Wildfire briefing, August 23, 2013

Firefighter dies in Portugal

A female firefighter was killed and nine were injured Thursday on a wildfire in Portugal near the small city of Tondela. Commander Antonio Ribeiro of the Serra de Caramulo firefighters said the crew ran from the fire but the firefighter who died fled in the wrong direction. Euronews reports that three firefighters have died this month. High temperatures and strong winds have contributed to the spread of 13 large fires in Portugal.

The national wildfire situation

Today there are 49 uncontained large fires listed on the national Situation Report in the United States, and that number does not include individual fires within complexes. There are currently 854,480 acres within the perimeters of those active fires. The national Preparedness Level has reached the highest category, PL 5, for the first time since 2008. And while it may seem like much of the west is on fire, the number of acres burned to date, 3.4 million, is much less than average, which is 5.6 million.

Competition for firefighting resources is occurring. There is only one California-based Type 1 or Type 2 incident management team available that is not assigned to a fire; 33 IMTeams are assigned nationwide. But surprisingly, there are no Area Command Teams committed.

We have 11 large and very large air tankers working right now on exclusive use contracts, and there are another 9 that the USFS has borrowed from the military, the state of Alaska, and the Canadian government. In 2002 there were 44 large air tankers on contract.

Forest Service runs out of money for firefighting

For the sixth time in the last ten years the U.S. Forest Service has run out of funds for suppressing wildfires. Even though the number of acres burned to date this year is below average, the USFS is having to divert funds from other non-fire accounts in order to cover the shortfall. This is due in part to reductions in the amount of money Congress allocates for the FLAME fund, which is supposed to fund firefighting while protecting other accounts. The Washington Post has more details.

Scott Olsen writes about a firefighter’s first day on the job

You may have seen the articles written last year by W. Scott Olsen, a professor of English at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota about “the war on wildfires out west, meeting shot-callers and looking at the operation from the inside”. He has just published a new article at the Huffington Post about a wildland firefighter’s first day on the job.

Granite Mountain 19

The issues surrounding the deaths of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots June 30 on the Yarnell Hill Fire continue to make the news. Firefighters with the New York City Fire Department have raised $30,000 so far for the families of the 19, and they are hoping to add to that total. The Prescott Daily Courier asked the candidates for Mayor and the City Council to express their positions on the discrepancy between the benefits for the seasonal and full time members of the crew. And there is a debate about whether the city’s hotshot crew should be rebuilt.

Investigative reporter John Dougherty has two recent articles about the Yarnell Hill Fire: “Yarnell Hill Fire: The Granite Mountain Hotshots Never Should’ve Been Deployed, Mounting Evidence Shows” and “A Granite Mountain Hotshot’s Father Says the Blaze That Incinerated His Son Could’ve Been Controlled“.

Montana residents contribute for free coffee for firefighters

Residents near Lolo, Montana are contributing to a fund to provide free, good quality coffee for firefighters working on the Lolo Creek Complex. According to an article at KZBK, Samantha Harris, a barista at Florence Coffee Company in Lolo, said customers have been donating money to give firefighters coffee.

“We have a huge tab here so all the firefighters’ coffee is paid for,” Harris said. “Which has been really fun to tell them their coffee is free.” The tab is at nearly $300, she said.

Florence Coffee Company is at 11880 HWY 93 in South Lolo, Montana.

Photos of pyrocumulus

The Alaska Dispatch has some very impressive photos of pyrocumulus smoke columns caused by wildfires.

Goat manure fire stinks up town

A burning pile of goat manure is affecting the quality of life for residents of Windsor, Vermont. The pile ignited from spontaneous combustion Wednesday at George Redick’s 800-goat dairy. Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh said he could smell the fire at his home which is five miles from the dairy.

Official cause of Guiberson fire near Moorpark released

On September 22, 2009 Wildfire Today reported that the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department said the Guiberson fire near Moorpark, California started from “manure spontaneous combustion from a local ranch.” Now the Ventura County Fire Department has more or less confirmed that initial assessment, saying the fire, which burned 17,500 acres was caused by the spontaneous combustion of a mulch pile.

A map of the fire is HERE. And to remind you, this was the fire on which a lead plane and air tanker “rescued” some horses that were trapped on an extremely steep slope.

Red flags and fires in southern California

Some areas in southern California are under a red flag warning, so it comes as no surprise that firefighters are busy there this afternoon. The Guiberson Fire north of Los Angeles near Moorpark and Fillmore is being pushed by a “moderate Santa Ana” wind and has burned about 1,500 acres and forced some evacuations. 

The weather at Wiley Ridge at 2:57 p.m. shows a 32 mph ENE wind with gusts up to 45 mph, a max temperature of 95 today, and a relative humidity of 4%.     

Another fire in Riverside County near Narco has burned 150-250 acres and is close to containment. 

UPDATE at 4:23 p.m. PDT Sept. 22

The Guiberson Fire has now blackened 6,000 acres. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department said the fire started from “manure spontaneous combustion from a local ranch.”  It is not uncommon for a large pile of composting manure to start a fire, especially in extreme heat like they have recently had in southern California. 

Wikipedia explains how spontaneous combustion occurs:

  1. A substance with a relatively low ignition temperature begins to release heat, which may occur in several ways, such as oxidation or fermentation.
  2. The heat is unable to escape, and the temperature of the material rises
  3. The temperature of the material rises above its ignition point
  4. Combustion begins, if a sufficiently strong oxidizer, such as oxygen, is present.

Another fire near Norco in Riverside County has burned about 160 acres and is 50% contained. 

Wildfire news, October 14, 2008

See the post submitted earlier today for an update and maps on the Marek and Sesnon fires north of Los Angeles, California.

Bob Mutch receives the IAWF’s Wildland Fire Safety Award

Bob Mutch receives the IAWF’s Wildland Fire Safety Award from president Chuck Bushey at the recent “The Fires of ’88: Yellowstone and Beyond” conference.

From the International Association of Wildland Fire:

From his early days at what was then known as the US Forest Service’s Northern Forest Fire Laboratory in Missoula, Montana to his various roles within that agencies fire management program Bob’s distinguished 38-year career has continually championed both firefighter and public safety.

His involvement in developing the Fire Behavior Service Center concept in the early 1980’s further illustrates his active involvement and commitment to wildland firefighter safety. Even his very early work within the US Forest Service’s wilderness fire program can now be viewed as contributing significantly to firefighter and public fire safety, while at the same time helping to change agency policy and return fire as an ecological process to wildlands.

Following his agency retirement Bob continued his fire career as a renowned wildland fire consultant promoting wildland fire safety.

New Camp Pendleton Fire Forces Closure of I-5

Camp Pendleton, the Marine base about 40 miles north of San Diego, has been plagued by wildland fires over the last several days. Here is a report from KTLA:

A new wildfire is burning at Camp Pendleton, forcing the closure of Interstate 5 for 20 miles in both directions. CHP Officer Rob Sanchez says the freeway was closed once Tuesday morning, briefly reopened and then closed again after
winds shifted and the fire flared up.

A North County Transit spokesman says Amtrak and Metrolink trains are being held at Oceanside and at San Clemente stations.

Marine Cpl. Priscilla Vitale says it is not immediately known how many acres are involved in the new fire, but she says no structures are threatened.

It is the third fire to start on the base in two days. Vitale says two fires started Monday on the base’s training ranges; she says neither fire was caused by any type of military training. More than 3,000 acres have been scorched; there is about 25 percent containment.

An evacuation order for about 1,500 homes in Oceanside. A spokeswoman for the City of Oceanside says some residents have been allowed to briefly return to neighborhoods near the base to get their pets and collect personal items.

Marine spokesman 2nd Lt. Riley Whaling says an unknown number of families were evacuated Monday by military police from a housing area threatened by the fire.

The Juliet fire, named for the training area where it started, was reported some time after 3 p.m. Monday. It was not immediately clear how the fire started.

Whaling said a second fire was burning on the base in a training area. No buildings were threatened by that fire.

Update on the Angel fire in San Francisco Bay

CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat
An inmate fire crew mops up Monday after a blaze on Angel Island. The fire charred more than half of the island but spared scores of historic structures.

On October 13 Wildfire Today told you about the fire burning on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Here is an update, courtesy of the Press Democrat.

Firefighters working through the night on Angel Island brought the wildfire that burned more than half the island to 90 percent containment by Tuesday morning, a fire officials said Tuesday.

Photo from October 12.

Fire crews expect to have the fire fully contained by Tuesday evening.

Crews will be on the island for the next few days, making sure no hot spots remain to threaten flare ups.

What started the wildland blaze remains under investigation.

“We’re focusing on the area on the east side, where there was a campsite. We need to interview the campers,” said Kent Julin, a forestry with Marin County Fire Department.

On Tuesday morning there was little evidence of the conflagration Monday when flames swept over half the island, created a glow in the sky and filled the air above San Francisco Bay with heavy smoke.

There was no lingering smoke Tuesday as firefighters worked under clear, blue skies, Julin said.in the bay just off the Marin County coast.

A force of nearly 400 firefighters saved the state park’s historic buildings from destruction.

Colorado: five homes burn near Hotchkiss

From the Grand Junction Sentinel:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A wildfire that started Thursday afternoon destroyed five homes and at least a half-dozen outbuildings on Redlands Mesa near Hotchkiss before it was fully contained Sunday, Delta County emergency manager Rob Fiedler said.

Fiedler said only three of the homes were occupied.

The fire was likely caused by humans, Fiedler said, and is still under investigation.

“We had eyewitnesses who reported seeing some human activity and investigators are still checking out all leads and running them down to check the veracity,” he said. “But it has never been considered malicious from the outset.”

With 45 to 50 mph winds pushing the fire early on, it spread from 80 acres Thursday, when 34 homes in its path were evacuated, to approximately 240 acres Friday. By Friday evening the fire was 40 percent contained. No one was injured in the fire, but it took the lives of one cat and three dogs.

Fiedler said air tankers from the Bureau of Land Management dropped flame retardant on the fire Thursday and Friday. More than 100 firefighters from all Delta County fire departments fought the blaze along with a 20-person hand crew from the Buena Vista Correctional Facility.

The chance for wildfires still exists, Fiedler said.

“Things are still very dry below 8,500 feet,” he said.

West Virginia: Coal refuse fire

Wildfire Today has reported on two previous fires in coal refuse. Here is another one, courtesy of WCHS Radio 58. We are fascinated by these fires. They can pop up unexpectedly in surprising locations, they can cover many acres, they can burn for dozens of years, and they can be very difficult to put out.

(Glen Jean) — Firefighters say there’s very little they can do to stop a coal waste dump in Fayette County from burning. The gob pile caught fire about three weeks ago and has been smoldering underground ever since.

Mt. Hope Volunteer Fire Chief Shane Wheeler says the process probably started with spontaneous combustion after the area was reclaimed with a thick coating of sawdust, replanted with vegetation.

“Pressure over time caused the coal under that saw dust to catch fire,” said Wheeler.

The chief says there’s really no good way to put out the fire. Therefore the strategy has been to just let it burn within a set perimeter.

“The big hazard would be the ground giving way. You walk across it and you could literally fall into a burning crevice,” said Wheeler. “There’s been some cases where people have been killed trying to put them out, where bulldozers have literally been swallowed up.”

Some gob piles will burn for years. The biggest danger is when the fire reaches into the air and jumps fire breaks into the forest. Right now, the leaves are dry, brittle, and littering the forest floor. The gob pile fire is about 25-acres and Sunday it jumped into a nearby woodlot, taking out another 25-acres of woods.

Wheeler says the best they can do is continue to improve the fire line they’ve cut around the perimeter and hope it holds the fire to the interior.

Montana: Prepare, Stay, and Defend

On May 30 Wildfire Today told you about this concept being discussed in Montana. We just received a report from Alan Tresemer of Painted Rocks Fire and Rescue, one of the speakers at a conference where it was presented:

Just thought I’d update you on the presentation at the Idaho Wildland Fire Conference in Boise this week. Keith Harrap (Executive Director Ops/Support, New South Wales Fire Service) and I were the keynote speakers and covered the Australian Prepare, Stay, and Defend system for wildland fires. Idaho State Lands really is ahead of the pack on this.

About a month ago, Steve Kimball sent out the Tasmanian “Bushfire” DVD to all fire chiefs and county commissions, so the audience was primed to hear the details. Keith covered the big picture of how Australia has dealt with the issue and their great success at reducing deaths, injuries, and loss of property by preparing homes (FireWise) and having people stay at home to keep their homes from burning. I related our fire company’s success at implementing this system in our small Montana community of Painted Rocks. There were around 250 attendees representing the bulk of Idaho’s fire services.

The message was very well received and Idaho is on its way to finding better ways of protecting its communities. Idaho Lands really deserves a pat on the back for their proactive efforts.

Alan Tresemer
Batt. Chief
Painted Rocks Fire & Rescue, Montana

Thanks Alan–we’re glad it went well. We used to call it “Shelter in Place”, but Prepare, Stay, and Defend is a better term.