As we reported on June 10, President Obama has ordered that seasonal firefighters be offered the opportunity to purchase health insurance. According to the Wall Street Journal, quoting an unnamed administration official, access to the insurance will begin this month. Here is the poll:
Will seasonal firefighters be provided access to health insurance in the month of July, 2012?
The air tanker fleet managed by the U.S. Forest Service, NPS, BIA, BLM, and USFWS, has deteriorated over the last 10 years from 44 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts to the 11 we have today. As the climate changes, fire seasons are getting longer. Last year there were records set in Arizona and New Mexico for the largest fires in the states’ histories. In March of this year fires burning in Colorado and South Dakota competed for scarce air and ground firefighting resources. The number of unfilled orders for air tankers continues to increase. Congress regularly reduces the firefighting budgets of the land management agencies.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Feel free to leave a comment (or “response”) explaining your choices, or to discuss other news items that did not make the list.
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.