Wildfire briefing, January 25, 2013

Caylym continues to develop containers for dropping retardant

Caylym system
Caylym system dispersing a liquid after exiting an aircraft. Photo credit: Caylym

Since Wildfire Today last covered their disposable container for delivering retardant over wildfires,the Caylym company has continued to develop and promote their concept. The system consists of containers constructed of cardboard, plywood, a plastic bladder, and dozens of yards of straps. They hold 264 gallons each and are designed to be carried in military aircraft such as the C-130 or C-27 using the standard cargo system. The containers when empty weigh 100 pounds.

At Fire Aviation we have more photos and a video, as well the results of our interview with Rick Goddard, the Managing Director of Caylym

South Africa: Firefighter Man killed fighting a fire near Clanwilliam

(UPDATE January 26, 2013: It turns out the man that was killed was not a trained firefighter, volunteer or paid. As so frequently happens in remote areas of South Africa, he lived nearby and was doing what he could to fight the fire while hoping that firefighters might show up.)

A man has died fighting a wildfire near Clanwilliam in South Africa (map). Christo Fourie, a retired bank manager, had been missing since Wednesday and his body was found Thursday in a burned area near his vehicle. A police spokesperson said Mr. Fourie was caught in the fire but the exact circumstances of his death were being investigated. A news report described the man as a volunteer firefighter.

The fire has burned 24,000 hectares (59,305 acres) and is being fought by firefighters supported by helicopters and four air tankers.

Missouri: Fire destroys Mammoth-area home 

A wildfire destroyed a home on County Road 527 off the T Highway near Mammoth, Missouri on Monday. The fire was fought by the Timber Knob and Pontiac VFDs for several hours but the home was a total loss.

Utah: fire baloons may become illegal

Fire Balloon, Mercedes
Fire Balloon — a screen grab from a Mercedes commercial on CBS, November 4, 2012.

Proposed legislation in Utah would outlaw fire balloons, sometimes called Chinese lanterns or sky lanterns. These devices are small, lightweight, inexpensive hot air balloons powered by burning material at the base. They can be made out of common household materials or purchased in large quantities online.

We first wrote about fire balloons in November after seeing the concept promoted by Mercedes in a car commercial on network television. An article in the Deseret News quotes Coy Porter, the Utah State Fire Marshal, as saying, “The biggest problem is just if they’re slightly damaged, there’s a small rip, they don’t get the elevation, they can still come down while the flame is still going in there.”

These incendiary devices are sometimes released by the hundreds at weddings or in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

More information from the article:

During the wedding rehearsal for former BYU and current NBA basketball player Jimmer Fredette last May, hundreds of lanterns were released into the Denver sky. One of those lanterns landed in a neighbor’s yard and lit a tree on fire. Fortunately, it didn’t do too much damage.

Last summer, Porter said a wildland fire in St. George was also started as a result of a sky lantern.

Links to information about a few fires that have been caused by these devices: here, here, and here.

Los Angeles: law firm has Wild Land Fire Litigation Practice Group

I guess there should be no surprise that a law firm has a “Wild Land Fire Litigation Practice Group”. In our litigious society there are probably lawyers that specialize in every conceivable niche. The Murchison and Cummings law firm in Los Angeles has such a group chaired by Friedrich W. Seitz. They are representing the Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative in defending them against the numerous lawsuits that have been filed relating to the September 2011 fire in Bastrop County, Texas that burned 34,000 acres and destroyed 1,600 homes. In an effort to try to get in on the action, a law firm in Texas created a web site in order to recruit clients to sue Bluebonnet for another fire in Bastrop County, the Wilderness Ridge fire, which burned 26 homes, 20 businesses, and 1,491 acres in Bastrop County, Texas in February, 2009.

Murchison and Cummings has defended Southern California Edison and Breitburn Energy Partners against litigation arising out of wild land fires for many years.

Texas Forest Service adds university to their name

Texas AMFSThe Texas Forest Service is part of a university — Texas A&M University. Many emergency responders think it is an odd structure for an emergency services organization. While the state of Colorado recognized the problems with having their state Forest Service under Colorado State University following the escaped Lower North Fork prescribed fire in which three residents were killed at their homes, Texans have doubled down on keeping their Forest Service under the control of a university.

The Texas Forest Service has changed their name to “Texas A&M Forest Service”. The change was proposed earlier this year by Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp as “a way to better align marketing and branding efforts”, according to the university’s web site. The university’s announcement did not say how much it would cost to change the name and their logos.

The governor of Colorado went a different direction after the Lower North Fork Fire, and decided to have all state emergency services agencies under one umbrella, the Colorado Department of Public Safety. Governor Hickenlooper said “We want to have it in one place, with an agency that is used to dealing with situations where minutes matter”. His objective was to streamline the decision making as well as the dispatching and managing of firefighters.


Thanks go out to Dick

National Wildlife Refuge in Texas closed by fires

Four fires on the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of Texas have grown to 13,000 acres in the last few days. It’s prompted officials to close the wildlife refuge to the public.

McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge burnout
McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge burnout

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel said today that the fires on the refuge were ignited by lightning — the first on July 14. A series of lightning storms has since passed through, torching off more fies. Park Ranger Tami Schutter said they decided to close the refuge yesterday.

Jim Stockie, the FMO on the refuge, told the Associated Press that they’ve had a tremendous amount of lightning across the 68,000-acre refuge for the last three weeks. He said the latest fire grew to over 4,000 acres.  About 15 firefighters from the wildlife agency and National Park Service are assigned.

NIOSH report — fatality of Cactus, Texas firefighter

NIOSH report, Texas wildfire fatalityNIOSH has released their report on the line of duty death of Cactus, Texas firefighter Elias Jaquez. While working on a wildfire on April 9, 2011 Mr. Jaquez suffered 3rd degree burns over 60% of his body and died 11 days later in a burn center. (Wildfire Today’s original report on the fatality.)

During fire suppression operations, the engine that Mr. Jaquez was in became stuck in sand. Efforts by that crew and a second engine to free the truck were unsuccessful when both became stuck. The crews of the engines fled on foot as the fire approached. Later Mr. Jaquez was found by himself 1.0 to 1.5 miles away lying face down on a road. He was still wearing a structural fire-fighting helmet, bunker pants, T-shirt, and the remains of his metal frames from his safety glasses. His rubber turnout boots had been removed and were lying in the road behind him. He had experienced severe third degree burns on his torso and head; however, he was conscious and coherent.

Here are some excerpts from the NIOSH report:

Continue reading “NIOSH report — fatality of Cactus, Texas firefighter”

Texas: Anatomy of last year’s Bastrop County fire

A Geographic Information Systems specialist, Karen Ridenour, has been researching the history of the wildfire that became the most disastrous wildfire in Texas history. Several decisions made on that September 4 day helped to mitigate the potential impacts on the residents in the path of the fire, which still burned 34,000 acres and destroyed 1,600 homes.

An article at the Statesman contains some of the facts about the fire that have been collected by Ms. Ridenour:

…The first decision was made before the fire even began on Sunday, Sept. 4. Mike Fisher, Bastrop County’s emergency management coordinator, already knew that the conditions were perfect for wildfires: drought-baked vegetation, low humidity and a steady north wind caused in part by Tropical Storm Lee, which had made landfall on the Louisiana coast that morning.

By early afternoon, fires were burning across the state. Local fire departments would end up responding to 227 fires that day, and for 57 of them, the locals called the Texas Forest Service for assistance, Ridenour said. The agency assisted with nine fires in Central Texas.

Fisher had been monitoring radio traffic about the fires in Travis and Fayette counties, and he decided to activate his county’s emergency operations center. By 2 p.m., County Judge Ronnie McDonald, Sheriff Terry Pickering, Fire Chief Henry Perry and public information officer Gayle Wilhelm had joined Fisher at the operations center in the Grady Tuck Building on Loop 150.

At 2:16 p.m., emergency center staffer Steve Long called the 911 dispatcher to put everyone on alert. “We suggested if they were understaffed, they better start calling people in,” Fisher said.

Four minutes later, at 2:20 p.m., the first 911 call came in from a homeowner on Charolais Drive, just west of Texas 21 in the Circle D neighborhood. A dead pine had snapped and fallen on a power line. The homeowner reported flames near her backyard.


“This fire didn’t seem to travel in a line,” said Scott Sutcliffe, the assistant chief for the Heart of the Pines Volunteer Fire Department. “It was just popping up everywhere. It was raining embers.”

The embers created hundreds of spot fires, which would then merge and become a new fire front, Sutcliffe said.

“How do you fight something that’s moving that fluidly?” Sutcliffe said. “You really can’t. You run, try to get in front of it again, because you don’t want to be caught in the middle.”

Sean Rissel, a Forest Service resource specialist, would later get permission from homeowners to collect seven trampolines that had survived the fire.

A square meter of one trampoline from McAllister Road was peppered with 250 burn holes, Rissel said.

The wind blew embers for miles; residents reported finding chunks of blackened pine bark the size of softballs in Rosanky, 15 miles south of the Colorado River. As the fire grew, smoke and heat and energy billowed into the sky and created horizontal roll vortices: slowly turning cylinders that roiled above the fire. Ridenour said they are a sign of “very extreme fire behavior.” Aerial maps would later show what looked like long stripes of blackened forest within the fire scar — a sign, Ridenour said, that the vortices became so massive that they crashed back to earth along the fire’s flanks.

“When it crashes,” Ridenour said, “it nukes everything.”