Morning briefing, September 28, 2012

Junior firefighter killed while responding to wildfire 

A 17-year old junior firefighter for the Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Department in Delaware was killed while en route to the fire station to respond to a wildfire. According to WBOC, Justin Townsend was a passenger in a vehicle driven by an 18-year old boy on September 27 when due to excessive speed the driver lost control on a curve causing the vehicle to strike a utility pole. Mr. Townsend died at the scene. The driver was treated at a hospital and released.

We extend our sincere condolences to Mr. Townsend’s family and the members of the Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Department.

TNC studies use of prescribed fire to remove red-cedar 

The Nature Conservancy has released a study they conducted on the Niobrara Valley Preserve in Nebraska, looking at red-cedar, an invasive species that can reduce the productivity of grazing land. The trees occupy grassland areas shading out light, falling foliage covers the grasses, and the trees consume significant amounts of water, leading to dryer conditions for grass. Red-cedar also burns intensely, making wildfires more difficult to control.

Nebraska prescribed fire
Prescribed fire in Nebraska to help remove invasive red-cedar. Photo credit: The Nature Conservancy

The study looked at two methods used to remove red-cedar on the property — mechanical removal and prescribed fire. Fire can be useful for removing red-cedar until the trees become large. After that, only mechanical methods are effective, which may include cutting the trees, and then 1) chipping, 2) piling and burning, or 3) scattering them to be burned in a prescribed fire later.

Here are some excerpts from the report.

Red-cedar, a tree that reproduces by seed only, can be destroyed by fire if its growth points at the tip of the twigs are exposed to high temperatures. Cedar infestation will proceed steadily without intervention, and the periodic use of prescribed burning may be a more effective approach compared to periodic mechanical removal. Mechanical removal actually can contribute to spreading the seeds. Importantly, when applied early, burning is a significantly less costly method to eliminate young trees and to prevent re-infestation.


Of more interest to ranchers, in areas where cedar was removed, the desirable plant species for grazers were on average 34% of groundcover compared to 12% in non-cleared areas (+22%) and the undesirable plant species were 13% in cleared areas versus 47% in non-cleared areas (-34%) but all save 3% of the difference in undesirable plant species is from cedar clearing.

Warmer temperatures in California may be leading to more wildfires

The LA Times has an article about how hotter temperatures in California along with “incredibly dry conditions” have resulted in a higher number of wildfires, especially in the northern part of the state. The traditional busiest part of the fire season in southern California is just beginning, when lower live fuel moistures combined with Santa Ana winds can result in very large fires.

Photos of fire in Columbia River Gorge

A wildfire in the Columbia River Gorge near Hood River, Oregon provided Richard Porter with an opportunity to capture some interesting nighttime images of the fire reflected in the waters of the Columbia River. Check them out HERE. Below is a sample.

Fire in Columbia River Gorge
Fire in Columbia River Gorge. Photo by Richard Porter

Eastern Oregon fire traps hunters

Two bowhunters in eastern Oregon have been trapped by a fast-moving wildfire. The Parish Cabin Fire, 15 miles northeast of Seneca, forced the evacuation of about two dozen people from campgrounds and dispersed hunting camps Tuesday night. Glenn Palmer, Grant County Sheriff, said the trapped couple had called relatives in the Portland area on Tuesday evening and said they were hiking back out toward their car, which was parked on the south side of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.

“They’re not going to be able to drive out,” Palmer said. “The fire’s cut off their escape route.”

The Oregonian reported that Palmer sent two deputies to the area late Tuesday, but they couldn’t find the couple’s car at the High Lake trailhead. The fire’s burned across area roads, and numerous downed trees in the area have made it inaccessible by ground; the sheriff plans to request a helicopter rescue by the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.

View from USFS Supervisor's Office in John Day - Parish Cabin Fire
View from USFS Supervisor’s Office in John Day – Parish Cabin Fire. USFS photo.

The fire’s reported at 4,000 acres this morning; roads in the area are closed. Oregon Interagency Incident Management Team 4 (Incident Commander Brian Watts) has been ordered and will transition this evening with the local Type 3 team.

The Blue Mountain Eagle reported that the Forest Service and Grant County Sheriff’s deputies evacuated Lake Creek Youth Camp, Parish Cabin Campground, and many dispersed campsites in the area.

UPDATE 7:12 p.m. PDT:  The Blue Mountain Eagle in John Day reports that the Portland couple are unaccounted for. The sheriff’s department has been in contact with the family, including the man’s brother, a deputy sheriff in Los Angeles County, California. Messages have been left on the couple’s cellphones.

“They’re skilled hikers, and he has some experience with firefighting,” Sheriff Glenn Palmer said.

He said a note was left on the couple’s vehicle, found parked near the High Lake trailhead on the south side of Strawberry Mountain, asking them to call law enforcement. The fire’s about 2.5 miles from the vehicle.

UPDATE 7:22 p.m. PDT:   KEPR-TV reports that the couple has safely got out of the fire area.

Oregon fires update

The 2,000-acre Barry Point Fire southwest of Lakeview, Oregon, is burning on the Fremont-Winema National Forest and private lands. This morning the fire was transitioned to Oregon Incident Management Team 4 (IC Brian Watts).  On Tuesday the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and Forest Service law enforcement notified residents and others in the area that threats from the fire are severe.

Barry Point Fire, 08/07/12  ~  photo by Fred Way
Barry Point Fire, 08/07/12 ~ photo by Fred Way

The fire’s burning in heavy dead and down fuels on steep, rocky terrain. Strong gusty winds, high temperatures, and extremely heavy brush and timber pushed the fire to the north and northeast.

One of Butler’s DC-7 airtankers dropped on the fire, then returned to the Medford tanker base with a bad tire; crews at the base had noted tire pieces on the runway after the tanker left Medford. The pilot of another plane in the air saw that the tire was damaged, and the tire was changed after the tanker returned to Medford.

The Barry Point Fire is threatening the Dog Mountain Lookout, and several road closures are in effect.

The Holloway Fire is at 100,000 acres with just 5 percent containment, with about half the fire in Oregon and the other half in Nevada. The fire’s spread significantly in the northeast and southeast, but the south flank’s been secured. The fire’s threatening communities, critical infrastructure, critical sage grouse habitat, and other natural and cultural resources between McDermitt and Denio, Nevada.

Holloway Fire on the Oregon/Nevada border
Holloway Fire on the Oregon/Nevada border

Chris Ourada’s Great Basin Incident Management Team 6 said the fire’s starting spot fires when it’s burning sagebrush, and crews reported torching, fire whirls, long runs, and extreme fire behavior. Repeatedly shifting winds on the west side have pushed the fire over firelines. Firefighters are working in 100+ temperatures and single-digit humidity.

West of Cove Palisades State Park, the Geneva 12 Fire is burning in juniper, bitterbrush, sage, and grass. It’s 80 percent contained at 1,337 acres, and will transfer bck to the local unit tomorrow. Full containment is expected by this evening. Crews today will mop up smokes and hot spots within 300 feet of containment lines, and rehab is under way. The fire’s on the Crooked River National Grasslands managed by the Ochoco National Forest, private land, and BLM’s Prineville District. Some resources will be released today.

The Lava Fire is north of Christmas Valley, about 15 miles northeast of Fort Rock. It was ignited by lightning on July 23. Improved burning conditions yesterday allowed crews to build perimeter along part of the lava flow border. The fire’s about 50 percent contained at 21,300 acres; it’s been actively backing, with individual tree torching in juniper, grass, and sage.

Tanker 42 drops on the Lava Fire.  Photo by Kevin Abel, Lakeview BLM
Tanker 42 drops on the Lava Fire. Photo by Kevin Abel, Lakeview BLM

Incident managers plan to continue firing along the perimeter until there is a line around the entire fire, keeping the fire from moving out of the lava flow area. It’s in a wilderness study area managed by the BLM’s Lakeview District. Containment’s predicted for August 15.

Large fires in southeast Oregon

Map of Homestead and Long Draw fires
Map of Miller Homestead, Jacks, and Long Draw fires 7-16-2012. ESRI/NIFC/Wildfire Today (Click to enlarge)

Firefighters are starting to get a handle on the large fires in southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho.

The Long Draw Fire north of McDermitt, Nevada has burned 582,313 acres and is 100 percent contained. A transition to a Type 3 Incident Management Team will take place at 6:00 am on Tuesday, July 17.

The Jacks Fire, on BLM land 21 miles southwest of Bruneau, Idaho, is 90 percent contained at 45,000 acres.

The Miller Homestead Fire west of Frenchglen, Oregon is 70 percent contained after burning 162,765 acres. Here are some photos of the fire:

Miller Homestead fire
Miller Homestead fire, Photo by John Britt
Miller Homestead fire, July 14, 2012
Miller Homestead fire, July 14, 2012. Photo by Devon Jones
Miller Homestead fire
Miller Homestead fire, July 10, 2012. Photo by AJ Swartzlender
Miller Homestead fire retardant drops
Retardant drops on the Miller Homestead fire, July 15, 2012. Photo by Mike Stearly


Al Qaeda magazine encourages forest fire arson in the US

(Originally published May 2, 2012)

A magazine published by members of al Qaeda has called for Western Muslims to wage war within the United States, urging them to engage in lone wolf attacks, including setting forest fires. According to ABC News, a recent issue of Inspire magazine has surfaced on jihadi forums with one article titled “It Is of Your Freedom to Ignite a Firebomb”, which gives detailed instructions on how to build an “ember bomb” in a forest in the United States, and suggested Montana as a choice location due to the rapid population growth in forested areas.

In America, there are more houses built in the [countryside] than in the cities. It is difficult to choose a better place [than] in the valleys of Montana.

A previous issue of the magazine contained information on how to construct remote-controlled explosives, and helpfully listed the needed parts along with instructions and photos.

ABC News has been calling around today to find a wildfire expert who can be interviewed on camera for a piece they expect to be on Wednesday’s Good Morning America. One person they called was Dick Mangan, a past President of the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF), but ABC was not able to work out the logistics of quickly getting a camera crew to his house in Montana. The last we heard they found someone in the Sacramento area who works for CAL FIRE.

It’s odd, or maybe that is why ABC contacted Dick, because he wrote an article for the March/April 2005 issue of Wildfire, a magazine published by the IAWF, titled *Terrorists in the Woods, about the potential for terrorists to set vegetation fires in wildland areas. In the article he mentioned that police and structural fire departments receive funding for the possibility of terror-related incidents, but the land management agencies receive little or nothing to plan for or prevent threats such as these.

(*UPDATE December 23, 2017: The link to the article in the March/April 2005 issue of Wildfire Magazine no longer works, but we found a copy of it and added the entire piece below.)

From the President’s Desk
Dick Mangan
President, International Association of Wildland Fire

Terrorists in the Woods

Ever since September 11, 2001 the focus of much of the world has been fixated on the issue of Terrorism! The tragic deaths of thousands of Americans in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington DC, coupled with hundreds of deaths in Spain and Bali at the hands of terrorists has led to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, creation of the US Department of Homeland Security, and the expenditure of billions of dollars (that’s billions with a capital “B”) to improve security and reduce the risks from terrorists and their Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

The massive increases in the US budget for protection from terrorism has been mostly sent to Police and Structural Fire Departments. But, wait: what about the threat of terrorist-caused wildland fires in our forests, community watersheds and wildland-urban interface? Who’s worried about that threat, what are they doing about it, and how much is being spent to fund the efforts to prevent it?

The history of fire being used as a tool of warfare is well documented: Native Americans used fire against their enemies, both other tribes and against the expanding European whites; the Aboriginal people of Australia also used fire to discourage the incursion of the British settlers onto their island.

In World War II, the Japanese launched “fire balloons” against the western US, and while largely unsuccessful, did start a few fires, and killed 6 citizens in Oregon. The Palestinians in the latter half of the 20th century used fire to try and destroy the carefully planted pine plantations in Israel.

Now, in the beginning years of the 21st century, more and more folks are moving into the wildland-urban interface. Even under the best of conditions, when a single ignition occurs under critical fire conditions, hundreds and thousands of citizens are threatened with entrapment, injury or death from rapidly spreading fires. Imagine if a small band of determined terrorists, with only some basic fire weather and fire behavior training like we teach in S-190, decided to set multiple ignitions in some our most vulnerable areas, like heavily populated valley bottoms with limited egress/access and a heavy, dry fuel loading at the peak of the burning period?

There are many such areas around the world, in the foothills of Andalusia in Spain; outside of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia; and in numerous areas of the US from Florida to the Pine Barrens of New York, to the foothills surrounding Los Angeles. Even my own home town of Missoula, Montana has areas that fit all the above criteria, and is surely at risk under the wrong combination of weather conditions and a committed terrorist with fire on his mind. And any of us who have traveled to areas like Red Bird, Kentucky in the fall season when the “woods-burners” are out in force have an appreciation of “domestic terrorism” at work, often successfully!

The real question that lingers for fire managers at risk from terrorists is what are you planning to do to prevent terrorist-ignited wildfires that are intended to destroy resources, kill innocent civilians, and disrupt normal life? And, are you prepared to deal with multiple terrorist-ignited wildfires under the worst possible conditions? And for our legislators in the countries that are being targeted by terrorists, what are YOU going to do to insure that the wildland fire agencies in your areas are trained, equipped and financed to address these threats?

The clock is ticking, and its probably a matter of “when” rather than “if” such events, so where do we go from here??