South Dakota firefighter killed on wildfire

On Thursday, August 11, a firefighter employed by the state of South Dakota was killed in an entrapment on a wildfire. Here is an excerpt from theRapid City Journal:

A Hot Springs seasonal firefighter died and two others were injured after being caught in a burn-over while fighting the Coal Canyon Fire near Edgemont on Thursday afternoon.

Trampus Haskvitz, 23, died from injuries he suffered when winds from a storm system pushed the fire into the area he was working, trapping him and two others.

Haskvitz and the others were fighting a lightning-sparked fire about 9 miles north of Edgemont.

The injured are Austin Whitney and Kevin Fees, also of Hot Springs. The men were airlifted to Rapid City Regional Hospital.

Whitney is being transferred tonight to a burn center in Greeley, Colo.

Fees is in stable condition at Rapid City Regional Hospital.

“This is very sad news,” Gov. Dennis Daugaard said in a prepared statement. “Linda and I are praying for Trampus’ loved ones, and for the firefighters who were injured. Too many times in recent weeks, South Dakotans have been reminded just how much we owe to the firefighters, law enforcement and others who risk their lives to protect us all.”

The three firefighters were seasonal employees of the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families and co-workers, and we hope for a quick recovery for the two injured firefighters.

South Dakota firefighters have been busy over the last month. The WhoopUp fire that burned from Wyoming into South Dakota blackened over 10,000 acres in mid-July and prompted a fire behavior advisory that warned of unusually high rates of spread on fires due to heavier than normal winter and spring rains that led to a thick growth of grass.


Thanks go out to Jerome and Robert

Still more photos of WhoopUp fire near Newcastle

I have had some requests to see more of the photos of the WhoopUp fire that I took southeast of Newcastle, Wyoming on July 18, 2011…. so, I put a bunch of them in a slide show.

Originally we posted photos HERE and HERE. Articles about the WhoopUp fire are HERE.


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WhoopUp fire update July 21, 2011

UPDATE at 9:30 p.m. MT, July 21, 2011:

The WhoopUp fire started four days ago on July 17, and late today the incident management team for the first time made a good quality, fairly current, map available to the public. It can be found on InciWeb and clearly shows the controlled and uncontrolled portions of the fire perimeter as of 8:00 a.m. today. It is a great map, but maps like this could have been made available to the public two or three days ago. A Geographic Information System (GIS) specialist can make one of these in a couple of hours after someone flies around the fire with a GPS receiver.

Providing this important information to the public that is affected by the fire is an important responsibility of the fire managers. Ideally, the Situation Unit on a fire would collect the fire perimeter data late in the afternoon near the end of the burning period and the updated map would be available later that night or no later than 7:00 a.m. the next morning. And if the fire team is fully staffed, they could even do this twice a day if the fire is moving rapidly.

InciWeb is the place these maps should be posted, since we have been trained for years that it is the default place, the one common source, for information about large wildfires and other incidents across the United States.  Posting photographs and maps on Flickr and other obscure commercial and government agency sites, like some fires have done over the last month, does not serve the public. And it leads to questions and confusion about copyrights for documents and photos that are in the public domain. Government photos have appeared on Flickr with a copyright warning — for photos that should be in the public domain.

But getting back to the updated information on InciWeb… The new adjusted size is 8,884 acres, down 1,116 acres from the 10,000-acre figure that was on InciWeb around noon today. The acreage figure includes both fires, WhoopUp and Barell. The new map, with data current as of 8:00 a.m. today, shows no completed fireline on the Barrel fire, which is 4 miles south of the WhoopUp fire. Since the main WhoopUp fire appears to be approximately 80-90% contained, the Team was going to shift some resources to the Barrel fire, so maybe they made significant progress on that fire today, making use of the two heavy air tankers and the three heavy helicopters.

In looking at the new map, the Barrel fire appears to be approximately 1,500 acres. The map also shows a fire that is new to me, about a mile northwest of the Barrel fire, perhaps 30-60 acres in size.

Since the Incident Management Team is now beginning to provide some current information to the public on InciWeb, we will cut back on the production of our cobbled-together maps. While they have been fairly accurate, using the best satellite data available, they can’t compare to one made when you have access to a helicopter and a GIS specialist.


UPDATE at 1:42 p.m. MT, July 21, 2011: According to updated information at InciWeb, the official size of the two fires combined, WhoopUp and Barrell, is now 10,000 acres, an increase of 2,629 acres over the size that was announced this morning. Smoke can be smelled in Hot Springs, SD.


7:21 a.m. MT, July 21, 2011. We will update this article as needed today.

Evacuations were lifted Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. for the WhoopUp fire, which straddles the border between Wyoming and South Dakota seven miles southeast of Newcastle, Wyoming. The strong winds that were forecast for Wednesday did not materialize, at least at the Red Mountain weather station southeast of the fire. The Barrel fire four miles south of the WhoopUp fire, the result of two fires burning together, is being managed with the WhoopUp fire and has been active over the last 24 hours. It will be the main focus of firefighters on Thursday, Steve Till, a spokesperson for the fire told us.


  • Acres: 7,371, which includes both the WhoopUp and Barrel fires, an increase of 1,827 acres.
  • Containment: 40%, down from 60% yesterday.
  • Helicopters: 3 Type 1 (heavy), and 1 Type 3 (light)
  • Air tankers available: 2
  • Personnel (as of late on Wednesday): 527, an increase of 277 compared to Tuesday (according to the National Incident Management Situation Report). Some demobilization has started.

The weather forecast for the fire area on Thursday predicts 90 degrees, winds out of the southwest and west at 8-14 with gusts up to 16-18, relative humidity of 17%, and 0-12% chance of precipitation.

WhoopUp fire map
Map showing heat detected by satellites on the Whoopup and Barrel fires at 3:00 a.m. MT, July 21 2011. The red areas represent active burning, while the black and yellow areas indicate heat detected within the last 12 or 24 hours respectively. The brown cross-hatched area is the fire perimeter provided by the incident management team at 10:00 p.m. July 19, 2011. MODIS/Bill Gabbert
WhoopUp Fire
Firefighters burn out from a wet line on the WhoopUp fire, July 19, 2011. Photo: Frank Carroll, USFS
WhoopUp Fire
WhoopUp Fire. Unknown date. Photo by Shelia French.

The Rapid City Journal has an excellent gallery of photos of the fire and also a few taken at the air tanker base at Rapid City Regional Airport. The caption on THIS picture is, unfortunately wrong, and should read: “I’ll be glad when they get that busted hose fixed. It’s getting old filling the air tankers with these damn buckets!”

More maps:
Continue reading “WhoopUp fire update July 21, 2011”

WhoopUp fire update, July 20, 2011

UPDATE at 2:53 p.m. MT, July 20, 2011:

A few updated facts about the WhoopUp fire from a spokesperson for the fire:

  • A recent GPS mapping flight revealed that the fire has burned 7,343 acres.
  • Today there are two or three heavy air tankers available and one more on order. (The number varies depending which official source you talk to.)
  • Four large Type 1 helicopters are assigned to the fire. These typically come with significant entourages and large fuel and maintenance trucks. They are working out of the Newcastle Airport. It’s quite a coup to get four of these large helicopters on a 7,000-acre fire. They can be VERY effective if a water source is nearby, with each dropping many thousands of gallons of water every hour. One smaller Type 3 helicopter is on the fire, primarily being used for mapping, observation, and intelligence gathering.
  • The Barrel fire five miles south of the WhoopUp fire began as two separate fires that, according to a spokesperson for the fire, grew together. The suppression of that fire is being handled by the WhoopUp fire organization.
Today a new fire started along the railroad tracks near Edgemont, 34 miles south of the WhoopUp fire (map). It burned a couple of hundred acres between two roads before firefighters burned out from the roads and stopped the spread.

UPDATE at 9:50 a.m. MT July 20, 2011: updated the map and included more details about the WhoopUp and the Barrel fires, and added a new map showing nine other fires in the area.

8:45 a.m. MT, July 20, 2011:

We will update this article throughout the day.

Here is a map of the WhoopUp fire showing heat detected by satellites at at 3:59 a.m. MT July 20, 2011. The red areas depict active burning, while the yellow and black areas indicates heat detected within the last 12 or 24 hours respectively.

Whoopup fire map-0359 July 20 2011
Whoopup fire map, 3:59 a.m. MT, July 20, 2011. MODIS/Bill Gabbert

The heat sources in South Dakota about five miles south of the WhoopUp fire are from a new fire, the Barrel fire. It is being managed by the same team suppressing the WhoopUp fire.

A spokesperson for the fire, Hollie Belmedico, told us that firefighters made good progress on the 5,544-acre fire Tuesday night and now they are able to call it 40% contained. There are at least 250 firefighters and six dozers assigned, along with a mix of Type 1 and Type 3 helicopters. Ms. Belmedico did not know how many helicopters or air tankers will be available today or the size of the new Barrel fire.

The weather forecast for the area of the fire has changed a little. Yesterday the Weather Service said the relative humidity would bottom out at 31%, but today they are forecasting a minimum RH of 25%, a high temperature of 83, winds out of the northwest (then north and later northeast) at 11-23 gusting up to 31, a 31% cloud cover, and 0-10% chance of precipitation. The predicted winds and the lower humidity could cause the fire to spread to the southeast, and later in the afternoon and evening to the south and eventually the southwest — unless the firefighters have strong firelines in place on the south side of the fire.

The map below shows fires or reports of fires that firefighters have responded to in the Newcastle and Custer area since July 18. Most of them were suppressed at less than 3 acres.

Whoopup fire map


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WhoopUp fire map, noon July 19, 2011

UPDATE at 9:30 p.m. MT, July 19, 2011:

Below is an updated map of the WhoopUp fire, showing heat detected by satellites at 2:19 p.m. MT July 19, 2011. The red areas depict active burning, while the black indicates heat detected within the last 24 hours. The fire appears to be well established across the state line in South Dakota.

Whoopup fire map 1419, July 19, 2011
Whoopup fire map, 2:19 p.m. MT, July 19, 2011. MODIS/Bill Gabbert

The fire was mapped today at 5,544 acres, and is listed at 10% containment. On Wednesday the passage of a cold front will affect the fire, with strong northwest winds at 10 to 22 mph, with gusts up to 32. The wind, which will be more northerly in the late afternoon, could push the fire toward the southeast or south. The temperature will be much more moderate — instead of 100 degrees it will max out at 83 and the minimum relative humidity will be 31%.

“Gilbert”, one the commentors on our first article about this fire, said the firefighter that was injured when he fell, broke his pelvis:

The guy that fell is a member of the Newcastle vol fire dept as am I. He fell off a type 4 [engine] the first morning of the fire and broke his pelvis. He is home now but sore. Happened about 0800 the morning the fire started.

We asked a fire information officer about this accident today, and were told the only thing they knew was that a firefighter was injured when he or she fell. We hope the gentleman has a speedy recovery .

Here is a photo of the smoke from the WhoopUp fire, taken from Wind Cave National Park Tuesday evening, 31 miles southeast of the fire.

Whoopup fire from WICA
WhoopUp fire smoke, as seen from Wind Cave National Park at 6:42 p.m. MT, July 19, 2011. Photo: Bill Gabbert

We asked a fire information officer about the correct spelling of “Whoopup” and were told that it is one word, unlike what you may see elsewhere, and the “u” is supposed to be capitalized. So we will make an effort to remember: “WhoopUp”. In case you are wondering, the name comes from WhoopUp Creek, near the fire’s point of origin.


The map below shows heat on the WhoopUp fire near Newcastle, WY detected by a satellite at approximately noon MT, July 19, 2011. The red areas depict active burning, while the black indicates heat detected within the last 24 hours. The gap between the black and red does not mean there was no fire there, just that the satellite did not detect much heat in those locations when it passed overhead, perhaps due to light fuels (vegetation) that ignited and then burned out quickly.

The fire appears to have crossed the state line, moving from Wyoming into South Dakota.

Whoopup fire map 1200, July 19, 2011
WhoopUp fire map, 1200 MT, July 19, 2011. MODIS

The map below shows the relationship of the WhoopUp fire to previous fires in the same area, in 2002 and 2003.

Whoopup fire-historical fires
WhoopUp fire and historical fires. MODIS and Bill Gabbert

Frank Carroll, Information Officer for the fire (normally with the Black Hills National Forest), told us at 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday that the latest acreage figure they have for the fire is 4,335 acres, but said it is not very current and the fire is significantly larger.

There has been a great deal of lightning in the Newcastle, WY and Custer, SD area over the last 48 hours, resulting in numerous fire starts. At least two of them are unstaffed. Firefighters “are pouring in” to the Newcastle area, Mr. Carroll said.

There were three injuries to firefighters — two were heat related due to the 100-degree temperatures, and the third was the result of a fall.

Joe Lowe’s Type 2 Incident Management Team, Rocky Mountain Area Team C, will assume command of the fire at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Their last assignment, in June, was working on flooding in eastern South Dakota.

We have photos of the fire, HERE, HERE, and HERE.


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Lead plane on the Whoopup fire

A lead plane is a small, twin-engine fixed wing aircraft the assists and directs the much larger air tankers that drop retardant on wildfires. They have a one-person crew, the pilot, who is very experienced in flying over fires in mountainous terrain with turbulent wind conditions. Their purpose is to determine a safe and effective flight path for the air tankers and to identify the exact location for the retardant drops. They will often make several passes over the target, sometimes from different directions, before they settle on the best approach for the much larger air tankers.

Lead plane, Whoopup fire
Lead plane, Whoopup fire. Photo: Bill Gabbert

These photos are of the lead plane working in Ferguson Canyon on the Whoopup fire southeast of Newcastle, Wyoming, on June 18, 2011. This aircraft is a Beechcraft King Air 90 twin-turboprop that was dispatched out of Albuquerque Silver City, NM at 11:40 a.m. and spent the afternoon working with air tankers 45 and 07. All three aircraft were refueling and reloading retardant at the tanker base at Rapid City Regional Airport. Some lead planes have the capability of producing a puff of smoke to mark drop locations, but I didn’t see this lead plane doing that.

Lead plane, Whoopup fire
Lead plane, Whoopup fire. Photo: Bill Gabbert
Lead plane, Whoopup fire
Lead plane, Whoopup fire. Photo: Bill Gabbert

One interesting fact about lead planes is that some of their radio antennas are installed on the bottom of the aircraft, rather than the top. This makes it easier to communicate with firefighters below them on the ground. This King Air has at least three on the bottom — two on the wings and one or more on the fuselage.

Lead plane, Whoopup fire
Lead plane, Whoopup fire. Photo: Bill Gabbert



Update 7-26-2011: we put together a slide show of more photos.


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