Poll: Most significant wildfire stories of 2011

Vote on the most significant wildfire stories of 2011.

2011 was a busy wildfire year in some areas of the United States. In Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, it was  extremely busy, in fact several records were set for the largest fires in recorded history and number of acres burned.

DC10 dropping
Tanker-911, a DC 10 airtanker, drops retardant on the Wallow fire above Greer, AZ; the Del Rosa Hotshots wait in a safety zone and watch the drop, June 11, 2011. USFS photo by Kari Greer

As we did for 2009 and 2010, we are conducting a poll, allowing our readers to determine which were the most significant wildfire events of 2011. We sifted through the 641 articles we wrote in 2011 and compiled the list below which includes a short description of each of the nominated topics. Below the list is the poll. The line of duty fatalities are not listed. While they are very significant of course, we don’t want to try to rank them, one over the other.

By the way, you can still vote, if you have not already, in the 2009 and 2010 polls.

Nominations for the most significant wildfire stories of 2011

January 13: Director of college fire program arrested. Retired Chief Jerry Austin was arrested for stealing $500,000 from students in the Fire Technology progam at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, east of Los Angeles.

February 7: Bushfires in Western Australia burn 64 homes.

April 30: Georgia swamp fire burns 309,000 acres. Honey Prairie fire in Georgia starts, eventually burns 309,000 acres in Georgia and Florida. In the December 15, 2011 update on InciWeb it was listed at only 76% contained.

May 15: Northern Alberta fire burns 400+ homes. Fire burns 40% of the homes, over 400, in the northern Alberta town of Slave Lake.

May 29: Wallow fire largest in Arizona history. It burned 538,049 acres and destroyed 32 residences.

June 13: USFS management of the air tanker fleet. This has been an onging story for years but came close to making it into the mainstream on June 12 when the Washington Post wrote an article titled “Firefighting planes have perhaps been too long on job”. At that time there were 18 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. By late summer there were only 11, compared with 44 in 2002.

June 26: Las Conchas fire largest fire in New Mexico history. It burned 43,000 acres in the first 14 hours, ultimately blackened 156,593 acres, and burned 63 residences.

July 5: Nine USFS firefighters injured in crash. Nine U. S. Forest Service firefighters were injured when their crew carrier crashed in southern California

July 6: CAL FIRE budget cuts. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection suffered a $34 million budget reduction resulting in 730 fewer seasonal firefighters, reducing engine staffing from four to three, and cancelling the exclusive use contract with the DC-10 air tanker.

August 15: Aero Union closes their doors. Aero Union which owned 8 large P3 air tankers comprising 42% of the U.S. large air tanker fleet shut down after the U.S. Forest Service cancelled their contract saying certain required safety inspections were not completed. This left 11 large air tankers, down from 44 in 2002.

September 5: Fires in Texas. This was a year-long event due to drought, but especially notable were the fires on Labor Day weekend in Travis and Bastrop counties which burned over 1,600 homes.

September 12: Pagami Creek fire in Minnesota. After burning about 130 acres while being monitored for 12 days, the fire took off under strong winds and burned 92,000 acres, costing over $22.3 million to suppress.

October 5: Three engine burnovers on same day in South Dakota. On three separate fires on the same windy day, three engines and their crews were burned over by wildfires. At least four firefighters suffered burn injuries.

November 7: Santa Maria air tanker base to reopen. After almost 3 years of controversy and criticism over the 2009 closing of the Santa Maria air tanker base near Santa Barbara, California, the Forest Supervisor of the Los Padres National Forest decided to staff it again.

November 12: Congressman Rehberg drops suit against fire department. Facing an election for the U.S. Senate, congressman Denny Rehberg dropped his lawsuit against the Billings, MT fire department in which he sought monetary reimbursement for a wildfire that burned some undeveloped land owned by the congressman and his wife.

December 1: USFS to contract for 7 to 35 “next generation” air tankers. The U.S. Forest Service issued a request for proposals for “new generation air tankers”, saying they may contract for 7 to 35 turbine-powered large air tankers over the next several years.

Choose THREE 

Poll: what were the most significant wildfire stories of 2011?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...


Smart phones and Wildfire Today

We just looked at some of the visitor statistics for Wildfire Today and noticed that 3.83% used an iPhone or an Android-based smart phone to access our web site over the last five weeks. That breaks down to 2.29% using an iPhone, and 1.54% using an Android device. And 0.65% used an iPad.

We will be curious to see if those numbers change with Thursday’s introduction of the iPhone on the Verizon network. The iPhone, until then, was only available on the AT&T network. We have a theory, that many of the people that are interested in wildfire live in areas that are not well served by AT&T and that Verizon may better suit their needs. There may be a pent-up demand for the iPhone so it will be interesting to see if that percentage increases. Of course the cost of the iPhone and early termination fees for switching carriers may slow down the acquisition of new phones.

Let us know, in the poll below, where you stand on the subject of smart phones and iPads. You can select a maximum of two items. If you are a new Verizon iPhone owner, leave a comment (or response) — what do you think of it so far?

I either have, or expect to purchase in the next 30 days:

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

UPDATE, February 20, 2011:

We recently optimized Wildfire Today so that the site works much better on smart phones.

Top wildland fire stories of 2010 – with poll

Vote on the most significant wildland fire stories of 2010

As we documented earlier this month, the 2010 wildland fire season, when measured by the acres burned in the 49 states outside Alaska, was the slowest since 2004. But in spite of that, there has been significant news about wildland fire. In fact, we posted over 670 articles this year.

In 2009 we listed some of the top stories and invited you to vote on the ones that you considered to be the most significant.

Continuing that tradition, below we have listed the top stories of 2010. The line of duty fatalities are not listed unless there was an unusual spin-off story associated with the fatality. Below the list, there is a poll where YOU can let us know which stories you feel are the most significant of 2010.

Top wildfire stories of 2010

Jan. 8: The National Park Service released the report on the August, 2009 Big Meadow escaped prescribed fire in Yosemite National Park. The fire blackened 7,425 acres before being controlled by 1,300 firefighters at a cost over $15 million. It became the eighth largest fire in California in 2009.

Jan. 11: One of the five Type 1 Incident Management Teams in California was disbanded. Bill Molumby, who had been the team’s Incident Commander for several years, retired in November, 2009 and apparently they were not able to replace him.

Jan. 21: Federal wildland firefighter bill introduced in Congress. The “National Infrastructure Improvement and Cost Containment Act” would affect the pay, retirement age, and fireline liability of federal wildland firefighters.

Feb. 1: Fire contractor sentenced to 10 months in prison for forging wildfire training certificates and task books.

Apr. 23: NIOSH to study long-term health effects of working as structural firefighter, but not as a wildland firefighter. In a follow-up a few days later, Brian Sharkey of the USFS’ Missoula Technology and Development Center downplays lung cancer risks for firefighters. NWCG later responds to our article.

Apr. 30: The International Association of Fire Chiefs, an organization that concentrates on structural fire, received at least $13.2 million from the U.S. Forest Service and DHS-FEMA over a seven-year period, reportedly for wildfire-related purposes. The IAFC became furious at Wildfire Today for exposing the information.

Jul. 5: Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, sues the Billings Fire Department over the loss of “trees and ground cover” on his property during an 1,100-acre fire in 2008.

Aug. 2: Hundreds of wildfires in Russia claimed more than 50 lives, left more than 3,500 people homeless, and caused massive air quality issues in Moscow and other areas.

Aug. 2: A BAe-146 jet airliner was converted to an air tanker and was tested in Missoula. The Interagency Air Tanker Board failed to certify it due to inadequate ground coverage of retardant.

Aug. 24: The 100th anniversary of the fires of 1910 and Ranger Pulaski’s incident are commemorated at several events in Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

Aug. 26: In spite of weather forecasts that would have alarmed most fire managers, the Helena National Forest in Montana ignited the Davis prescribed fire during a near record heat wave. The fire escaped and burned 2,800 acres. The report was released in November. The Forest Supervisor said the report did not point out “something clearly that we did wrong, done incorrectly or that we’re going to make big changes on”.

Sep. 6: The Fourmile Canyon fire burned 6,200 acres and 169 homes a few miles west of Boulder, Colorado. The fire was devastating to local fire districts within the burned perimeter in several ways, including the facts that a firefighter’s burn pile escaped and started the fire, the homes of 12 firefighters burned, and one fire station and an engine inside it burned.

Sep. 21: The Commander of the Utah Army National Guard assumed responsibility and apologized for the Machine Gun fire that burned 4,346 acres and three homes near Herriman, Utah. The fire started during target practice with a machine gun at a National Guard base.

Sep. 24: The Australian state of Victoria tested the U.S.-built DC-10 very large air tanker and concluded that it did not perform adequately and would not be suitable for use in their wildland-urban interface areas.

Oct. 13: The US Forest Service’s response to the 2009 Station fire is criticized, and Congress holds hearing in Pasadena, CA about the management of the fire, which burned 160,000 acres near Los Angeles.

Oct. 26: “Dirty Jobs” TV show features prescribed burning in a Florida wildlife refuge. Video footage captures some activities that are criticized by some viewers.

Dec. 2: A fire in Israel kills 43 prison guards and firefighters. Air tankers from the United States respond.

Dec. 7: NTSB holds a meeting about the helicopter crash on the Iron Complex fire in northern California in which nine firefighters and crew members died. Much of the blame was attributed to falsified helicopter performance documents supplied by Carson Helicopters when they applied for a contract with the U.S. Forest Service. Carson and the surviving co-pilot dispute that conclusion.


Honorable mention stories (not exactly top stories, but interesting; they are not part of the poll).

Feb. 24: Wood piles were burned on frozen Lake Pactola in South Dakota.

Mar. 29: Washington D.C. Metro train drives through wildfire, and stops in the middle of it. And on July 25 we posted a very impressive video that was shot from a Greyhound bus that drove past a large bushfire during the night in Queensland, Australia.

May 11: NWCG outlaws the use of some terms, including “appropriate management response” and “wildland fire use”.

Jun. 20: It was not a wildland fire, but every firefighter can relate to some of the problems encountered when a kinked fire hose and improper procedures delayed the rescue of IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro from her burning race car which crashed at Texas Motor Speedway.



Choose three of the wildfire stories you consider the most significant of 2010.

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Feel free to leave a comment (or “response”) explaining your choices, or to discuss other news items that did not make the list.

Top wildland fire stories of 2009-with poll

In the United States, at least, 2009 was less busy than your average year, in terms of the number of fires and the total acres burned. In the lower 49 states, 2,720,903 acres burned, which is the lowest number since 2004.

But it was a fairly busy year for wildland fire news. We have put together some of the stories we consider to be the most newsworthy. They are listed here, and below you will have a chance to vote on the ones that you consider to be the top stories. This list does not include the line of duty deaths which we reported earlier, except in the case of the Andrew Palmer fatality investigation report which exposed a great many issues affecting firefighter safety, and survival following an accident.

Feb. 8: Black Saturday fires kill 173 people in Australia

Mar. 7: Raymond Lee Oyler convicted and sentenced to death for Esperanza fire deaths

Apr. 20: Series of 5 articles on wildfire in L. A. Times wins Pulitzer Prize

Apr. 23: 76 homes burn in North Myrtle Beach, SC fire

May 6: Jesusita fire near Santa Barbara; 4 FF entrapments; 77 homes burn.

Jun. 27: San Diego Gas and Electric agrees to pay $686 million to insurance companies that paid claims to their customers for the 2007 Witch Creek, Guejito and Rice Canyon fires.

Jul. 19: Dozens of firefighters are sickened by Norovirus at Redrock and Trailer 1 fires north of Reno.

Aug. 22: Eight members of the Klamath Hot Shots were injured when thier crew carrier was involved in a crash on Highway 99 in northern California.

Aug. 26: The 90-acre Big Meadow prescribed fire in Yosemite National Park escapes and eventually burns 7,418 acres.

Aug. 26: The Station fire started near Los Angeles, eventually burning 160,000 acres. A controversy erupted over accusations that the US Forest Service used less than aggressive tactics on day two of the fire, causing it to become larger than it would have if more resources had been assigned.

Nov. 3: Andrew Palmer fatality report released; many issues identified related to emergency medical care and transportation.


November 8: David Monington pleads guilty to forging wildland fire training certificates.

Dec. 3: USDA Inspector General finds no misconduct in Esperanza fire deaths

(no specific date) Very Large Air Tankers play a significant role in fire suppression in California, and possibly Australia.
747: https://wildfiretoday.com/?s=747
Martin Mars: https://wildfiretoday.com/?s=%22martin+mars%22
DC-10: https://wildfiretoday.com/?s=dc-10

And now YOU have a chance to select the stories that you consider to be the most significant.  Choose FOUR from the list below.

Choose four of the wildfire stories you consider the most significant of 2009.

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Cal Fire TV

It turns out that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has produced a series of videos they call Cal Fire TV. Here are a few of them.

Getting air tankers ready for the fire season.
Cal Fire firefighters receive the Medal of Valor (Dec. 14, 2009)

Defensible Space Public Service Announcement (May 4, 2009)


Other videos include:
Cal Fire Inspects for Defensible Space

Cal Fire Readies its Seasonal Firefighting Force

Congratulations to Cal Fire for these excellent videos.

I found it interesting that the narration for each of the three videos that are embedded above begins with the words “Every day…” or “Every summer…” But they never expected that these three, produced months apart, would be assembled as a group and viewed consecutively.


And while we are on the subject of videos, here is one that has NOTHING to do with wildfire. It was shot by Ana Marie Cox, a contributor for Air America and a frequent commentator on news and political shows, including the Rachel Maddow show. It features “bad camera work” and her dog Skeeter, who is enjoying his first snow in the Washington D.C. area. I think Skeeter is about 7-8 months old. The video was probably shot with an iPhone.

Before you watch it, consider yourself warned that Jake Tapper, who may be Ana’s friend Jake Tapper the ABC news correspondent, left the following comment on You Tube about the video:

I just accidentally watched this entire video. Do not make the same mistake I did.

Night-flying poll

The recent announcement by Tom Harbor of the U.S. Forest Service that they will consider re-establishing a night-flying program for firefighting helicopters brings to mind last year when we took up the issue here. At that time the topic was being discussed because the San Diego County Board of Supervisors was considering night-flying for their fire helicopters. In July of 2008 Wildfire Today conducted a poll, asking:

“Should helicopters fight fire at night?”

At the close of the poll 231 people had voted. The results were:

Yes: 39.8%

No: 51.9%

Don’t Know: 8.2%

Poll helicopters night flying July 2008