Wildfire briefing, March 30, 2014

Prescribed fire smoke in Manhattan, Kansas
Prescribed fire smoke in Manhattan, Kansas, March 29, 2014. Photo by Eric Ward.

Prescribed fire smoke in the Flint Hills

In light of the discussion on Wildfire Today about prescribed fire as a tourist attraction in the Flint Hills of Kansas, Eric Ward sent us the above photo that he took Saturday afternoon in smoky Manhattan, Kansas. He explained that many of the ranchers in the area conduct extensive burning projects this time of the year in order to enhance weight gains of cattle if they plan to stock pastures in May. On days when the relative humidity and wind speed are within an acceptable range, the evidence of the burning is very visible in the atmosphere, especially if weather for the previous week or so has been bouncing between snow and red flag weather conditions, as it has this year.

Colorado report recommends contracting for air tankers and helicopters

Colorado Firefighting Air CorpsA long-awaited report about aerial firefighting by state agencies in Colorado was released Friday by the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC). Some of the more significant recommendations include:

  • Increase the number of Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) on exclusive use contracts from two to four.
  • Contract for the exclusive use of four Type 3 or larger rotor-wing aircraft. (Type 3 helicopters can carry 100 to 300 gallons.)
  • Contract for the exclusive use of two Type 2 or larger air tankers. (Type 2 air tankers can carry 1,800 to 3,000 gallons). The contingency, if the State is unable to contract for two air tankers, is to contract for two helitankers, or a combination of one fixed-wing air tanker and one helitanker.

More details are at Fire Aviation.

Arizona seeks to immunize the state from liability from wildfires

A bill that was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee, House Bill 2343, would exempt the state and state employees from prosecution for harm resulting from the action, or inaction by state employees on state lands. Hundreds of millions of dollars in claims have been filed by the families of the 19 firefighters killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire and by property owners whose homes burned. The fire was managed by the state of Arizona in June, 2013.

Firefighters assisting with Oso landslide

Personnel that usually can be found at wildfires are helping to manage the response to the tragic landslide at Oso, Washington. We have reports that some of the resources assisting include Washington Incident Management Team #4 (a Type 2 team), miscellaneous overhead, and some Washington Department of Natural Resources chain saw teams. The IMTeam was dispatched on March 27.

New topic from “Safety Matters”

The “Safety Matters” group has released their “Topic #5”, and they are seeking input from wildland firefighters. Below is an excerpt:

…2014 marks the 20th Anniversary of South Canyon and the 38th Anniversary of Battlement Creek. Both fires fit the model of firefighters dying in a brush fuel type, on a slope, during hot and dry conditions.

The loss of the Granite Mountain Hotshots indicates that a significant accident occurs every 18 to 20 years. Is there a reoccurring cycle, and if so why? Could it be related to a cyclic turnover of firefighter culture, training and attitude? What are the thoughts of Safety Matters readers?

Bushfire season ends in New South Wales

The bushfire season has reached its official end in New South Wales.

Tribute to author Norman Maclean

The Daily Beast has reprinted an excellent essay that Pete Dexter wrote for Esquire in 1981 about Norman Maclean. It explores a side of of the author that is not revealed in his book about firefighters, Young Men and Fire. Mr. Dexter spent quite a bit of time with Mr. Maclean, who at that time was writing the final chapter. Mr. Maclean also wrote A River Runs Through It, which was made into a movie starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. The Esperanza Fire, a book written by his son John N. Maclean, is working its way towards becoming a movie.

U.S. National Guard assists with fire in Puerto Rico

From the AP:

Puerto Rico has enlisted the U.S. National Guard to help extinguish a fire that has ravaged a forest in the island’s central region. Firefighting Chief Angel Crespo says that about 40 percent of the Modelo Forest in the town of Adjuntas has been destroyed. Authorities say they believe the fire was intentionally set and that it has consumed up to 290 acres (117 hectares). A U.S. National Guard helicopter helped dump water over the area on Friday.

Fantastic photo

Bushfires across Victoria

There are many bushfires burning in Victoria and New South Wales. I am currently rebuilding my computer after wiping it and re-installing everything, so in the interests of time, below are some images sent by some folks down under recently. You should be able to get a sense of what some of the fires are like.

 

Wildfire briefing, October 29, 2013

Smoke creates health problems in Australia

Smoke from wildfires and prescribed fires is being blamed for increased visits to hospitals in New South Wales. On Monday when air quality was at its worst, the number of people treated for asthma in hospitals more than doubled. In recent weeks Sydney has been inundated with smoke from bushfires, but since the weather moderated a week or so ago smoke from prescribed fires, or “backburns”, has replaced it.

Landowners are motivated to use fire to reduce the hazards around their property by insurance companies that impose higher premiums if they don’t have a buffer around their improvements. Some of them are taking advantage of the favorable weather to conduct the backburns before the normal beginning of the bushfire season in December.

Australian government warns operators of UAVs who operate over fires

In what may be a reaction to a stunning video and others taken by unmanned aerial vehicles over bushfires, Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority issued a warning to the operators of small UAVs, saying they are putting fire fighting operations at risk and should be aware of appropriate regulations.

Catastrophic wildfires in Colorado ignite new center for managing ‘WUI’ wildfire risk

Colorado State University’s Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship is launching a new center dedicated to creating and applying the next generation of wildfire management solutions. The Center for Managing Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Wildfire Risk will provide science-based answers to critical questions raised by the most destructive wildfires in Colorado’s history. The Center for Managing WUI Wildfire Risk will provide science-based answers to critical questions raised by the most destructive wildfires in Colorado’s history.

Catching up with Fire Aviation

Recent articles at Fire Aviation:

  • Disney to release animated wildfire aviation movie
  • V-22 Tilt-Rotor Osprey as a firefighting aircraft
  • K-MAX helicopter converted to unmanned aircraft system
  • Slow-motion video of Lockheed Electra L-188 retardant drops
  • 10 Tanker Air Carrier moves to Albuquerque, begins converting a third DC-10
  • Two Aircraft crashes in Australia connected to bushfires
  • Stunning UAV video of bushfire
  • Airliner painted to honor FDNY firefighters
  • Airbus begins tests of C295 air tanker
  • 2013 Airtanker and Water Scooper Forum

Prescribed fire projects underway

Pile burning, Grand Canyon
Pile burning on the Bright Angel project, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, October 24, 2013. NPS photo.
Prescribed fire Shasta-Trinity National Forest
Shasta-Trinity National Forest, October 21, 2013. USFS photo.
Prescribed fire on the Helena National Forest
Prescribed fire on the Helena National Forest, Helena Ranger District. USFS photo.

Report of fatal air tanker crash in Australia


Several media sources in Australia are reporting that an air tanker crashed west of Ulladulla in New South Wales and the pilot, the only person on board, has been confirmed dead. The Australian network ABC reported that a wing snapped off the aircraft before it went down.

The aircraft was fighting a fire in very rugged and steep terrain near Wirritin Mountain about 15 nautical miles west of Ulladulla when it went down at about 10:10 a.m. AEDT on Thursday.

The crash started another bushfire which, along with high winds, was hampering efforts to reach the pilot. Other firefighting aircraft were called to the area and were attempting to slow the spread of the fire.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family and coworkers of the pilot.

****

UPDATE AT 12:51 p.m. MDT, October 24, 2013: A second aircraft has crashed in Australia. In this case it was a light plane supporting the firefighting effort. More information is at Fire Aviation.

 

Thanks go out to Ken

Previous assignments of U.S. firefighters to Australia

The United States has sent firefighters to Australia to assist with bushfires twice in the last five years.

U.S. firefighters in Australia
U.S. firefighters in Victoria, Australia, February, 2009. Photo by Wol Worrell.

With the bushfire season in southeast Australia heating up much earlier than normal, some are wondering if the United States is going to send wildland firefighters down under to give them a hand. In the last eight years this has happened four times, in 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010. At least two of those deployments were in January and February during their fire season that typically runs from December through February. With this very unusual October siege underway in New South Wales, which has been described as the worst wildfire conditions in more than 40 years, and with more than 200 homes destroyed, these conditions are an outlier, very different from the normal fire occurrence.

We checked with our sources in Boise and there are no immediate plans underway to send American firefighters to Australia. But the down under bushfire season has not even officially started — it could be an interesting summer below the equator.

In February, 2009, the United States sent 60 wildfire specialists to Victoria to assist with operations, planning and logistics. That included two thirteen-person teams specializing in rehabilitating burned areas, and one 20-person suppression team. I believe the “suppression team” was a thrown-together group of experienced firefighters formed into a crew, since no hotshot crews were on duty in February. More information about that deployment is HERE, HERE, and HERE.

In January, 2010, the United States again sent firefighters to Australia. That time it was approximately 17 people, with most of them being assigned within Victoria. Some details about that trip are HERE, HERE, and HERE.

The international assistance has worked in both directions. In July, 2008, 44 Australian and New Zealand firefighters came to the United States to assist with fires in California. The first deployment of firefighters from Australia to the U.S. was in 2000.