Training for a wildfire in Lancashire, UK and Omaha, Nebraska

The video shows firefighters in Lancashire, UK engaged in wildfire training, using some equipment that you will not often see on the other side of the pond.

Here is how the video is described:

Firefighters along with partner agencies Bay Search and Rescue, Mountain Rescue teams (Bolton and Bowland), Pennine helicopters, United Utilities, the Moorlad Association and Lancashire County Council all joined together in an excercise on Bleasdle Fell, Lancashire to not only practice the skills required to tackle a wildfire but also raise awareness of the issues with the public through local media. This report was taken from Granada Television News, featuring Station Manager Shaun Walton, Jeremy Duckworth from the Moond Association and reported by Amy Welch.

And speaking of training, the photo below illustrates in a completely different environment annual firefighter refresher training in the National Park Service’s Midwest Regional Office in Omaha, Nebraska.

Firefighter refresher training, NPS regional office, Omaha
Firefighter refresher training, NPS regional office, Omaha, NE. Photo by Jim McMahill.

Wildfire briefing, May 8, 2013

The Japanese bombed an Oregon forest — in 1942

The only time during World War II when Japanese forces bombed the American mainland occurred in 1942. They loaded a small airplane with two incendiary bombs, launched it from a submarine off the Oregon coast, and tried to set the state on fire. It did not work out too well for the Japanese. Apparently there was no wildland Fire Behavior Analyst on the submarine’s crew.

Here is an excerpt from an article at DVICE:

…[From his lookout tower Keith] Johnson didn’t see the submarine as it surfaced. The boat creaked as its bow broke through the waves to the surface of the Pacific Ocean. A loud bell gave the “all clear” for the men to spring into action. On board that I-25 submarine was a single engine Yokosuki E14Y aircraft. This small, two passenger float plane was compact enough to store in a submarine but had enough power in its nine cylinder 340 hp radial engine to carry bombs on light attack missions. A team of men rolled the plane out its hangar that stood next to the conning tower, unfolded its wings and tail, then loaded two 176 pound incendiary bombs underneath its wings…


But when the fog lifted [Howard] Gardner saw smoke. He called for help then set off towards the fire, which he assumed was a remnant from a lightning strike fire that had sparked the previous day. What he and his men found was a smoldering fire covering a circular area 50 to 75 feet across. They quickly got the fire under control and found a crater about three feet in diameter and about one foot deep at the centre of the site. Inside was evidence of intense heat, hot enough to fuse earth and rocks.

Sky lanterns banned in California county

We have written about sky lanterns or fire balloons several times, including the legislation being considered in Oregon to ban these devices which can start fires in structures and the wildland.

Here is an excerpt from The Tribune about a county in southern California prohibiting them under most conditions:

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed an ordinance prohibiting the ignition and launching of sky lanterns in the county areas outside the incorporated cities and fire districts. The ordinance goes into effect in 30 days.

A sky lantern — an airborne paper lantern sometimes called a “Chinese lantern” — is similar to a miniature hot air balloon. It is powered by a fuel cell or candle that heats the air, fills the balloon and makes the lantern fly up into the sky.

“What seems harmless is not, and these lanterns pose a serious threat to the citizens, property, and wildland areas of San Luis Obispo County,” said Cal Fire Chief Rob Lewin.


UPDATE at 9:14 p.m. MT, May 8, 2013:

After posting the above about the sky lanterns, we heard from Dietra A. Myers Tremblay who is studying Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance at the University of Hawaii. She said:

In regards to your May 8, 2013 Wildfire Briefing on sky lanterns, in 2012, Hawaii enacted a state law that prohibits the sale, offer for sale, distribution, possession, ignition, or other use of aerial luminaries also known as sky lanterns, Hawaii lanterns, and flying luminaries.

A link to Section 132-19, Hawaii Revised Statutes. And here is another useful link to the bill status.


NWCG publishes course revision status

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group has published the revision status of some of their courses. Here is a screen grab from a portion of the document (click on it to see a larger version):

NWCG course revision status, May, 2013

Fire truck runs over firefighter dressed as a bear

The article in the North Devon Journal in the United Kingdom does not mention Smokey Bear:

A firefighter dressed as a bear was run over by a fire engine during Torrington Carnival on Saturday night.

Justin Matthews, landlord at the Cavalier Inn in Well Street, was taking part in the town’s annual carnival when the incident happened at around 7pm.

Mr Matthews, who is a retained firefighter, was walking in front of the fire engine when he got caught up in the wheel of the vehicle.

The incident happened as the carnival was making its way around the roundabout next to Torrington Cottage Hospital at the top of Calf Street.

The procession was stopped while ambulance crews treated the firefighter at the scene.

Ellen Vernon, who lives in Torrington, said there was “horror” among the crowd as everyone realised what had happened.

Fire Aviation news

Check out the latest news about Fire Aviation:


Thanks go out to Kelly and Kirk.

Wildland fire academy in Ft. Pierre

S-290 at Ft Pierre
Students in the Ft. Pierre Intermediate Fire Behavior class, S-290, observe a demonstration fire. Photo provided by the Wildland Fire Suppression Division.

This weekend the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division hosted a wildland fire academy in Ft. Pierre, South Dakota. About 266 firefighters were able to choose from 18 classes being offered.

Spokesperson Jeni Lawver said they plan to conduct live fire exercises on Sunday — on a larger scale than seen in the above photo.

Powerline training for wildland firefighters

The Salt River Project, an Arizona utility company, collaborated with the Coconino National Forest to produce the training video below that discusses dangers and safety practices for wildland firefighters working near powerlines. The Missoula Technology Development Center reviewed the video and found it suitable for training wildland firefighters.

The video explains:

  • The roles and responsibilities of the utility company.
  • How water, foam, retardant, or smoke can conduct electricity to the ground or across powerlines.
  • Aircraft safety near powerlines.
  • The difference between “step potential” and “touch potential” and how to respond accordingly.
  • How to safely exit and move away from a vehicle energized by a downed powerline.

U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employees can access the video on the internal Forest Service network at

BLM Smokejumpers Receive “Al Dunton Award”

The National Interagency Fire Center announced an award today.


BLM firefighters Ben Oakleaf and Chris Swisher have much in common.

They’re both BLM smokejumpers. They both worked on the Midnight Suns Interagency Hotshot Crew in Alaska. They’re both highly respected in smokejumping circles. They’re both described by their supervisors as having a great work ethic and outstanding attitudes. They’ve been good friends for about a dozen years, starting when they met while working as hotshots.

And they were both surprised when they were named winners of the “Al Dunton Award,” which honors the late BLM pioneer in fire and aviation management.

Chris Swisher

“It was a surprise,” says Swisher, who jumps out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska. “I didn’t know anything about it until I was told that I won.”

“I didn’t even know I was nominated until the jumper manager called me into his office and told me. I was very surprised,” says Oakleaf, who is part of the Great Basin smokejumpers, based in Boise, Idaho.

Part of the reason Swisher and Oakleaf were nominated is due to their work in combining the first-year smokejumper training. For a dozen years, the Alaska and Great Basin rookie jumpers trained separately. That didn’t seem the best way to teach the ropes to the new jumpers, Swisher and Oakleaf thought.

“Combined rookie training was done in the past. There’s been talk about it through the years, about doing the training that way again,” Oakleaf says. “We both have great respect for the two BLM smokejumper bases. We thought combining the training would be a good thing to do.”

Ben Oakleaf

Smokejumper management agreed and Swisher and Oakleaf were given the challenging assignment to make it happen.

The combined rookie training took place in April of 2012 in Alaska. By all accounts, it was a huge success. Combined training is again scheduled for April of this year, in Idaho.

“They were analytical, deliberate, mutually respectful of one another’s opinions, and ultimately convincing that the timing was right to give this combined effort another shot,” says Hector Madrid, manager of the Great Basin smokejumpers. “They developed guidelines, the training syllabus, a logistics plan and selected a cadre that shared the same viewpoints about rookie training.”

The effort proved worthwhile, according to Bill Cramer, Alaska smokejumper manager.

“The end result was that we had a strong group of first-year jumpers who came ready to contribute. The training could not have been done any better,” he says.

Great Basin jumpers often help Alaska jumpers in the spring, the peak of the northern fire season. In turn, Alaska jumpers often “boost” firefighting efforts in the Lower 48 during July and August, when the fire season is busiest in the West.

Having the same training and familiarity with one another is a big advantage.

“The more we know each other and about each other, the more seamless it is when we integrate the crews,” says Oakleaf.

But it was more than the combined rookie training that distinguishes Swisher and Oakleaf. Their supervisors say the two excel in every aspect of the smokejumping program.

“He seeks challenges, he accepts responsibility, he always looks for ways to improve,” says Cramer of his colleague Swisher. “That’s what resonates with me. It’s not just what he did in 2012, but the way he continually performs his job.

“He’s humble, without reason to be,” Cramer adds. “From his perspective, he just shows up and tries to do his job the best way he can. He doesn’t think he’s anyone special.”

Madrid is equal in his praise of Oakleaf.

“Ben’s strength is that he leads by example. No matter his experience, he’s never been above or beyond doing a task. He has great firefighting and jumping skills. He’s the full package,” says Madrid. “His attitude is second to none. He’s never in a bad mood, never had a bad moment, no matter the situation.”

The “Al Dunton Award” was established last year. Dunton was a rookie smokejumper in Fairbanks in 1967. He managed the smokejumper base there from 1972 through 1984 and remained active in fire management throughout his career. Much of BLM’s success in fire management can be traced back to Dunton’s work and innovations. The award was established by the interagency smokejumper base managers and the National Smokejumper Association, with the support of Al Dunton’s wife, Mary, and other family members.

Last year’s BLM winner was Gary Baumgartner.

The respect level is high between the award recipients.

“On a personal note, (organizing) the combined rookie training was fun to do with Chris. We’ve been good friends now for a long time,” Oakleaf says.

“I think there are more worthy people than me,” says Swisher, “but I’m glad that Ben was chosen.”

Says Cramer of the two, “I wish we could put them in a copy machine and duplicate them. Of course, if we did, the rest of us might be out of a job.”


Prescribed fire training in Nebraska

Nebraska Rx fire academy
Nebraska prescribed fire academy, screen grab from Emily Kreutz video

The Nebraska Public Broadcasting System is reviewing their best stories of 2012, and among that group is their coverage of a prescribed fire academy sponsored by The Nature Conservancy near Gothenburn, Nebraska. The Nebraska PBS site has an interesting article as well as a video describing the training which occurred in March.

Here is an excerpt from the article:


…More and more, field operations for controlled burns are dictated by knowledge gleaned from scientific research. It’s long been known fire behavior is influenced by weather, the amount and type of available fuel and the lay of the land.

Since so much knowledge has been passed from one generation to the next, there’s an unusual tension between new science and the traditional, often effective, methods of harnessing the benefits of fire.

“I think that prescribed burning is more of an art than a science, but you do have to understand fire behavior and use that,” said Doug Wisenhunt of the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. He admitted to mixed feelings about crews in the field relying too much on computer models and mathematical formulas.

“You can calculate some of that, but in general, it’s just kind of knowing how the fire is going to react when you are burning at that time.”