SPOTFIRE! ~ The FUSEE Blog
It takes just one little ember to spark a Spotfire! Like fireline scouts, FUSEE’s crew of bloggers size up emerging incidents and issues, report back vital information, and mark the route for others to follow. Here you will find news and views you can use to promote safe, ethical, ecological fire management. We hope interested readers and investigative reporters will follow up on our blog posts to get the whole story of wildland fire.
Danny had a plan. Travis remained dubious. But what other options did they have? Just out of the penitentiary, bosses wouldn’t hire them. Travis worried that this plan could send them back to the joint. However, Travis liked that he was dressed in Wildland firefighters’ Nomex. Danny and Travis had been on wildfire prison crews a few times. Travis loved it. Danny hated it. They both knew how to act like firefighters. As they drove into the evacuating wildland-urban-interface neighborhood, the wildfire shuffled around some distance away.
Danny’s plan was to burglarize houses under the cover of evacuation panic and chaos. During this extremely busy fire season, police and fire folks couldn’t keep up. At this suburb, no cops, no firefighters. As Danny entered and burglarized the abandoned homes, Travis, as lookout, would signal Danny about trouble. Travis was to explain to questioning evacuating people that they were watching for spot fires.
Panicked people did ask for information. How was the fire behaving? How much time did they have? Were they in danger right now? Travis tried to answer the best he could and his calming presence reassured them. They always thanked him for his self-sacrificing service and his bravery.
A middle-age woman scurried up to Travis. She cried and pleaded. Her disabled husband couldn’t make it to the car. She needed help. Travis quickly followed her back to her house. He found her husband struggling on the living room floor. Travis kneeled down and scoop up the man in his big arms. Gently and effortlessly, and with empathetic dignity, he carried the man and helped him into the wife’s car. The gratitude on their smiling faces startled Travis. “You are an angel. An angel sent to save us.” said the wife.
A crying little girl ran up the Travis. Her frightened kitten had climbed a tree and wouldn’t come down. Her family simply couldn’t leave without the kitten, the girl explained. Agile Travis quickly climbed up the tree and rescued the cat.
A pretty woman about his age, approached Travis. “My father said he won’t evacuate. He said he wants to burn up in the fire. When he was young he was a forest firefighter. Probably as strong and brave and handsome as you are. I think he is depressed because he is older now and not so powerful. Please, you’ve got to help me convince him that there’s still so much to live for. He is breaking my heart.”
Travis approached the Old Gentleman who stood astride a hose lay, holding a spanner and staring unsottenly at the coming fire. Travis said, “I think the only thing worse than burning up in a fire would be to know that you broke the hearts of everyone who loves you.” The old man turned, look at Travis for a second, and laughed. “I have no intention of burning up. I just said that to my panicked daughter to irritate her. I wanted to linger a bit longer to watch the behavior of this fire and the behavior and of the people trying to suppress it.”
“It has always been, even back in my day when I was a wildland firefighter, that the worst thing to do is suppress wildfires.” The old man continued, sensing a kindred soul in Travis. “You should only monitor fires. Strike it to save some critical wildlife habitat that’s not yet fire-hardy. Go easy on cabin protection, some should burn down. Let fires into the WUI, that will make them fire-permeable. You’ve got to shepherd flames like they’re a flock of sheep. Move ‘em along during the right conditions. Protect critical areas by introducing less intense fires. But don’t kill big wildfires.”
“Some of the people now in charge of wildland policy wholeheartedly adhere to disaster capitalism. They unethically use the fear and the destruction of fires to pad their tribe’s pockets. They buy shiny new toys to build a fire-industrial complex that pays CEOs very well but keeps the firefighting ground pounders as paupers. They sometimes put the safety of lowly firefighters in peril because unnecessary bravery in the face of danger brings adoring media attention and more power to the bosses. Yet the bosses are too cowardly to do what is right and needed in prescribed fire and let burn policy. They need to back up and think with their better angels. They should seek the triad of safety, ethics, and ecology. Of course, we’re partially in this bind because we didn’t pay attention to ecology. And then the forests and wildlands grew and changed without the important component of fire. Global warming is making conditions worse. More intense fires. More severe fires. More enduring fires. More destructive fires.”
Then the old man suddenly stopped and pointed out to ravine and ridge top below them. “The fire is going to pulse here.” The old man said. “This is where firefighters should cool it down and take away some of its energy. Otherwise, they should just let the fire wander through this WUI. It’s fire-permeable enough. Just be careful that the sparks don’t start houses on fire while no one pays attention. It will be smokey, but the fire can ease through here. Then the old man got into his daughter’s waiting car and they evacuated.
Danny opened the front door and he didn’t see Travis. But he did see the deputy sheriff standing in front of him. They both looked at the arm load of money, jewry, and electronics. Danny stammered out, “I was just helping people evacuate their valuables.” The sheriff said, “No firefighter enters a home during an evacuation without the homeowner. “I don’t think you’re a firefighter.” As the sheriff escorted the handcuffed Danny to the police car, he said “You know the thing that disgusts me the most is how guys like you could soil the hero status of firefighters. Take a look down there. That guy is magnificent and incredible and you threatened to smudge his good standing.” Danny looked down and saw Travis near the ridge top where the fire pulsed. With a roaring fire hose he was single-handedly beating it back. The sheriff said, “He must be the free world’s best fireman.”
In the following video recorded on the Hirz Fire, FUSEE Board Member, Mike Beasley, along with the Incident Meteorologist and Air Resource Advisor describe the nature and importance of inversions. First, a balloon is launched to capture an atmospheric sounding. Inversions are an indicator of atmospheric stability. With atmospheric stability smoke and clouds tend to form in layers that resist mixing, often inhibiting fire behavior below the inversion. The opposite condition, atmospheric instability, is when air wants to rise in a column, as in a towering cumulus cloud, a cumulonimbus cloud associated with a thunderstorm, or a towering pyrocumulus column above a large fire. An unstable atmosphere is most often associated with critical or extreme fire behavior.
News is spreading across the country about the sexual assault of a wildland firefighter by an inmate working inside a fire basecamp in Utah. This horrifying incident has shocked the nation—indeed, the news story has been picked up by newspapers and radio stations across the country. It is truly shocking that inmates were able to mix freely with crews within basecamp, apparently unsupervised by their guards or other camp security staff, and placed in work stations where firefighters, especially women, would be most vulnerable to harassment and assault.
After a long shift on the line, coming back to basecamp exhausted and needing to take care of one’s basic needs of food and hygiene before catching a few hours of precious sleep—who would even be thinking about potential threats to one’s personal safety inside firecamp!
Firefighter safety is the number one priority of every wildland fire incident. While most people think about this in terms of the risks and hazards firefighters face out on the firelines, we need to be aware of the risks and hazards that crews face off the fireline. Crews don’t get hazard pay inside firecamp, but perhaps they should.
Like most other crimes of violence, the media is focusing on the perpetrator, portraying him as some kind of beastly animal for his deviant behavior, and this will be even easier to do because the perpetrator is an inmate already labeled as a deviant. But this is not just an issue about the lack of proper supervision of inmate crews, and while inmates should certainly be closely supervised and/or segregated from fire crews and other staff, this kind of incident is not rare and will not be prevented by eliminating the use of inmate crews.
In focusing on the perpetrator of this crime, this lets the institution evade any blame for its breakdown in security for firefighters, and for its systematic inability to effectively prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Incidents of sexual assault make the news, but they are part of the wider spectrum of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that rarely gets reported by the newmedia, yet are systemic within the wildland fire community. The Association for Fire Ecology (AFE) and the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF) have been taking several initiatives to educate the wildland fire community and advocate for agencies to confront the systemic ongoing problem of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Unfortunately, their efforts did not make it into the news stories. Fortunately, their advocacy for greater firefighter safety including personal safety from harassment and assault will hopefully be carried forward at the IAWF’s upcoming Fire Safety Summit and AFE’s upcoming International Fire Ecology and Management Congress.
This shocking, horrifying incident should be another wakeup call that risks to firefighter safety happen both on and off the fireline, from the fire environment—and from the fire community itself. Firefighter safety truly begins at “home.”
The Mendocino Complex has taken its place in the record books–but probably not for long–as the largest wildfire in California state history. While the River Fire is 100% contained at this time, it is possible that the Ranch Fire may eventually burn over a majority of entire Mendocino National Forest before it stops its advance.
One thing that leaps out with a casual glance at the current fire map is the extensive use of dozers in primary and contingency firelines. Several of these dozerlines a.k.a. “catlines” come right up to and possibly encroach into the Snow Mountain Wilderness. In fact, the California Regional Forester gave permission for dozers to enter the wilderness with the blessing of the Mendocino Forest Supervisor.
A noble but futile attempt at direct attack with dozers on the northern portion of the fire failed to stop the fire earlier. The fire breached the dozerlines and eventually spread into the wilderness area. This fireline was constructed despite the visiting Risk Management Assessment Team (RMAT) informing the agency leaders that it had a low probability of success.
No matter, the Forest Service leadership felt that they had a duty to try something, anything, anyway to stop the fire spread. But now we have several miles of useless dozerlines scarring the landscape for a long, long time. A costly maneuver for mere posturing to the public that the agency was doing everything it could to attack the fire.
This sad spectacle is an example of what some local forest conservationists are calling “overaggressive attack syndrome,” and it raises a couple of key questions:
Question #1: Why did the agency leadership attempt to stop the fire from entering the wilderness area?
Was it merely an attempt to limit the fire size and/or speed up containment time? Or was it to avoid having the fire impact the wilderness area?
If it was the former objective–limiting the fire size or duration as a means of reducing taxpayer costs or firefighter exposure–well, it did not work, and the RMAT had warned the leadership that it most likely would not work. So the expense of putting those dozers to work was an unacceptable waste of money. And the exposure of firefighters to risk in a futile attempt at direct attack on the fire is even more unacceptable. This season has already had the tragic death of a dozer operator on the Ferguson Fire (harkening back to the loss of another dozer operator on the 2016 Soberanes Fire) and two near-misses of dozer operators on the Carr Fire, and a firefighter was recently killed on the Mendocino Complex. Firefighter fatalities are the highest cost of suppression, and risk assessments must always prioritize those potential losses above all.
If it was the latter objective–keeping fire out of the wilderness–then what the #@&% were they thinking?! Sparing the wilderness from impacts of fire? Fire helps enhance both wildness and naturalness, and these are some of the defining qualities and highest values of designated wilderness areas. In short, fire keeps the wild in wilderness! On the contrary, dozerlines intruding into wilderness are the worst kind of trammeling imaginable. Again, an unnecessary, inappropriate, and unacceptable use of dozers in this plan.
Question #2: Why did the leadership ignore the RMAT’s input?
Again, the RMAT crew warned the leadership that going direct attack with dozers to try to stop the fire from entering the wilderness had a very low probability of success. This marks the second time that the RMAT’s recommendations were ignored by incident leaders and area administrators, and then the RMAT were later proven right.
Admittedly, RMATs are a novelty at this time and it will take some time for IMTs to get comfortable with them and fully utilize their analyses. But, it also seems that, like Resource Advisors who offer advice on ways to limit the impacts of suppression actions on natural and cultural resource values, the RMATs have yet to gain respect by Incident Commanders and are not seen as “equals” in the hierarchy of fire administration. Type 1 ICs are all about containing and controlling fires, and all this stuff about resource damage or risk assessments is a bunch of pointy-headed bleeding-heart liberal hogwash that doesn’t belong in a paramilitary organization devoted to aggressively attacking fires.
The day must come when RAs and RMATs and LTANs are fully integrated and equally respected members of IMTs, especially on large-size/long-duration wildfire incidents. We need to manage fire in wildlands intelligently with firefighter safety and fire ecology and taxpayer expenditures at the forefront of developing operational strategies and tactics. Throwing whatever wherever whenever at wildfires to try to limit their size or duration as the end-all be-all is obsolete and is bankrupting the system. And now that we’re headed into the traditional peak of fire season with PL-5 and all resources tapped out, we’re seeing the consequences of the overaggressive attack syndrome waged on other earlier fires that might have been managed for “other than full suppression” and spared those resources.
So, the Ranch Fire of the Mendocino Complex continues its steady spread onward, leaving the cut-and-runover catlines literally in the dust.
A quick glance at the publicly available infrared data taken last night reveals three key areas of concern. While much of the west flank of the fire has been secure for some time now, protecting the residents of Mariposa Pines, Jerseydale, Midpines, and most of the the Triangle Road area, the north, south, and east flanks remain challenging for the 3,344 firefighters engaged in that containment effort. Below the fold, we will quickly take a look at those three critical operations in the order of their apparent importance, based on last night’s IR imagery. read more…
The incredible speed and ferocity of the Carr Fire spreading into Redding, California has dramatically reinforced the need for citizens to access accurate information about wildfires in their area without the delays of waiting for official agency press releases to be picked up by the next newspaper edition or television news broadcast.
Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE) released their new report, FireWatch: A Citizen’s Guide to Wildfire Suppression Monitoring, that provides easy step-by-step instructions for accessing a number of different internet sites that track wildfires. Many of these internet sites offer the same maps and essential information that are used by fire managers and firefighting crews. read more…
It seems that the Ferguson Fire is destined to enter Yosemite National Park, and by God, the Type I Incident Commanders have vowed to stop the wildfire in its tracks, no matter what! They are currently planning to convert the southern entrance Hiway 41 (known locally as the “Wawona Road”) into a fireline that will contain that flank of the Ferguson Fire. This is one of the most traveled roads in the Park, leading to the ranger compound in Wawona, the community of Yosemite West, and access to the famed Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoias as well as Yosemite Valley. read more…
Climate chaos strikes, again, this time deep into the heart of Redding, California, the regional hub and commercial center for Northern California. The Carr Fire started near the cross of Hwy. 299 and the Carr Powerhouse Road on Monday, July 23rd. read more…
The Ferguson Fire has been burning for nearly two weeks and has captured most of the attention of the national news media. Tragically, one firefighter was killed on the second day of the fire when the bulldozer he was operating rolled down a steep slope. Miraculously, no homes have been lost as of July 25th. The Ferguson is going to burn a large area over a long time. read more…
The year was 1961. President Robert F. Kennedy was President of the United States. The Central Valley Project had been built and the growing San Joaquin Valley agribusiness gave way to traditional ranchland in the oak savanna of the Sierra foothills southwest of Yosemite National Park. The Harlow Fire started on July 10th. The following day it exploded, burning over 20,000 acres in two hours, vaporizing the communities of Ahwahnee and Nipinnawasee, and killing an elderly couple. Supposedly, that run on the Harlow Fire was one of the fastest ever recorded. The communities would never recover. It chased ranchers in their ranch trucks and would eventually burn into Oakhurst, scorching over 43,000 acres. This event is etched into the cultural memory of the people that live here and into the institutional memory of the organization tasked with protecting this “state responsibility area” or SRA, Cal Fire, or as it was known back in the day, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Fast forward to 2018, the present, less than two weeks ago. On Friday, the 13th ,of July, deep in the Merced River Canyon at the confluence with the South Fork of the Merced…another fire started. read more…
Tragically, a CalFire dozer operator was killed this morning in a rollover accident on the new emergent Ferguson Fire on the Sierra National Forest. The Ferguson Fire started yesterday evening near the bottom of the Merced River Canyon near the junction with the South Fork of the Merced River, and is forcing evacuations throughout the river canyon. Hot temperatures today spurred the fire growth to over 1000 acres. The Central Sierra Type 2 IMT is taking the Fire and the Incident Command Post (ICP) has been established at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds. Yours truly, will be joining the effort as Fire Behavior Analyst, briefly abandoning my own team, with the understanding I be released if NorcaL Team 1 gets assigned. The fire may burn into Yosemite National Park, and could be a threat to Yosemite West, El Portal, or even Wawona, in the days to come. The area around Cedar Lodge has been evacuated. read more…
I’ve spent most of my career working in fire management, reaching back to the 1970s when we knew very little about the behavior of wildfires and often took a seat-of-the-pants approach.
Now we have solid science and skilled fire professionals to guide our response to wildfires, but unfortunately that knowledge and experience has not yet been put to full use. In our hyper partisan age, the issue of fire management is becoming as politicized as timber management was in the 1980s.
We now have solid science and decades of experience managing western wildfires. But in our hyper-partisan age, the issue of fire management is becoming as politicized as timber management was in the 80’s and 90’s. In an attempt to contribute to a fact based debate, I present a brief summary of respected, published findings on wildfire management.
The fire management status quo is not working
Good morning. I’m pleased to present FUSEE’s first in a series of podcasts. In this installment, we interview Dr. David Calkin about the Risk Management Assistance Teams (RMATs) – his involvement, the team’s purpose, and what to expect from them during the upcoming fire season. Dave is a Research Forester for the U.S. Forest Service at the Rocky Mountain Research Station, He lives and works in Missoula, Montana, and is currently focused on risk management in wildland firefighting.
As an outgrowth of the Forest Service’s Life First initiative, the RMAT role was articulated in an agency presentation by Becki Heath, Acting Associate Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry, in Reno this spring at the Cohesive Strategy workshop, sponsored by the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF)…
⇒ RMAT role was to bolster the Line Officer’s ability to examine alternative strategies that better consider:
- inherent tradeoffs of exposure
- risk to highly valued assets
- opportunities for fire benefits
⇒ They tested an effort to address Line Officer’s needs for:
- decision-making tools
- enhanced analytics and alignment with response strategies
⇒ Intent was to enhance capacity, apply decision support tools with risk expertise, and improve theeffectiveness and efficiency of our fire management response.
Hey, dear readers. Your stalwart voice for ecological fire management here, HunterX. I was just up on the mesa top in Canyonlands National Park gazing into the Maze, and I wondered what Heyduke, Edward Abbey’s fictional proto-enviro, would make of humanity’s pickle today. Likely he would have had to take a road trip somewhere, tossing beer cans as he went, and would ultimately have concluded it was an apt fate for humanity, preferring to work on issues in his own backyard – a strong statement for grassroots organizing! But, oh the intersectionality of it all! That word recently burst forth implying areas of overlapping social concern. In the world of natural science, it’s called ecology, following one of Barry Commoner’s four laws of ecology, “Everything is connected to everything else.” It’s a basic Buddhist precept, and It is turning out to be true in climate change, as well. We see this as, one-by-one, other environmental issues trace their origin or accelerant to be a warming Earth. “The new normal” as Califonia Governor Jerry Brown has said of wildfire’s increasing occurrence and impact. Making my way north off the Colorado Plateau and over the Eastern Uintas, I crossed the Big Horn River, and I’m reminded this is the anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn – A perfect metaphor for America’s losing war on Fire. As I dropped into the Clark Fork drainage, it’s banks were swollen, leaking toxic sludge into swirling waters. It was peak runoff, but officials were concerned about the minimal snowpack in the Colorado and Utah mountains and the heightened fire risk for the summer. I would probe these questions and others with scientists and wildland fire professionals from around the world at the Fire Continuum Conference on the beautiful University of Montana campus in Missoula.
What if? That was the ominous theme for participants when the California Wildland Fire Coordinating Group (CWCG) held their annual IMT Workshop at the Wildland Fire Training Center in McClellan Park on the first three days of May. Incident Commanders (ICs) from all the Federal Type 1 and Type 2 IMTs from both Northern and Southern California were in attendance, along with other team members. The purpose of this annual gathering is to receive guidance from agency heads and set the tone for the upcoming wildland fire season. read more…
The conversion of the Sims Prescribed Fire to the Grape (Wild)Fire brings up a scary ghost from the past.
In 2000, the crew managing the Upper Frijoles Prescribed Fire in Bandelier National Monument had difficulties getting the fire to ignite and spread. Test burns were ignited in moist grassy fuels at the top of a mountain in 50 degree air temperature with upslope winds 1 to 2 mph. Hardly a reckless action, but, mistakes were made in the planning process that resulted in a smaller crew size than could handle the fire as it progressed downslope, moving from grassy fuels to shrubs and eventually timber stands with lots of downed fuel. When a 30 x 30 foot slopover at the top of the unit occurred, the National Park Service crew put in a request to the U.S. Forest Service to get some extra “contingency” resources to bring the “escaped” fire back into prescription. This is where things went terribly wrong. read more…
Wildfires are already a hot button in California, following on the heels of the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in the State’s history just last year. Governor Brown holds up the wildfire impact as a certain indicator of climate change in the State’s suit against the U.S. Government headed by climate denier-in chief, President Trump. Local governments are joining in the fray. 2018 looks to be no different.
The Grape Fire was an escaped prescribed fire being jointly conducted by the Six Rivers and Shasta-Trinity National Forests at the end of last month. According to the Redding Interagency Command Center WildCAD records, the Sims burn was converted from a prescribed fire to a wildfire and renamed as the Grape Fire at 4:59pm on April 24th. read more…