Officials still investigating cause of death on prescribed fire in South Carolina

Angela (Nicole) Chadwick-Hawkins was killed

Nicole Hawkins
Nicole Hawkins, the wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson’s Directorate of Public Works Environmental Department, sets up an artificial cavity box 20 feet up in a tree at Fort Jackson Nov. 6, 2015 in preparation for a soon-to-be arriving endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. (U.S. Army photo by Jennifer Stride/Released)

Officials from three agencies have not released much information on what caused the death of wildlife biologist Angela (Nicole) Chadwick-Hawkins while she was working on a prescribed fire at Fort Jackson Army Base in South Carolina Wednesday, May 22.

Below is an excerpt from an article published June 11 at The State:

…Three federal agencies investigating her death aren’t saying much about the cause, but information her family has received from the Army and others knowledgeable about the death suggests some kind of equipment malfunction led to the fatality that stunned friends from Alabama to Virginia, family members say.

Chadwick-Hawkins’ son, Dakota Bryant of Myrtle Beach, said fuel was found on her upper body and on equipment she was using that day. A charred all-terrain vehicle sat near her body and a gas cap was missing from a fuel tank, family members said. The Alabama native had been in contact with base officials by radio, just before she died, they said.

“I don’t know definitely that it was an equipment malfunction, but it is likely based on the fact that there was fuel found on her gear,’’ the 24-year-old Bryant said, noting that fuel on her gear “was not normal.’’

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 was the use of prescribed fire.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Wildlife biologist dies at prescribed fire at Fort Jackson, South Carolina

Angela (Nicole) Hawkins of Columbia, SC was 45

Nicole Hawkins
Nicole Hawkins, the wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson sets up an artificial cavity box 20 feet up in a tree at the base November 6, 2015 in preparation for a soon-to-be arriving endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. (U.S. Army photo by Jennifer Stride/Released)

A wildlife biologist died at a prescribed fire at Fort Jackson Army Base in South Carolina Wednesday, May 22.  Angela N. Hawkins, 45, of Columbia, who many knew as Nicole, died shortly after noon in a training area where the prescribed fire was taking place. The Army did not release details of the circumstances, or if the death of the mother to two pre-teen sons was directly related to the prescribed fire.

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 was the use of prescribed fire.

The Soldiers, civilians and family members at Fort Jackson are a close-knit family and those who worked with Nicole are deeply saddened. “She will be missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to her family,” said U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle, Jr.

Our sincere condolences go out to Ms. Hawkins family, friends, and co-workers.

Below is an excerpt from an article by Elyssa Vondra (Jackson) last November about Ms. Hawkins’ work at the base:


…The [red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW)] population was officially considered “endangered” in 1970 and won the protection of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Fort Jackson has since made conservation efforts. The Wildlife Branch of the Directorate of Public Works has built up the RCW’s ecosystem.

Nicole Hawkins
Nicole Hawkins, the wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson enters GPS coordinates for a clearly marked tree on the base, designated as a potential home for a newly arriving endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, Nov. 6, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Jennifer Stride/Released)

This woodpecker’s primary habitat is the longleaf pine ecosystem. Roughly 97% of it has been destroyed in the U.S. by advancements such as settlement, timber harvesting, urbanization and agriculture. Also, 6,801 acres of longleaf pine have been restored at Fort Jackson since 1994.

Installation biologists are using herbicides to convert some slash pine forests to longleaf pine forests and keeping underbrush low to improve the bird’s habitats.

On average, over the past five years, 11,819 acres have been burned on post annually, along with 2,388 thinned.

“It creates a habitat (RCWs) prefer,” said Nicole Hawkins, a wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson. It allows for open park lighting.

One side effect is increased vegetation that RCWs thrive under, she added. Artificial cavities — RCW homes — have also driven up the population count.

Left to their own devices, RCWs can spend as many as ten years making a single cavity. Humans can craft one in 45 minutes.

The Habitat Management Unit at Fort Jackson makes up 26,645 of the installation’s total 51,316 acres, excluding 8,787 for mission requirements. Of them, only 391 total acres, distributed throughout the installation, carry training restrictions related to the species. The acreage is broken down into small sections. Trees with cavities have a 200-foot buffer zone around them where limitations apply.

“That’s very minimal,” Hawkins said. Some training can still take place, provided it doesn’t last more than two hours.

Some installations have been able to entirely remove training restrictions because of population stabilization. Within the next year or two, a review of post policies could potentially allow for change here, too, Hawkins said.

That would benefit the training mission, Morrow said.

With restrictions lifted, “the bird will be invisible to the Soldier, essentially,” Morrow said.

The Army would have more flexibility. For instance, a new range could potentially be built in RCW territory, if necessary.

The 2018 nesting season was the best on the books, according to many measures. There was a 7 percent uptick in active clusters, groups of trees with inhabited cavities, in the past year — from 41 to 44. An increase of just 5 percent was the goal. There were 41 potential breeding groups, RCW gatherings with at least one fertile male and female — an 8 percent rise — among them. Thirty-seven reportedly attempted nesting, 150 eggs were laid — 125 was the former record — and more than 80 hatched. Seventy-two were banded for tracking purposes. At 7-10 days old, some baby birds have uniquely-colored bands placed on their legs. It allows them to be seen with spotting scopes and be individually identified.

This year’s statistics represent record highs.


Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom and Micah. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

NBC news reports on training next generation of wildland firefighters

Featuring Clemson University’s Fire Tigers

Fire training students Clemson University
Fire training for students at Clemson University. Screengrab from the NBC News video.

On Monday NBC News devoted two minutes to reporting on wildland fire training for the Fire Tigers at Clemson University in South Carolina.

The University is the home of the Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers & Scientists, an organization led by Director Helen Mohr and Principle Investigator Todd Hutchinson. In 2017 the CAFMS organized a three-day road trip that took participants to the sites of three large fires that  had burned in Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Five of the most active wildfires in the South

Above: Three fires were generating the smoke detected by a satellite on November 27: Rock Mountain, Camp Branch, and Pinnacle Mountain Fires.

The wildfire activity in the southern states has slowed a bit over the last few days. The day before Thanksgiving there were about 4,100 personnel assigned to fires in the area. By Saturday that number had decreased to 3,400.

The smoke generated by fires that has plagued residents for weeks has also diminished considerably. Today’s satellite photo, above, only shows three fires that are creating enough smoke to be seen from hundreds of miles overhead. These are the Rock Mountain (Georgia and North Carolina), Camp Branch (North Carolina), and Pinnacle Mountain Fires (South Carolina).

Just five fires in the Southern Geographic Area reported size increases on Saturday — a major change from recent weeks.

Rock Mountain Fire

The Rock Mountain Fire in Georgia and North Carolina grew by 2,578 acres in the last 48 hours and now has covered 20,647 acres, which is considered huge in this part of the country. It has spread to within 4 miles of Otto, NC and 4 miles of Dillard, GA. The fire was mapped Saturday by Colorado’s MultiMission Aircraft. Firefighters reported active surface spread in hardwood leaf litter in all directions, aspects and elevations on Saturday. Where it was not impacted by suppression it spread for half a mile. About 130 structures are threatened.

Camp Branch Fire

The 1,483-acre Camp Branch Fire is 9 miles west of Franklin, NC, an increase of 120 acres over the previous report. About 113 personnel are assigned to this fire which currently threatens 140 structures. On Saturday firefighters successfully conducted burnout operations on the northwest and southeast sides.

Pinnacle Mountain Fire

The Pinnacle Mountain Fire in Table Rock State Park added 217 acres Saturday to bring the total up to 9,147 acres. It is in northwest South Carolina 9 miles south of Brevard, North Carolina. The incident management team reports that 255 personnel are assigned and 1,133 structures are threatened. A burnout operation on Saturday brought the perimeter to the containment lines on the west and north sides of the fire.

map Rock Mountain, Camp Branch, and Pinnacle Mountain Fires
Map showing the perimeters of the Rock Mountain, Camp Branch, and Pinnacle Mountain Fires.

OTHER FIRES

Clear Creek Fire

The Clear Creek Fire is 7 miles northwest of Marion, NC. I has burned 2,986 acres, an increase of 363 acres. About 352 structures are reported to be threatened. The fire is staffed by 489 personnel.

Mount Pleasant Fire

The Mount Pleasant Fire, 9 miles west of Buena Vista, Virginia has blackened 11,200 acres, an increase of 200. High humidity Friday night aided suppression efforts, but that was followed by strong winds on Saturday. Area road and trail closures, including part of the Appalachian Trail, are in effect. The fire has burned across the Appalachian Trail between Road 507 and Cow Camp Gap. The increase in acreage was the result of a large burnout operation on Saturday.

For the latest articles at Wildfire Today about how smoke from the wildfires is affecting various locations in the South, check out the articles tagged “smoke”.

Wildfire smoke decreases in Southeastern U.S. on Sunday, increases on Monday

Above: Satellite photo from Sunday afternoon, November 20, showing plumes of smoke.  

The amount of smoke created by wildfires in the southeastern United States decreased on Sunday. In satellite photos from last week smoke could be seen that covered large portions of South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina. However as you can see in the photo below, the smoke increased on Monday.

The amount and location of the smoke varies depending on the wind direction and the fire activity. It is difficult to predict more than a day in advance the quantity and location of smoke.

wildfire smoke map
Satellite photo from November 21 showing wildfire smoke. NASA

Below are maps predicting air quality information and the location of smoke for today, November 21.

Continue reading “Wildfire smoke decreases in Southeastern U.S. on Sunday, increases on Monday”

Progress made on some wildfires in the South, while others still grow

Above: Firefighters operate leaf blowers on the Chestnut Knob Fire. The fire is 6 miles south of Morganton, NC and at the last report grew by 9 acres. Undated and  uncredited InciWeb photo.

While several large fires in the southern states are still actively spreading, firefighters have made progress on dozens of others.

On Monday the Southern Geographic Area reported 52 large uncontained fires, for a total of 133,146 acres. There were 185 new fires of all sizes for 1,477 acres; most of those were suppressed while still small. That was considered “moderate” initial attack activity.

Firefighting resources assigned in the South:

  • 78 aircraft
  • 83 hand crews
  • 1,011 pieces of equipment
  • 4,476 personnel
map wildfires south
Map showing the location of some of the large fires in the southern states. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:22 am November 21, 2016.

On Sunday evening four fires reported 24-hour growth of more than 100 acres:

Rock Mountain Fire

Map Rock Mountain Fire
Map of the perimeter of the Rock Mountain Fire at 6 p.m. ET November 20, 2016.

The Rock Mountain Fire that started about 10 miles northwest of Clayton Georgia has spread north into North Carolina. At the last report it had burned 11,287 acres, an increase of 862 acres. On Sunday it was very active, moving through the hardwood leaf litter in all directions at a rate of about one mile each day. Evacuations are still in place for Dream Catcher Cove north of Tate City, Georgia.

On Saturday strong winds pushed the blaze across the Appalachian Trail on the north end of the fire. Winds blowing leaves still falling from trees are creating problems for firefighters, covering existing firelines and causing some areas to re-burn.

East Miller Cove

The East Miller Cove Fire is just east of Walland, Tennessee, 16 miles south of Knoxville. On Sunday evening the incident management team reported it had burned 1,492 acres, an increase of 1,292 acres, threatening 100 structures north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Big Branch

The Big Branch Fire is in southeast Kentucky three miles south of Roxana and five miles northeast of Cumberland. It has burned 625 acres, an increase of 175 acres.

Oakwood 1 Fire

This fire is in Arkansas, listed at 468 acres, an increase of 278. No other information is available.

Chestnut Knob Fire
A firefighter on the Chestnut Knob Fire. InciWeb.

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For the latest articles at Wildfire Today about how smoke from the wildfires is affecting various locations in the South, check out the articles tagged “smoke”.