Buckskin Fire burning in footprint of 2002 Biscuit Fire

(UPDATE at 7:04 a.m. PT, June 15, 2015)

Buckskin Fire
Buckskin Fire on June 14, 2015. Photo by Kris Sherman.

The Buckskin Fire 10 miles southwest of Cave Junction, Oregon spread east Sunday across Baldface Creek and grew to 1,400 acres. Firefighters are  improving existing trails on the west side of the fire for a potential contingency containment line. Ten helitack and four rappellers were flown to the spot fires southwest of the main fire and constructed direct fireline, assisted by water drops from helicopters.

Firefighters are staying in remote spike camps close to the fire in order to reduce travel time and increase productivity.

The Buckskin Fire is burning in an area scorched by the Biscuit Fire that burned half a million acres in 2002.

Map of Buckskin Fire
Map showing the location of heat detected by a satellite on the Buckskin Fire, 12:32 a.m. June 15, 2015. The red squares are the most recent. (click to enlarge)


(UPDATE at 9:31 p.m. PT, June 13, 2015)

Buckskin Fire
Buckskin Fire, afternoon of June 13, 2015. MODIS.

The Buckskin Fire southwest of Cave Junction, Oregon was pushed by winds Saturday that varied from the northwest to the northeast causing the fire to spread on the southeast and southwest sides. As you can see in the satellite image above, the transport wind was consistently from the northeast.

The Crazy Peak weather station 13 miles southeast of the fire recorded winds Saturday afternoon of 2 to 3 mph with the highest gust being 9. The RH was in the 20s and the temperature was in the 70s. This is not, at least at that weather station, extreme fire weather, but apparently the Buckskin Fire spread easily through the footprint of the  2002 Biscuit Fire.

The Quail Prairie weather station 14 miles northeast of the fire recorded stronger winds on Saturday, 8 to 12 mph gusting up to 18 mph, with a low RH of 18% and temperatures in the mid-80s. It showed consistent north-northeast winds Saturday afternoon which jives with the satellite image above showing the  smoke plume drifting to the southwest.


(Originally published at 12:59 p.m. PT, June 13, 2015)

Buckskin Fire
The Buckskin Fire, shortly after the Siskiyou Rappel Crew arrived the day the was reported on June 11. Photo by Michael Bobic.

A wildfire in southwest Oregon is bringing back memories of a huge fire that burned the same area 13 years ago. The Biscuit Fire burned half a million acres in 2002 leaving a forest of snags — dead trees that are now burning in a new fire, the Buckskin Fire.

Firefighters are loath to fight fire in a snag forest because the tree skeletons burn through readily and frequently — crashing to the ground creating a very hazardous situation for anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time. Snags kill firefighters.

Map of Buckskin Fire
Map showing the location of the Buckskin Fire in southwest Oregon at 5 a.m. on June 13, 2015. The red, brown, and yellow squares represent heat detected by a satellite. The fire is in the center of the brown footprint of the 2002 Biscuit Fire.

The fire has burned about 1,200 acres 10 miles southwest of Cave Junction, Oregon, and five miles north of the California border. From the satellite photo above, it appears to be in the center of the old Biscuit Fire.

Firefighters are assessing the situation, contemplating strategies for the fire on steep slopes with an abundance of snags. Conventional direct tactics, constructing firelines on the edge of the burning area, may not be feasible because of the hazards of falling trees. Adding to the already complex situation is the weather — a Red Flag Warning for the area is in effect for Saturday and Sunday. A local 10-person fire crew is monitoring the fire growth and scouting options for placement of containment lines. The plan is for full suppression of the fire.

Doug Johnson’s Type 2 Incident Management Team assumed command Saturday morning.

Buckskin Fire
Buckskin Fire, unknown date. Photo by Brandon Colville.

Two Michigan firefighters injured by falling tree

Two firefighters were injured April 18, one seriously, by a falling tree while working on a wildfire near Chesaning, Michigan (map). Kevin Carlton, Assistant Chief of the Chesaning Fire Department, said the firefighters were working to put out flames in a hollow tree. While they were using a chain saw the tree suddenly fell, striking the two men.

Fire Chief Scott Hall received minor injuries and is recovering at home. Firefighter Ryan McPherson is recovering from serious injuries. A gofundme account has been set up for Mr. McPherson where the following information is provided:

[He was] flown to Henry Ford Hospital for extensive surgery and recovery. He is expected to be in the hospital for several weeks followed by many months of recovery and physical therapy. Please help out our local Firefighters, any and all help is appreciated.

Hotshot seriously injured on Freezeout Ridge Fire

Freezeout Ridge Fire
Freezeout Ridge Fire, September 15, 2014. InciWeb photo.

KTVZ is reporting that a 51-year old member of the Winema Interagency Hotshot Crew was seriously injured by a falling snag while working on the 3,558-acre Freezeout Ridge Fire in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in western Idaho.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

…Richard (Wally) Ochoa Jr., 51, a member of the Winema Interagency Hotshot Crew, suffered a fractured skull, two broken arms, a broken jaw, a broken thumb and numerous cuts when he was struck by a snag while brushing fire line on the Freezeout Ridge Fire.

Fortunately, “no significant spine injury occurred,” the Monday evening announcement stated.

Winema IHC crew members and other nearby fire personnel began immediate first aid while others worked to clear an area for a helicopter to take Ochoa to a hospital in Boise. Officials said he was in stable condition in the intensive care unit late Monday, with family and several crew members on hand.

John Kidd, incident commander for the Freezeout Ridge Fire, credited those on scene for their swift actions and reliance on emergency response training and medical evacuation protocols.

“I, along with the members of my staff, am grateful for those who assisted Mr. Ochoa by providing timely and appropriate care,” Kidd said.”The coordination and professional actions of our firefighters, both on the ground and flying overhead, very likely reduced the potential magnitude of his injuries.”

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Steve.

Firefighter injured by tree felled by another firefighter

A firefighter working on the Quaking Fire 40 miles southeast of Fredonia, Arizona was injured by a tree that was being felled by another firefighter on July 24. The firefighter was knocked to the ground and sustained injuries. Several EMTs evaluated, packaged, and arranged for transportation by a National Park Service helicopter to the South Rim Helibase in Grand Canyon National Park. From there a medivac helicopter took the firefighter to the Flagstaff Medical Center for evaluation.

The 273-acre Quaking Fire, reported on July 13, is not being totally suppressed, but is being managed for “protection and resource benefit objectives”.

At least three other fires are burning in the greater Grand Canyon area:

  • Sitgreaves Complex, 5 miles northwest of Parks, Arizona; 2,689 acres.
  • McRae Fire, 5 miles southeast of Tusayan, Arizona; 3,142 acres.
  • Kanabownits Fire, on the Walla Valley Peninsula on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, 270 acres.

The video below was shot on the Sitgreaves Complex July 21, 2014.


Dangers from above

Black Forest Fire
Black Forest Fire, Colorado Springs, Colorado, June 15, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

One of the most dangerous things wildland firefighters do is simply being under trees. Frequently firefighters are injured or killed after being hit by limbs or entire trees that fall. And it is not just fallers cutting down trees that are exposed to the hazards. Just last week a visitor in Yellowstone National Park was killed by a falling tree that had been a standing, dead lodgepole pine, fire-killed 26 years earlier during the park’s 1988 fires.

When I was a chain saw operator and faller on the El Cariso Hot Shots, three limbs, all about four feet long and four inches in diameter, fell out of a 36-inch diameter snag I was falling. One hit me square on the top of my aluminum hard hat, putting a sizable dent in it as I was making the final cut. I was stunned for a couple of seconds, but after I collected myself I realized that the swamper had been hit on his back by two of the limbs as he was bent over. It turned out to be a serious injury that affected him for a long time. We were lucky that the limbs were not any larger; it could have been a lot worse.

Just to illustrate the point of the danger faced by firefighters from trees, burning or not, here are some accidents we found with a quick search on Wildfire Today. This is just a partial list.

The U.S. Forest Service has produced a very good video titled “When a Tree Falls: Working Around Danger Trees”.