Whoopup fire near Newcastle WY

UPDATE at 12:30 a.m. July 19, 2011:

WildCAD reports that the Whoopup fire southeast of Newcastle, Wyoming has burned 2,500 acres.


Tanker 07, Whoopup fire
Tanker 07 dropping in Ferguson Canyon on the Whoopup fire at 6:23 p.m., July 18, 2011. Photo: Bill Gabbert

I had the opportunity to take some photos at the Whoopup fire that started Monday morning southeast of Newcastle, Wyoming near the South Dakota/Wyoming state line. At about 4 p.m. the fire had burned an estimated 1,000 acres, according to firefighters at the scene. WildCAD shows that it was reported at 1:45 a.m. on Monday, July 18. I have not heard what the cause was, but another fire a few miles farther east was started by lightning.

The photo above shows air tanker 07, a P2V, making a drop to protect some structures in Ferguson Canyon. The lead plane kept making low passes from every direction, trying to figure out a way to get in there (and out of there) amid the smoke. Finally two air tankers showed up, 07 and 45, and following the lead plane one at a time, made it look easy.

Whoopup Fire
South end of the Whoopup fire, 4:12 p.m., July 18, 2011. Photo: Bill Gabbert

In cooperation with the fire managers, deputies from the Weston County Sheriffs office evacuated approximately 14 homes in Ferguson Canyon. When I left the area at 7:30 p.m. the fire had spotted into and across the canyon and was burning along the road at the east end of the canyon. The fire also threatened the fire lookout tower on Elk Mountain, causing the Forest Service employee there to evacuate to the USFS office in Newcastle.

Whoopup fire
The southwest side of the Whoopup fire, July 18, 2011. The area is littered with standing dead snags and fallen trees left over from the last fire in the area. Photo: Bill Gabbert
Whoopup fire
Tanker 45 dropping at the mouth of Ferguson Canyon on the Whoopup fire, 6:16 p.m., July 18, 2011. Photo: Bill Gabbert

The fire name comes from a nearby creek, Whoopup Creek, which is near the first report of the fire.

The main factors driving the fire are standing snags and fallen trees left over from a previous fire in the area, grass and herbaceous vegetation in the old burn scar, and the temperature on Monday which reached 100 degrees according to the trusty thermometer in my truck. The wind was moderate on Monday afternoon, estimated at 4-6 mph with occasional stronger gusts, mostly out of the southwest. The RAWS weather station in Red Canyon 24 miles southeast of the fire recorded a high temperature of 101 degrees at 5:00 p.m. on Monday and winds at 3-8 with gusts in the low teens. The low relative humidity was 24% — not extreme weather at all, except for the temperature.

The weather forecast for Tuesday afternoon in the area of the fire will be about the same as Monday, with a high temperature of 97, relative humidity of 24%, and winds at 5-7 out of the southwest, west, and northwest.

Whoopup fire
Tanker 45 just after a drop in Ferguson Canyon on the Whoopup fire at 7:14 p.m., July 18, 2011. The doors on the tanks are still open. Photo: Bill Gabbert

Below is a map showing the approximate location of the Whoopup fire.
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Dinosaurs threatened by wildfire — again

When I saw the “Dinosaurs survive wildfire” headline today in the Rapid City Journal, at first I thought it was referring to the article pointed out yesterday by @Rachel_Rocket that appeared in my Twitter feed. Rachel’s tweet linked to a recent study in Australia which concluded that bushfires appeared in that country 50 million years earlier than previously thought and may be associated with the demise of the dinosaurs.

Dinosaur Hill fire
Photo by Kristina Barker/Rapid City Journal

But it turned out that the Rapid City Journal was more interested in a wildfire that threatened some dinosaurs YESTERDAY. This time it was life-sized replicas of them in Dinosaur Park. Pushed by 12 mph winds with gusts up to 31, the fire burned three to five acres before being controlled by firefighters from the Rapid City Fire Department and other agencies. This may be one of the rare examples of it being reported that FIREFIGHTERS SAVED THE DINOSAURS.

The Rapid City Journal has more info and photos HERE, and an interesting video showing firefighters in action HERE.

Australia’s Black Saturday fires: before and after photos

Black Saturday bushfires photosI like to look at before and after pictures. One of the best examples is the book of photographs that compare the photos taken on General George Custer’s 1874 expedition through the Black Hills of South Dakota, with photos taken by Ernest Grafe and Paul Horsted and published in the book Exploring With Custer: The 1874 Black Hills Expedition in 2003. The differences in vegetation help to explain why we now have larger fires that are more difficult to control.

Andrew Quilty, a photographer on the other side of the world, has done something similar, but instead of waiting 129 years for the after pictures, he took photos immediately after the February, 2009 Black Saturday fires in Australia, and then again two years later. One is on the left, and others are HERE.

Thanks Dick

New supplemental training video for fire shelters being produced

Alabaugh fire near hot springs sd
Alabaugh Fire, photo by Bill Gabbert

The Missoula Technology Development Center is producing a new supplemental training video for the use of fire shelters. Tentatively titled “Fire Shelter Deployments — Lessons Learned”, it will be a collection of stories of recent fire shelter deployments. One of those stories will be the Alabaugh Fire, of July 7, 2007, near Hot Springs, South Dakota in which two firefighters shared one shelter as they were burned over.

The Alabaugh fire has become rather infamous, and has been featured in the 2008 wildland fire refresher training, a staff ride, and a recently released book “Cascade of Flames”.

Some of the 65 photos we took during the early stages of the fire will be incorporated into the new training video when it is released in the next two to three months.

South Dakota governor vows to fight fire in federal wilderness area

According to quotes in an article in the Rapid City Journal, Mike Rounds, the governor of South Dakota, appears to be bellicose and aggressive about fighting fire in the federal Black Elk Wilderness area in the Black Hills National Forest.

The 1964 Wilderness Act includes these provisions:

…there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.


….measures may be taken as may be necessary in the control of fire, insects, and diseases, subject to such conditions as the Secretary deems desirable.

Fire suppression routinely occurs in wilderness areas on national forests, but the use of motorized equipment in a wilderness area usually requires incident-specific approval from the Forest Supervisor, the highest-ranking federal employee at the national forest.

In the article, Governor Rounds implies that he would order state fire resources to take action on federal lands on which the fire suppression responsibility lies with the U. S. Forest Service (USFS). He appears to assume that the USFS would not suppress fires within the wilderness area, but as far as we know, that is not the case.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Gov. Mike Rounds says wilderness designation won’t stop him from sending in state firefighting crews if a blaze breaks out in the Black Elk Wilderness, where a mountain pine beetle outbreak has increased the risk for a major wildfire.

“In an emergency, they’re going to have to stop me from going in,” Rounds said in a recent interview.

But federal forest managers say they, too, plan to fight fire within the Black Elk Wilderness. In fact, crews have fought fires in the Black Elk in previous years, according to Black Hills National Forest supervisor Craig Bobzien. The amount and type of equipment they would use depends on the fire threat level, Bobzien said.

Rounds has cited the Black Elk Wilderness, where pine beetles have killed up to 80 percent of the trees, as one reason for his opposition to a wilderness proposal for parts of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland east of Rapid City and his support for the National Park Service’s cancellation of fireworks for the Independence Day celebration at Mount Rushmore. The Black Elk lies next to Mount Rushmore National Memorial and now poses a threat of wildfire for the central Black Hills, including Rushmore to the northeast and Custer State Park to the south, Rounds said.

Even without fireworks, one lightning strike after a dry period could set off a conflagration, Rounds said. “It’s a matter not of if, but when you have a major fire there.”

Rounds said state firefighting crews would be aggressive if fire breaks out in the Black Elk.

“If it means going onto some wilderness areas in order to stop it, then so be it,” he said. “We’re going to stop it before it gets out and does damage to public property that belongs to the state of South Dakota and before it damages private property and before it gets out and has an opportunity to impact human life.”

But Rounds said he and other state officials are talking with Black Hills National Forest managers to prepare for the coming fire season, including the possibility of a fire in the Black Elk Wilderness or the surrounding Norbeck Wildlife Preserve.

Rounds and Joe Lowe, coordinator of the state Wildland Fire Suppression Division, say cooperation between the state and local Forest Service officials is good.

Bobzien agrees and says that the Forest Service can — and will — fight fire in the Norbeck and even in the Black Elk Wilderness. He said, in fact, that the Forest Service has fought fires in the Black Elk in previous years.

Bobzien said the 1964 Wilderness Act allows firefighting in wilderness areas, with varying restrictions for varying levels of emergency.

The greater the risk of catastrophic fire, the more that mechanized equipment can be used within the wilderness, he said. For example, if a lightning strike starts a fire in moist conditions, Bobzien can authorize hand crews with crosscut saws.

“We have done some of that already,” he said. “That’s routine throughout past fire seasons.”

But if fire breaks out in hot, dry conditions, mechanized equipment up to and including helicopters can be used to fight fire in the Black Elk, Bobzien said.

Gov. Bill Janklow and South Dakota Wildland Fire Coordinator Joe Lowe look over a map during the Battle Creek Fire of 2002. Photo: Rapid City Journal
Gov. Bill Janklow and South Dakota Wildland Fire Coordinator Joe Lowe look over a map during the Battle Creek Fire of 2002. Photo: Rapid City Journal

Governor Rounds’ attitude reminds me of his predecessor, Governor Bill Janklow, who threatened during the 83,508-acre Jasper fire in 2000, to order state fire crews to set backfires out ahead of the fire without any coordination with the Type 1 Incident Management Team that was running the fire. This, of course, would have put firefighters and probably private property at great risk. Bill Waterbury, the Incident Commander, ordered federal marshals to stand by at the incident command post who were prepared to arrest state employees (or even the governor?) if the backfires had been lit.

Janklow also ordered that National Guard dozers be used to build dozer lines way out ahead of the fire, independent of the organized fire suppression effort, creating significant safety and resource damage concerns.

When questioned about the safety of the dozer operation he ordered that did not have adequate supervision, Janklow said if a dozer gets burned over because the operator knows nothing about wildfire, he will just buy another one. When asked, “What about the operator” that gets burned over, he said, “Anyone can outrun a fire”.

In an excellent article by Denise Ross and Bill Harlan in the October 29, 2002 issue of the Rapid City Journal, the situation was described, in part, this way:

When Waterbury arrived as Type I commander, he and Janklow had a frank discussion about who was in charge of the fire.

Waterbury said he told the governor there would be only one incident commander on the fire. “I did make the comment that if it came down to a point of putting firefighters at risk or independent actions, whether that be private citizens or the National Guard, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull all of our firefighters off the line,” Waterbury said in a recent interview. “If necessary, we’d use our federal authority to arrest people who were interfering with our firefighting.”

Janklow recalled the conversation this way: “I told him, ‘You’re not going to arrest me or anybody else. Unless I have your word that this fire won’t go on private property, I’ll fight this fire wherever it’s at.’ And I did.”

But federal firefighters said the fire line Janklow cut damaged forest roads without helping to stop the fire.

I was the Incident Commander during the early stages of the Flagpole fire in 2000 when I received a midnight phone call from Governor Jankow informing me that he was sending fire engines and 17 dozers from all across the state to the fire. I told him that we had plenty of resources and didn’t need them, but those words fell on deaf ears.

Over the next few hours those resources started showing up, with no resource tracking or order numbers, and with no idea where to go or what to do. They just headed to the smoke with no assignment, accountability, briefing, or integration into the organization, creating huge safety issues.

When we turned the fire over to an incoming incident management team, Governor Jankow attended the inbriefing and sat in the front row. I kept waiting for him to speak up and try to dictate the strategy and tactics, but surprisingly and uncharacteristically, he remained silent while I facilitated the briefing.

After leaving the Governor’s office, Bill Janklow became the state’s Representative to the U.S. Congress. But after driving his white Cadillac through a stop sign at 63 to 70 mph and hitting and killing Randy Scott who was on a motorcycle going through the intersection, he was convicted of manslaughter and in 2004 was sentenced to 100 days in jail. In his State of the State speeches, Janklow had boasted about his lead-footed driving habits. After the felony conviction and two days before the sentencing, he resigned from Congress.

I hope Governor Rounds is not using Governor Janklow as his role model. And I suggest that all governors leave the firefighting to the professionals. Any fires in the Black Elk Wilderness will be suppressed, regardless of any ill-informed and ill-advised politicians’ blustering, which tend to strain interagency relationships.

Fires caused by fireworks

During the day we will update this post with news about wildfires and serious injuries that are caused by people using fireworks. Tomorrow we will start a separate post as additional news comes in about wildland fires and serious injuries resulting from the abuse of fireworks.

In 2007, 9,800 children and adults nationwide visited hospital emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eleven died.

And by the way, the annual July 3 fireworks at Mount Rushmore Friday night were launched into fog, and the tens of thousands of spectators could only see vague glows in the mist.

1. Bigfork, Montana. A 1/2 acre wildfire caused by fireworks around noon on Friday.

Firefighters from Bigfork Fire Department and the DNRC talk after extinguishing a blaze on Commerce Street in Bigfork on Friday afternoon. The .5-acre grass fire was started by fireworks. Alex Strickland/Bigfork Eagle

2. Altamonte Springs, Fla. Seminole County fire Lt. David Williams said one person was burned Friday night when fireworks landed in the crowd. The patient was transported to Florida Hospital Altamonte.

3. Salinas, California: Illegal fireworks have started a fire on the roof of an apartment complex in Salinas. It happened just before 11:00 Friday night near West Bernal and Gardenia. Nobody was injured, but people have been evacuated from their homes. No arrests have been made at this time. Fire crews are still investigating.

4. Ocracoke, NC: A truckload of fireworks exploded Saturday morning on a remote North Carolina island dock, killing two workers and critically injuring three others preparing for an Independence Day celebration, authorities said. Two volunteer firemen were transported by Dare Co. EMS to be treated for inhalation and exhaustion.

Sharon Tugwell photo

5. West Valley City, UT: Fireworks may have caused two fires at a mobile-home park in West Valley City early Saturday morning, said assistant Fire Chief Kris Romijn.

One of those fires destroyed a mobile home on the 7000 West block of Arabian Way (2660 South). The blaze started in a car at the home about 12:15 a.m., and two witnesses reported seeing something that looked like fireworks under the car. The fire spread to the home and gutted it, causing between $60,000 and $100,000 worth of damage, including the car. It also caused radiant damage to a nearby home.

6. Hancock, MD: Authorities say a vehicle loaded with fireworks has caught fire near the town of Hancock.Washington County fire department officials say the incident occurred Saturday on eastbound Interstate 70. They say a man apparently had bought fireworks from a stand and reported his vehicle was on fire.

7 and 8. Missoula, MT: The [fireworks-caused] fire, up Deep Creek near the gravel pit, was quickly surrounded by Lolo Hotshots, and units from Frenchtown and Missoula rural fire departments and the state Department of Natural Resource Conservation also responded. The half-acre fire was well on its way to being snuffed out early Saturday evening, said Paula Short, DNRC fire information officer.

“They’ve got it pretty well knocked down, but the Hotshots are going to go ahead and put a line around it,” she said.

The second fire, in a field near Lolo School off U.S. Highway 93 South, was also reported Saturday afternoon and was likewise fireworks-related. Missoula Rural Fire Department responded, and the blaze was quickly put out before reaching any threatening size.

9. Harrah, MT: A young boy set off fireworks in a structure on Friday, it starts a fire and several structures burn, making 19 homeless and causing $800,000 in damages.

10. Fresno, CA: The largest fire in Fresno, CA in decades was started by fireworks–burns three luxury homes.

11. Marysville, WA: A family is left with no home after their house is destroyed on Saturday by a fire caused by fireworks.

12. Kansas City, Kan.: fireworks were the cause of a fire in a duplex at 3306  N. 84th Terrace.

This list of fires caused by fireworks continues HERE.