Wildfire news, March 24, 2009

Salem, NC fatality

From the International Association of Wildland Fire’s FireNet:

IAWF has received notice of the following wildland firefighter fatality from the US Fire Administration:

Name: Gregory Carroll Cooke
Rank: Firefighter
Age: 60
Gender: Male
Status: Volunteer
Years of Service: 20
Date of Incident: 02/20/2009
Time of Incident: Unknown, late in the week of 03/16/09
Date of Death: 03/21/2009
Fire Department: Salem Volunteer Fire Department
Address: 4559 Swift Creek School RD, Whitakers, NC 27891
Fire Department Chief: Paul Powell

Incident Description: Late in the week of 03/16/09, Firefighter Cooke was working at a woods fire when he went into cardiac arrest. He was transported by air to the Wake Medical Center in Raleigh, NC. On Saturday, 3/21/09, Firefighter Cooke passed away.

Our condolences for Mr. Cooke’s family and co-workers.

Three charged with arson in setting East Texas fires

From Chron.com:

Three Eastland County residents have been charged with five counts of arson and one count of organized criminal activity in connection with a series of West Texas wildfires that destroyed five structures in Eastland and Callahan counties.

The Texas Forest Service said in a statement Monday that Christina Utley, 20, of Ranger, Brian Freeman, 23, and Michael Thomas, 24, both of Cisco, were being held at the Eastland County Jail on bails totaling $87,500. A jail official said Monday night he did not know whether the three, who were arrested Sunday, had attorneys.

Forestry officials said the three were initially arrested for fighting and public intoxication but the investigation turned to Sunday’s deliberately set fires after Cisco Police Department found suspicious items in their vehicle.

Forestry officials were still fighting the blazes that had burned at least 270 acres.

San Diego replaces their reverse 911 system

After the Cedar and other large fires near San Diego in 2007 there were some complaints that the reverse 911 system that calls thousands of phone numbers in an emergency did not perform as well as expected. Earlier this month the city of San Diego switched from the “Reverse 9-1-1” system to a new system the city calls “AlertSanDiego” powered by Twenty First Century Communications. Home phones are automatically registered, but the mayor is advising owners of cell phones and Voice over IP (VoIP) phones to register them at the city’s web site.

Senator Udall introduces bill to divert fines to land management agencies

Senator Mark Udall has introduced a bill that would redirect funds that are collected for illegally damaging public lands to the federal agencies that are responsible for restoring the damage. Currently fines are simply deposited into the U.S. Treasury, but if someone pays a fine for starting a fire, for example, the bill would specify that the funds go to the agency on whose land the fire occurred.

Opinion on bushfire management in Australia

A speech made by John Underwood about the management of bushfires in Australia may also have some applicability in much of the rest of the world. You should read the entire text HERE, but here is one paragraph:

The catastrophic bushfires in Victoria this year, and the other great fires of recent years in Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT and South Australia are dramatic expressions not just of killing forces unleashed, but of human folly. No less than the foolish strategies of the World War I Generals, these bushfires and their outcomes speak of incompetent leadership and of failed imaginations. Most unforgivable of all, they demonstrate the inability of people in powerful and influential positions to profit from the lessons of history and to heed the wisdom of experience.

Firefighter close call, manure pit

From FirefighterCloseCalls:

A Firefighter battling a grass fire in northern New York fell into a manure pit and was rescued from possible drowning. Depauville FD recruit Kevin Zoll saved the 6-year veteran Ernest Ross on Friday at a farm in Clayton. Ross was cutting across a field toward a building where flames were spreading when he fell into an unmarked manure pit….it was covered with straw and looked like the field. FF Zoll crawled to the edge of the pit, reached out with a broom handle and pulled Ross in. Ross says that saved his life, than in a few minutes he would have been submerged. Dry and windy conditions led to multiple calls about grass fires.

Thanks Dick.

Missouri LODD

The Kansas City Star is reporting that a firefighter from the Odessa, Missouri fire department collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack while fighting a vegetation fire, Saturday March 15.  Lt. Roger Vorwark, 49, was a five-year veteran of the Odessa Fire and Rescue Protection Division.  He was treated at the scene, then transported by helicopter to a hospital in Independence where he was pronounced dead.

When funeral arrangements are complete they will be announced HERE.

Our condolences to the family and fellow firefighters.

Helicopter pilot killed in Kansas crash

We just received this message from Nate, one of our readers:

Great site, its my source for breaking news every morning.

I wanted to report to you that Roger Hershner, a long-time fire helicopter pilot was killed in Kansas yesterday, March 8. He was ferrying a helicopter from Hillcrest Aircraft Co. in Lewiston, ID to Virginia to start a USFS contract in Virginia. Not much info as to cause is available yet.  He refueled in Ogalala, Nebraska and was enroute to Topeka, Kansas when he crashed.

Roger most recently has flown the joint Santa Fe/Musselshell Exclusive use contract in R3/R1. He also flew the Grangeville Exclusive use contract, and several other contracts in the southern region. He was employed by Hillcrest for about 5 years. He has been flying contract helicopters for the USFS for about 30 years, maybe more.

KSALLink.com and the AP have stories.

Our condolences to Mr. Hershner’s family and co-workers.

Oklahoma firefighter dies while fighting fire

firefighter John Adams
Firefighter John Adams; photo: KJRH

John Adams, a firefighter with the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department in Oklahoma collapsed and stopped breathing around 10:00 or 10:30 p.m. Friday while working on a vegetation fire near Mannford. Mr. Adams, who had been with the Silver City FD for five years, had been fighting the fire for several hours.

He leaves behind a wife and three children.

The 1,000 acre fire is believed to have been started by an arsonist. Three fires were set within a mile of each other, minutes apart.

Our condolences go out to the family and the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department.

Australian firefighter killed by falling tree

A firefighter in Australia was killed when a tree fell onto a fire apparatus on February 17. The firefighter from the Australian Capital Territories Fire Brigade died on the scene while a second firefighter in the truck was unhurt, according to commissioner Greg Manson of the ACT Emergency Service Agency.

The accident occurred at Cambarville, just east of Marysville in Yarra Ranges National Park. This is the first emergency worker to die in this rash of bushfires that began on what is now known as “Black Saturday”, February 7.

Marysville suffered great losses in the fires, with 39 confirmed dead and most of the structures being wiped out. Nationwide, the death toll has risen to 200; that figure is expected to rise as more bodies are found.

Follow-up on Oklahoma fatality

On Sunday we covered the January 3 fatality in Oklahoma involving the father and son firefighters who collided head-on in dense smoke, killing the father, John C. Myers of the Wesley Fire Department. Our hearts go out for the families and the Wesley Fire Department as they try to process this tragedy.

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight one could say that every accident is preventable, but this incident has provoked a great deal of behind the scenes discussion. If there is a formal investigation other than that conducted by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, they will attempt to determine what factors may have contributed, such as speed, road surface, visibility, condition of drivers, values at risk, pressure to quickly suppress the fire, skill, training, and experience of the drivers, the vehicles, communications, fire behavior, human factors, or the fact that none of the victims used seat belts.

The McAlester News-Capital has more information about Mr. Myers and the accident:

Fallen firefighter was always there to help his neighbors
By James Beaty
Senior Editor

He’s being remembered as a hero.

John C. “J.C.” Myers, 61, of rural Pittsburg, died Saturday in a head-on collision while driving a fire truck on a smoke-covered road during a wildfire in the rural Wesley community in Atoka County.

Myers served as a volunteer firefighter with the rural Union Chapel Fire Department, which is just across the Pittsburg County line from Wesley. The pickup he drove and a pickup driven by his son, Juston Myers, 31, collided, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

The fire covered 226 acres before it was contained and resulted from an undetermined cause, according to fire officials.

Some of those who knew Myers remember him as a remarkable man.

“J.C. was the type of guy who that loved people,” said Kiowa Fire Chief M.A. Danley. “He was real dedicated.”

Donna Danley, who is married to M.A. Danley, also knew Myers.

“J.C. was a good man, a good person,” she said. “He was always helping the community.”

Pittsburg Assistant Fire Chief Ronnie Rice had been among the first to arrive at the scene. His son, Clayton Rice, was a passenger in Juston Myers’ pickup and had been injured in the crash. The two were on their way to help fight the fire when the collision occurred, Ronnie Rice said.

Following the accident, Clayton Rice was transported to the McAlester Regional Health Center, where he was reported in good condition, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said.

Ronnie Rice said his son is recovering, but will likely have surgery and may be transferred to a Tulsa hospital.

Rice said he had grown up with J.C. Myers.

“He was as likable a fellow as you ever come across and he’d help anybody,” Rice said.

“He was really dedicated and highly respected.”

In addition to the personal loss to Myers’ family and friends, his firefighting abilities will also be missed.

“It will be not only a great loss to his fire department, but to ours,” Rice said. Because fire departments in the area answer each other’s calls for assistance, firefighters from different departments often battle blazes side-by-side.

To help keep firefighters safer, the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant plans to hold a seminar in March in conjunction with Oklahoma State University, said Don Kapps, who is the fire chief at McAAP, as well as the fire chief of the Savanna Volunteer Fire Department. It will cover safety skills and techniques when battling fires, including wildfires.

Sometimes more than skill is needed.

Many times, volunteer firefighters don’t have the same quality of protective clothing and other gear used by full-time professional firefighters, even though they must face the same dangers, Capps said on Monday.

Other dangerous situations can result from volunteer firefighters using converted military vehicles to haul water in to fight grassfires or other wildfires, Capps said.

Such vehicles often don’t have the proper baffles in a tank, Capps said, referring to chambers in a tank which can keep a heavy load of water from shifting too rapidly. Many times the water tanks used now by volunteer firefighters are bought commercially from a store and are similar those made for farm or ranch use.

Capps said he and the other volunteer firefighters do the best they can with the equipment they have.