brand new paint job.
Click on the full-screen arrow in the bottom-right of the video to see it fill your screen. If you are having trouble viewing the video above, click here to see it on the flickr website.
The last time I saw Kari Greer was last year at the 20-year commemoration of the South Canyon Fire in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. We talked for a while, and after comparing camera gear I asked if her camera equipment and her vehicle smell like a forest fire for a while after returning from a fire. She smiled and said that yes, she loved it, and thought that other people who ride in her vehicle like it too.
You gotta appreciate a wildland fire photographer who loves the smell of smoke!
While Rae Brooks was assigned to the Happy Camp Complex of fires in northwest California she wrote this story about a crew from Saipan that was working on the fire. The photos were taken by Kari Greer.
Saipan firefighters usually battle scrubby mango and banana tree fires that last a day or two and burn less than five acres. For a month this summer, 15 firefighters from the tiny Pacific island broke in new boots while working on major wildfires in northern California.
The cold, dry night air, the 16-hour work days and the new boots took their toll, but the Saipan crew still raved about their month-long assignment.
“We all have busted-up feet, we’re sick, but we loved it anyway,” said crew member Derek Gersonde. “It’s a great learning experience.”
The Saipan crew flew to California in mid-August as part of a U.S. Forest Service program that brings wildland firefighters to the U.S. mainland to help out when fires are active and resources stretched. In a matter of days, the crew switched abruptly from their sea-level home of sandy beaches and coral reefs to the rugged mountains of northern California.
After being issued wildland fire-fighting gear — and buying wildland boots, which aren’t stocked in Saipan stores — they started building line at the French Fire on the Sierra National Forest.
Crew boss trainee Alle Recor found the crew tended at first to operate on “island time” and lacked the sense of readiness of the wildland world. On Saipan, fires are close by and easy to reach. But, with a little coaching, that soon changed, said Recor. She found the crew motivated, and eager to have fun and get the job done.
Thirteen of the 15 crew members, who range in age from 22 to 48, work primarily as structural firefighters and are qualified medics for the Saipan Department of Public Safety’s Division of Fire. Although wildland firefighting was a new world, the crew understood fire behavior from their structural background, Recor said. Two others were part of a 2008 Saipan crew that fought wildland fires in California
The crew’s fitness and ability to learn new skills quickly impressed crew boss Tyler Van Ormer, who normally works as a battalion chief with the National Forests of Mississippi.
“The guys catch on so quickly that sometimes I forget how green they are,” said Van Ormer. “You only have to show them once and it’s like they’re old hands at it.”
When Van Ormer got word of his assignment, he had to search Google to confirm the island was actually part of the United States. Saipan is the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific, three-quarters of the way between Hawaii and the Philippines.
Instructors from the western United States travel to Saipan each April to provide basic wildland fire-fighting training. Selection to the wildland crew is competitive for course graduates. While wildfires do occur on Saipan, which is smaller than Rhode Island, they are usually caught quickly.
“It’s such a small island that a fire usually runs into a structure and slows down,” said Gersonde. “We don’t have these huge vast mountain ranges that just blow up. You come here and see how fast a fire can run.”
After the French Fire, the crew spent two weeks at the Happy Camp Complex on the Klamath National Forest.
To help hone their practical firefighting skills, five of the Saipan crew embedded with the Sierra Hotshots and some of the hotshots worked with the Saipan crew. The hotshots emphasized safety and proper technique. After a break, the crew returned to Happy Camp for a second stint. They flew home Sept. 17.
Crew boss Van Ormer lauded the Saipan crew’s work ethic.
“They’re disciplined, they’re nice, they’re polite,” said Van Ormer. “If they don’t know something, they ask. I’ve never heard a complaint. They’re the easiest guys I’ve ever worked with.”
The organizational structure behind fighting a big fire boggled the Saipan crew. When they returned to the Happy Camp Complex, 75 crews, 14 helicopters, 108 engines, 20 dozers and 50 water-tenders were working on the fire, which now sprawls over more than 200 square miles.
The entire island of Saipan is only 1,400 square miles.
After exposure to large-scale fires, some crew members find themselves contemplating a new career path in wildland firefighting on the U.S. mainland.
“A lot of us have it on our minds,” said Gersonde.
These photos of the Happy Camp Complex of fires were taken by Kari Greer for the U.S. Forest Service August 24 through 26. As you can see, she is one of the best fire photographers around. More of her work is available at Smugmug. Ms. Greer is under contract to the National Interagency Fire Center and carries a Red Card so that she can get right in the midst of the action. She left the Happy Camp Complex a few days ago, but just received a new order to return. At the 20-year commemoration of the South Canyon Fire in July, she found herself on the OTHER end of a camera lens.
The fire has burned about 77,000 acres in northwest California and is listed at 19 percent containment. It is being fought by 91 hand crews, 13 helicopters, 93 engines, 21 dozers, 44 water tenders, 29 mules, and 8 horses.
The growth of the Happy Camp Complex Fire on Friday was similar to the day before. Continued spread to the northeast added another 13,000 acres and brought the 57,722-acre fire to the banks of the Klamath River at the community of Seiad Valley. Exhibiting intense fire behavior it traveled north approximately three quarters of a mile up the Grider Creek drainage below a pyrocumulus cloud that formed above the large column of smoke.
The mandatory evacuations from Friday remain in effect. Communities that are threatened by the fire include Happy Camp, Elk Creek, Seiad Valley, Hamburg, Kelsey Creek and Scott Bar. Structure protection groups are placed in strategic locations to assist in protecting homes and property should the fire move into these areas.
Click on the maps of the Happy Camp Complex below to see slightly larger versions.
(Originally published at 10:06 a.m. MDT, August 29, 2014)
The Happy Camp Complex of fires grew by 12,000 acres on Thursday, requiring additional mandatory evacuations in the Seiad Valley area, including:
Scott Valley Road from Bridge Flat to the intersection of Hwy. 96.
All areas south of Hwy. 96 between Scott River Road and Grider Creek.
All areas south of Hwy. 96 from Seiad Valley down river to Kade Summit.
On Thursday the two largest and most active fires in the Complex, the Faulkstein and Frying Pan Fires, spread rapidly on the east side aided by long-range spotting. The fires grew together when an inversion broke, followed by a west wind that pushed the fire to the northeast. Burning embers were carried a mile and a half in front of the fire.