Air quality and smoke forecasts for September, 13, 2020

Smoke Forecast fire September 13, 2020
Smoke forecast for 6 a.m. PDT Sept 13, 2020.

The map above shows the forecast for the distribution of near-surface smoke at 6 a.m. PDT September, 13, 2020.

It appears that severe impacts will occur in areas of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.

(UPDATED smoke and air quality maps for September 13 can be found HERE)

Air quality from AirNow at 3 p.m. PDT September 12, 2020 is below. Most of Oregon, Washington, and northern California are in the categories of Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, or Hazardous. If you’re in those areas and are lucky enough to have an N95 mask, this is a good time to use it. Being indoors does not help much unless you are aggressively filtering the air with a HEPA category filter. (Information about how to reduce your exposure to smoke.)

Air quality at 3 p.m. PDT Sept. 12, 2020
Air quality at 3 p.m. PDT Sept. 12, 2020. AirNow.

Below is the air quality forecast for Sunday September 13, 2020.

Air Quality forecast for September 13, 2020
Air Quality forecast for September 13, 2020. AirNow.

The photos below compare visibility in Eugene, Oregon on a clear day and today, September 12, 2020.

Visibility Eugene, Oregon clear day
Visibility in Eugene, Oregon on a clear day.
Visibility Eugene, Oregon today September 12, 2020 smoke fires
Visibility in Eugene, Oregon today, September 12, 2020.

Strong winds spread numerous wildfires in Oregon and Washington

An unprecedented number of fires and acres have burned in recent days

September 8, 2020 | 9:23 p.m. PDT

satellite photo fires smoke Washington, Oregon, and California
GOES-17 photo of smoke from wildfires in Washington, Oregon, and California at 5:56 p.m. PDT Sept. 8, 2020.

The number of wildfires and acres burning in Washington and Oregon are reaching a level that is close to unprecedented in recent memory.

Tuesday afternoon the western one-quarter of Oregon was inundated with dense smoke from multiple fires south of Portland and mostly east of Interstate 5. Strong winds are turning small fires that were ignited weeks ago in Marion County, Oregon into major incidents as law enforcement officers and firefighters try to stay ahead of the fires evacuating residents in their paths.

map wildfires in Washington and Oregon
Map showing heat detected by satellites on wildfires in Washington and Oregon at 4:18 p.m. PDT September 8, 2020.

Thousands of Oregonians were under evacuation orders Tuesday. OPG.org reported that officials said they were so focused on protecting lives and property that suppressing the blazes consuming hundreds of thousands of acres would have to wait. “Our number one priority is evacuation and basic life safety,” said Mariana Ruiz-Temple, chief deputy state fire marshal. “This wind event does not give us the opportunity to really get in there and fight fire how we might fight fire in previous events.”

The Glendower Fire started north of Ashland, Oregon then spread northwest along the Interstate 5 corridor into Medford. Much of the city is under evacuation orders and multiple structures have burned. (More information about the Glendower Fire, including a map.)

Glendowner Fire Oregon Medford
Tweet at 7:04 p.m. PDT Sept 8, 2020.

Strong winds accompanying a cold front was the primary force responsible for the rapid spread of the fires, but some of the driest conditions seen in decades led to low moisture content in vegetation that made large quantities of fuel available to quickly ignite.

map wildfires in northwest Oregon
Map showing heat detected by satellites on wildfires in northwest Oregon, south of Portland at 4:18 p.m. PDT September 8, 2020.

The New York Times reported the National Weather Service on Tuesday placed Northwest and southwestern Oregon under an extreme fire danger warning, the first time southern Oregon has been the subject of such a warning, according to the Oregon Climate Office. The Oregon Department of Corrections evacuated 1,450 inmates from three prisons east of Salem.

The New York Times:

Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said on Tuesday that an estimated 330,000 acres had burned across the state on Monday, more than what burned in each of the last 12 fire seasons. “The devastation is all over our state,” Mr. Inslee said in a news briefing.

One of the smaller fires in Washington, relatively speaking,  wiped out about 80 percent of the structures in Malden, a town of 200 people south of Spokane. Officials said the buildings that burned included the fire station, post office, city hall, and the library.

Three of the largest blazes in Washington are Cold Springs south of Omak (163,000 acres), Pearl Hill east of Brewster (174,000 acres), and Evans Canyon north of Yakima (75,817 acres). The Pearl Hill fire reportedly burned 170,000 acres within 24 hours.

map fires Washington
Map showing heat detected by satellites on wildfires in Washington at 4:18 p.m. PDT September 8, 2020.

Firefighter’s family killed in structure fire

And unrelated, a firefighter died in a vehicle accident while commuting home

Four members of firefighter’s family killed in structure fire

The wife and three children of a wildland firefighter were killed in Washington while he was deployed on a wildfire.

Marcaria Garcia-Martinez, 32, her daughters Luz Garcia-Martinez, 17, and Michelle Garcia-Martinez, 6, and son Luis Garcia-Martinez, 15, died in the early morning  blaze on August 27.  They had just moved and were spending their first night in the single-wide trailer in Benton City, Washington. When sheriff deputies and firefighters arrived the home was almost completely consumed. The radiant heat from the fire was so intense that a nearby trailer also ignited, but deputies were able to rescue the residents of that home. Firefighters put out the fire and found the family members’ bodies while searching the trailer.

Raul Garcia-Santos, Garcia-Martinez’s husband and the children’s father, was assigned to the Palmer Fire in north-central Washington which has burned about 18,000 acres four miles south of the Canadian border. The fire has not been updated on InciWeb since September 30.

Firefighter dies in vehicle accident while commuting home

Sara Madsen. USFS photo.

A firefighter on the Helena Hotshot crew was killed in a vehicle accident in Idaho while commuting home after a fire assignment.

From the U. S. Forest Service, Caribou-Targhee National Forest September 3, 2020:

“Sara Madsen was an incredible person with a vivacious personality and a love for the outdoors. She began working in natural resources in our very own Teton Valley as a Youth Conservation Corp member, later moving into the fire program where she served as a crewmember on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest’s Centennial Type 2 Initial Attack Hand Crew from 2017 to 2019. 2020 was her first year as part of the Helena Hot Shot crew with the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Our firefighting community is heartbroken over this tragic loss and our condolences go out to Sara’s family, friends and coworkers.”

The Idaho State Police released the following information:

  • “On September 2, 2020, at approximately 12:21 a.m., Idaho State Police investigated a single-vehicle crash on SH32 near milepost 25 south of Ashton, in Fremont County.
  • Sara Madsen, 24, of Tetonia, was driving eastbound on SH32 in a 1999 Ford Ranger when her vehicle went off the right shoulder of the roadway and overturned.
  • Madsen was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle. She succumbed to her injuries at the scene. Next of kin has been notified.”

Rest in peace, Sara Madsen, and the family of Raul Garcia-Santos.

Electric co-op in Washington reaches settlement to pay $1.1 million for suppression of fire that killed three firefighters

Earlier, power companies agreed to pay the seriously injured lone survivor $5 million

Twisp River Fire map
Photo from the report on the Twisp River Fire.

The Okanogan County Electric Co-op has agreed to a $1.1 million settlement for the suppression costs of the deadly 2015 Twisp River Fire.

U.S. Attorney William D. Hyslop announced that the settlement had been reached with Okanogan County Electric Cooperative, Inc. (“OCEC”) and its insurer, requiring the payment of $1.1 million to the United States in fire suppression costs resulting from the Twisp River Fire that began on August 19, 2015 in north-central Washington.

The $1.1 million recovers a large portion of the U.S. Forest Service’s costs incurred in suppressing the fire. It was part of a larger settlement of claims that were brought separately by other plaintiffs, including U.S. Forest Service firefighter Daniel Lyon and the State of Washington, who sought to recover damages for personal injury and property damage caused by the fire.

The Twisp River Fire ultimately burned approximately 11,200 acres, claimed the lives of three USFS firefighters, and severely injured Mr. Lyon. He suffered third degree burns over nearly 70 percent of his body, but three other firefighters in the same engine died in the vehicle, according to the corner’s report, from smoke inhalation and thermal injuries. They were Richard Wheeler, 31; Andrew Zajac, 26; and Tom Zbyszewski, 20. All four were employees of the USFS working on the Okanogan/Wenatchee National Forest out of Twisp, Washington.

The US Attorney claimed the Twisp River Fire ignited due to contact between a tree branch and OCEC’s electrical distribution line. He further claimed OCEC failed to properly maintain a vegetation management plan designed to detect and prevent the tree branch from contacting the distribution line. OCEC denied these allegations.

In January Mr. Lyon reached a settlement with two utility companies, OCEC and Douglas County PUD, just before an appeal of his $100 million civil suit was to be heard before the state Supreme Court. In that settlement the companies agreed to pay $5 million.

From the Wenatchee World, when the $5 million settlement was announced in January:

“I am very grateful that my case calls attention to the plight of injured first responders,” said Lyon, who was burned over most of his body and has undergone more than a dozen surgeries and 100 medical procedures. “I am also grateful my case has reached a settlement so that I can now move on with my life knowing I will have the resources I need for the future.”

Last July, his attorneys, in an appeals brief, argued the Professional Rescue Doctrine that largely bars such claims violates the state constitution, which gives people equal protection under the law and offers the right to seek compensation for damages.

Lyon’s attorneys note that courts in some other states, where the doctrine once held sway, have opted to throw it out.

An attorney for one of the two defendants, in an earlier interview, says the wounds Lyon suffered — however grievous — resulted from risks inherent to the dangerous job of firefighting.

“The law does not allow them (professional first responders) to sue — and there are good policy reasons behind that,” said A. Grant Lingg, who represents the Okanogan County Electric Cooperative. “You don’t want the people who start a fire to be afraid to call the fire department for fear that that an injured first responder will sue them.”

The video below is about the January settlement.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Forest Service Northwest region issues COVID-19 protocols for firefighting

“Initial attack should be the highest priority for commitment of resources”

National Park Service fire wildfire firefighters
National Park Service photo.

On April 9 the U.S. Forest Service issued protocols for firefighters in their Pacific Northwest Region, Washington and Oregon, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It only applies to FS personnel in those two states and is intended to be complementary to the Northwest Geographic Response Plan being developed by an Area Command Team.

You can download the entire nine-page document, but we captured some of the highlights:

Before the fire

  • Survey first responders to develop lists of those pre-disposed to respiratory illness and factor this into their assigned roles and tasks on large incidents.
  • Build extra capacity in all of our workforce, but especially supervisors, for managing line of duty deaths (Casualty Assistance Program).
  • Technology:
    • Remote operations, briefings, sensing and surveillance, fuel modeling/sensing; fire behavior modeling/projections.
    • Preparation for those modules that have or potential to have reduced personnel, by identifying collateral duty/overhead personnel and militia prepared to help with staffing engines, IHC’s and hand crews.
    • Operations will prepare with the expectation that resource limitations will occur at all Preparedness Levels.
  • Contracting: MRE’s, medical equipment, PPE, remote sensing, UAS, contract personnel and equipment.

During the Fire

  • Priority: Initial attack should be the highest priority for commitment of resources with the purpose of containing fires during initial attack and preventing long duration fires.
  • Initial attack response should align with direction to limit the risk of exposure and spread of COVID-19. This should involve strategies and tactics that minimize the number of people needed to respond and that reduce the incident duration while not compromising firefighter safety and probability of success. The efforts to reduce overall exposure may require consideration to increased staffing, albeit for less duration.
  • Emphasize containment in order to minimize assignment time, mop-up standards should be evaluated for all incidents and limited to minimize additional fire spread.
    • Make decisions that will minimize the number of responders needed to meet objectives.
    • Consider zone and point protection suppression strategies associated with protection of human life, communities and critical infrastructure when sufficient resources for perimeter control are not available.
    • Weigh the risk of responding in multiple vehicles; driving is still the one of our highest-risk activities.
    • Stock vehicles with disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, soap and physical barrier protection (face shields, masks). Disinfect vehicles and equipment and wash PPE after each response.
    • Do not share PPE, flight helmets, radios or other equipment.
    • Use MREs, freeze dried, single-serve sack or boxed meals instead of food lines. Evaluate drinking water supply options to minimize exposure and handling of water containers.
    • Monitor smoke and Co2 Exposure to firefighters, rotate in and out of smoke if necessary.
    • Consider shorter tours (<14 days), shorter shift lengths. Incorporate additional time into shifts to provide for hygiene, cleaning and additional rest.
  • Remote operations, briefings sensing and surveillance, fuel modeling/sensing; fire behavior modeling/projections.
    • Use technology to communicate using virtual tools.
    • Increase use of UAS and webcams.
    • Plan for increased use of networking capabilities, and areas with limited or not existing network capabilities may need additional services.
  • Camps:
    • When possible, shift operations and logistics from single, large camps to multiple, satellite camps that support the separation of people.
    • Incident Command Teams may utilize hotels where individual rooms allow for separations
    • Briefings should be conducted via radios and/or other virtual tools, to reduce face to face interactions.
    • Expanded medical support (as needed and if possible).
    • Module isolation: (dispersed camping).
    • Two-way isolation: closed camps with security, no leaving camp to travel into community.
    • Define and implement more rigorous cleaning and sanitation protocols.
    • Provide extra hand washing stations if possible.
  • Communication: When possible, shift operations and logistics from single, large camps to multiple, satellite camps that support the separation of people.
    • Incident Command Teams may utilize hotels where individual rooms allow for separations.
    • Briefings should be conducted via radios and/or other virtual tools, to reduce face to face interactions.
    • Expanded medical support (as needed and if possible).
    • Module isolation: (dispersed camping).
    • Two-way isolation: closed camps with security, no leaving camp to travel into community.
    • Define and implement more rigorous cleaning and sanitation protocols.
    • Provide extra handwashing stations if possible.

After the Fire

  • Rest, Recovery and Reassignment: take precautions to limit potential spread of COVID-19. This may include:
    • Continued screening and testing.
    • Module isolation (Fire modules should not report to the office but a designated location that allows for the crew to interact and work without exposing them or other employees. Work should allow for the continued separation of crews as long as they continue to remain available nationally.)
  • Increased employee support (be prepared to provide it virtually)
    • EAP
    • Peer Support
    • Hospital and Family Liaison
  • Tracking: Forward and backward monitoring of all module-to-module, person-to-person and community interactions.
  • Communication: Appraise community of status including quarantines and rehabilitation.
    • Communicating potential exposure.
    • Communicating our limited capacity for response.
    • Community response.
  • AAR Specific to Wildfire Tactics and COVID-19. We need to institutionalize what we learn from the COVID-19 crisis and incorporate that into our enterprise risk management as well as local SOPs.

Incident Management Teams are receiving COVID-19 assignments

Area Command, Type 1, Type 2, and NIMO teams

Coronavirus Response graphic

At least eight interagency Incident Management Teams have been deployed to work on issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. These are the teams that usually are assigned on wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, but can adapt to manage many different kinds of planned or unplanned incidents, organized under the Incident Command System.

As we reported earlier, three Area Command Teams were given assignments on March 17 to develop protocols and wildfire response plans for maintaining dispatching, initial attack, and extended attack capability. The plan was for the personnel to work remotely, rather than assemble in one location. The teams will be working on plans for the following geographic areas:

  • AC Team 1, Tim Sexton: Southern, Great Basin, & Northern Rockies.
  • AC Team 2, Joe Stutler: Rocky Mountains, Northwest, & Alaska.
  • AC Team 3, Scott Jalbert: Southwest, and both Northern and Southern California.

Two National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) teams have also received assignments:

Two IMTs were activated in the Northwest Geographic Area:

  • Type 1 NW Team 2, Rob Allen, has been assigned to Washington State Emergency Operations Center, providing complexity analysis, risk assessments and short/long-term planning guidance.
  • Type 2 NW Team 13 , Brian Gales, has been assigned to the Spokane Regional Health District, Washington, assisting with strategic planning and building capacity.

There are reports that other teams have been assigned in Oregon from the State Fire Marshal’s office and the Department of Forestry.