Some early fire lookout structures were in trees

Recent drone photos of the remains of a tree lookout in Oregon

Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp

Years ago, in order to detect new ignitions of wildfires, land management agencies occasionally took advantage of tall trees on hilltops, building platforms near the top with ladders or other climbing aids below.

Using his Phantom 3 Pro drone, Steven Stenkamp shot photos of a what remains of a tree lookout on the Deschutes National forest in Central Oregon.  Pumice Springs lookout was built in 1930 and used for less than 10 years, Mr. Stenkap said.

Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp

“The Pumice Springs Lookout had a ladder for about 20 feet, then 2 x 4s for about another 10,” Mr. Stenkap told us. “From there, the lookout used branches until he (or she) was about 10 feet from the platform where there was, and still is, another section of ladder.  According to the data from the drone the platform is at 81 feet.  The lookout was also known as Sand Springs lookout.  The tree is just about equal distance from each of those springs.”

Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp
Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp
Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp

Before he retired, Mr. Stenkap’s duties at the Bend Fire Department in Oregon included flying a DJI Matice drone.

Oregon enlists Bigfoot for help with wildfire prevention

Bigfoot wildfire prevention

The Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal’s “Bigfoot: Believe in Fire Safety” campaign is returning for the 2020 wildfire season, asking Oregonians to protect their communities by preventing wildfires.

“This really comes down to protecting communities and preventing wildfires,” says State Fire Marshal Jim Walker, of the OSFM’s Bigfoot campaign. “Wildfire prevention begins with all of us. Together we can make a positive impact. Since most wildfires are started by people, please do your part to prevent them.”

In response to the challenges of recent wildfire seasons, the OSFM enlisted Pacific Northwest icon Bigfoot, friend in fire prevention, to inspire the public to take action and reduce risks of human-caused wildfires.

The campaign first launched in spring 2019. From the start, Bigfoot served as an iconic messenger to encourage Oregonians and visitors to protect our communities and homes from human-caused wildfires.

OSFM’s Fire Prevention Coordinator Stephanie Stafford made the connection that wildfires occur where Bigfoot “lives,” which created the opportunity to promote awareness around fire prevention in the wildland urban interface (WUI). Data show the most costly fires in recent years nationally all occurred on WUI lands.

Wildfire threats to Oregon’s communities have led to longer and costlier fire seasons for state and local agencies. The wildfire problem also has captured the attention of Oregonians. Statewide they see the effects of fires on forests, as well as on homes in the wildland urban interface.

In the past two years, data collected in Oregon for the National Fire Incident Reporting System show there were 14,971 outdoor fires with 554,196 acres burned. Most of these outdoor fires were caused by unintentional human ignition rather than natural sources such as lightning.

The OSFM will be working with its more than 300 Oregon fire service partners to help share Bigfoot-themed education and branding materials that encourage Oregonians to “believe in fire safety,” around their homes and when recreating around their communities and in the outdoors.

The Oregon fire service plays an important role in providing critical first response for initial suppression of many wildfires that begin in their jurisdictions and can often spread to public lands.

In 2019, fire agencies helped Bigfoot reach residents statewide, and the OSFM will be providing Bigfoot materials for agencies to share and motivate their residents to prevent wildfires.

Bigfoot wildfire prevention

More than 40 Bigfoot fire prevention posters can be downloaded at the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s website.

 

Helicopters help firefighters extinguish bark dust fire

Longview, Washington

Bark dust fire Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.
Bark dust fire at Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020. Photo by Longview Fire Department.

The report below is from Longview Fire Department:

On April 12  at 2:37 PM a passerby called 911 to report a bark dust fire at Swanson Bark and Wood Products, in Longview, Washington about 40 miles north of Portland, Oregon. The company specializes in taking wood waste and turning it into useful products, including firewood, mulch, bark dust, and soils.

Responding to 911 calls at Swanson Bark is not an unusual occurrence because the facility, with its large piles of bark dust and other products off-gas regularly as a natural part of the composting and decomposition process. Staff at Swanson use temperature probes to assess the risk, and small fires are not uncommon and are generally handled by on-site staff.
While fire units were enroute, Cowlitz 911 called the facility and they confirmed they had a surface fire that they were actively attempting to extinguish. During this same timeframe Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue was battling a structure fire on Regland Rd. Shortly after the Swanson dispatch a brush fire was dispatched to Astro Road in rural Kelso, further taxing the regional resources.

map Bark dust fire Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.
Satellite photo showing the location of a bark dust fire at Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.

When Longview Fire arrived they encountered a large bark dust pile that was burning and spreading to adjacent piles. Strong winds out of the northwest coupled with access issues to the multiple piles of recyclables, smoke, and visibility challenges, combined with the available water supply all created challenges for firefighters. With the other active fires, staffing was also below normal.

As the fire continued to spread over the entire 80 acre site, buildings, machinery, vehicles, and conveyors were damaged or destroyed. Firefighters deployed multiple hand lines and two aerial ladder trucks, flowing in excess of 2.5 million gallons of water in their suppression efforts. The incident commander requested a firefighting helicopter to assist, but none were locally available.

Fire suppression efforts were suspended at approximately 4:00 a.m., however, dozens of bark and wood products piles were still smoldering, creating a smoke cloud that continued to drift.

helicopter Vertol Bark dust fire Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.
A Vertol, operated by Columbia Helicopters, helped to suppress a bark dust fire at Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020. Photo by Longview Fire Department.

On April 13 Swanson Bark and Wood Products took over the overhaul phase, utilizing loaders and excavators to move the product while extinguishing the fires. Swanson also contracted with two helicopter services to aid in full suppression. It is expected that this fire could smolder for days, and if winds pick up, active fire could again be encountered.

Firefighters from Longview, Kalama, Cowlitz Fire District 1, Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue, and Woodland were utilized to extinguish the blaze. Resources included pumping fire apparatus, ladder trucks, water tenders, and brush rigs. Firefighters have yet to complete an investigation, and no damage estimates are available at this time. There were no staff or firefighter injuries reported.

Bark dust fire Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.
Bark dust fire at Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020. Photo by Longview Fire Department.

The video below is from the Longview Fire Department.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jeffrey. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Forest Service Northwest region issues COVID-19 protocols for firefighting

“Initial attack should be the highest priority for commitment of resources”

National Park Service fire wildfire firefighters
National Park Service photo.

On April 9 the U.S. Forest Service issued protocols for firefighters in their Pacific Northwest Region, Washington and Oregon, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It only applies to FS personnel in those two states and is intended to be complementary to the Northwest Geographic Response Plan being developed by an Area Command Team.

You can download the entire nine-page document, but we captured some of the highlights:

Before the fire

  • Survey first responders to develop lists of those pre-disposed to respiratory illness and factor this into their assigned roles and tasks on large incidents.
  • Build extra capacity in all of our workforce, but especially supervisors, for managing line of duty deaths (Casualty Assistance Program).
  • Technology:
    • Remote operations, briefings, sensing and surveillance, fuel modeling/sensing; fire behavior modeling/projections.
    • Preparation for those modules that have or potential to have reduced personnel, by identifying collateral duty/overhead personnel and militia prepared to help with staffing engines, IHC’s and hand crews.
    • Operations will prepare with the expectation that resource limitations will occur at all Preparedness Levels.
  • Contracting: MRE’s, medical equipment, PPE, remote sensing, UAS, contract personnel and equipment.

During the Fire

  • Priority: Initial attack should be the highest priority for commitment of resources with the purpose of containing fires during initial attack and preventing long duration fires.
  • Initial attack response should align with direction to limit the risk of exposure and spread of COVID-19. This should involve strategies and tactics that minimize the number of people needed to respond and that reduce the incident duration while not compromising firefighter safety and probability of success. The efforts to reduce overall exposure may require consideration to increased staffing, albeit for less duration.
  • Emphasize containment in order to minimize assignment time, mop-up standards should be evaluated for all incidents and limited to minimize additional fire spread.
    • Make decisions that will minimize the number of responders needed to meet objectives.
    • Consider zone and point protection suppression strategies associated with protection of human life, communities and critical infrastructure when sufficient resources for perimeter control are not available.
    • Weigh the risk of responding in multiple vehicles; driving is still the one of our highest-risk activities.
    • Stock vehicles with disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, soap and physical barrier protection (face shields, masks). Disinfect vehicles and equipment and wash PPE after each response.
    • Do not share PPE, flight helmets, radios or other equipment.
    • Use MREs, freeze dried, single-serve sack or boxed meals instead of food lines. Evaluate drinking water supply options to minimize exposure and handling of water containers.
    • Monitor smoke and Co2 Exposure to firefighters, rotate in and out of smoke if necessary.
    • Consider shorter tours (<14 days), shorter shift lengths. Incorporate additional time into shifts to provide for hygiene, cleaning and additional rest.
  • Remote operations, briefings sensing and surveillance, fuel modeling/sensing; fire behavior modeling/projections.
    • Use technology to communicate using virtual tools.
    • Increase use of UAS and webcams.
    • Plan for increased use of networking capabilities, and areas with limited or not existing network capabilities may need additional services.
  • Camps:
    • When possible, shift operations and logistics from single, large camps to multiple, satellite camps that support the separation of people.
    • Incident Command Teams may utilize hotels where individual rooms allow for separations
    • Briefings should be conducted via radios and/or other virtual tools, to reduce face to face interactions.
    • Expanded medical support (as needed and if possible).
    • Module isolation: (dispersed camping).
    • Two-way isolation: closed camps with security, no leaving camp to travel into community.
    • Define and implement more rigorous cleaning and sanitation protocols.
    • Provide extra hand washing stations if possible.
  • Communication: When possible, shift operations and logistics from single, large camps to multiple, satellite camps that support the separation of people.
    • Incident Command Teams may utilize hotels where individual rooms allow for separations.
    • Briefings should be conducted via radios and/or other virtual tools, to reduce face to face interactions.
    • Expanded medical support (as needed and if possible).
    • Module isolation: (dispersed camping).
    • Two-way isolation: closed camps with security, no leaving camp to travel into community.
    • Define and implement more rigorous cleaning and sanitation protocols.
    • Provide extra handwashing stations if possible.

After the Fire

  • Rest, Recovery and Reassignment: take precautions to limit potential spread of COVID-19. This may include:
    • Continued screening and testing.
    • Module isolation (Fire modules should not report to the office but a designated location that allows for the crew to interact and work without exposing them or other employees. Work should allow for the continued separation of crews as long as they continue to remain available nationally.)
  • Increased employee support (be prepared to provide it virtually)
    • EAP
    • Peer Support
    • Hospital and Family Liaison
  • Tracking: Forward and backward monitoring of all module-to-module, person-to-person and community interactions.
  • Communication: Appraise community of status including quarantines and rehabilitation.
    • Communicating potential exposure.
    • Communicating our limited capacity for response.
    • Community response.
  • AAR Specific to Wildfire Tactics and COVID-19. We need to institutionalize what we learn from the COVID-19 crisis and incorporate that into our enterprise risk management as well as local SOPs.

BLM all-female fire camp in Oregon

This year, 25 women attended the two-weekend camp

BLM's all-female fire camp
Students at the BLM’s all-female fire camp in Oregon. Screenshot from the BLM video below.

From the Bureau of Land Management:

Students came from all over the country for this year’s BLM’s all-female wildfire camp in eastern Oregon.

For the class final, the all-female crew of wildfire students dug fire line, rolled hose, and burned slash piles in the eastern Oregon snow.

The live burn exercise was the climax of the second annual Women in Wildland Fire Boot Camp, a BLM recruitment and retention tool that organizers hope will add diversity to the applicant pool for wildfire jobs.

The boot camp is really a paid training opportunity, part classroom and part field work, for women to become certified for federal fire jobs, an industry long dominated by men.

“I think we’re acknowledging we need to add diversity to our workforce,” said Jeff Fedrizzi, the top BLM fire official for Oregon and Washington, “And we’re putting our money where our mouth is.”

Twenty women attended last year and more than half of that first class ended up getting a job in firefighting, said Cassandra Andrews-Fleckenstein, the BLM program manager for the camp. This year, 25 women attended the two-weekend camp, once again coming from across the country. Students slept outside in 10-degree weather, used portable toilets, and wore the classic wildland firefighter uniform of yellow shirt and green pants, just like any other fire camp.

Kathleen Mascarenas, who is studying forestry and fire science at Colorado State University, said she came to the Women in Wildland Fire Boot Camp to get her foot in the door for a future job.

“I really just wanted to get a hands-on experience,” said Mascarenas, as a controlled burn crackled behind her last month. “I thought it would be a great experience to get started and meet some of the women that I would be hopefully working with in the future,” she said.

One of the attendees from Oregon, Kelli Creekmore, said she recently got her emergency medical technician license and is hoping to get a job providing first aid to wildland firefighters.

In addition to the typical fire coursework, students also received special presentations, for example, what it is like to be pregnant during a wildfire pack test, and how to successfully apply via USAJobs.gov.

Since many of the camp attendees are coming in with advanced education and other valuable prerequisites, it is imperative that they become fluent in the federal hiring process, said camp manager Andrews-Fleckenstein.

“They are frustrated because they don’t really know how to get into these fire jobs,” said Andrews-Fleckenstein, listing the main gripe she heard from students at the camp. “I’m finding that this camp is kind of a bridge for them.”

Bob Narus, the fire manager for the BLM’s Vale District, an area that spans more than 5 million acres in eastern Oregon, said simply making more applicants aware that the BLM is an option for firefighting jobs is important.

“I think there’s value in having these women in wildfire camps, so more people can become aware that, ‘Hey, I can go fight fire with the BLM also, not just the Forest Service,’” said Narus.

While camp attendees are compensated for their time, they are not reimbursed for their travel to and from rural eastern Oregon. Last year, one student flew round-trip from Chicago between university midterms to attend the boot camp, said Andrews-Fleckenstein, noting the clear and unique value of the all-female BLM fire camp.

“I think if we had more of them across the country, or offered a couple more, you might get a lot of people coming into it,” she said.


— by Toshio Suzuki, tsuzuki@blm.gov

Smoke affects northwest U.S.

Forecast near surface smoke
Forecast for near surface smoke at 6 p.m. PDT October 24, 2019. NOAA.

Thursday morning there were very few wildfires producing large quantities of smoke, however the Kincade Fire 63 miles north of San Francisco has the potential to become an air quality problem for residents in northern California especially on Friday.

There is a surprising amount of smoke in the Northwest, especially in Idaho, Oregon, and western Montana presumably created by extensive prescribed burning.

fires northwest US Oct 24 2019
The map shows heat from fires detected in the Northwest United States October 24, 2019.