Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (WTREX) holds 12-day training sessions to help women advance their formal qualifications in wildland fire management. The goal is to enhance their understanding of fire ecology, fire effects, communications, outreach, prescribed fire policy, and planning. At least three sessions have occurred, in Florida and California.
When the U.S. fire management system was conceived in the early 1900s, women’s roles in the workforce were much different than they are now. Even today, women constitute a relatively small proportion of the workforce, filling roughly 10 percent of wildland fire positions and only 7 in 100 leadership roles. In recent years, there has been an increased effort to recruit women into fire, yet social and cultural challenges remain. New recruits often find the dominant fire management system to be dismissive of female perspectives and strengths, even as its increasing complexity requires fresh approaches and insights.
WTREX is supported by Promoting Ecosystem Resilience and Fire Adapted Communities Together, a cooperative agreement between The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service, and agencies of the Department of the Interior.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Paula. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Wildfire Today has produced more information about the death of Nicole Hawkins, a wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson in South Carolina who died while working on a prescribed fire at the Army base May 22, 2019. She had worked as a civilian at the base since 2007, with much of her time spent in helping to bring back an endangered species, the red-cockaded woodpecker. One of the techniques used to improve the bird’s habitat is the use of prescribed fire. She was 45 at the time and the mother of two pre-teen sons.
The FOIA was filed with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one of five entities investigating the fatality.
OSHA determined that Ms. Hawkins was a member of a six-person squad conducting the prescribed fire that day. The others were from the Department of Defense and contractors from Whitetail Environmental, LLC.
After a 10 a.m. briefing followed by a successful test burn they began ignition at 10:30 a.m. OSHA’s information reports that at that time the skies were fair, the temperature was 90 degrees, and there was a 5 mph wind out of the southeast. At noon a weather station at Congaree, SC about 10 miles to the southeast recorded 91 degrees, 55 percent relative humidity, winds out of the west at 1 mph gusting to 7 mph, and fuel temperature of 108 degrees.
Ms. Hawkins was operating a Yamaha All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) equipped with a “power torch” made by Hayes Manufacturing. ATV torches are commonly used for igniting prescribed fires and burnouts on wildfires. They pump a small stream of a diesel/gasoline mixture through a nozzle where it is ignited. The fuel lands on the ground while still burning and ignites vegetation. The NWCG Standards for Ground Ignition Equipment (Feb. 2019) lists Hayes Manufacturing as one of five sources for ATV torches.
Most of the time Ms. Hawkins was paired with another worker. But occasionally on prescribed fires on the base one member would go off out of sight to do something quick and come right back.
Ms. Hawkins said over the radio that she was going to light around one of the red-cockaded woodpecker cavity trees and would be right back. It is not clear what time she said that, but at 11:30 a.m. the others knew she was working on that task and “all were in communication with each other for the next few minutes”, according to the information from OSHA.
At 12:14 p.m. she came on the radio and stated she was heading out of the burn area. One of the other firefighters parked his truck on the route she would be taking to wait for her.
At 12:23 p.m. the firefighters noticed a column of black smoke which was different from the white smoke normally produced by the prescribed fire. At 12:28 p.m. Ms. Hawkins did not respond to radio calls.
One of the workers found Ms. Hawkins on the ground next to her ATV, which were both on fire. She was presumed dead, according to OSHA. The period in which she last contacted anyone on the radio until the discovery of her body was 13 minutes. The dark smoke was seen 8 minutes after her last communication.
OSHA did not determine what caused the accident. A preliminary autopsy performed on May 23, 2019 by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner revealed no signs of trauma other than the injuries sustained from the fire. Their report also stated that they would not determine a cause and manner of death until receiving the toxicology results. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division found no criminal activity associated with the fatality.
The radios the firefighters carried on chest harnesses had “man down” buttons which when pressed and held for two seconds would notify the Fort Jackson Fire Department that there was an emergency and it would provide the location from an internal GPS receiver. However the “man down” system had been deactivated for several weeks after several false alarms. Following the fatality it was turned back on, an action that was recommended by OSHA.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also investigating the incident. It is likely that they will thoroughly look into the cause of the fire that engulfed Ms. Hawkins and the ATV, to determine if she was entrapped and overcome by the spread of the prescribed fire, or if there was an incident related to the ATV torch.
OSHA found that the fuel mix used by Fort Jackson personnel that day was 50/50, gasoline/diesel.
In 2002 the National Wildfire Coordinating Group sent a message to the field after a firefighter was burned when flames erupted after removing the spout assembly from a drip torch that had just been extinguished. It contained approximately 35% gasoline and 65% diesel or 1 gallon of gasoline for every 1.9 gallons of diesel. In the message written by Wesley Throop, a Mechanical Engineer at the U.S. Forest Service’s Missoula Technology and Development Center, he stated:
The most volatile mixture authorized by the agency is 1 gallon of gasoline to 3 gallons of diesel. Use of this mixture carries the following warning the agency’s health and safety handbook: “Caution: 1 gallon of gasoline to 3 gallons of diesel fuel produces a very volatile mixture. This mix should be used only in appropriate fuel types and during periods of high humidity.”
More diesel than gasoline is perhaps the only cardinal rule when it comes to mix ratio, with somewhere between 3:1 and 4:1 [diesel to gas] being the most common.
On October 18 OSHA issued a Notice of Unsafe and Unhealthful Working Conditions to Fort Jackson. It stated that the Army base did not furnish “a place of employment free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm, in that employees were exposed to burn hazards associated with control burning of forest vegetation.” And, on the day of the fatality Fort Jackson failed to ensure that employees “were protected from fire hazards while igniting or controlling the burn areas.”
OSHA suggested that Fort Jackson develop a mandatory procedure for igniting burns that includes use of a tracking system so that employees could be easily located.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, found what the agency called “serious violations” after investigating the death of a wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson Army Base in South Carolina.
Angela (Nicole) Chadwick-Hawkins was killed while she was working on a prescribed fire at Fort Jackson May 22, 2019. Little information about the fatality has been released by the Army such as the mechanism of injury or cause of death. Family members have said she was found with fuel on her body near a burned all terrain vehicle that she had been operating.
ATVs are often used on prescribed fires for transportation, to haul supplies, or as a platform for an ignition device.
Eric Lucero, a Public Affairs Specialist with the Department of Labor, said OSHA’s Violation Notice stated that Fort Jackson did not furnish “a place of employment free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm, in that employees were exposed to burn hazards associated with control burning of forest vegetation.” And, on the day of the fatality Fort Jackson failed to ensure that employees “were protected from fire hazards while igniting or controlling the burn areas.”
OSHA suggested that Fort Jackson develop a mandatory procedure for igniting burns that includes use of a tracking system so that employees could be easily located.
OSHA did not impose a monetary fine on Fort Jackson or the Army but they required that the violations be abated by November 14, 2019. A person outside of OSHA who is familiar with the incident told us the violations have been abated.
In addition to OSHA, at least four other entities have been conducting investigations about the fatality, including:
An internal Fort Jackson inquiry,
Army Criminal Investigations Division (CID). (The CID automatically investigates most fatalities on Army bases, so their involvement does not necessarily mean criminal activity was suspected.)
Army Safety Office, and
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Ms. Hawkins, a mother of three, had worked as a civilian at the base since 2007, with much of her time spent helping to bring back an endangered species, the red-cockaded woodpecker. One of the techniques used to improve the bird’s habitat is the use of prescribed fire.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
Above: An air tanker drops on the Bar Fire in Santa Barbara County, November 12, 2019. Photo: Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
A prescribed fire that was expected to be a three-day project escaped on day one Tuesday, burning an additional 10 to 20 acres in Santa Barbara County in Southern California. The BarM Ranch Vegetation Management Burn was planned to occur November 12 through 14 on the Bar M Ranch east of Vandenberg Air Force Base 4 miles southeast of Los Alamos along Highway 101.
Multiple fire engines and aircraft were brought in to stop the spread after it jumped control lines at about 3:45 p.m.
The burn was conducted on private land with the long range goal of reducing old growth vegetation and improving rangeland, while minimizing the impacts of smoke on population centers as it was being carried out.
I was first aware of the Caples prescribed fire on the Eldorado National Forest when three tweets were published by the forest’s Twitter account on the afternoon of Monday October 7 saying, “Ignitions continue on Caples Prescribed Fire. More smoke is expected”. Photos taken from an aircraft by Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree also were Tweeted.
At that time there had been news and discussions for several days in the wildland fire community about very strong winds and Red Flag Warnings that were due to hit California Wednesday October 9. Smoke from the prescribed fire was easily detected by a satellite October 7. It was a large amount of smoke to be generated by what was supposed to have been some burning debris piles.
It will be interesting to observe the #CaplesRx prescribed fire south of Lake Tahoe Wednesday night and Thursday. East winds predicted at 17 mph gusting to 28 mph. pic.twitter.com/2Gyo1YBt6D
Tuesday, October 8: A tweet from the National Forest said, “The goal of today’s burn operation is continue active ignitions to reach the end of the ridge and tie into a dozer line that extends to the 10N30 road before the wind event that is predicted for this evening. No additional ignitions are planned this week.” And later that day, “Ignitions on the Caples Prescribed Fire have been completed and crews will patrol and monitor the area over the next few days during the wind. No additional ignitions are planned this week. ”
Wednesday October 9: “Today’s goal is to finish active ignitions to tie into the 10N30 road before the wind event now predicted for Wednesday night. Ignitions were intended to be done yesterday but due to unfavorable wind conditions during the day shift the operation is continuing today.” And later that day, “Personnel on the Caples Prescribed Burn continue ignitions down the western perimeter of the fire towards forest road 10N30. A total of 1,080 acres have been treated, exceeding today’s target.” And later, “Ignitions are complete on the western end of the Caples Burn. Crews will patrol and monitor the area over the next few days during the wind event predicted to start this evening. Smoke will continue to be visible as the fire consumes unburned fuels within the fire perimeter.” And later, “The scheduled PG&E Power Outage has resulted in the closure of Eldorado National Forest offices except Camino ECC. Fire and essential personnel continue to work, however, forest offices are not open and phones are not operational until power is restored.”
Thursday, October 10: No additional information except for a Community Meeting scheduled in Pollock Pines that evening. One of the six items on the agenda was, “Brief updates on Caples Prescribed Fire and PG&E Power Outage”.
Friday October 11:“The Caples prescribed burn declared a wildland fire on today at 1:30 pm. Fire managers made the decision due to unfavorable weather conditions and the inability to meet previously established objectives. Inciweb is down. We will update when it comes back up.”
Today, October 11, personnel from the Eldorado National Forest report that the fire has burned 2,143 acres. It is 3 miles west of Kirkwood and 15 miles southwest of the south shore of Lake Tahoe. Approximately 152 personnel and a Type 3 Incident Management Team has been assigned.
Here is a report from the Northern California Geographic Coordination Center, Friday morning October 11:
Extreme fire behavior with wind driven runs, torching and spotting has been observed. A Red Flag Warning is in effect until 1000 this morning for the fire area. There is a threat to structures on remote ranches in the area. Private timberlands, major municipal watershed, historical sites and critical wildlife habitat are also threatened. Smoke impacts to the Sacramento Valley and Lake Tahoe areas are possible. Road, trail and area closures are in effect in the fire area.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Fred. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
The Fire and Smoke Model Experiment (FASMEE) is a large, multi-agency effort funded by the Joint Fire Science Program and the U.S. Forest Service to identify and collect critical fuel, fire behavior, and other measurements that will be used to advance scientific understanding as well as operational and research modeling capabilities associated with wildland fire. The goal is to allow managers to increase the use of wildfire and prescribed fire.
On June 20, 2019, FASMEE completed data collection on Manning Creek, the first of two large, operational stand-replacement burns in a dense mixed conifer-aspen forest as part of FASMEE’s Phase 2 Southwest Campaign (Phase 1 was a planning phase and other campaigns are possible). The burn was conducted by the Richfield Ranger District located on the Fishlake National Forest in Utah. Over 40 scientists participated using ground sampling methods, drones carrying state of the art imagery and air quality sampling instrumentation, fire hardened video and still cameras, and LiDAR to collect a suite of data including fuel loading, fuel consumption, fire behavior, plume dynamics, and smoke data. Readers can view video and photographic imagery captured during the Manning Creek fire at https://fasmee.net/study-sites/manning-creek
Richfield Ranger District personnel will conduct a second stand replacement research fire this fall near Annabella Reservoir with over 120 scientists participating. In addition to the suite of instruments and sampling techniques deployed during the first research burn, two fixed wing aircraft including NASA/NOAA’s FIREX-AQ DC8 will be sampling plume smoke and heat release. Additional LiDAR and radar units have been acquired to better identify plume dynamics, with cameras and thermocouples added within the fire perimeter to capture data on soil heating and aspen regeneration.