TUOLUMNE FIRE KILLS CDF HELITACK
SEPTEMBER 13 -- GROVELAND, CA: One firefighter was killed yesterday and six others injured when the Tuolumne Fire turned back on them in a steep and rugged area east of Groveland. The fire was reported just after noon and had grown to over 500 acres by nightfall.
The Modesto Bee reported that all seven firefighters were CDF employees, part of a helicopter crew based at Columbia. Five of the six injured firefighters incurred minor injuries; they were treated at local hospitals and released. One firefighter with moderate injuries was helicoptered to a medical center in Modesto.
NBC news reported that the fire is moving northeast toward Highway 120 -- the western route into Yosemite National Park. It was 20 percent contained this morning at 800 acres, burning in hardwood slash and heavy brush and timber.
Gelobter's Type 1 team is on the fire. Ten homes and the Hetch-Hetchy powerline are threatened, and a campground near Lumsden Bridge was evacuated.
An accident investigation team based in Sonora will handle investigation of the burnover.
FIREFIGHTERS INJURED, ONE DEAD ON TUOLUMNE FIRE
SEPTEMBER 12 -- GROVELAND, CA:
Several firefighters were injured today on a fire in a remote area of the Stanislaus National Forest east of Groveland, California. The fire in the Tuolumne River Canyon started shortly after noon today, and was reported at 150 acres this afternoon.
Karen Terrill with CDF said the fire was over 500 acres this evening, and moving northeast.
News reports late today said seven CDF firefighters were overrun in the Tuolumne River Canyon. One firefighter was killed, one incurred moderate injuries, and five others had minor injuries. An accident investigation team is en route. The fire is on the south side of the Tuolumne River between the river and Cherry Oil Road near Lumsden Camp.
FIREFIGHTERS REMEMBER SEPTEMBER 11
SEPTEMBER 11 -- ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, USA: Today marks three years since the tragedies this nation suffered on September 11, 2001. Media outlets across the country have put together an impressive array of features and look-backs, and tributes and memorials abound. The nation won't forget, but many have -- in such a short time -- become numbed. The firefighting community, however, won't ever forget -- some more so than others.
Good wishes from the staff at wildfirenews.com to all those who were there -- at the time and especially in the aftermath, and especially to the survivors, and more especially to the national IMT members who were there, and most especially to the FDNY.
We found but one story to highlight here today, the memories and thoughts of a firefighter from Palm Springs, California. Roland Cook and his search dog Bouts searched for Ground Zero survivors, and he told NewsChannel 3 (KESQ-TV) that he hopes it's a day no one ever forgets.
"We got sucker punched big time," said Cook.
The 11th day of September in 2001 started out like any other day for Cook.
"I was on my way to work. Our shift started at 8 a.m., so I was headed there. I got a phone call from my ex-wife. She said, ‘are you going?’ I said, ‘going where?’"
When his pager went off, though, he knew where he was going. For ten days, he and his search dog scoured the rubble.
He said he fears America is forgetting, leaving the images and feelings in the past. He says he'll never forget. He says there are scars that will never heal.
For the firefighting community, that is true. That is true for the survivors -- who were not just U.S. citizens. This was, after all, an international disaster. Some of the wildland firefighting community -- the crews who labored there in the aftermath, and especially the national incident management teams -- can't possibly forget. The images and the brutal reality of it is something that will never leave them.
Thank you, from tens of thousands of us, to the FDNY and the countless others who helped with the aftermath. We won't forget.
NEW SAN DIEGO FIRE PLAN
SEPTEMBER 10 -- SAN DIEGO, CA: Fire officials this week unveiled a detailed plan for fighting a potentially devastating wildfire on Mount Soledad and evacuating thousands of residents from the vulnerable area. Called the Mt. Soledad Structure Protection Plan, it's the first of at least 14 such firefighting blueprints for communities throughout San Diego.
"This fire department needs to be prepared to handle incidents in every corner of San Diego that abuts wildland areas," said Fire Chief Jeff Bowman.
The Union-Tribune reported that the goal is to stop a fire from spreading into residential neighborhoods, something a wind-driven fire in the area could do in about 15 minutes. The plan proposes an aggressive air and ground attack at the point of origin, using the I-5 freeway as a fire break to keep such a fire from heading up steep fuels-laden slopes.
San Diego police officers and firefighters drew up the plan with help from CDF. It lays out avenues of attack, evacuation routes, and locations for command posts.
The area includes light fuels at the base of Mount Soledad, with heavier chaparral above, and slopes as steep as 60 percent. Thousands of vulnerable homes surround the area -- more than 8,500 threatened private parcels, according to the plan.
The city Fire-Rescue Department has information online about last year's Cedar Fire, along with sections on safety and disaster preparedness and brush management and weed abatement.
TWO MAFFS UNITS AT KLAMATH FALLS
SEPTEMBER 09 -- KLAMATH FALLS, OR: Two military C-130 airtankers are a welcome addition, according to staff at Kingsley Field's airtanker base in southern Oregon. "We are just glad to be hosting them," said Don Chavin, tanker base manager. "It's nice to have some aircraft here."
MAFFS tankers 5 and 2 recently arrived in Klamath Falls, and Tim Grantham, military liaison for the Forest Service, told the Herald and News that things have been different this year. Along with the two C-130s came a crew of 50 personnel, including pilots, copilots, navigators, flight engineers, load masters, and a bevy of military and civilian ground support.
The two tankers have been in action since May 24. From Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, the two have been stationed in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, and Washington before arriving at Klamath Falls.
The planes and their six-person flight crews can be in the air with a full load of retardant within a half hour. "They are locked and cocked," said Maj. Steve Foss.
RUNWAY FIRE NEARS CONTAINMENT
SEPTEMBER 09 -- SAN BERNARDINO, CA: The 1,007-acre Runway Fire at the northern edge of the San Bernardino National Forest was 80 percent contained this morning; nearly 900 firefighters and 11 airtankers and helicopters were on the fire west of Interstate 15 at the Cajon Pass. An AP report said firefighters were anticipating possible thunderstorms forecast for today.
"Especially over here, where we didn't get any rain today, fuels are just as dry, and any dry lightning could ignite another fire and then we'd be starting all over again," said incident commander Mark Walker.
One home was damaged; major gas lines, jet fuel piplines, electrical transmission lines, railroads, and Interstate 15 are in the immediate fire area.
About 500 people were evacuated from the West Cajon Valley hours after the fire started Tuesday afternoon, and 100 more were later evacuated from the Phelan area southwest of Victorville. About seven miles of Highway 138 was expected to reopen this morning.
GEYSERS FIRE COULD CAUSE POWER OUTAGES TODAY
SEPTEMBER 07 -- SANTA ROSA, CA: Thousands of northern California homes and businesses could lose power today because of the Geysers Fire in Sonoma County; the fire's burning near a complex of geothermal power plants that provide electricity for the North Coast. More than 20 plants tap subterranean steam piped to generating units across 30 square miles of Sonoma and Lake counties.
The 12,525-acre fire was at 85 percent containment this morning with 4½ miles of fireline yet to build.
The Sacramento Bee reported that four homes, eight outbuildings, and a dozen vehicles have been destroyed, and that 200 homes and a handful of businesses are still threatened. More than 2,600 firefighters are working on the fire, and they made good progress on line-building overnight.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that crews were cutting line through thick manzanita and timber to stop the northeastern expansion of the fire. Fuels include chamise, manzanita, and ceanothus, making for fast fire spread through heavy second-growth stands of fir and oak.
Karen Terrill with CDF said 53 new fires started in California over the 24 hours ending Monday at 4 p.m. Of those, only the Geysers Fire and the 189-acre Hazen Fire in Tehama County were not contained.
GEYSERS FIRE RIPS THROUGH RUGGED COUNTRY
SEPTEMBER 05 -- SANTA ROSA, CA: The Geysers Fire six miles northeast of Geyserville, grew from an estimated 1,500 acres around noon yesterday and was only 10 percent contained by last evening. It was almost 9,300 acres by this morning and still at 10 percent containment.
More than 1,100 firefighters are on the fire, working in hard-to-reach rugged canyons on the Lake County border. Tanker 25 was flying the fire this morning, and more resources are on order.
Scott Sedgley of the Napa City Fire Department told the San Francisco Chronicle that the fire's in some of the most rugged country in California. "Even rattlesnakes carry canteens out here," he said.
Firefighters evacuated more than 100 homes along Pine Flat, Red Winery, and Briggs Ranch roads. About 100 homes and 15 commercial properties are threatened. Firefighters this morning said that red flag conditions were a problem, with heavy fuels, steep terrain, and difficult access -- along with record-level low fuel moistures and minimal nighttime humidity recovery.
The fire's threatening one of Calpine's geothermal plants; PG&E shut down three transmission lines as a precaution but was able to use alternate powerlines for customers in Sonoma, Marin, and Mendocino counties.
Smoke and ash from the fire was darkening the sky as far away as Healdsburg, and Anderson Valley residents said the ash was falling like snow. "It looked like a nuclear bomb went off," said Janet Marshall with CDF. She said firefighters saved three people trapped in a mountaintop house surrounded by fire. A helicopter crew spotted them and touched down, leaving three firefighters behind to make room to carry the civilians to safety. "It was pretty dicey for those firefighters," said Marshall, "waiting for the helicopter to get back."
Another fire that started yesterday took off in a steep ravine just east of Sacramento and spread to 750 acres so quickly that it burned over three firefighters, injuring one of them. Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District Capt. Pat Ellis said the fire surprised the crew when the wind shifted; they shielded themselves with a fire shelter, but one was burned badly enough to be taken to a hospital, where he was treated and released.
An AP report said firefighters managed to contain 11 fires deliberately set along roadsides in Kern County.
LIGHTNING STARTS A DOZEN COLORADO FIRES
SEPTEMBER 05 -- DENVER, CO: A storm that rolled over Colorado set off a dozen wildfires in 24 hours this weekend, but firefighters and rain put most of them out, including the 790-acre Sheep Ranch Fire near Dinosaur National Monument. Nearly a half inch of rain fell there through Saturday.
The Denver Post reported that four airtankers and two hotshot crews probably saved several homes near the Sheep Ranch Fire.
As the fire season winds down, totals for the state are in the normal range; 30,000 acres have burned thus far, about 10,000 acres less than last year. Colorado's largest fire this year was the Picnic Rock Fire in Larimer County, which burned 9,000 acres in March.
CALIFORNIA FIRE BLOWS TO 9,300 ACRES
SEPTEMBER 04 -- SANTA ROSA, CA: The wind-driven Geysers Fire this afternoon was threatening homes, wineries, and major powerlines in Sonoma County and has burned through 9,300 acres of brush and timber. AP reports earlier put the fire's size at 13,000 acres, before its size was assessed by aerial recon.
The fire has burned to within a few miles of vineyards in the Alexander Valley along the Russian River. The fire started yesterday near The Geysers, which provides electricity to several counties; the area is crossed by major powerlines, and the geothermal plant has been shut down. Affected counties are temporarily getting power through other routes.
The Geysers, the world's largest geothermal power facility, harnesses geothermal steam and provides enough electricity to power 1 million homes in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Marin, and Mendocino counties. Two-thirds of the plants were shut down and two of three transmission lines are not now being operated, according to Calpine. Pacific Gas and Electric, which owns the lines, has been re-routing electricity from other plants.
A San Francisco Chronicle report said the fire went from 400 acres early this morning to 14,000 acres by 2 p.m. Another AP report said the fire threatened 200 homes.
"It's blown up," said Dana Cole, a CDF division chief. "Right now, we have no control on the head of the fire." Ash from the fire fell at the Sausal Winery at Healdsburg as helicopters did laps over the vineyard, dipping from nearby lakes to drop on the fire. "Jackrabbits were running out of the vineyard and the geese were flying away," said Sarah Campbell at the winery.
Official reports at noon today put the fire at 7,500 acres with about 10 percent containment. More than 100 homes were threatened, along with 15 commercial properties. Evacuations were under way, and about 25 homes on Pine Flat were immediately threatened. Temperatures in the 90s and winds of 20 mph were exacerbating fire conditions.
Firefighters said that westerly winds started up about 6 p.m., and they estimated the fire could go at least another 4,000 acres because of that.
More than 1,100 personnel are assigned to the fire.
HOT WINDS STOKE CALIFORNIA FIRES
SEPTEMBER 04 -- BURSON, CA: A wildfire ignited by a burning motorhome has destroyed 11 homes in the Sierra Nevada foothills, burned more than 2,700 acres in grass, oaks, and chaparral, and forced thousands of people to evacuate the area. The fire is south of Camanche Reservoir in rural Calaveras County, and was 20 percent contained this morning, according to an AP report. CDF said the Calaveras fire forced 3,000 people to evacuate and threatened 1,400 homes and 100 commercial properties.
Another fire in Lake County, north of Santa Rosa, is estimated at 400 acres this morning with about 30 percent containment. Tanker 23 has been flying the fire. The Geysers Fire started late yesterday and the cause is under investigation. About a half dozen homes are threatened, as is a Calpine cogeneration facility, with cooling towers and a high-pressure steam transportation system. The cooling towers are valued at $200 million each, and major North Bay power transmission lines are also threatened. Firefighters say the fire also has the potential to disrupt wastewater disposal from Santa Rosa's reclaimed water pipeline.
The fire's burning in brush and timber with red flag conditions. Strong north winds, heavy fuels, steep terrain, and difficult access have slowed suppression progress. About 450 firefighters are assigned.
A report in the San Francisco Chronicle said a fire near Vacaville, southwest of Sacramento, destroyed a farmhouse and several barns and killed eight horses. Another fire near Davis jumped a highway, burned two homes, and injured three people.
COLORADO FIRE QUICKLY GROWS TO 550 ACRES
SEPTEMBER 03 -- ELK SPRINGS, CO: The lightning-ignited Sheep Ranch Fire near Elk Springs is about 30 percent contained this evening; two heavy airtankers flying out of Grand Junction worked the fire earlier today. The fire threatened one home and one commercial property, and destroyed a couple of outbuildings. One residence was evacuated.
FAA towers responsible for Western U.S. air traffic were affected when area powerlines just west of the fire were shut down.
Erratic gusty winds pushed the fire today, and air operations were shut down for at least two hours because of high winds. Firefighters said the lack of continuous air operations was a problem in suppression of the fire.
The fire was pushed by the winds through piñon-juniper, grass, and sagebrush. The Deerlodge/Lily Park road was closed. The fire's expected to gain at least another 100 acres to the west, and firefighters say it could go to 1,000 acres before it's contained. The Denver Post reported that the forecast included winds of 20 to 40 mph with low humidity; dry thunderstorms are also possible across Moffat County.
The fire's just east of the Dinosaur National Monument, about halfway between Vernal, Utah, and Craig, Colorado.
BASIN DRAW FIRE OVER 3,000 ACRES
SEPTEMBER 02 -- ALADDIN, WY: A fire that started Tuesday in northeast Wyoming was at zero percent containment last night and estimated at just over 2,000 acres. Burning just west of Aladdin, the fire is threatening eight homes, timber, and about 16 outbuildings. Voluntary evacuations were under way last night.
Extremely hot, dry, and windy conditions caused extreme fire behavior yesterday, with long-range spotting. A red flag warning has been in effect, and a state Type 3 team was scheduled to take over this morning.
The Aberdeen News reported that the fire was ignited by burning garbage near the community of Aladdin near the South Dakota border. By this morning the fire was estimated at 3,200 acres; Tanker 48 and Tanker 21 are flying the fire this morning out of Grand Junction.
The fire is the largest this summer in the state of Wyoming.
FIRE RIPS ACROSS NORTH DAKOTA
SEPTEMBER 02 -- AMIDON, ND: Firefighters in southwestern North Dakota are bracing for a major battle today; a fast-moving grass fire estimated at 4,000 acres is expected to grow to 10,000 acres before it can be contained. KXMA-TV reported that firefighters said flames were as much as 80 feet high this morning.
The Logging Camp ranch northwest of Amidon was evacuated, and an incident management team is on order.
The Deep Creek Fire was threatening two ranches last night, with temperatures near 100º and wind speeds pushing 30 mph. The fire was crowning in ponderosa pine, with spotting a half mile ahead of the fire. Helicopters and SEATs have been working the fire.
The Bismarck Tribune reported that a prescribed burn has been planned for the 6,000-acre forest in the southern ranges of the Badlands for the last couple of years. The Forest Service, along with the Amidon Rural Fire Department, wanted to burn out deadfall to prevent a catastrophic wildfire from taking hold. Prolonged drought postponed the plan.
Bowman County Emergency Manager Dean Pearson said smoke could be seen from 50 miles away. "The smoke has been so thick that even some of the fire departments that are responding have a hard time seeing where they are and where they're going," he said. "It's an extremely serious situation."
GOT DEFENSIBLE SPACE?
SEPTEMBER 01 -- ALBUQUERQUE, NM: Defensible space may soon be a prerequisite for getting or keeping fire insurance in areas considered potentially hazardous by insurance companies. Carol Walker with Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Services says it's a trend in the industry, and that State Farm Insurance is leading the way.
Compliance with State Farm's wildfire inspection program is now mandatory for the company's insured properties in some areas. The company started the program in 2003 to help homeowners identify fire hazards and create defensible space. According to a report by the Mountain View Telegraph, the State Farm program will eventually include insurance customers in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming.
Homeowners whose policies come up for inspection as part of the renewal process will be asked to comply with the program's requirements. An inspector will make a list of needed fire safety improvements, and homeowners have a little over two years to make the improvements. Those who don't comply risk losing their insurance or paying higher rates.
A recent New York Times report showed that millions of homeowners are underinsured, particularly when it comes to wildland fire. This is a situation caused largely by a shift in the way property insurance has been sold in recent years. Homeowners believe their coverage will pay for the replacement value of their home, but insurance companies started in the late 1990s to phase out coverage that guaranteed the replacement of a destroyed home. In place of that unlimited coverage, insurers substituted a similar-sounding policy with a crucial difference: it pays only the amount stated on the policy plus an additional 20 to 25 percent.
"People look at this and it says 'replacement' and they think, 'That's good, I get my house replaced,'" said John Garamendi, insurance commissioner in California. "But they don't get their house replaced."
George Kehrer, a lawyer and building contractor in southern California, said he's talked to 1,200 people who lost homes in the California fires last fall. "About a dozen of them," he said, "were adequately insured."
ANOTHER FIRE IN REDDING
SEPTEMBER 01 -- REDDING, CA: Residents were evacuated from a subdivision north of Redding yesterday before firefighters contained a fire that burned at the edge of Interstate 5. It started just after noon in the Tierra Oaks Subdivision, a golf course community, forcing residents on a half-dozen streets to evacuate their homes.
The fire downed several powerlines, according to an AP report in the Sacramento Bee, and forced the temporary closure of a freeway exit.
Clean-up is still ongoing after last month's Bear Fire, which burned south of Shasta Lake and spread to more than 10,000 acres. That fire destroyed 80 homes. Several surviving homes are now threatened by the danger of erosion and mudslides. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has initiated an emergency watershed protection program, including replanting hillsides, installing drainpipes and sandbags, and protecting drainage culverts. The project's planned for completion by next month, before the onset of fall rains.
Dry conditions also prompted the BLM to impose additional fire restrictions on 230,000 acres in several northern California counties. "Fuel moisture levels are lower than I've ever seen them at this time of year," BLM Fire Management Officer Ken Hood said.
The Small Business Administration has made disaster loans available for small, non-farm businesses in about a dozen northern counties. Businesses that suffered disaster-related damage can apply online to the SBA for assistance. Homeowners and renters must register with FEMA by calling (800)621-3362.
COLORADO FIRE THREATENS GAS WELLS
AUGUST 30 -- RED MESA, CO: A lightning-caused wildfire in southwestern Colorado just north of the New Mexico border had grown to over 1,100 acres last night and was threatening gas wells in the area. The Rocky Mountain News reported that the Well Fire was burning in piñon-juniper southwest of Red Mesa. The fire was reportedly ignited by lightning a week ago, but picked up because of winds and beetle-killed trees.
It was estimated at just 40 acres earlier yesterday afternoon.
The Durango Herald reported that several gas wells operated by Burlington Resources are in the vicinity, and employees were shutting them down yesterday evening. Heavy smoke from the fire was visible from Durango and surrounding towns, and as far away as Farmington.
Five engines were working on the fire, and a hand crew from the Jicarilla Apache Tribe in New Mexico was en route. Smokejumpers from Grand Junction and several aircraft, including a heavy airtanker, a SEAT, and two helicopters were on the fire, and a Type 3 team from Durango took over management last night.
TANKERS NAIL YUBA FIRE
AUGUST 27 -- SMARTVILLE, CA: Dry north winds pushed a grass fire to over 100 acres near the Nevada-Yuba county line yesterday; it started about 1:30 p.m. off Highway 20 in Yuba County near Smartville. JoAnn Cartoscelli with CDF said three airtankers and a dozer quickly built a line around it.
"It went pretty fast," she told the Union. She said the fire was contained by 3:30 p.m.
Two helicopters, three hand crews, and seven engines from CDF and the Smartville and Loma Rica-Browns Valley fire departments worked on the fire.
Meteorologists said winds coming downslope from the north can exacerbate fire danger; similar weather conditions prevailed during the devastating Oakland fires in 1991. The National Weather Service in Sacramento issued a Red Flag Warning for fire along the western slope of the northern Sierra, and this morning it was expanded. It is in effect through noon tomorrow for the north coastal mountains of the Mendocino and the Shasta-Trinity national forests, the west slope of the northern Sierra Nevada
including the Lassen, Plumas, Tahoe, Eldorado, and Stanislaus national forests.
included is the northern half of the Sacramento Valley floor north of Marysville. The red flag warning was expanded to include the western portion of the southern Sacramento valley, along with the Carquinez Strait and Delta area through this evening. The red flag warning is for strong and gusty north to northeast winds and low humidity. Winds of 15 to 30 mph with gusts up to 35 mph are expected today; winds should diminish by tomorrow, but low humidity is forecast through the weekend.
For more information, check with the Fire Weather Center in Redding.
ALASKA RESIDENTS UPSET ABOUT KENAI FIRE
AUGUST 27 -- SOLDOTNA, ALASKA: Fires have burned more than 7,000 acres outside Soldotna, and residents are asking how the fire got away. The rapidly spreading Glacier Creek Fire is about 30 miles southeast of Soldotna, burning in timber. Low fuel moistures, extreme drought conditions, and the lack of natural barriers are major concerns for firefighters; four crews are on the fire, and zero containment was reported late yesterday.
KTVA-TV reported that the fire is close to the Kenai Peninsula, and suppression action's been limited. Residents are not happy about that; they say letting the fire burn will ruin the fishing and hunting season. Some are concerned the fires will creep into Soldotna and Kenai, like they did in Fairbanks early this summer.
But firefighters say the fire is an investment in the future; it's creating natural firebreaks. Crews are working to protect about 50 cabins in Bear Creek, about six miles from the fire.
Gov. Frank Murkowski said four Army National Guard aircraft and over 50 Guardsmen were activated to help fight wildfires in the Interior and the Kenai Peninsula; he sent two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to Fort Wainwright on Tuesday, and a UH-60 Blackhawk and C-23 Sherpa were sent to the Kenai area. Officials are predicting high winds for the fire areas in the Interior, according to a report by SITNEWS.
The Peninsula Clarion reported that a smoke column from the Glacier Creek Fire was visible from east and south of Soldotna. Firefighters have set up sprinkler systems around cabins and outbuildings near the mouth of Indian Creek. Cabin owners with buildings along the lakeshore were allowed to go to their properties to improve defensible space around structures.
RENO FIRE CAUSED BY TARGET SHOOTER
AUGUST 26 -- RENO, NV: A man target shooting in the hills near Washoe Lake ignited a wind-swept wildfire yesterday afternoon, burning 2,600 acres ten miles south of Reno and destroying at least four homes. The Andrew Fire is threatening about 350 homes and 10 commercial properties and yesterday forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents in the Pleasant Valley and Toll Road areas; U.S. Highway 395 between Reno and Carson City and Geiger Grade between Reno and Virginia City were closed. U.S. 395 was reopened by evening.
Geiger Grade remained closed Wednesday night.
Gusts up to 40 mph pushed the fire through brushy terrain toward neighborhoods. "Man, it just exploded," said one resident. "It literally exploded."
According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, the fire was started by Otis Armand, a visitor to the area, who was target shooting along a dirt road. He is reportedly cooperating with authorities but could be held liable for fire suppression costs and property damage. Larry Farr, a battalion chief with the Reno Fire Department, said it was legal for Armand to be target shooting where he was, and that Armand is very upset.
Homes were burned both in Pleasant Valley and the Toll Road-Geiger Grade area. An unidentified civilian was injured when she collided with a Nevada Division of Forestry truck in an area where smoke had reduced visibility to zero. She was transported to a hospital.
Fourteen airtankers -- including six heavies -- and seven helicopters worked the fire, along with dozens of engines and about 600 firefighters. Martin's Type 1 team has taken over management. Crews yesterday reported a firefront that was eight miles long; extreme fire behavior was a problem, with high winds, light flashy fuels, steep terrain, and difficult access. The fire's burning mostly in grass, brush, piñon-juniper, and Jeffrey pine.
The Las Vegas Sun reported that the region was under a red flag alert for high fire danger because of winds, high temperatures, and five years of drought that has left grass, brush, and light timber at dangerously low moisture levels. Lighter winds were forecast for today.
The fire started shortly after noon yesterday and was near 3,000 acres within a few hours. It was 10 percent contained this morning. It's threatening residential areas, major powerlines, a municipal water system, T & E species, and wildlife habitat.
The Reno Gazette-Journal has a photo gallery online.
FIRE HELICOPTER DOWN
AUGUST 26 -- AJACCIO, FRANCE: An Air-Crane helicopter has crashed in Corsica, killing its Canadian pilot and French co-pilot, according to wire reports; the helicopter was operated by a French company, Helipaca, which had leased it from Oregon-based Erickson Air-Crane. The two pilots were Helipaca employees based on the French mainland.
The Air-Crane was chartered by the interior ministry to fight fires on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica. It went down near the village of Ventiseri as it was returning to a military base because of a technical problem.
DEFENSIBLE SPACE OR ELSE
AUGUST 23 -- BEND, OR: Deschutes County homeowners with property in county-designated wildland/urban interface areas will soon receive notice that they've got two years to certify their homes as fire safe.
The certification program is the result of a law passed by the Oregon Legislature in 1997, and Deschutes County is the first county in the state to put it into action.
The law (SB 360 or the "Oregon Forestland-Urban Interface Fire Protection Act") was developed to protect the interface and other resources from wildfire and to reduce the rising costs of suppression. Tom Andrade, interface coordinator for the Oregon Department of Forestry, told the Bend Bulletin that a committee of foresters, firefighters, and landowners spent the last year and a half identifying the county's interface areas. The law applies to lands classified as interface by a local county classification committee. It's limited to areas protected by ODF where structure density ranges from a setting of urban (inside a city or urban growth boundary) to suburban (lot sizes generally 10 acres or less). Parcels greater than 10 acres that are intermingled with smaller lots may be included by the committee.
Landowners across the state have been involved in the process through a series of local meetings, and those within the proposed interface areas have been notified and offered opportunities for input on the designations.
Andrade said that ODF staff have had very few complaints from homeowners. "We're getting a tremendous response from the public," he said. "People aren't calling asking 'Why?' -- they're calling asking, 'What do we need to do?'"
When the designations are final, landowners will receive materials explaining the risk of fire and methods of reducing that risk. Property owners then have two years to ensure that their property complies with recommendations for defensible space and fire risk reduction. When they meet standards, the owners sign a certificate of compliance and return it to ODF.
Those who fail to comply won't be in any trouble -- unless a wildfire starts on their property or burns across it -- and then they can be held responsible for up to $100,000 of fire suppression costs.
And the responsibility for making properties fire-safe -- and certifying them as such -- rests with the homeowner, not the state forestry agency or local fire department. "Of course we'll help people over the phone," said Andrade, "and if they need us to, we'll come out to their property. But the program is really designed for self-inspection."
About 30,000 property owners in Deschutes County received notice in March that their property would probably be included in the designated wildland/urban interface. Nearly 500 showed up for a meeting in April, and many were confused about fuels reduction on their property. But Brian Ballou, information officer for ODF, assured homeowners that healthy trees can actually protect homes from fire, and should not necessarily be removed. Homeowners should, however, use fire-resistant landscaping, keep firewood stacks away from buildings, clear bushes and branches and pine duff from around buildings and roofs, and keep lawns watered and mowed.
The State of Oregon has been a leader for decades on topics such as land use restrictions, zoning, and recycling, and now is one of the first in the nation -- if not the first -- to change homeowner defensible space and risk reduction for wildfire from just a good idea into a legal responsibility.
SCAMMERS IN THE AFTERMATH OF FIRE
AUGUST 23 -- REDDING, CA: Shasta County officials have warned victims of the fires in French Gulch and Jones Valley to beware of scam artists. According to an AP report, the Shasta County District Attorney's Office says disasters often attract swindlers eager to capitalize on tragedies. Residents in burned areas after a fire should be cautious when contacted by "claims adjusters" who say they'll work for a percentage of the claim, and residents should beware of vendors who ask for money up front for arranging quick loans, grants, or insurance settlements.
Residents were also cautioned about hiring contractors who aren't licensed or who have taken on more work than they can capably perform.
"They do not have sufficient resources to complete the work and often perform substandard and incomplete work," the district attorney's office said.
Residents should also be wary of con artists who attempt to collect funds for nonexistent charities, especially those purporting to be associated with police or fire funds.
FIRST STRIKE BACK ON THE LINES
AUGUST 20 -- ROSEBURG, OR: Oregon wildland firefighting contractor First Strike Environmental out of Roseburg has crews out for the 2004 season, after a tragic year in 2003 when eight of their firefighters were killed in a traffic accident in eastern Oregon.
First Strike firefighters were dispatched this week to the Fischer Fire near Leavenworth, Washington, and to the Tiller Ranger District on the Umpqua National Forest. Engines, tenders, and support personnel have also been dispatched to the Bybee Complex and the Modoc Point Fire at Crater Lake National Park.
"We feel good about being back on the line," said Robert Krueger, president of the company. "Our crews are well-prepared, well-trained, and determined to come back from the tragedy we suffered last year."
Prior to last summer's accident, the company had operated for 17 years with no major injuries nor fatalities. After the wreck in eastern Oregon, Krueger instituted a policy of sending relief drivers to bring crews home from extended assignments.
"In the awful aftermath of that day," said Krueger, "everyone in this company has worked hard to eliminate or address every potential factor which might contribute to accidents on the road or on the line." The company reviewed all policies and procedures, and intensified training both in firefighting and in driving transport vehicles.
Pre-employment screening for drugs and alcohol resulted in a 20-25 percent decrease in company personnel returning for the 2004 fire season. "Our drug policy is clear and unequivocal -- no drugs, no alcohol, period," said Krueger.
All company drivers were trained and certified this spring by the Oregon Driver Education Center to handle 12-passenger vans and heavy trucks. First Strike also increased leadership training for crew leaders and squad bosses, including training in situational decision-making.
First Strike has also made a change to make sure the families of company firefighters are taken care of. After the accident last year brought to light that the firefighters were not eligible for death benefits, the company instituted a $25,000 accidental death insurance policy for all employees; they're covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
ALASKA BREAKING RECORDS
AUGUST 19 -- FAIRBANKS, ALASKA: The worst fire season in Alaska history is a ways from over, and is breaking records in more ways than one. The number of acres burned this year has already surpassed a record set in 1957 and suppression costs are expected to exceed $55 million. Gil Knight, a fire information officer at the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center at the Alaska Fire Service facility at Fort Wainwright, said 602 fires thus far have burned 5.05 million acres. The state has already spent $25.6 million on fires within its jurisdiction. Joe Stam, chief of fire and aviation for the state, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that federal agency fires account for the rest.
Knight said the acreage totals will probably be increased substantially when GIS mapping is completed by the end of the season.
The 508,000-acre Boundary Fire included 210,505 acres on BLM lands. That area, however, may not cost much because that acreage was in a limited suppression area. The rest of the fire burned through land owned either by the state Department of Natural Resources or the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and some of it was in critical or full-suppression areas.
It's expected that FEMA will reimburse the state for 75 percent of the $17 million expended so far on the fire -- but it's only 75 percent contained.
Alaska's also hosted three of the nation's 16 Type 1 teams this year. Two teams worked on the Boundary Fire after it started in late June, and Frye's team is now on the Central Complex.
"We hardly ever have Type 1 teams up here and to have three of them up here is unheard of," Stam said.
Alaska started the season with a fire suppression budget of $6.7 million. By the end of June that was gone. Early in July, Gov. Frank Murkowski issued a disaster declaration authorizing an additional $13.8 million, and in August another $8.5 million was added. With $26 million spent and no end in sight to the fire season, the $29 million allocated so far is quickly running out.
SERVICES SET FOR L.A. FIREFIGHTER
AUGUST 19 -- LOS ANGELES, CA: Details have been announced for a memorial service scheduled for tomorrow for Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter Jaime L. Foster, who was killed in the line of duty last weekend.
The memorial service will include a walking procession, a church service, and a memorial reception. The public is welcome, and uniformed firefighters, law enforcement, and EMS personnel are invited to participate in the procession.
The walking procession begins at 9:00 a.m. and will proceed from Los Angeles City Hall about five blocks to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels. Departments with fire apparatus will be parked along the route. Check-in starts at 7 a.m. at First and Main streets. The church service begins at 10 a.m. and will last till noon. A private interment follow.
The memorial reception begins at 1 p.m. at the LAFD Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center at 1700 Stadium Way, adjacent to Dodger Stadium. Shuttle service will be provided for firefighters who will participate in the procession without a fire apparatus. Parking for the shuttle is at the LAFD Frank Hotchkin Training Center, and the shuttle begins at 7 a.m. Shuttle buses will pick up passengers on Hill Street north of Temple, east of the cathedral, after the church service.
The LAFD will provide overnight accommodations for out-of-area firefighters beginning at 5 p.m. tonight. Check the LAFD website at lafd.org for details.
Expressions of support and sympathy through cards and correspondence can be sent to the Foster Family C/O Los Angeles Firemen's Relief Association, 2900 West Temple Street, Los Angeles, CA 90026. The Foster family has asked that in lieu of flowers,
donations be made in Jaime's honor to the LAFD Historical Society Fallen Firefighter Memorial, 1355 North Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028.
CLOSE CALL ON CALIFORNIA FIRE
AUGUST 19 -- RIVERBANK, CA: Two firefighters from Riverbank narrowly escaped a burnover on a recent grass fire; Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District Capt. Ron Keyes was burned on one hand and his face, and Engineer Bob Rocha escaped injury. But their truck has scorched paint and melted plastic all along the driver's side.
Keys and Rocha were part of a team assigned to fight three fires that burned more than 4,400 acres in Calaveras County on August 6 and 7. The 82-acre Armstrong Fire they were on burned near Avery, off Highway 4, in steep terrain and thick manzanita.
"Rocha was on top of the truck unrolling the hose and I was in the road when a wall of fire came up out of the canyon," said Keyes. "There was a lot of wind, a lot of noise. It was very hot. The fire was crowning across the road."
He told the Riverbank News that Rocha jumped down and got into the truck. Keyes ran toward another truck in front, thinking there was a safety zone ahead. There wasn't.
When that truck started backing up, Keyes stopped; there were flames between him and that truck. When he turned around, there was fire behind him.
"Then I realized how hot the air was that I was breathing," he said. "I really thought I'd gone and done it, bought the farm big time. Then I dived into a ditch, Bob got the truck moving, picked me up and we got out."
Rocha said he almost abandoned the truck when flames were beating against the driver's window. Keyes was burned on the back of his hand when he pulled off his glove to open the truck door.
"We laughed about it later, of course," said Keyes. "But it was scary. It was as close as I've ever come to dying. We do all this book learning about fire, but when it happens it's amazing how fast fire moves."
FISCHER FIRE TAKES OFF
AUGUST 18 -- DRYDEN, WA: Winds pushed the Fischer Fire in central Washington early today as it burned into dry brush and grass. Moving fast in flashy fuels, the fire grew from 8,520 acres earlier this morning to over 11,460 acres.
The fire, about 20 miles northwest of Wenatchee, has destroyed one home and damaged another residence and an outbuilding, according to an AP report. Officials temporarily closed U.S. Highway 2 between Cashmere and Dryden.
Fire Information Officer Jon Kohn said that they expect a large fire plume this afternoon as they attempt to stop the fire’s progress at Hay Canyon. This morning, teams of dozers completed fuel breaks from upper Ollala Canyon down through the bottom west side of Hay Canyon. Crews are using the road in Hay Canyon as a fireline, and have removed vegetation along the road.
"They are now burning out fuel breaks as the wind carries embers back over the main fire," said Kohn. "The purpose of the burnout is to provide an adequate fuel break to strengthen the fireline."
Kohn said smoke is darkening skies over the fire and along the Wenatchee River Valley this afternoon, but the fire has not advanced yet today either east of Hay Canyon, or to the north, south, or west.
The fire, on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, is being managed by Anderson's Type 1 team, who said the fire yesterday was actively backing and flanking south of Blag Mountain into Ollala Canyon, with short runs and torching in heavier fuels. The fire gained 1,955 acres yesterday. Evacuation orders remain in effect for all of Ollala Canyon. This morning the Northwest Coordination Center reported that Fischer Fire at 30 percent containment. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered again for all of Ollala Canyon with evacuation notifications for Red Apple Road, Hughes Road, Eels Road, Warner Canyon, Spring Canyon Off Hay Canyon Road, East Nahahum Road, Old Sunset Highway, and all driveways off Highway 2 to the northeast down to the Monitor Rock.
Yesterday the fire reached Ollala Canyon Road and spotted across the canyon. The fire burned actively in and around structures on the north end of Ollala Canyon. Structure protection is in place in Eagle Creek, Derby Canyon, Hay Canyon, and Ollala Canyon with site prep at structures in Nahahum Canyon.
Fire managers predict that the fire will move east into Ollala Canyon and north into Eagle Creek.
A FEMA declaration is in effect.
More than 1,500 firefighters are assigned to the human-caused fire, which has been burning since August 8.
A series of lightning storms in central Washington ignited 18 fires yesterday in the Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests. One of the largest, northwest of Twisp, grew to 600 acres.
A GREAT PLACE TO NOT HAVE A FIRE
AUGUST 17 -- FRENCH GULCH, CA: The French Fire that raced through the old Gold Rush town of French Gulch on Saturday has burned 9,050 acres, and is still growing. And it's not a fun fire to work on. The terrain around the town is littered with open mine shafts and rattlesnakes.
"If you could ask for a place not to have a fire, that's a place not to have one," said Doug Wenham, a CDF battalion chief who directed tactical operations on Saturday.
The French Fire northwest of Redding started Saturday afternoon, and by this morning it was 15 percent contained. It's burned 22 homes and two commercial properties. Some residences and a major transmission line are still threatened.
"Now it is north of the city and burning in rugged, steep terrain," said Roy Del Carlo with CDF. "We're expecting up-canyon winds and increased fire activity due to the winds." The Sacramento Bee reported that fire managers expect the fire could go to 17,000 acres; containment's predicted for Friday.
Some Sacramento firefighters were sent to French Gulch Sunday morning. Capt. Scott Visser said the fire had the run of the town on Saturday. "As we came up the Trinity Mountain Road through town, there were residences burned on both sides of the road."
He said they cleared brush around houses Sunday afternoon, and helicopters and tankers dumped water and retardant on the south end of the blaze.
Wenham said French Gulch is in a canyon and the flames raced down the canyon on three sides of the town. "It burned right up and around standing structures," he said. "Right through the town." He said the slopes around town are peppered with open mine shafts, some big enough to swallow a bulldozer.
Residents will be allowed to return home today as soon as the utility companies have completed restoring power and phone lines. The utility company vehicles are blocking the major access to the French Gulch community while they work. Adjoining federal and private landowners are participating in the planning process. Highway 299 is still closed intermittently; CalTrans and CHP are escorting motorists through the closed portion.
DEEP HARBOR FIRE EVACUATES RETREAT CENTER
AUGUST 16 -- HOLDEN VILLAGE, WA: Guests and staff at a remote Christian retreat center in the North Cascades were evacuated yesterday when the Deep Harbor Fire near Lake Chelan threatened the only road in. The first groups of about 270 people at the center left yesterday on buses and boats, and the evacuation is expected to be completed by tonight.
About a dozen core staff will remain at the center. Forest Service fire managers said they couldn't keep the 29,500-acre fire from spreading north along Lake Chelan beyond established firelines toward the center.
One of the directors at the center told the Seattle Times that the evacuation was a precautionary measure, adding that the village itself is not at risk, but the access in and out of the village is threatened.
Getting to Holden Village involves a boat ride up Lake Chelan to a landing called Lucerne, followed by a bus ride on an 11-mile gravel road that dead-ends at Holden. The road is the village's lifeline and only evacuation route. Holden is an abandoned mining company town that was donated to the Seattle-based Lutheran Bible Institute after the mine closed in 1957. A nonprofit corporation has operated it since 1961.
The Deep Harbor Fire is part of the Pot Peak & Sisi Ridge Complex on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Furlong & Gormley's state team is assigned; the complex includes the Pot Peak, Sisi Ridge, and Deep Harbor fires, about 15 miles northwest of Chelan. Torching, crown runs, and short-range spotting were reported on all fires yesterday. A voluntary evacuation notice was issued for the Domke Lake, Lucerne, and Holden Village areas. There's also a forest closure in effect for Holden Village, Domke Lake, and the Railroad Creek drainage in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, because of the threat of northward expansion of the fire. Firefighters today are focusing on keeping the fire south of Bear Creek by installing of a sprinkler system and continuing aerial water drops. On the Sisi Ridge and Pot Peak fires, crews are strengthening lines, mopping up, and completing rehab.
Firefighters yesterday put in a perimeter of hoses and sprinklers around the Holden community and cleared the lower branches of trees to protect the historic buildings.
FISCHER FIRE JUMPS LINES
AUGUST 15 -- DRYDEN, WA: The Chelan County Sheriff's Office ordered a new round of evacuations last night after a wildfire north of Leavenworth jumped firelines and burned across a road near Eagle Creek. About 120 homes were evacuated yesterday afternoon because of concerns about shifting winds and an approaching lightning storm.
Fire information officer Art Tasker said the fire was moving to the northeast away from homes late yesterday, but crews were concerned that thunderstorms in the forecast could blow the fire back toward the homes. Temperatures are expected to be in the 90s today.
Two firefighters reported knee injuries yesterday.
The Seattle Times reported that residents have not been allowed to return to another 30 homes evacuated earlier, and that residents of another 40 or 50 homes were notified that they might have to leave.
The fire last night was 30 percent contained at 2,250 acres; Anderson's Type 1 team is assigned, with more than 840 firefighters on the fire. About 175 homes are threatened.
L.A. FIREFIGHTER KILLED
AUGUST 15 -- LOS ANGELES, CA: A firefighter from Palmdale was fatally injured yesterday when she was struck by a fire truck after helping suppress a house fire. Jaime L. Foster, 25, was the first city firefighter killed in the line of duty since 1998, according to an AP report. Los Angeles Fire Department public affairs officer Brian Humphrey said Foster had helped fight a house fire in the San Fernando Valley's Encino section, and the engine struck Foster as it was leaving. No other injuries were reported.
FIRE RIPS THROUGH NORTHERN CALIFORNIA TOWN
AUGUST 15 -- FRENCH GULCH, CA: A wind-driven wildfire roared through an old mining town 20 miles east of Redding yesterday, destroying 20 homes and forcing about 125 residents out. The French Fire started yesterday afternoon and grew quickly to 2,500 acres, burning through old-growth manzanita and timber. The fire's threatening 150 homes and about 150 other structures.
Snowplows were brought out to clear debris from the roads so that engines could get through.
The fire was 10 percent contained at 3,000 acres early this morning; about 1,155 firefighters are assigned, and the fire's expected to go to 5,000 acres later today.
An AP report in the San Francisco Chronicle (which has several good photos) said firefighters were pulled from the lines on the Bear Fire near Shasta Lake; a number of resources were re-assigned from the Bear Fire to the French Fire yesterday. The Bear Fire was at 10,484 acres this morning and growth has been minimal. The fire destroyed 80 homes, 30 outbuildings, and 10 vehicles. Chuchel's CDF team is managing this fire; it's 95 percent contained, and firefighters expect full containment by tomorrow morning.
THREE OPTIONS FOR AIRTANKERS DISCUSSED
AUGUST 14 -- MISSOULA, MT: Three congressional options are under review to solve the airtanker issue before next summer's fire season. Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana met with Neptune officials yesterday to discuss legislative changes that he could submit when Congress returns from its recess in September.
"Perhaps the Forest Service is trying its hardest," said Rehberg, "but the FAA is really the one that does civil aviation inspections. I'm more interested at this point in this fire season, in getting those airplanes back in the air."
Neptune President Kristen Schloemer told the Missoulian that she'd spoken with Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey about increasing the number of tankers Neptune could fly in a new engineering study; Neptune and Minden Air will each be allowed to return one airtanker to service as soon as they're equipped with instrumentation to monitor airframe stress levels.
But Schloemer says it would be better to use more than just two aircraft to produce a larger collection of data for analysis.
"There's no reason why we can't be fully operational while they acquire additional data," Schloemer said.
One proposal under discussion would place the airtankers back under FAA jurisdiction. A second proposal would put the tankers under a newly created office of the FAA that reviews rockets, private space missions, and other unusual aircraft. That office is supposed to cover aircraft that encounter abnormal levels of stress. The third plan would certify airtankers under the Department of Defense's aircraft program.
Schloemer said Neptune would welcome any of the three proposals, as long as some agency with consistent rules was designated for oversight.
800,000 WARNED TO EVACUATE IN FLORIDA
AUGUST 12 -- TAMPA, FL: Officials warned an estimated 800,000 residents and tourists today to get out of the way of Hurricane Charley, because portions of downtown Tampa could be submerged by the expected storm surge when the hurricane hits Florida's central gulf coast tomorrow.
"This is a scary, scary thing," said Florida's Governor Jeb Bush.
The hurricane should hit Tampa tomorrow afternoon with winds up to 110 mph, heavy rain, and tornadoes. Hugh Cobb, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said it would be a Category 3 hurricane.
Holly Rife is the incident commander on a National Park Service team activated in relation to the storm; a hurricane shutdown for Biscayne National Park was invoked by the Hurricane Incident Management Team on August 11, and shutdown was 80 percent complete by the end of the day. NPS employees living from Key Largo south were released from official duties to prepare for landfall by Hurricane Charley within the Keys area. The team expected final shutdown of all park facilities today.
According to an AP report, residents from the Tampa Bay area south to Naples were warned to expect a storm surge of 10 to 13 feet. Southern Florida was blasted with lightning late this evening, and a state meteorologist said the surge could reach 16 feet in the Tampa area.
Most of the evacuations were in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties; all residents of MacDill Air Force Base were ordered out; operations and personnel relocated to Kansas today.
"There will be a period of time where if you stay behind and you change your mind and you want to be rescued, no one can help you," said Pinellas Emergency Management Chief Gary Vickers. "We aren't going to go out on a suicide mission."
About 6.5 million of Florida's 17 million residents are in Charley's projected path.
Key West International Airport closed today, and St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport was closing after the last flight tonight.
The National Hurricane Center at www.nhc.noaa.gov suffered an untimely crash today; a major network outage at the NOAA Network Operations Center in Maryland caused long delays in updates to the Hurricane Center's website and their email advisory system. The network was repaired.
FISCHER FIRE TAKES OFF
AUGUST 12 -- DRYDEN, WA: Residents of about 18 homes near Dryden were allowed to return home yesterday after being evacuated, but a couple dozen homes are still on evacuation status and dozens of other residents are on evacuation alert. The Fischer Fire, about 20 miles northwest of Wenatchee and four miles southeast of Leavenworth, was at about 850 acres last night, but by late this morning it had reached 1,150 acres. By this evening it was 30 percent contained at 1,330 acres.
Reed & Holloway's Type 2 team has been on the fire, and they said this morning that containment was about 25 percent. But this afternoon the fire took off and made a big run, putting up a plume of over 20,000 feet. Extreme fire behavior's been reported this afternoon, and a Type 1 team is inbound. The fire spotted across control lines today along the north end of the fire, but crews hope to contain those spot fires by tonight.
Williams Canyon was still under evacuation orders today, and similar orders were reinstated in Derby Canyon. Crews are building contingency line, and additional fireline is under way farther north in Derby Canyon. Crews on the upper end of the fire were pulled off the line today for safety reasons.
Weather's not helping the crews out; fire managers are expecting that plume-dominated fire behavior could be a problem, along with the temperatures in the high 90s, dry fuels, low humidities, and a high Haines Index. Also, downslope winds are expected by tomorrow night, and a fire weather watch is predicted for dry thunderstorms in the area.
There were about 720 firefighters on the fire tonight.
Hundreds of homes are threatened, and more homes, outbuildings, and orchards in Williams and Derby Canyons could be threatend at any time. Homes in Judge and Ollala Canyon could be threatened within the next day or two.
The fire this morning had spread northeast and burned at least another 150 acres since last night. Firefighters this morning made significant progress on containment in the Williams Canyon area, and the structure protection group finalized their amended trigger points and evacuation plans.
An AP report said the fire started Sunday evening and was probably human-caused. Over 700 personnel are working on the fire.
TWO MORE AIRTANKERS APPROVED
AUGUST 12 -- WASHINGTON, DC: The USDA and DOI announced today the return of two P-2V airtankers to firefighting service -- on a limited basis. Both airtankers will be outfitted with "structural health monitoring devices" to gather information to use in assessing the chances for the remaining P-2V fleet.
"This is another step in developing a clearer picture of the airworthiness of these aging aircraft," said Rebecca Watson, DOI Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management.
One of the approved airtankers is owned by Minden Air of Nevada and the other is one of the Missoula-based Neptune Aviation fleet. The Minden P-2V is already outfitted with the monitoring device; Neptune's has yet to be installed.
The agency heads said the P-2Vs will be used only in unpopulated areas and will be subject to more frequent inspections; the Forest Service has already spent $1.2 million this year on a contract with DynCorp Technical Services for inspections of the 33 heavy airtankers.
The other ten P-2Vs won't be returned to service yet because the USFS doesn't have the documentation requested from Lockheed Martin that they say will help determine operational service life on the P-2V tankers. The USDA recently agreed to pay for the documentation and further inspections, and the cost is estimated at $500,000. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey said officials at Lockheed-Martin believe they can do an analysis of data obtained from the original stress tests of the aircraft.
Sandia National Laboratories personnel will transmit the data from the P-2V monitoring devices to Lockheed-Martin engineers. Data from a DC-7 owned by Oregon-based Butler Aircraft and flying under contract with the State of Oregon will also be collected.
BEAR FIRE COUNT: 64 HOMES
AUGUST 12 -- REDDING, CA: A wind shift has turned and pushed the Bear Fire near Shasta Lake, and the total of homes burned by the fire has now reached 64. The fire had burned 3,000 acres of grass, brush, and timber by this morning; Kevin Colburn with CDF said the fire was previously at 40 percent containment, but the wind shift overnight pushed the fire to the south.
More than 1,000 firefighters, along with eight airtankers, are on the fire.
The 64 homes destroyed were in the Jones Valley subdivision, just south of Lake Shasta and east of Redding, according to a Sacramento Bee report. Almost 400 homes were evacuated.
When the fire started yesterday afternoon, the temperature in the area was 105º with 12 percent humidity.
FIRE NEAR SHASTA LAKE BURNS 40 HOMES
AUGUST 12 -- REDDING, CA: A rapidly spreading fire just outside Redding near the eastern edge of Shasta Lake has grown to 3,000 acres this morning; the Bear Fire has nearly 1,200 firefighters assigned. Five injuries were reported. The fire spread yesterday afternoon from 100 acres to 600 acres in just two hours.
The fire is burning toward the Jones Valley resort community near Shasta Lake and people evacuated the area by boat. About 350 homes are threatened; the fire's 40 percent contained this morning.
The cause of the fire was faulty equipment use, according to an AP report, and a person was cited for starting the fire. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the cause of the fire as sparks from a lawnmower.
NBC4-TV reported that more evacuations were ordered last night, forcing at least 300 people from their homes.
The fire is burning in the same area that was burned by a 26,000-acre fire in 1999.
That fire destroyed more than 170 homes.
750 ACRES BURNED IN BUTTE COUNTY
AUGUST 12 -- OROVILLE, CA: The Oregon Fire near Oroville, California, forced evacuations and destroyed at least one home near Oregon Gulch Road; it started about 4 p.m. yesterday and spread quickly. Dozens of homes in the area were evacuated.
About 100 residents in the area were evacuated, according to Anne McClean with CDF. About 150 homes and 300 outbuildings were threatened, along with the town of Cherokee, Oregon City, and the Potter Ravine area. Cherokee Road was closed.
Over 300 firefighters are assigned; KCRA-TV reported that the fire was at 45 percent containment this morning.
MARTIN MARS TANKERS FLYING OVER VANCOUVER ISLAND
AUGUST 12 -- VANCOUVER ISLAND, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA: Firefighters were working a wildfire yesterday on hilly ground inland from the Comox Valley on central Vancouver Island; the fire started on private timberland at the head of the Trent River south of the village of Cumberland.
It was about 70 percent contained by late afternoon. The fire was reported about 4 a.m., and the B.C. Forest Service dispatched two Martin Mars airtankers, along with two heavy helicopters, four JetRanger helicopters, four other fixed-wing aircraft, and a ground crew of about 30 firefighters.
Fire information officer Sue Handel told the Vancouver Sun that the fire was burning in very steep terrain, and most of the action on it was by air.
The number of fires in British Columbia is dramatically behind the figure for this time last year; yesterday there were 228 fires burning in the province, compared with 842 fires at this point a year ago.
CHOPPER DOWN ON WASHINGTON FIRE
AUGUST 11 -- DRYDEN, WA: A helicopter carrying equipment crashed in remote terrain about 20 miles northwest of Leavenworth today, killing the pilot, who was reportedly the only person on board. Mike Ward, 55, of Clayton, Georgia, was flying for Helicopter Express of Lawrenceville, Georgia, on contract with the Forest Service.
KOMO-TV reported that the Bell 205 went down about 11 a.m. while hauling equipment to firefighters. Smokejumpers hiked to the crash site to check on the pilot and to suppress the fire caused by the crash.
SAN DIEGO WASN'T PREPARED FOR CEDAR FIRE
AUGUST 10 -- SAN DIEGO, CA: A new report says San Diego firefighters were short on staff, engines, safety gear, training, and coordination when the devastating Cedar Fire struck the area last fall and killed 15 people. The problems, and the solutions that fire officials have enacted, are detailed in the new Cedar Fire After Action Report.
In the city, almost 29,000 acres burned in the fire, which destroyed 321 homes and damaged about 70 others in San Diego. According to an AP report, a total of 273,246 acres were burned, and 2,232 homes were burned by the fire, counting San Diego and surrounding areas.
The report was produced by the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, and it notes that staffing and training were inadequate, there was a shortage of reserve engines, and much of the fleet was outdated. Firefighters didn't have enough PPE, the Department Operations Center didn't have enough space, resources, or security, and there was inadequate coordination at the local and regional level.
Since fall, the fire department's bought engines, shelters, and hose packs. Reserve engines have been added, and training's been increased.
WASHINGTON FIRE EVACUATES HOMES
AUGUST 09 -- DRYDEN, WA: Officials in Chelan County issued a mandatory evacuation for 38 homes near Dryden in north-central Washington this morning because of the danger posed by the 150-acre Fischer Fire. It started last night about 7 p.m. northwest of Wenatchee.
KOMO-TV reported that the fire was burning on private, state, and federal land. Flaming trees could be seen from Highway 2 between Leavenworth and Dryden. About 20 homes in Derby Canyon and 18 homes in Williams Canyon were evacuated. About 120 firefighters were assigned to the fire, and an incident management team is en route.
TWO CALIFORNIA FIRES CONTAINED
AUGUST 09 -- ANZA, CA: Firefighters contained the Trinity Fire in southern California today, a 350-acre fire that briefly threatened dozens of homes. The fire raced through chaparral and trees weakened by drought and beetle infestation, and forced the evacuation of 50 homes near the desert community of Anza, about 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
Melody Lardner, fire information officer, told KFMB-TV that residents were allowed to return to their homes last night. About 300 firefighters, along with nine aircraft, were on the fire. Temperatures reached a high of 112º and one firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion.
Residents said the fire started on the 900-acre campus of Trinity Children and Family Services, a home for troubled youth.
On the Angeles National Forest, nearly 700 firefighters yesterday were on the East Fire, which burned 1,330 acres and destroyed two outbuildings. It was contained late yesterday.
The Stephen Fire southeast of Grass Valley this morning is about 50 percent contained at 600 acres. The communities of Cape Horn, Colfax, and Alpine Meadows are threatened, and evacuations have occurred. Two injuries were reported, and one outbuilding was destroyed. The Kincaid Fire in Santa Clara County is 30 percent contained at 370 acres; it's expected to burn another 500 acres before containment is possible.
220-ACRE FIRE THREATENS
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA TOWNS
AUGUST 08 -- COLFAX, CA: The Stephen Fire in Placer County southeast of Grass Valley is threatening the communities of Alpine Meadows and Colfax City this evening; about 75 homes are threatened and evacuations are in progress.
Poor access is limiting firefighters' efforts, along with low humidities, temperatures near 100º and steep terrain.
More than 250 people were evacuated.
The fire's been spotting and torching in 6-foot chaparral, timber, scrub brush, oak, and chemise. Airtankers have been dropping on the fire; crews, engines, and dozers are on order.
800-ACRE FIRE THREATENS
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA RANCHES
AUGUST 08 -- ANZA, CA: The Kincaid Fire in Santa Clara County is estimated at 800 acres with zero percent containment this evening; it's threatening scattered ranch homes and transmission lines, burning through heavy brush and oak woodlands in steep terrain.
Plans are under way to establish an incident base; almost 200 firefighters are on the fire tonight.
400-ACRE FIRE THREATENS
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TOWN
AUGUST 08 -- ANZA, CA: The Trinity Fire in Riverside County this afternoon was threatening the community of Anza, west of Temecula and southeast of Hemet. One injury was reported, along with three outbuildings destroyed, and evacuations in progress.
Residents of Anza, Bautista Canyon, and Murray Hill were evacuated.
High temperatures (112º) and low humidities, gusty winds, and heavy fuels were contributing to rapid rate of spread on the fire. The fire's burning in 6-foot chaparral, and is zero percent contained this evening.
Cary Road was closed.
Over 300 firefighters are assigned.
CALIFORNIA FIREFIGHTERS BUSY
AUGUST 08 -- CASTAIC, CA: Crews are fighting several fires in California today, fires that have burned thousands of acres and forced scores of people to evacuate. Almost 700 firefighters are working on a 1,200-acre fire on the Angeles National Forest east of Interstate 5 near Castaic. Airtankers and helicopters are on the East Fire; temperatures in the area are expected to reach nearly 100 degrees.
The fire's threatening a trailer park, three major gas and oil pipelines, a fiber optic line, and major transmission lines. McCombs's Type 1 team is assigned.
The fire was first reported yesterday afternoon. It's at 50 percent containment this morning, and full containment's expected this evening. Yesterday the fire threatened a mobile home park, but residents used garden hoses to fight it off. They were eventually evacuated, but were allowed to return to their homes by evening.
Three other fires burned over 4,000 acres yesterday near Angels Camp; the Copper Fire near Copperopolis burned more than 3,400 acres of oak woodland and brush, and forced the evacuation of over 200 people in Calaveras County. The fire threatened 50 homes and a dozen outbuildings. According to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle, the fire was caused by a mechanical problem with a car traveling on Highway 4.
The Calaveras Complex this morning is burning in steep chaparral-covered terrain in canyons below residential areas. It includes three fires -- the Copper Fire, 90 percent contained at 3,445 acres, the Armstrong Fire, 90 percent contained at 82 acres, and the 876-acre Mineral Fire, which is 65 percent contained. The Mineral Fire near Avery destroyed a house and a mobile home in the Mineral Mountain subdivision.
The Stockton Record reported that local residents speculated that someone had intentionally set the fires, because there were several separate starts that occurred within a relatively narrow timeframe. Martin Johnson with CDF said resources included 190 engines, 33 hand crews, 11 dozers, nine helicopters, and five airtankers. The complex is staffed by over 1,700 firefighters.
The Masonic Fire in Mariposa County was contained last night at 120 acres.
USFS WILL PAY FOR LOCKHEED INFO
AUGUST 07 -- MISSOULA, MT: The timeframe for acquiring paperwork from Lockheed Martin that the Forest Service wants to complete airworthiness assessments on airtankers owned by Neptune and Minden could now be reduced from months to days. U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana said yesterday he'd made an agreement with USDA Undersecretary Mark Rey that the Forest Service would pay for the documentation from Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the P-2V airtankers.
"The best news in all this is that we've made it an important enough issue that Lockheed and the Forest Service have already begun the work on getting the necessary date for certification," Rehberg told the Missoulian. "I'm optimistic this will be wrapped up in a matter of days, rather than months, which is crucial for our efforts to get Minden Air and Neptune Aviation back in the air to fight these wildfires."
"That's fantastic that they're looking for that from Lockheed," said Kristen Schloemer with Neptune. "But the Forest Service request for information on June 2 didn't request operational service life reports from Lockheed. They asked for this ten days ago. Our point is there's no reason we can't be operational in the meantime."
Schloemer said of Neptune's 100 employees, they had to lay off 20 pilots, but have kept on their maintenance and administrative staff since the federal contracts were canceled in May. The company's engineering reports have been approved by DynCorp, the Texas firm that was contracted to review tanker airworthiness for the Forest Service. Forest Service reviewers, though, insisted on seeing the original 1949 Lockheed engineering reports, and Lockheed Martin officials initially refused to produce the reports, saying they contained proprietary information.
"We own all the Lockheed engineering data except for the developmental data," said Neptune director of operations and maintenance Greg Jones. "This report is for an early version of our model aircraft, and doesn't figure for our modifications of jets, or wingtips, or fuel. That's why we can't figure out why the Forest Service is hanging their hat on this data."
What the Forest Service has demanded for the P-2Vs is the "operational service life report," the review Lockheed did in 1949 when the aircraft was first developed.
The decision by Lockheed Martin to release the information is a significant step toward returning the P-2Vs to service, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. "We’ve been able to break the logjam," said Brad Keena, spokesman for Rehberg.
Lockheed Martin staff confirmed that the company has agreed to gather the documentation, but the process to certify the tankers as airworthy still might not be done till after the fire season is over, according to David Jewell, director of communications for Lockheed Martin in Greenville, South Carolina. "We’re still looking at this assessment taking as much as four months," he said, "but we’re working with the Forest Service to see if we can shorten that timeline."
Rose Davis with public affairs at NIFC yesterday said she'd not seen any new timetable for negotiating with Lockheed Martin or otherwise settling the airworthiness matter. Rehberg, however, said the data provided by Lockheed Martin "will more than satisfy the need for information for certification."
Leonard Parker at Minden said progress on getting his airtankers certified changes daily. "I’m in a position where if the Forest Service would bless us, I could have the planes flying again in a day," he said.
IDAHO FIRE AT CRATERS OF THE MOON
AUGUST 06 -- CAREY, IDAHO: BLM firefighters on Wednesday were fighting south-central Idaho's first significant wildfire of the summer, a 90-acre blaze at Craters of the Moon National Monument.
The Twin Falls Times-News reported that the South Park Fire started Wednesday morning; lightning was reported in the area earlier in the day.
An air attack plane, two heavy airtankers, four SEATs and two helicopters responded.
The BLM's new Twin Falls Air Attack Base saw its first action of the season, loading a heavy tanker out of Boise, but airtankers were done with the fire by late afternoon.
Nine engines and two helicopters remained for mop-up.
On the Salmon-Challis National Forest, the Corn Fire is being managed by Saleen's Type 2 team. The 200-acre fire is 60 percent contained; it's about 37 miles northwest of Salmon in heavy dead and downed timber. Increased winds and lower RH levels yesterday accounted for active fire behavior, including short runs, torching, and spotting.
MICHIGAN FIRE EVACUATES HOMES AND CAMPSITE
AUGUST 06 -- BEAR LAKE, MI: Forest fires yesterday forced evacuations in the northwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, including homes near Bear Lake in Manistee County and a campsite in Grand Traverse County.
Crews had both fires under control by late yesterday afternoon, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The Manistee County fire apparently started after someone lost control of a fire while burning trash in a barrel. The fire traveled about two miles before it was contained. In Grand Traverse County, campers at the Whitewater Township campground were evacuated because of another fire that may have been started by fireworks.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources warned of serious fire risks in areas across the state. "Much of northern Michigan will experience high and very high wildfire potential until those areas receive significant rainfall," said the DNR.
There is no rain in the forecast statewide, and humidities are running just 25 to 35 percent. One CL-215 scooper is on duty in Minnesota, along with three USFS Beavers.
INSPECTING P-2V TANKERS
COULD TAKE FOUR MONTHS
AUGUST 05 -- MINDEN, NV: The inspection process for airtankers on the ground in Minden and Missoula could take four months, according to the owners of Minden Air, which means they wouldn’t be in the air until after Nevada’s fire season is over.
And keeping the two tankers owned by Minden out of service is costing money.
"We can probably hang on into the future for a while, but we need to get going," owner Leonard Parker told the Reno Gazette-Journal. But he said he's not yet considering getting out of the airtanker business.
"As time goes by, that becomes an increasing possibility," said Parker.
The Forest Service said earlier this week that they need additional documentation from Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the planes -- specifically a 1949 document that Lockheed Martin says is proprietary information. They reportedly agreed to sell the documentation to the USFS and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana said Tuesday that Lockheed Martin had agreed to turn over the records.
Lockheed Martin gave Minden Air and Missoula-based Neptune Aviation estimates of what it would cost for Lockheed Martin to evaluate the aircraft and perform safety inspections for an additional fee.
"The correct path forward in our view is to accomplish a complete airworthiness assessment of those aircraft," said David Jewell with Lockheed Martin. "Such an assessment might take as much as four months or so to accomplish. It is not something that we can simply turn over."
Parker said it would cost him about $15,000 to have Lockheed Martin evaluate his two airtankers, plus additional costs for the safety assessment. But he said the cost would be an insurmountable burden.
"We’re right back in the problem that we were in before," he said. "If the Forest Service is mandating this, then they ought to step up to the bar and pay for this."
The Forest Service is expected to make a decision early next week on the airworthiness of five airtankers flown by the Oregon-based Butler Aircraft. Two of Butler's airtankers are currently flying fires under contract with the State of Oregon, but the Forest Service has said they won't be allowed to work on federal fires in the state.
CAVE JUNCTION FIRE EVACUATES USFS OFFICES,
TWO RESIDENTS DIE
AUGUST 05 -- CAVE JUNCTION, OR: A wind-driven fire yesterday afternoon threatened the town of Cave Junction and forced the evacuation of the Forest Service's Illinois Valley Ranger District offices.
The Mail-Tribune reported that two southern Oregon residents died in separate fire-related incidents, one caused by the Cave Junction fire and another in White City.
An elderly female hospice patient died after the fire near Cave Junction started near her home; Jerry Schaeffer, division chief with the Illinois Valley Fire Protection District, said the woman apparently died from stress related to the fire while she was being driven by her caregiver to Grants Pass.
A downed powerline leading to the woman's home was blamed for starting the fire.
A 71-year-old White City man, Floyd Charlie Worden, died after apparently trying to put out a fire that damaged the inside of his home. Deputy Fire Marshal Don Hickman with Jackson County Fire said crews went to Worden’s house at about 5 p.m. and found him collapsed in front of the home. Firefighters administered CPR before Worden was transported to the hospital. The cause of the house fire is under investigation.
Dennis Turco with the Oregon Department of Forestry said the 200-acre fire at Cave Junction was reported early in the afternoon along the Redwood Highway. A report by bend.com said winds of 20 mph with higher gusts caused the fire to jump the Illinois River at Forks State Park and head toward the town.
"It started south of Cave Junction in the area called East Forks," Turco said. Three outbuildings and a pickup were destroyed; about 200 residents were evacuated.
"It burned right up to the Forest Service compound," said Turco, "but we were able to stop it at that point." By early evening firefighters had stopped the main spread of the fire. Turco said helicopters under contract with ODF were working hot spots within the fire perimeter; state-contracted airtankers also dropped retardant.
Two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and two were treated for heat exhaustion.
USFS WORKING ON PLAN TO UPGRADE AIRTANKER FLEET
AUGUST 04 -- MISSOULA, MT: U.S. Forest Service aviation officials say they will release a plan to modernize the nation's fleet of firefighting airtankers by the end of September.
"We want to get through this wildfire season and understand how much of the fleet will be available and for how long," said Tony Kern, USFS assistant director of aviation.
His statement came the day after the agency rejected Missoula-based Neptune Aviation's request to reinstate their contracts to operate airtankers. Neptune officials said they look forward to being a part of the new plan.
"Well that's great," Neptune president Kristen Schloemer told the Missoulian. "We plan to be part of it."
U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana said USFS offcials told him last month that they're considering buying Navy surplus aircraft and that the agency would retain ownership of the planes and contract with companies such as Neptune to operate them.
Neptune and Montana congressmen are pushing to get the USFS to reconsider the decision to deny Neptune's contract reinstatement. Jim Foley, aide to Senator Max Baucus, said the senator is unhappy that the USFS reinstated contracts for the P-3 tankers operated by Aero Union in California but not for Neptune -- or Minden Air out of Nevada -- both of whom operate P-2V tankers.
"It's apparent to Max that Neptune is being treated differently," Foley said. "They are holding them to a higher standard."
Kern nonetheless dismisses any notion that Neptune is being treated differently. "The vendors are being treated the same," he said. "We're not raising the bar. We're not changing requirements."
ALMOST 100 NEW FIRES IN NORTHWEST
AUGUST 04 -- BEND, OR: Though crews were mopping up Oregon's largest wildfire yesterday, fire managers were worrying about new fires in Washington after more lightning storms swept across the state. Full containment on the 13,539-acre Log Springs Fire on the Warm Springs Reservation is expected by tonight.
The region recorded 4,181 lightning strikes between Monday and Tuesday morning, with 95 new fires reported. Though most were under an acre, several escaped initial attack. An 1,800-acre grass fire was burning on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in south-central Washington, and an 80-acre fire took off along the Deschutes River near Grass Valley. Both were contained, according to an Oregonian report.
Lightning also started a 100-acre fire about two miles southeast of Hood River in the Columbia River Gorge. Over 200 firefighters, three helicopters, and several bulldozers and engines were assigned to the Panorama Fire; by last night it was 70 percent contained.
More storms were expected in eastern Washington late yesterday, but nothing like the storm that blew through on Monday.
Roger Peterson at the Northwest Coordination Center said firefighters would be watching for the potential of sleeper fires after the lightning storm, but that IA this season has been really successful. "The local crews so far this year have been very successful on initial attack and keeping those fires small," he said. "That's been the good news."
The Mill Canyon Fire 25 miles northwest of Spokane was pushed by winds and forced the evacuation of 12 homes. About 100 firefighters were assigned to the fire, which was estimated at 1,000 acres.
Gusts of 30 mph threw sparks across firelines at the 23,120-acre Deep Harbor Fire near Lake Chelan, starting four new fires. The fire is part of the Pot Peak Complex on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and Lohrey's Type 1 team is assigned. The complex is 60 percent contained this morning at 39,110 acres.
NEVADA FIRE BURNS WILDLIFE REFUGE
AUGUST 03 -- LAS VEGAS, NV: A lightning-ignited wildfire in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is about 20 percent contained, and the Las Vegas Sun reported that 130 firefighters and law enforcement officers from several federal agencies were on the 400-acre fire.
The Longstreet Fire is burning on federal and private land in the refuge in rural Nye County, about 70 miles west of Las Vegas. The fire was named after a hotel and gambling hall in nearby Amargosa Valley.
The refuge is home to 12 T&E species, including birds, plants, and fish. The refuge is over 23,000 acres of spring-fed wetlands, a desert wetland ecosystem with habitat for at least 24 species found nowhere else in the world. Most depend on the isolated springs and wetlands on the refuge, and the local concentration of native species is considered to be the greatest of any area in the United States.
LIGHTNING TOUCHES OFF FIRES NEAR COLUMBIA RIVER
AUGUST 03 -- HOOD RIVER, OR: A 200-acre fire that was ignited by lightning yesterday is burning about two miles from the town of Hood River. David Widmark with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center told KATU-TV that the wind-driven fire burned actively overnight.
Access to the fire is difficult, and an airtanker was ordered from Redmond.
The Panorama Fire is burning in heavy second-growth slash piles and mixed oak, pine, and brush. Threat assessments are being made this morning. The fire has the potential for burning into the Mosier area; significant portions of dozer line were lost last night. A state Type 3 team has been ordered; about 50 firefighters were on the fire last night, and more are expected today.
Other small lightning fires were reported near The Dalles. The Spokane Fire Weather Office issued a Red Flag Warning for the Columbia Basin and the northeastern mountains of Washington for thunderstorms following a prolonged period of hot and dry weather. The Northwest reported heavy initial attack yesterday, with 95 new fires of about 2,500 acres recorded.
Unusually strong and gusty winds developed last evening near Spokane, and many small fires from downed powerlines were reported. Washington DNR reported three large grass fires, two for 100 acres each, and one at 50 acres. Lightning-caused fires were also reported in Klickitat County near the Columbia River. Four inches of hail was reported at Diamond Lake, Oregon.
NO JOY IN MISSOULA
AUGUST 02 -- BOISE, IDAHO: Federal officials this afternoon denied a request by two companies to return more large airtankers to service, saying additional information was needed on the life of the aircraft. The AP reported that the officials said they lacked information on "operational life limit" of the airtankers owned by Neptune Aviation of Missoula, Montana, and Minden Air of Minden, Nevada.
KPAX-TV in Missoula reported this evening that it's been "an emotional roller-coaster" for Neptune employees as they've seen several deadlines on this decision come and go, delays that have been particularly frustrating as new fires take off in Montana and across the West.
Rose Davis at NIFC said Neptune has done a great job of maintaining the airtankers, but that records submitted by the tanker companies were not enough. "We don't have the stuff from when they were a young airplane to see what they've been through already," she said.
According to the Forest Service, Lockheed Martin provided a 1949 report regarding wing structure and has indicated that more historical data exists, data that could lead to a determination of operation life limit. But Davis said the information is proprietary. The NTSB report upon which the Forest Service based its decision to cancel contracts in May pointed out that the Forest Service did not have the expertise to ascertain the airworthiness of the fleet or to manage the airtanker program. But a Forest Service memo issued from NIFC today discusses fatigue life limit and operational service life as related to airworthiness. "The information on the operational life limit of the P-2Vs that is not currently available is key to determining the safety of these aircraft," says the memo.
Senator Max Baucus in Montana is calling tonight for an investigation into the Neptune safety review, saying he's not sure Neptune was treated fairly in the review process. He wants to know if Neptune was given the same consideration as others (Aero Union) who have been cleared to fly again. KTVU-TV in California reported that decisions on requests by other companies are likely in the next couple weeks, and that Davis said officials were consistent in the criteria the companies needed to meet. However, she said, operational "life limit data" will vary depending on the type of aircraft.
Today's decision does not completely "close the door" on other companies' requests to get airtankers back in service this fire season, Davis said.
Janet Parker, co-owner of Minden Air, said she's trying to be hopeful. So far, she said there have been no layoffs at the business, but it's a possibility she may soon have to consider.
"This is our livelihood," she said.
BITTERROOT BUSY WITH IA
AUGUST 02 -- HAMILTON, MT: A late afternoon storm yesterday officially launched fire season on the Bitterroot National Forest; lightning strikes up and down the West Fork and East Fork of the Bitterroot River ignited 23 new fires.
The largest fire, the Calf Creek Fire, was estimated at 50 acres yesterday, but KPAX-TV reported this afternoon that it had grown to 120 acres. It's two miles north of Lost Trial Pass on the Sula Ranger District, and grew to the north and east overnight. Three crews, two helicopters, water tenders, and engines are on the fire. Sue Heald, public affairs officer on the Bitterroot, told the Missoulian that crews and air support were trying to keep the fire from nearby private structures.
Highway 93 South remains open, but drivers may encounter thick smoke and caravans of firefighting equipment in the area.
A few of the other fires were staffed, including three smaller fires near the West Fork Ranger District.
Dispatchers in Missoula were inundated with reports of fire in the Missoula Valley yesterday. A 3-acre fire on Miller Peak at the edge of last summer's Cooney Ridge fire in the Sapphire Mountains was the source of all the smoke; three helicopters were assigned to the fire and worked all afternoon on it.
SMOKEJUMPERS AND MAFFS TANKERS
HIT COLORADO FIRE
AUGUST 02 -- MONTROSE, CO: Crews on the 4,300-acre Campbell Fire northwest of Nucla say the terrain is barely accessible; the Montrose Daily Press reported that five smokejumpers parachuted in on Friday. Maggie McCaffrey, fire information officer for the Montrose Interagency Dispatch Center, said they were sent in for structure protection.
"We know there are multiple structures," McCaffrey said. "From what I understand, none of them are permanently occupied." An AP report in the Durango Herald said dry thunderstorms yesterday pushed the fire off in a different direction. Firefighters had planned for the wind shift, but were worried about the fire spreading. It started Friday and grew from 3,800 acres on Saturday to 4,300 acres yesterday.
The Campbell is a BLM fire burning in ponderosa pine, piñon-juniper, and oakbrush. Extreme fire behavior caused by winds from local thunderstorms was reported yesterday.
The fire's at 10 percent containment and is burning within a mile of private lands, and the Montrose County Sheriff's Posse has been notifying landowners about threatened structures.
Three SEATs dropped retardant on the fire Friday and Saturday, and dozers followed an old road into the fire area to cut line. Two MAFFS units from Fort Carson were on the fire yesterday, along with 164 firefighters, five engines, two helicopters, and four SEATs.
The fire's threatening several hundred head of cattle, about seven homes, and 10 outbuildings; firefighters managed to rescue most of the cattle. Officials closed portions of Third Park Road, otherwise known as Z26 Road, near Nucla.
SIERRA A "TIME BOMB"
AUGUST 02 -- FRESNO, CA: For residents near the Sierra National Forest, wildfires are nothing new. But fire officials say this year's fire danger is worse than usual.
The combination of ongoing drought, dense brush, dry duff, and dead trees has turned the 1.3 million-acre Sierra National Forest into what an AP report called "a ticking time bomb."
"August is normally the month with the most risk for wildfires because the trees are dry and the instances of lightning are highest," says Carolyn Ballard, the fuels specialist on the Sierra. "This year, we reached August-type levels of danger in June. It really has us concerned about what the season will bring."
Jean Arteaga, a Forest Service battalion chief in charge of fire prevention, told the Fresno Bee that there's a high chance for ignition because of the low fuel moistures. Arteaga said a recent grass fire was caused by a spark from a chain that a vehicle dragged on a road.
"It's scary," says firefighter Orlando Vigil at the CDF station in Oakhurst. "Urban development and vegetation have created a nightmare for us."
On July 1 the Sierra imposed fire restrictions for high hazard areas from the foothills up to 4,000 feet elevation. Forest Supervisor Ed Cole said additional restrictions are required when conditions become extreme and the danger of wildfire increases.
Nearby national parks such as the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are in the same shape. Jody Lyle, fire information officer there, said their conditions are just as bad. "Each summer, we put restrictions in place to limit where visitors can have open flames in the parks. This year, those restrictions were enacted a month earlier than last year, and next week we expect to increase the restrictions." Campfires and barbecues are limited to designated campsites, and further restrictions are expected next week.
WASHINGTON FIRE EVACUATES 200 HOMES
JULY 31 -- ELLENSBURG, WA: Winds pushed a fire in central Washington's Cascade foothills today, forcing officials to evacuate 200 homes; the fire destroyed four homes as it raced across 300 acres.
The AP reported that winds were at 25 mph and that the fire started near Interstate 90 between Cle Elum and Ellensburg at about noon yesterday.
The Kittitas County Daily Record reported that about 150 people in the Morrison Canyon and Thorp Prairie area were evacuated. Kittitas County Undersheriff Clay Myers told residents at an evacuation center in the Thorp School gymnasium that the destroyed homes were southwest of the Twin Lakes subdivision.
The Elk Heights Fire is 19 miles northwest of Ellensburg; it was reported just before 1 p.m. yesterday and had grown to 300 acres by 7 p.m. The fire, visible from Interstate 90 east of Elk Heights, blanketed the Kittitas Valley with smoke.
The Sunlight Waters, Elk Pond, and Twin Lakes subdivisions were evacuated, and State Route 10 was closed last night. Officials also closed both Lower Peoh Point Road and Thorp Prairie Road until further notice.
Johnson's Type 2 team has been ordered.
Washington DNR helicopters and planes worked the area hard as the fire spread from grass into dry timber and sage.
The fire reportedly started next to Thorp Prairie Road, where power transmission lines cross the roadway. A string of fires in the county have started near roadways and have been labeled as likely arson. There was a similar run of fires officials believed were arson a year ago.
The cause of this fire is under investigation; it's the fourth suspicious fire in Kittitas County this week.
WIND-BLOWN UTAH FIRES JUMP LINES
JULY 31 -- SPANISH FORK, UTAH: Nearly 200 firefighters are expected to arrive today to help fight a 400-acre fire that took off in Spanish Fork Canyon when winds pushed the flames into dry vegetation. The Red Bull Fire on the Uinta National Forest is about eight miles east of Spanish Fork, burning in piñon-juniper and cheatgrass.
Extreme fire behavior with short-range spotting was a problem yesterday; the fire was at 10 acres early yesterday with about 40 percent containment when the winds blew the fire past containment lines. It was estimated last night at 10 percent containment.
The Daily Herald reported that the fire was called in Thursday evening and about 40 firefighters responded. When the fire took off yesterday, though, it burned under some powerlines and blew a transformer, causing the lines to spark. Before the fire burned over the containment lines, crews from Weber Basin and Utah County were on the fire with two helicopters from the BLM and the Forest Service. Two airtankers and multiple crews were ordered after the fire took off.
Helicopters were dipping from a 6,000-gallon tank that crews had hauled up the canyon. On Thursday night, they dipped from a pond on the south side of the highway, forcing officials to stop traffic for 10-minute periods as the helicopters crossed over the roadway.
The St. George Spectrum reported that the Westside Complex also jumped firelines late Thursday and by Friday afternoon had burned out of control toward the town of Enterprise.
The fire, on the Dixie National Forest, burned to within 1½ miles of Enterprise. Eight homes west of Enterprise were evacuated about 4 p.m. when the fire approached to within a mile. Two heavy airtankers and firefighters using backfires kept the fire from reaching those homes; the fire had grown to 16,000 acres by last night and is at 26,500 acres today.
The fire area, previously designated by the Forest Service's fire management plan for a prescribed burn this fall, was being managed as a Wildland Fire Use fire. But the fire escaped some of the pre-set boundaries on Thursday night. Two heavy airtankers, five helicopters, five engines, and four crews worked the Hawkins Fire yesterday; a Type 1 team will take over the fire tonight.
The 3,500-acre Pine Park Fire southwest of Enterprise will still be managed as a Fire Use fire.
THREE MONTANA COUNTIES APPROVED
FOR NATIONAL FIRE PLAN GRANT
JULY 31 -- MISSOULA, MT: The space in Missoula-area neighborhoods is going to get more defensible, thanks to a grant of $882,480 that was approved Thursday. The Missoulian reported that Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development received the grant from Montana's Department of Natural Resources and the National Fire Plan.
The funds will be used for "firewise" and "defensible space" projects in Missoula, Mineral, and Ravalli counties, according to Paula Rosenthal, the DNRC's National Fire Plan coordinator.
"We hope to maximize the effort on the ground to reduce the chances that wildfires will destroy more homes and property," she said. National Fire Plan money is used to fund reduction of forest fuels in areas close to communities and for projects that restore the region's historic fire-adapted ecosystems. Of $20 million available nationally, Montana's DNRC has secured $2.9 million, or nearly 15 percent of the funds.
Last year on the Gallatin National Forest, funding from the NFP helped pay for a watershed rehabilitation project. Road re-contouring and rehab work after the Purdy Fire helped reduce erosion along two miles of closed road. On the Rocky Mountain Ranger District of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, a fuels reduction project and prescribed burn were completed after eight years of planning and coordination. The airtanker base at the Helena Regional Airport was also expanded with NFP funding. The Holbrook Fuels Reduction Project was completed by the Tally Lake Ranger District Fire and Fuels Crew, who cleared brush and small trees around homes and the Big Mountain Ski Resort.
In addition to the Bitter Root RC&D, the state is working with Frenchtown Rural Fire District, the Bigfork Volunteer Fire Department, the Tri-County Working Group in Lewis and Clark, Jefferson, and Broadwater counties, and the Northwest Regional RC&D in Lincoln, Lake, Flathead, and Sanders counties.
Details on regional projects under the NFP are online at www.fs.fed.us/r1/nfp and the National Fire Plan website is at fireplan.gov
CENTRAL OREGON FIRE GROWING,
MAY FORCE EVACUATIONS
JULY 30 -- WARM SPRINGS, OR: The Log Springs Fire grew to more than 10,000 acres yesterday, threatening about 40 homes in the community of Schoolie Flat as it headed east. It was within a half-mile of the area that fire managers identified as a trigger point to activate evacuations. The fire, burning since Sunday on the Warm Springs Reservation, was about 35 percent contained.
Warm Springs tribal police have warned residents of Schoolie Flat, south of Simnasho, to prepare for evacuation. Earlier Thursday, the fire was burning to the southwest, driven by winds that funneled into canyon terrain flush with standing timber, heavy dead and downed trees, and dry vegetation and grasses.
A bend.com report noted that winds on Wednesday pushed the fire and set off a spot fire on the south side of Tribal Route 9, the northern route into the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort through the small town of Simnasho. Engine crews and helicopters were working on spot fires on the southwest section of the fire, a big area of concern because of the heavy fuels and very dry conditions.
West's Type 2 team is on the fire; it's about 20 miles northwest of Warm Springs. Spotting a half-mile ahead of the fire was reported yesterday. The fire has crossed Tribal Highway 9 but the resort at Kah-Nee-Ta is accessible via Tribal Route 3 through Warm Springs.
The Oregonian reported that more than 800 firefighters are assigned.
Between July 17 and July 27, there were more than 14,000 lightning strikes in Oregon and Washington; about 400 of the strikes ignited fires, but most were contained in initial attack. More thunderstorms with dry lightning are forecast for the weekend.
100 HOMES EVACUATED NEAR LAKE CHELAN
JULY 30 -- CHELAN, WA: About 100 homes in central Washington were ordered evacuated today when a fast-growing wildfire grew to 10,000 acres in about 24 hours. The Deep Harbor Fire burned a dock and a picnic shelter at a campground, according to Mike Ferris, information officer on Lohrey's Type 1 team.
Fire managers and Chelan County sheriff's deputies, according to an AP report, ordered the evacuation in the Fields Point community on the south shore of the lake. Twenty-Five Mile Creek campground on the lake was also closed because of the fire. Two structures -- a picnic shelter and a boat dock -- were burned at Graham Harbor Creek campground. The fire made a run of about 2½ miles and is now threatening two more campgrounds and some homes in the Twenty Five Mile Creek area.
The fire was started by lightning on July 19 and had burned only 145 acres as of Thursday before it took off. It's part of a 25,845-acre complex of four fires, including the 15,500-acre Pot Peak Fire that was started June 26 by lightning. The Sisi Ridge Fire, at 345 acres, is threatening almost 100 structures. On the Sisi Ridge Fire, hotshot crews made good progress with direct line construction in steep hazardous terrain. On the Pot Peak Fire, crews are mopping up, improving fireline, and starting rehab.
Ferris said the Deep Harbor Fire is expected to merge with the Pot Peak Fire. The complex is estimated this morning at 50 percent containment.