South Australia firefighter killed while fighting vegetation fire

In South Australia a Mt. Templeton Country Fire Service volunteer firefighter, Andrew Harrison, 38, was fighting a fire when he suffered severe burns. He was flown to the Royal Adelaide Hospital in critical condition with severe burns to much of his body and later died.

There are reports that the fire originated from a lentil harvesting operation. CFS chief officer Greg Nettleton said there had been a spate of fires involving lentil harvesting over the past year.

“We will be speaking to the farmer representative bodies to sit down and say how can we work in partnership to reduce the potential for fire during farming operations whatever they may be,’’ he said.

Research by Queensland academic Graeme Quick for Grain Producers SA earlier this year found lentil dust had a lower ignition point than other grain residue.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family of Mr. Harrison.

Recruiting volunteer firefighters — in Colorado and Australia

A fire near Craig, Colorado
A fire near Craig, Colorado in 2000. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Relying on unpaid volunteers to fight wildfires and structure fires is the only feasible way to provide fire protection services in some rural areas. Many of these departments are finding that as residents, especially the younger generation, move into cities, the departments are faced with declining numbers of firefighters.

Below are excerpts from two articles on the issue, from Colorado and South Australia.

From KUNC, Community Radio for Colorado:

Volunteer firefighters protect about half of Colorado’s residents, with solely volunteer departments being responsible for about 70 percent of the state’s land surface.
And they are significantly understaffed.

The Colorado State Fire Chiefs Association estimates that Colorado is short 3,500 volunteers in meeting National Fire Protection Agency standards. That would require an increase of more than 40 percent to the present force.

“Generally, all fire departments that have volunteers need more volunteers,” said Garry Briese, executive director of the fire chiefs association.

“It’s a struggle at times and you just do the best you can do, the best for the community.”

There are 198 all-volunteer departments in Colorado serving more than 450,000 residents, and an additional 137 agencies that are a combination of career and volunteer firefighters. These “hybrid” stations serve 2.2 million residents, and 33 of them have only one or two paid firefighters…

From South Australia’s Messenger:

The Country Fire Service is recording an increase in volunteers for the first time in years on the back of last year’s horror fire season.

Total CFS volunteer numbers have increased from 13,325 to 13,737 over the past six months. The 3 per cent increase bucks a steady downward trend in numbers from the 15,590 volunteers there were in 2004/05. Damaging fires in January and February this year at Eden Valley in the northern Mount Lofty Ranges and at Bangor in the Southern Flinders Ranges appear to have sparked people into action.

Volunteer numbers in CFS Region 4, where the Bangor fire was, are up 6.5 per cent from 1776 to 1891. Similarly, numbers in CFS Region 2, where the Eden Valley fire was, are up 5.8 per cent from 2630 to 2784.

South Australian Fire and Emergency Services Commission Volunteer Services Branch manager Toni Richardson said it was a great sign. “It’s the first time we can actually remember it increasing over an extended period, which is really good,” she said…

Wildfire briefing, November 16, 2012

Pennsylvania Firefighter sentenced for arson crimes

A 21-year old former volunteer firefighter pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to commit arson after igniting a wildfire in July 2010 in Northampton County. Cory A. Praschyk suffers from anxiety and depression and has been diagnosed as a pyromaniac, according to a psychological evaluation completed prior to sentencing. He is already serving time for arson in Lehigh County. The new sentence for the Northampton County offense is one to 12 months in county prison to run concurrently with his Lehigh County sentence, which will conclude in about three months.

Kentucky man dies suppressing debris fire

Robert Childress, 64-years old, died in a Lexington hospital from smoke inhalation and burns over 95 percent of his body after he was found by a Kentucky Division of Forestry fire crew that arrived to suppress a vegetation fire reported by an aircraft. According to a report at, Mr. Childress was apparently attempting to put out a fire that was called a debris burn by officials.

California fire crew accused of drug use and murder threats

Television station 17 KGET in central California has an article about their investigation into what appears to be serious problems last summer within the Rincon hand crew, a Sequoia National Forest Type 2 crew based out of Kernville, California. Here is how it begins:

Fire crew members say drug and alcohol abuse, fighting, and even murder threats were just some of the reasons a Forest Service fire crew was grounded over the summer. Those allegations came to light after a four-month investigation by 17 News.

We received hundreds of pages of previously secret government documents. 17’s Rob Martin broke the first story in June and has been digging ever since.

Rincon, a National Forest Service, Type 2 fire crew based in Kernville, was grounded for months this summer.

Rincon was rife with salacious allegations, including years of drug use on the team. It’s something the Forest Service refused to talk to us about, so we did the story without them.

Koalas injured in large vegetation fire in South Australia

Animal hospitals are caring for koalas that were injured in a massive brush fire in South Australia.

(the video is no longer available)

Summary of this year’s wildfires in the west

Bill Croke has written an interesting article at that nicely summarizes the wildfire season in the western United States. Here are some excerpts:

…There were notable named conflagrations in Colorado such as High Park near Denver and Waldo Canyon near Colorado Springs, and in Idaho (Hallstead near Stanley; Mustang near Salmon; Trinity Ridge near Boise). New Mexico saw the Whitewater-Baldy Fire on the Gila National Forest, at 465 square miles (297,000 acres) the largest in state history. The Waldo Canyon Fire took the grand prize for structures burned with 347. A hot, dry summer coupled with ongoing conditions of heavy fuel loads in pine beetle-infested forests (thanks to past fire suppression and little timber harvest on federal land) has brought us record fire seasons in the West for the last two decades.

According to a story in Montana’s Missoulian newspaper, recent seasons have seen a sevenfold increase in fires greater than 10,000 acres as compared to the 1970s, and five times more fires larger than 25,000 acres. Current seasons are an average of 75 days longer. Is this last the result of the factors noted above, or those factors and climate change proceeding in tandem? So goes the endless argument on the public lands in the West.


A young woman named Anne Veseth, 20, a U.S. Forest Service firefighter, was killed when a burning tree fell on her in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest. She joined seven fellow firefighters (mostly air tanker crew members) who died in the field this year. In June a plane crash on a fire in Utah took the lives of two Idaho men, Todd Tompkins and Ronnie Chambers. Another crash in South Dakota this summer killed four, as a donated North Carolina Air National Guard C-130 went down. This brings to twenty the number of aircraft related fatalities recorded since 1987. An aging fleet of air tankers has become a chronic problem.

Fusees redesigned

Orion signal flare
Orion signal flare/fire starter. Photo by Orion

The Orion company is one of the companies that manufacture “fusees”, hand-held torches that wildland firefighters use to ignite prescribed fires, backfires, and burn outs. Now Orion is producing a modified version of the fusee that is designed to be a “signal flare/fire starter”.

It is much smaller than a fusee and does not have a handle. Apparently the entire device will burn up, so if someone is using it for signaling, they are cautioned to place it on the ground in an area where it will not start a wildfire. However, it can also be used to start a campfire while it burns for five minutes at over 3,400 degrees.

The standard fusee used by wildland firefighters. Photo by Orion.


Thanks go out to Dick

Wildfire news, November 5, 2012

More than 100,000 lightning strikes in South Australia

Thunderstorms over the last couple of days have blasted South Australia with more than 100,000 lightning strikes. One report says 173,000 strikes left 80,000 residents without electrical power. Firefighters are working on over a dozen fires on the Eyre Peninsula, Kangaroo Island and Fleurieu Peninsula.

Fire jumps Interstate 15 in Cajon Pass

A fire that started near Interstate 15 in Cajon Pass in southern California jumped the interstate and burned 350 acres at the last report. The Devore Fire began at 10:55 a.m. and was 5 percent contained by late afternoon, with full containment expected by 6 p.m. Tuesday. The fire is being fought by 450 personnel and required the evacuation in the Matthew’s Ranch area. More information is available at InciWeb.

Fuel filter being recalled after starting fires

A fuel filter used on diesel engines is being recalled after failures of the unit caused two fires. The California Air Resources Board announced that that the LongMile diesel particulate filter made by Cleaire Advanced Emission Controls is being voluntarily recalled after a second fire attributed to the device. The most recent fire burned three acres on August 4, but in September of 2011 another fire blackened 3,600 acres in Washington and cost $5.2 million to suppress. The initial attack on that fire was made by a group of nuns using buckets of water.

Fires in South Australia

Aussie Bush FireOur brothers down under have their hands full with several large bush fires. The record heat is not giving the firefighters much of a break.

Here are some links:

CFS monitors bushfires near Adelaide

South Australia Imposes Fire Ban as Record Heatwave Hits State

Australia Bushfire Monitor

Photo, courtesy of A house burns during a bushfire near Willunga Hill, south of Adelaide, on March 13, 2008. (ABC TV)