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:
The events unfolded quickly on September 1. After being reported at about 1600 the Incident Commander sized it up nine minutes later at five to ten acres spreading rapidly in grass and brush.
Wearing his turnout pants, Assistant Chief Johnson loaded into B341 (a 2012 Ford F450 Type 6 Brush Truck) and stowed his turnout jacket on the back of the truck between the cab and a rear-mounted storage compartment. At 1615 the Chief arrived at the fire with another firefighter. Eleven minutes later a MAYDAY was called for the entrapment.
Upon arrival Chief Johnson and the firefighter, identified as the “external firefighter” in the report, began a mobile attack, with the Chief driving the truck and the firefighter operating a nozzle. They were working along an old cat trail from an earlier fire, identified as “Old Fireline” on the aerial photo.
After a few minutes the wind direction shifted from blowing parallel with the cat line, generally south, to southeasterly and aligned with the small swale shown on the aerial photo. This pushed the fire rapidly toward the road and the two firefighters. The Chief yelled at the other firefighter to drop the hose and move.
From the report:
The exterior firefighter didn’t open the passenger door; fire was immediately at his back and had caught the passenger mirror on fire. He ran around to the driver’s side of B341 and climbed on the outside of the truck again. As fire moved under B341, Assistant Chief Johnson attempted to drive B341 away from the area. After traveling five or six feet, B341 “lurched” and then became immobilized. With flames rolling up the exterior firefighter’s legs, visible on the passenger side of the vehicle itself, under the truck and in front of them, both the exterior firefighter and Assistant Chief Johnson exited the vehicle to escape the fire. Assistant Chief Johnson and the exterior firefighter ran toward the old cat trail at slightly different angles. In Assistant Chief Johnson’s path, hidden by vegetation, lay a substantial field of rocks and metal debris (Figure 9). While it is impossible to know for certain, it is thought Assistant Chief Johnson may have become entangled in the debris and was overtaken by fire.
The exterior firefighter, with fire surrounding him—and at times reaching up between his legs—was able to escape the advancing fire. The exterior firefighter and the fire reached the road at approximately the same instant.
As it was starved of fuel, the roaring and crackling of the fire quieted and the exterior firefighter from B341 immediately turned around to head back into the black and reestablish contact with Assistant Chief Johnson. The firefighter located Assistant Chief Johnson approximately 150 feet from the exterior of B341. The MAYDAY was called at 1626.
Just before 1655, the surface winds shifted to a south-southwesterly direction. This pushed a “finger” of fire north of the structures on the eastern flank and increased fire behavior in the area. At approximately 1655, the engine on the eastern flank requested air support as “we are trapped here” and they needed water to continue effective structure protection. A helicopter in the area had already spotted the flare-up and was able to deliver water within seconds of the radio call. At least one additional water drop was completed by a [single engine air tanker].
The report does not specify exactly where the first burnover occurred, but there are clues that it was near the “Swale.”
During the burnover the Chief was not wearing his turnout jacket, which after the incident was still stowed behind the truck’s cab. The report concluded that the lack of personal protective equipment above the waist contributed to the severity of his injuries.
The external firefighter was quoted as saying, “The only reason I am alive is because I had all this [structural] gear on. Without that I wouldn’t have even made it back to the truck.”
The investigation found a low oxygen code recorded in the truck’s electronic system. There was no time associated with the code, so it can’t be determined if it occurred while the vehicle was surrounded by fire or if it was the cause or symptom of the truck being immobilized.
There have been a number of incidents in which firefighting vehicles stalled in very dense smoke.
The Pratt Tribune reported in 2010 that “smoke suffocated the carburetor” causing the engine on a brush truck to stall. The firefighters on the truck escaped unharmed into the black, or previously burned area, but the truck was not as fortunate.
The report on the death of one firefighter at the 2011 Coal Canyon Fire in South Dakota does not speculate why the engine on a truck died in heavy smoke as the fire overran the vehicle with two people inside. Two firefighters were entrapped in the engine. One remained entrapped and died; the other escaped.
Personnel involved in the Spring Coulee Fire highlighted six core lessons. These lessons are focused on communications, training, medical pre-positioning and medical evacuation coordination, vehicles, access, and personal protective equipment.
The Epilog is from the report:
“Christian Johnson, 55, of Okanogan, Washington passed away Wednesday, October 2, 2019 from injuries sustained in the Spring Coulee Fire south of Okanogan. Christian was born in 1963 in Salem, Oregon, to James and Margaret Johnson. He grew up in Salem, graduating from South Salem High School in 1982. Christian began college at Oregon State University, but felt he had a larger calling and joined the Army. Christian served from 1983-1986 in the 82nd Airborne Division where he achieved the rank of Sergeant. After being honorably discharged, Christian continued his duty by joining the Oregon Army National Guard. He then returned to college and graduated from Chemeketa Community College in Salem in 1988 with an A.A. in Building Inspection Technology. Christian accepted a position as a building inspector in Washington for Okanogan County and later transferred as building official and permit administrator to the cities of Oroville, Tonasket, and Okanogan. He also transferred to the Washington National Guard where, along with his Charlie Company of the 1-161 Infantry Regiment, he deployed to Iraq. Christian served from November 2003–April 2005. Upon returning home, Christian retired from the National Guard after a total of 22 years of service. In Okanogan, Christian found another call to duty and in May of 1999, he joined the Okanogan Fire Department where he served as the Assistant Fire Chief and Secretary of the Okanogan Volunteer Fire Department Association.”
A firefighter who received second and third degree burns over 60 percent of his body September 1, 2019 while battling the Spring Coulee Fire in Okanogan County, Washington passed away yesterday, October 2, 2019. Christian Dean Johnson, 55, of Okanogan was surrounded by his wife Pam, family, and friends at Harborview Medical Center.
Christian has served his country as a sergeant in the Us Army, and was deployed with the Washington State National Guard from November 2003-May 2005 in Baghdad. He retired after 22 years of service and has volunteered for the Okanogan Fire Department for 20 years.
Christian is a selfless man, who is always willing to help those in need, and never ask for anything in return. We are now asking for your help to make this long journey a little easier for him and his family. Any amount of donations are greatly appreciated and will go towards helping his wife (Pam Johnson) with travel, housing, food, etc.
Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Christian’s family and friends. May he rest in peace.
Maple trees are so valuable and prized by woodworkers, especially those who manufacture musical instruments, that it is a violation of the law in Washington to transport the wood without a state-issued specialized forest products permit. Armed with a permit that authorized the harvesting of maples from private land, Justin Andrew Wilke and Shawn Edward (Thor) Williams and others camped for several days in the Olympic National Forest scouting for big leaf maple trees with the highly desired figured wood pattern. They identified trees containing figuring by “checking” the trees, that is, using an axe to peel back the bark to expose the pattern of the wood, sometimes doing it at night to avoid detection.
When they found a tree they liked they would fell it with a chain saw, buck it up, and transport the wood to a mill in Tumwater, Washington, presenting the permit and saying it had been harvested with permission from private property. According to the federal grand jury indictment, Wilke and/or Williams made more than 20 trips to the mill between April and August of 2018, collecting more than $13,000 by selling illegally harvested National Forest timber.
The theft was going fine for the two men until they ran into a problem on August 3, 2018 near the Elk Lake Lower Trailhead. Their latest target contained a bee’s nest that made it difficult or impossible to fell the tree. Spraying wasp killer was not effective, so they agreed that Mr. Wilke’s plan to burn them out with gasoline was the next step.
The indictment does not specify if the fire got rid of the bees, but the men were not able to put it out with water bottles. The fire, named “Maple”, ultimately burned 3,300 acres.
When a U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer questioned Mr. Wilke on August 4 about the fire and his timber-poaching activity, he told the officer that he had not been cutting timber, did not have a chain saw, and knew nothing about the fire. It turned out that he had concealed his saw to hide it from investigators.
Mr. Wilke and Mr. Williams were charged with multiple felonies related to timber theft and starting the fire. Mr. Williams had previously been in trouble with authorities in Florida for firearms violations.
From the Washington Post, October 1, 2019:
A spokesperson with the U.S. attorney’s office told The Washington Post that Wilke pleaded not guilty during a court appearance on Monday and remains detained. His trial will begin in December. Williams is in state custody in California and will be transported to Washington state to be arraigned, the spokesperson said.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
A firefighter suffered serious burns September 1, 2019 while working on a 142-acre fire near Spring Coulee Road in Okanogan County, Washington.
The information below is from Okanogan County Emergency Management, September 3:
Christian Johnson, Assistant Chief of the Okanogan Volunteer Fire Department, has suffered serious injuries while on the Spring Coulee Fire. He has second and third degree burns over 60% of his body.
Christian is currently in a medically-induced coma at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. They are trying to stabilize him so they can proceed with skin graft surgery. He will be looking at a minimum of 2-3 months in the ICU.
Christian has served his country as a sergeant in the Army, and was deployed with the Washington State National Guard from November 2003- May 2005 in Baghdad. He retired after 22 years of service and has volunteered for the Okanogan Fire Department for 20 years.
Christian is a selfless man, who is always willing to help those in need, and never asks for anything in return. We are now asking for your help to make this long journey a little easier for him and his family. Any amount of donations are greatly appreciated and will go towards helping the family with travel, housing, food, etc.
If anyone would like to make a donation, they may use the GO FUND ME account or make a donation to: Christian Johnson Donation Account at North Cascades Bank, PO Box 672, Okanogan WA 98840.
Below: Video of the Spring Coulee Fire in Okanogan County, Washington, September 1, 2019. Okanogan County Emergency Management.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
Atmospheric scientists regularly take note when satellites detect thunderheads rising above columns of wildfire smoke. These “fire clouds”—experts call them pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) or cumulonimbus flammagenitus—are caused when fires loft enough heat and moisture into the atmosphere to produce thunderstorms.
On August 8, 2019, a team of atmospheric scientists got an exceedingly rare look at these clouds as they were forming. NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory passed directly through a large pyrocumulonimbus that day as it was rising from a fire in eastern Washington. The flight was part of a joint NOAA and NASA field campaign called FIREX-AQ. Scientists are studying the composition and chemistry of smoke to better understand its impact on air quality and climate.
David Peterson, lead forecaster for FIREX-AQ, was in the cockpit of NASA’s DC-8. “The views were absolutely stunning,” said Peterson. “Very few photographs of large pyroCbs are available, especially from the air.”
The photograph above, shot from roughly 30,000 feet (9 kilometers), shows the setting Sun shining through thick smoke at 8 p.m. Mountain Time. Particles in the smoke reflect light in ways that make the Sun appear orange. The photograph below shows the smoke plume (gray) that fed the pyrocumulonimbus cloud (white).
The flight was the most detailed sampling of a pyrocumulonimbus in history, explained Peterson. A second research aircraft flew over the plume a few hours earlier in the day, and mobile labs on the ground also made detailed measurements.
“PyroCb are like large chimneys, transporting a large quantity of smoke into the lower stratosphere,” explained Peterson.
When smoke does reach the stratosphere, it tends to spread globally and remain high in the atmosphere for longer periods—months or even years—than smoke that stays in the lower troposphere. One recent study concluded that the largest fire clouds can even lift quantities of smoke aerosols into the lower stratosphere that are comparable to a moderate-sized volcanic eruption.
An early morning thunderstorm ignited the Williams Flats Fire on August 2, 2019. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired a natural-color image of the blaze (at the top of the page) as it approached the north bank of the Columbia River on August 7, 2019. The image is natural color (OLI bands 4-3-2), overlaid with the infrared and shortwave infrared signature of actively burning fires.