Fire whirl recorded on video in the UK

Fire Whirl
Fire Whirl — Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Service

I don’t often associate extreme wildland fire behavior with the United Kingdom, but firefighters with the Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service grabbed some video of this impressive fire whirl near Swadlincote, a town in Derbyshire, England.

Fire Whirl

Fire Whirl
Fire Whirl — Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Service

We have written about similar phenomenons several times on Wildfire Today. Here is an excerpt from a 2016 article, “Defining fire whirls and fire tornados”:


The news media sometimes calls any little fire whirl a “fire tornado, or even a “firenado”. We found out today that these and related terms (except for “firenado”) were, if not founded, at least documented and defined in 1978 by a researcher for the National Weather Service in Missoula, David W. Goens. He grouped fire whirls into four classes:

  1. Fire Devils. They are a natural part of fire turbulence with little influence on fire behavior or spread. They are usually on the order of 3 to 33 feet in diameter and have rotational velocities less than 22 MPH.
  2. Fire Whirls. A meld of the fire, topograph, and meteorological factors. These play a significant role in fire spread and hazard to control personnel. The average size of this class is usually 33 to 100 feet, with rotational velocities of 22 to 67 MPH.
  3. Fire Tornadoes. These systems begin to dominate the large scale fire dynamics. They lead to extreme hazard and control problems. In size, they average 100 to 1,000 feet in diameter and have rotational velocities up to 90 MPH.
  4. Fire Storm. Fire behavior is extremely violent. Diameters have been observed to be from 1,000 to 10,000 feet and winds estimated in excess of 110 MPH. This is a rare phenomenon and hopefully one that is so unlikely in the forest environment that it can be disregarded.”

Saddleworth Moor fire in England contained; hot temperatures to linger

Firefighters work to contain a wildfire the scorched hundreds of acres on Saddleworth Moor, near Manchester in the United Kingdom. Photo courtesy Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service

Firefighters in the United Kingdom have contained a wildfire burning through the rolling, grassy hills near Manchester, but prolonged hot weather is setting the stage for an unusually active fire season in Britain.

The fires have burned since Sunday on Saddleworth Moor east of Manchester. The location — and rarity— of fires in the area has led to some stunning photos, too.

On Thursday, soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS) arrived to provide to support to the approximately 100 Greater Manchester firefighters in Tameside. The fire was said to have burned approximately 2,000 acres, and residents who had been forced from their homes have been allowed to return.

“To have the support of the Armed Forces is extremely pleasing and I know that firefighters will be very appreciative of their help in tackling the multiple fires we are dealing with,” Assistant Chief Fire Officer Tony Hunter said Thursday.

“We have not seen any indication of any rainfall, so this incident is likely to be prolonged for a number of days,” he added. “The fire is contained at the moment, but we only need a change of wind direction to see the fire increase. We are working hard to keep on top of the blaze.”

Temperatures in Manchester have been above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, 10-15 degrees above normal for this time of year based on historical averages.

“The scale of this fire is staggering, and the damage to precious wildlife and unique habitat is unimaginable. There’s lots of speculation about the cause and that is a matter for police and fire service investigation,” said Richard Bailey, from the Peak District Moorland Group, in a statement.

“It is simply not correct for anyone to suggest that moorland management is at the root of this. The reason that this fire burned so fiercely is the extremely dry and hot weather conditions.”

Goal-oriented decision-making

Goal-oriented training can change the balance between reflective and reflexive processes.

Emergency responders have all been there — they rush to get to an incident, very quickly size it up, and take action. But award-winning research looks at incident managers that include a third step, actually formulating a plan of action. It has been argued that the development of explicit plans enables shared situational awareness and goals to support a common operating picture.

An article written by Dr. Sabrina Cohen-Hatton and R.C. Honey, Goal-Oriented Training Affects Decision-Making Processes in Virtual and Simulated Fire and Rescue Environments, received the Best Paper of the Year Award from the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied in 2016.

The research evaluated 48 incident commanders from 11 Fire and Rescue Services in the United Kingdom who had just received one-hour of training on incident management. They were divided into two groups, one with standard training and the other that included information about decision-making:

For Group Decision, slides were included that highlighted the use decision controls, which involved using a rapid mental check list of questions at key decision points: Why am I doing this (i.e., what are my goals)? What do I expect to happen (i.e., what are the anticipated consequences)? and Are the benefits worth the risks? When participants given goal-oriented training watched the footage, and were asked what actions they would take next, they were directed to answer with reference to the decision controls.

After the brief training the firefighters participated in immersive virtual reality (VR) simulations of a house fire, a traffic collision, and a “skip fire that spreads to an adjoining shop”.

The results showed that goal-oriented training affects the decision-making process in experienced incident commanders across a variety of simulated environments
ranging from immersive VR through to live burns. There is evidence that the training can change the balance between reflective and reflexive processes which could have the potential to increase the effectiveness of communication between members of firefighting crews and to improve
safety.

London may ban sky lanterns

We have written before about the dangers of sky lanterns, the paper or plastic balloons that are sent aloft powered by the hot air generated from a small flaming device. They have started many fires, both wildland and structural, and are banned in at least 29 U.S. states.

The city of London in the UK is considering banning the devices. Below is an excerpt from an article in The Londoner. We concentrate on the fire hazard, but don’t often mention that each sky lantern becomes someone else’s garbage.

…It still begs the questions, “What could possibly go wrong with releasing paper globes into the night sky, that you have zero control over, filled with fire, paper, hot wax and bamboo?”

Health Canada investigated and didn’t find a reason to regulate the lanterns three years ago. But since then, they have grown in popularity. When items like this grow in popularity, the poorer-quality knock-offs slip into the mainstream. And what used to be the odd event here or there has become the norm, sending thousands of these flaming lanterns into the sky.

There are several serious fires on record all over the world, including a fire started from a lantern that destroyed 800 acres in Horry County, South Carolina. The most recent wildfire is noted in Colorado this past March. Many countries have begun banning sky lanterns.

Let’s step past the whole argument for the potential to set a national park ablaze, sending up a sky lantern in memory of your faithful hamster Stewie for a moment. Let’s look at the other collateral damage. Garbage.

These lanterns just don’t disappear once they are out of view. Once they fall back to earth, they become garbage. And not biodegradable garbage either. Unless wire has become biodegradable recently…

Suppressing a fire in Lancashire

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service in the UK posted this series of 10 to 20 second videos of how they dealt with a recent vegetation fire. They responded to “several deliberate fires”, but apparently the largest was a “10 pump” fire.

Leaf blower as a firefighting tool

Manchester leaf blowers
A photo from the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service website showing firefighters using leaf blowers on a grass fire.

On one of the pages of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service website that features wildfires, there is some praise for their “new Forced Air Firefighting Units (FAFU)”, also known as leaf blowers:

Manchester leaf blower

Though they may be new to firefighters in the United Kingdom, leaf blowers have been used on fires in the southeast United States for decades. I have had a little experience with them and found that they can be very useful for building fireline in hardwood litter. A brief trial in directly controlling an active fire found that they can be tricky to use. You have to be very careful where you point that high-velocity stream of air because burning embers are constantly in motion and when airborne they can sometimes land in an undesired location. And wind direction is key.

I’d like to hear from firefighters that have experience using leaf blowers in a fire management operation.