SANTA ANAS BACK
DECEMBER 18 -- LOS ANGELES, CA: Santa Ana winds of nearly 80 mph blew over big trucks, created dust storms, and started several small fires; firefighters managed early yesterday to contain the fires in southern California. High-wind warnings were issued Thursday for parts of Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties, but winds there were generally moderate. The strongest winds hit San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
The Sacramento Bee reported that winds of up to 60 mph late Thursday blew down utility lines near Julian, igniting a small fire. Matt Streck with CDF said the agency's 18 San Diego-area stations are normally closed this time of year, but eight were kept open as a precaution. Several other small fires were contained near Ramona.
Gusts were recorded at 78 mph at Fremont Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains, and at 65 mph in Rialto in San Bernardino County.
2005 AIRTANKER CALENDARS AVAILABLE NOW
DECEMBER 17 -- HEALDSBURG, CA: A new 12-month wall calendar for 2005 is now available through the Associated Airtanker Pilots, and sales have earned over $300 already for the AAP's memorial fund.
The calendar's loaded with the best airtanker photos in the country, courtesy of fire photographer Kari Greer and air attack pilot Mike Lynn.
The cover shot of Tanker 99 in Alamogordo last summer was contributed by Pete Dobbins.
The calendar's printed on glossy 100 lb. paper; it measures 8½ x 11 inches when folded, and 11 x 17 inches hanging on your wall.
The calendar's priced at $24 -- just two bucks a month for the finest airtanker photography in the country.
All profits benefit the AAP memorial fund, so order early and order often.
Calendars are in stock now and usually ship in 2-3 days.
You can order them online through the AAP online store.
ERICKSON DOWN UNDER
DECEMBER 11 -- KATOOMBA, NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA: A week of storms and rain broke for most of yesterday and allowed firefighters from the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury Districts to complete a joint aviation training exercise involving Isabelle, one of two Erickson AirCrane helicopters based in Australia for firefighting duties.
Held at the local Katoomba Airstrip, the day was the culmination of weeks of preparation and training for local firefighters and included helicopter safety, aircraft familiarisation, foam and water bombing, and "hot refuelling" - refuelling a helicopter while the engines and rotors are still running.
More than 40 firefighters and officers attended the training, with specialist instructors coming from as far away as Cessnock to participate and add to the knowledge and experience of local firefighters.
Superintendent Ted Williams, Blue Mountains Fire Control Officer, said this is just the first of a series of aviation exercises, although it nearly didn't happen.
"Given the weather we've had over the past week, even as late as last night we weren't 100 percent sure that the exercise would be able to go ahead," he said. "One of the helicopters we were going to use had to be tasked to assist with the flooding around Narrabri and Wee Waa, but the weather cleared perfectly and held off most of the day."
Isabelle, supported by a Bell LongRanger helicopter from local outfit Helicorp, provided the focal points for the firefighters' training. Utilising special equipment based at Headquarters Brigade at Katoomba, the crews were able to practice the skills they had learned, and a valuable refresher was provided for experienced firefighters.
"Blue Mountains has a support unit that is on standby to work with the AirCranes whenever they are called upon to tackle fires in the Mountains or surrounding areas," said Supt. Williams. "This training will enable us to provide more support crews and a better service to the residents of the Blue Mountains."
Isabelle's crew, Captains Kenny Chapman and Jim Corey, are enjoying their time in Australia. "The people over here are just great," said Chapman. "Everywhere we go we meet fabulous people. I love Australia."
The firefighters all got together at the end of the day, as storm clouds finally threatened, and agreed that they would love to get together and do it all again.
"There are a lot of people who worked to make this day possible," said Supt. Williams, "but most of all we would like to thank Rod Hay, of Hay Air, for giving us permission to use Katoomba Airfield as a venue for this training day."
Another training day is now being planned for early in 2005.
HAWAIIAN FIRE SWEEPS 700 ACRES
DECEMBER 07 -- HONOLULU, HAWAI'I: Federal and county firefighters are fighting a wildland fire that has burned more than 700 acres of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park land above Ka'u. The Kipuka Pepeiao Fire, visible from the Hawai'i Belt Road, is burning at the 1,680-foot elevation near Pepeiao Cabin and threatening rare plants.
The Honolulu Advertiser reported that the fire was initially mistaken for a volcanic eruption, with callers reporting a half-mile-long curtain of fire. A recon flight confirmed it was a wind-driven grass fire.
"We're using all available resources to contain and suppress this fire," said incident commander Greg Herbst.
A 20-person crew has been ordered from the Eldorado National Forest in California.
2005 WILDLAND FIRE CALENDAR
DECEMBER 07 -- GRIDLEY, CA: Another mandatory item on your wildland fire Christmas list -- the folks at TheySaid have gone through seven years of photos and selected the top 13 fire photos from all their photo submissions, to offer you a very fine 2005 wildland fire calendar. For each $18.50 calendar purchased, they donate $1.00 to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, so get some.
FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE
DECEMBER 05 -- CORVALLIS, OR: James Agee drew a crowd this week at Oregon State University with his presentation on "Fire and Forest Restoration in the West." Agee, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Washington, spoke as part of the College of Forestry's 2004 Starker Lectures series.
He says the drier forests across the West are in serious trouble; historically, the forests had about 50 large trees per acre, widely spaced, but the same forests today have between 1,000 and 2,000 smaller trees per acre.
The Corvallis Gazette-Times reported Agee's four key principles for minimizing wildfire risks: reduce surface fuels, reduce ladder fuels, keep the large trees, and reduce crown density. He said prescribed fire is the most cost-effective method, and he advocates two rounds of burns.
More information on Agee and the Starker Lectures is available online.
SCUMBAGS CLEAN OUT RFD STATION
NOVEMBER 23 -- MARCOLA, OR: Thieves stole $100,000 worth of firefighting equipment last weekend, disabling one of the Mohawk Valley Rural Fire District's four stations and leaving the district's 30 volunteers feeling gut-punched.
"We were hit hard," district training officer Gregory Jack told the Eugene Register-Guard. He said their three fire and rescue vehicles at Substation No. 2 on Old Mohawk Road were stripped of equipment, radios, and supplies.
A local resident reported suspicious activity at the station on Saturday in a call to the Lane County Sheriff's office. The report described a white man in his 30s loading a generator into a 1980s Honda Civic hatchback that was faded red with black bumpers. Jack and another volunteer firefighter on Sunday found equipment stacked outside the station, apparently to be hauled away on a return trip.
Thieves took not only generators and tools but also specialized equipment including heart defibrillators, oxygen kits, PPE and medic boxes full of bandages.
Sheriff's detective Sgt. Rene Stone said fire stations are increasingly targeted by thieves. About $10,000 worth of equipment was stolen in October from another area fire station.
Anyone with information about the Mohawk Valley theft should contact the district's office in Marcola at (541)933-2907 or the Lane County Sheriff's office at (541)682-4150.
INSURANCE COMPANY GRANTS $1 MILLION
TO SAN DIEGO COUNTY FIREFIGHTERS
NOVEMBER 16 -- SAN DIEGO, CA: Fireman's Fund Insurance Company (FFIC) yesterday fulfilled a $1 million pledge to the firefighting community in San Diego County for equipment, fire prevention tools, firefighter training, and community fire safety education. The company awarded 15 grants totaling $200,000 to area fire departments; the awards are the result of a $1 million commitment FFIC made to the region through its long-term philanthropic mission, Fireman's Fund Heritage, which supports firefighters for safer communities.
"We chose San Diego County as the first region to participate in Fireman's Fund Heritage," said Darryl Siry, FFIC vice president, "based on the firefighting needs in the region and because of our company's strong local base of employees and agents."
FFIC is awarding grants to 15 paid and volunteer fire departments. In September the company issued a Request for Proposal to all fire departments in the county; the proposals were evaluated by a group of local FFIC employees who determined the final grant recipients. The grants include $5,000 to the Deer Springs Fire Protection District for radio communications equipment, $14,000 to help build a fire station for the De Luz Volunteer Fire Department, and $50,000 to the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District for the creation of a Community Emergency Response Team module focused on the wildland/urban interface. The Encinitas Fire Department and La Mesa Fire Department received funding for fire shelters, and the Lemon Grove Fire Department was granted $6,475 for wildland firefighter protective gear.
This is the second round of funding that FFIC has awarded to fire departments in San Diego County. In April FFIC awarded 16 grants totaling more than $500,000 through a similar process.
More information is available from businesswire.com or by calling John Kozero at (415)899-2166.
GRASS VALLEY FUEL BREAK PLAN UNDER REVIEW
NOVEMBER 16 -- GRASS VALLEY, CA: Plans for a 15-mile fuel break to keep wildfire from racing downhill into Nevada City and Grass Valley are causing concern among local environmentalists, who have questions about wildlife and logging profits they say might be associated with the fuel break. The Nevada County Resource Conservation District wants to clear trees and brush on a 15-mile fuel break about 1,500 feet wide north and east of the towns.
"It's a band of dramatically reduced fuels," said Robert Ingram, chair of the conservation district's forestry subcommittee. "We're trying to give firefighters a chance to fight a high, wind-driven fire event."
Ingram is an employee of Sierra Pacific Industries, the largest wood products and logging firm in northern California. He told the Grass Valley Union that his association with the firm and the fuel break plan has nothing to do with money.
Conservation district manager Lisa Osterholm said the committee is seeking $5 million in federal funds to do the clearing over the next six to ten years. The project involves brush clearing and thick-stand thinning to achieve lower fuel loads. The fuel break is designed to stop a raging fire like the 49er Fire of 1988. She said it would also protect wildlife and the watersheds of the Yuba and Bear Rivers and Deer Creek.
Location of the proposed fuel break was based on previous fire history and prevailing wind patterns. The project is expected to take about ten years to complete.
USFS NAMES NEW FIRE DIRECTOR
NOVEMBER 11 -- WASHINGTON, DC: U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth yesterday named Tom Harbour as director for the agency's Fire & Aviation program; Harbour will replace Jerry Williams, who retires in January.
Bosworth said Harbour is a great fit for the position. A bend.com report said Harbour started with the agency in 1970 as a firefighter in California. He also worked in Arizona and Idaho and the regional offices in Montana and Utah.
He headed up incident management teams for more than 10 years and has assisted Indonesia and Greece in wildfire management. He's been deputy director in Washington DC for three years.
MORE DROUGHT AHEAD
NOVEMBER 10 -- DENVER, CO: The drought that's plagued the Western U.S. for the last five years could very well continue for several more years, and residents and firefighters should brace for more frequent droughts in the future, according to climate researcher Gregory McCabe of the U.S. Geological Survey. "It could continue for several more years, and it's something we need to be aware of," said McCabe. "I think people should be on their guard."
According to a report by the Scripps Howard News Service, tree-ring studies indicate that periods when the northern Atlantic Ocean is warmer than normal tend to last between 9 and 23 years, and during that period, drought is more likely in the West.
McCabe said Monday at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver that the northern Atlantic switched into a warm phase nine years ago. Shaun McGrath of the Western Governors' Association said the country needs a national policy so it can respond to drought in a swift, coordinated fashion.
"Right now we're woefully unprepared for droughts when they occur," said McGrath. "Our national policy for drought now is to pray for rain."
The WGA is pushing for adoption of the National Drought Preparedness Act, which failed to make it through Congress in 2002 and last year. The bill would name a lead federal agency for drought response and create an advanced system of national drought monitoring and forecasting.
Polly Hays with the U.S. Forest Service said the multi-year drought has fueled insect outbreaks and wildfires unprecedented in both severity and scope. "We expect to continue to see this trend of intensity and severity of wildfires in coming years," she said.
MASSACHUSETTS TOWN DENIES
FIREFIGHTER'S WIDOW BENEFITS
NOVEMBER 08 -- LANCASTER, MA: A Massachusetts firefighter died last year when he entered a burning basement, and now the town of Lancaster has denied survivor benefits to his widow. Marty McNamara's widow Claire has three children. KWQC-TV reported that about half the states have no pension benefits for widows of volunteer firefighters who die in the line of duty.
The Boston Herald reported that Lancaster will hold a town meeting tonight to discuss legislative options to implement pension coverage for call and volunteer firefighters. Six days ago, Lancaster voters narrowly defeated a tax override that would have secured pension benefits for Claire McNamara.
"This may be the best opportunity we've ever had of getting this change in place,'' said Larry Holmberg, president of the Massachusetts Call/Volunteer Firefighters Association. There are as many as 10,000 call or volunteer firefighters in Massachusetts operating in 80 towns, but cities are not required to provide pensions to families of call and volunteer firefighters.
HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION TO PAY FOR FIRE
NOVEMBER 05 -- ALAMOSA, CO: A homeowners' association responsible for starting a wildfire that burned through the Great Sand Dunes National Park four years ago has agreed to pay the federal government $695,000 toward reimbursement of suppression and rehab costs. The National Park Service, BLM, and U.S. Forest Service had originally asked nearly $1 million from the Zapata Homeowners Association in a negligence lawsuit brought a year after the April 2000 fire.
The settlement will be paid by the association's insurance company.
Investigators traced the fire, which burned over 3,100 acres of private, state, and federal land, to a burn pit used by the Zapata subdivision just south of the dunes. The Rocky Mountain News reported that homeowners had used the pit to burn wood and brush in March 2000, but winds of up to 70 mph caused the smoldering pit to ignite five weeks later. The government's lawsuit alleged that the pit, used since the 1980s to dispose of dead trees, branches and construction debris, wasn't properly supervised.
The Sand Fire blackened more than 70 percent of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, destroying power poles, utility lines, park signs, an amphitheater, and a small park residence. Area volunteer fire departments managed to save a newly remodeled visitors' center and a lodge just outside the park.
FIREFIGHTER NEARLY GUNNED DOWN AT STATION
NOVEMBER 04 -- LOMPOC, CA: A firefighter at Lompoc's Fire Station No. 2 narrowly missed being killed by gunfire on Monday afternoon when a man started shooting through a window of the fire station. Charles Boler, 46, was arrested less than a block from the fire station, then booked for investigation of attempted murder and shooting into an inhabited building.
An AP report said that Boler was shouting that he was "fighting for freedom." One firefighter in the station was nearly hit.
"He was working on his computer so his back was to the window," said Battalion Chief Stan Hart. "Two bullets went by his head and he dropped and took cover." As another four or five rounds were fired, two other firefighters in the station called police. Boler was found nearby, surrendered the handgun, and was arrested without incident.
The Lompoc Record reported that Boler has a lengthy criminal history, with seven misdemeanor arrests and one felony arrest in Santa Barbara County in the last eight years. He was arrested in August in Lompoc on felony charges of possession of a controlled substance, DUI, and driving while suspended.
Battalion Chief Hart said the firefighters who were shot at would be given as much time as they needed before returning to work. No arraignment date for Boler has been set.
RxFIRE BACK AT LANL
NOVEMBER 02 -- LOS ALAMOS, NM: After a four-year hiatus imposed after the Cerro Grande Fire at Los Alamos, the federal Department of Energy has re-approved the use of prescribed fire at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The decision allows prescribed fire to be conducted by the Forest Service or Park Service managers on contiguous property.
"The only fires allowed would be to facilitate our neighbors' efforts," said Elizabeth Withers, the environmental compliance officer at the Los Alamos Site Office.
The Los Alamos Monitor reported that roadways in the area do not accurately demarcate property boundaries; in some cases, narrow strips of land alongside roads are LANL property. DOE's permission is thus needed for the Forest Service to burn from their side up to the natural firebreak of the road.
LANL's Wildland Fire Management Plan is expected to be completed by next spring.
The Environmental Assessment for Alternative Wildlife Hazard Reduction and Forest Improvement Programs at LANL, finalized a few months after the Cerro Grande Fire, concluded that there would be no significant impact under a "no burn" alternative. Another alternative covered by the original assessment, though, includes nearby prescribed burns planned by the Forest Service and Park Service.
NATIONAL GUARD SHOWS OFF FIREHAWK
NOVEMBER 01 -- LAKE NATOMA, CA: The California National Guard last week staged a demo of its new Firehawk helicopter, which has been in service since August.
The Firehawk is a converted Sikorsky UH-60L Blackhawk, the Army's standard troop-carrying helicopter.
It can drop up to 1,000 gallons of water or retardant on each run, according to a News10 report, and can hover over a water source to fill its tank in a minute.
Unlike some other water-dropping helicopters, the Firehawk can also ferry firefighters.
The Oregon Army National Guard was the first military organization in the world to add the Firehawk to its arsenal; a year ago they sent their Firehawk and crews to help with the wildfires in southern California. The Chico Enterprise-Record reported that only five states -- California, Nevada, Florida, New York and Oregon -- have Firehawks in their arsenals. Aero Union's Terry Unsworth said the company (the designer and manufacturer of the tank and system) is working on its eighth order, the third order for Los Angeles County.
News10 has broadcast video online.
THREE YEARS OF RxFIRE RESEARCH BEGINS
OCTOBER 31 -- MANTEO, NC: More than 40 wildlife biologists, fire managers, administrators, and researchers recently met in Manteo to launch three years of cooperative research projects on prescribed fire on the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Dare County Bombing Range. The research will provide fire managers with tools to integrate fuel loading, fire emissions, and smoke plume measurements and modeling.
Funding for the research was awarded through the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP), a partnership of six federal wildland management and research agencies, and the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command. Projects include reducing hazardous fuels on the Dare County mainland and protecting communities at risk.
The Outer Banks Sentinel reported that Tom Crews, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge fire management officer, will be in charge of operational planning for the prescribed burns.
"We have several top-quality researchers and federal land managers involved from across the country that will be able to bring so much to the projects," said Robert Mickler, assistant technical director with ManTech Environmental Technology, Inc.
One of the project objectives is to inventory, map, and model live and down woody debris and fuels biomass and then develop fuel loading formulas for fire behavior models in the area. Research will incorporate data from the Coastal Plain forest types into the fuel characteristic classification system and the FARSITE fire behavior model. Researchers also plan to characterize photochemically active and radiatively important trace gases -- and PM emissions -- from prescribed burns. They plan to produce both computer-based and web-based decision support tools for estimating inputs of live biomass and down woody fuels into a fire behavior model, real-time smoke plume models, and an emissions model for prescribed burns.
LOS PADRES HOTSHOTS HONORED
OCTOBER 29 -- GOLETA, CA: The Los Padres Hotshots are in the news again, and this time they've received an award. The 'shot crew received the "Special Act Award" this week for their work on last year's Cedar Fire.
The Lompoc Record reported that all 21 members of the crew were awarded medals and letters of commendation.
Foreman Steve Molacek said when he first saw the Cedar Fire, he had an idea what they were up against. "You could just look at all the smoke and see that it was going to be a long day," he said.
The 280,293-acre Cedar Fire destroyed 2,232 homes and 22 commercial buildings last fall; it killed 14 people, including a firefighter.
FALL STORMS CUT CALIFORNIA FIRE THREAT
OCTOBER 26 -- APPLE VALLEY, CA: Forest Service officials re-opened the Angeles National Forest and reduced fire restrictions on the San Bernardino Wednesday, noting that rainfall and more expected storms have diminished the chances of a second consecutive year of devastating wildfires for southern California. Out-of-the-area fire crews that had been pre-positioned near the forest were released.
"If we do get anything, it's not liable to be as large," said Ruth Wenstrom with the Forest Service, "and we're really thrilled with that."
But San Bernardino County firefighters told the Victorville Daily Press that the fall storms could cause communities to let their guard down about the fire danger.
"There's always the potential for something to happen," said Battalion Chief Tim Wessel, of county fire's North Desert Division. "We haven't had our winds yet -- only Mother Nature knows if we're actually going to have our winds this year." The warm, dry Santa Ana winds typically sweep across the area from now through January or even later. And the Santa Anas could easily dry out rain-soaked fuels and push the fire danger right back up.
The Apple Valley Fire District is still taking the fire threat very seriously. Training sessions and a live burn had to be rescheduled because of rain.
CENTRAL OREGON COMMUNITIES WORKING ON FIRE PLANS
OCTOBER 26 -- BEND, OR: With a grant of nearly $70,000 from the National Fire Plan, the Watershed Research and Training Center, based in Hayfork, California, is helping the communities of Sisters, La Pine, and Crescent to develop fire plans to cut the risk of wildfires. All three communities are working on the fire plans' first step: risk assessment. When that's complete they'll assess their ability to fight fires, and then create an action plan for addressing their needs.
The Bend Bulletin reported that residents' priorities for protection are set at community meetings. Fuels specialists from the Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry then survey the area to identify vulnerabilities. A group of 13 neighborhoods in northwest La Pine completed that process earlier this year. The new La Pine plan incorporates the work into a strategy for the entire La Pine area.
James Connaughton, chairman of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality, Mark Rey, Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and the environment, and Lynn Scarlett, Interior assistant secretary for policy management and budget, recently visited the area to mark the first anniversary of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act. Deschutes National Forest Supervisor Leslie Weldon discussed the East Trumbull Planning Area, where more than 15,000 acres of fuel breaks and thinning is planned. Federal land managers have treated 4 million acres in the last year, according to a bend.com report -- 9 percent above the goal. About 2.3 million of those acres were in the wildland/urban interface.
Kirk Metzger, a USFS fuels planner, says the Sisters and Black Butte Ranch areas already have a head start on community fire plans. "We know where our problems are," he said. "What the Healthy Forests Initiative has allowed us to do is focus our dollars and put these areas on the front burner in terms of treating." Much of the assessment work has already been done in Black Butte Ranch; the community examined every lot on its property and graded each for high, moderate, or low risk. All of the high risk lots and about half the moderate lots have been cleared of brush.
The Watershed Research and Training Center is a community-based non-profit organization, started in 1993, that promotes healthy communities and sustainable forests through research, education, training, and economic development.
The National Fire Plan was developed in August 2000, following a landmark wildland fire season, to respond to severe wildland fires and their impacts on communities -- and to ensure sufficient firefighting capacity for the future. The NFP provides technical, financial, and resource support for wildland fire management across the country. Other NFP projects in Oregon include fuels reduction and prescribed burning, utilization of small-diameter materials, advance modeling of meteorology and smoke, modeling fuels buildup, and mapping fuels and fire hazards.
PAN-AMERICAN CONFERENCE ON WILDLAND FIRE TOMORROW
OCTOBER 22 -- WASHINGTON, DC: International cooperation is crucial to suppression and management of forest fires that are increasing throughout the Western Hemisphere; for the first time, the heads of all national forest agencies in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean will meet in the Pan-American Conference on Wildland Fire in San Jose, Costa Rica. Participants will review the status of forest fires in the Americas and create four regional networks to fight forest fires. These networks -- for South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and North America -- will be established under the auspices of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR).
"Ad hoc collaboration in training, information sharing and emergency support is no longer sufficient," said Mike Jurvelius, a fire expert with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. "To properly address the problem of forest fires we need to establish networks, to develop strategies, and to facilitate exchange of personnel and equipment in the region."
In 2002, the U.S. recorded the largest area of wildland fires since 1960, at 2.8 million hectares (6.9 million acres), with suppression costs running about $1.7 billion. Last year, national fire emergencies were declared for both Guatemala and Nicaragua, and fires this year roared through the region of Mato Grosso, Brazil. In Canada, suppression costs are running $300 million to $500 million per year.
The capacity to control fires depends on the level of economic development, awareness, and application of technology in the country or in the local community. In Latin America, most forest fires occur in poor rural areas where small proprietors do not have the technology to control fires and for whom fire is an easy and inexpensive tool to continue traditional use of the land. Fires are lit to clear land for agriculture or human settlement or to improve livestock grazing. Fires are also used to clear areas for hunting.
The FAO supports the establishment of four regional networks involving responsible ministries; the networks will strengthen collaboration in the region, encourage agreements on forest fires and exchange technical and human resources. "The networks are necessary in order to promote practical training of personnel, set up databases on forest fires, and exchange information between countries on knowledge gained in preventing and combating forest fires," said Jurvelius, "all of which will facilitate the effective management of forest fires both at the national and the regional level."
RAIN CUTS CALIFORNIA FIRE RISK
OCTOBER 22 -- LOS ANGELES, CA: This week's heavy rains may have spared California a second straight year of catastrophic wildfires, but the fire danger's not over yet, particularly in the south, where forests have suffered years of drought, unchecked growth of brush, and bark beetle infestations.
The official fire season will close Monday in central and northern California, and CDF's Karen Terrill said they haven't yet decided about southern California.
On the San Bernardino National Forest, hundreds of thousands of dead trees surround communities such as Lake Arrowhead and Idyllwild. The area has been hard hit by drought and bark beetles, and according to an AP report, at least one-third of the forest is dead.
On Wednesday, some areas of the San Bernardino that had been closed because of fire danger were reopened. The San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges received between 5 and 10 inches of rain this week, and some parts of the San Bernardino Mountains had up to 14 inches.
FALL STORM QUELLS FIRES, RISKS MUDSLIDES
OCTOBER 19 -- KYBURZ, CA: A powerful storm that moved into northern California this morning has brought heavy rains, gusty winds, and snow to the valley and mountains. A flash flood warning was issued for parts of El Dorado County and northeastern Amador County, where the Power Fire and Freds Fire burned. The weather's expected to cause mudslides and debris flows.
According to a report by the Sacramento Bee, Highway 50 remains closed between Kyburz and Meyers, and area drivers should be alert for mudslides and rockslides.
KCRA-TV reported that Caltrans crews spent the day cleaning up a mudslide east of Kyburz, where the Freds Fire burned last week. The towns of Kyburz and Silver Fork are still under mandatory evacuation because of the threat of more mudslides.
"What we're concerned about is this is exactly what was predicted to happen," said Dennis Cullen with the Forest Service. "What we're afraid is that this is just the predecessor of things to come." An AP report noted that more than 200 residents who were evacuated by the Freds Fire were again ordered out of their homes because of the danger of mudslides. El Dorado County Sheriff's deputies ordered the evacuations from Kyburz and Silver Fork as personnel on the fire examined the risk of heavy rains turning a foot-deep layer of ash into a rolling wall of mud.
The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that two burn areas in northern Nevada -- Carson City’s Waterfall Fire and the Andrew Fire south of Reno -- survived Sunday’s storm without any problems. The Waterfall Fire Burned nearly 8,000 acres and destroyed 17 homes; it's of concern because much of the burned area is steep terrain in the city’s key watershed.
The Power Fire on the Eldorado National Forest is 90 percent contained at 16,800 acres. A transfer of command from McCombs's Type 1 team and CDF to Humphrey's Type 3 team will occur this evening, and the fire camp will be shut down and demobed today. The Freds Fire last night was 95 percent contained at 7,700 acres, and full containment is expected on October 30. Crews on both fires have been prevented from completing suppression rehab because of the storms.
The National Weather Service has warned that southern California fire areas will also be at risk for mudslides.
AERIAL CAMERAS ON AUSSIE FIRE DUTY
OCTOBER 19 -- MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: New high-tech aerial cameras that can see through smoke will be used by West Australian firefighters this summer in an effort to save lives and properties from wildfires. The Herald-Sun reported that the infrared surveillance system will provide fire controllers with a better map on fire detection and suppression. The $90,000 system will be trialled this bushfire season.
Emergency services minister Michelle Roberts said the cameras would provide a firefighting blueprint. "During a bushfire emergency, timely and accurate information is the difference between life and death," she said.
KILLINGS LINKED TO YOSEMITE FIRE
OCTOBER 18 -- BRENTWOOD, CA: An unemployed man from Brentwood, Richard Celebrini, is suspected of killing his wife and daughters in their home, and authorities believe he is the arsonist who used a propane torch to set the Hetchy Fire in Yosemite National Park. Brentwood police said yesterday that Celebrini, 32, a former stock market day trader, took his own life.
Brentwood police on Saturday found Michelle Celebrini, 32, their 6-year-old daughter Nina Celebrini, and 9-year-old Samantha Foutch, Michelle's daughter from a previous marriage, all dead at the family home. Police believe Celebrini killed them, according to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle, and then set the fire in Yosemite. A third girl, 12-year-old Jessica Foutch, was not home at the time; she was with her father in Livermore celebrating her birthday.
Park visitors on Friday said they'd seen a man lighting fires and brandishing a gun on a hiking trail. Firefighters who responded to the fire via helicopter evacuated two hikers, who told rangers that a man on the trail was lighting the fires. When park rangers spotted the man by helicopter, he lifted his shirt to display a handgun tucked in his belt. A handgun and propane torch were found near the body that is believed to be Celebrini's.
BODY OF ARSON SUSPECT FOUND AT YOSEMITE
OCTOBER 17 -- YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA: Park rangers yesterday found a body that could be the man suspected of setting a fire in Yosemite National Park. Rangers in a helicopter spotted the body early yesterday afternoon in the Hetch Hetchy basin, less than a quarter mile from where the fire was originally ignited.
Scott Gediman with the National Park Service said the body was sent to a medical examiner; the cause of death has not been determined.
The AP reported that park visitors on Friday said they'd seen a man lighting fires and brandishing a gun on a hiking trail. Firefighters who responded to the fire via helicopter evacuated two hikers, who told rangers that a man on the trail was lighting the fires. Rangers spotted the man from the air, but decided against actively pursuing him. Helicopters were used yesterday to move search teams and do fire mapping and recon. Air Attack was called in to ensure separation between aircraft, but was released late yesterday.
The Hetchy Fire is in a remote portion of the park, and burned about 500 acres on Friday. By last night it was over 2,000 acres; crews yesterday monitored the blaze and began building line to contain it. Ground crews today are assessing containment lines and backcountry cabin protection. Yosemite fire crews and helitack, the Alpine Hotshots, and three helicopters worked the fire yesterday, but helicopters were grounded this morning because of incoming weather. Access to the area is restricted, but the rest of Yosemite is open to visitors.
CALIFORNIA FIRES SMOKE OUT SACRAMENTO VALLEY
OCTOBER 15 -- SACRAMENTO, CA: Smoke from several northern California wildfires has cast a murky pall over the sky, painted the midday sun red, and prompted air pollution districts in and around Sacramento to advise people to stay indoors. The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District took the unusual step of issuing a special health statement recommending that residents avoid strenuous activity outdoors and stay indoors if possible.
And the Sacramento Bee reported today that things could get worse before they get better. The National Weather Service office in Sacramento issued an advisory warning of dense smoke in the foothills and portions of the western slope of the Sierra.
The good news is that a flow of ocean air from the west -- the "Delta Breeze" -- should begin breaking up the stagnant Valley air. And Sunday may even bring rain in the mountains.
News10 out of Sacramento reported that a 20-mile stretch of Highway 50 will remain closed between Sly Park and Meyers because of the Freds Fire. The California Highway Patrol shut down the highway Wednesday afternoon because of heavy smoke. The eastbound lanes this afternoon were closed at the Sly Park exit near Pollock Pines, and westbound traffic was being held up at Meyers.
The Freds Fire in El Dorado County was 30 percent contained this morning at 5,000 acres. The Ice House Resort and Ice House Reservoir campgrounds were under immediate threat, with the Crystal Fire Station and Union Valley Reservoir campgrounds also threatened. Szczepanik's Type 2 team is managing the fire. They reported that extremely dry conditions, strong winds, and numerous burning snags posed threats and difficulties to firefighters. Crews were busy taking down hazard snags along the Highway 50 corridor.
In Amador County, the Power Fire this morning was 35 percent contained at 12,500 acres, with a revised containment date of October 23. Wendt's Type 2 team reported they have about 30 miles of line left to build. The fire continued burning down through the Mokelumne River drainage most of last night, with heavy smoke conditions that restricted the use of aircraft. Highway 88 has been closed or operating intermittently with CalTrans shuttles. McCombs's Type 1 team took command this morning.
GOLD COAST FIRE THREAT UP
OCTOBER 14 -- SPRINGBROOK, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA: The bushfire threat has intensified on Queensland's Gold Coast, according to abc.net.au reports, and homes are threatened by a fire near the Hinze Dam. Tom James with the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service said a dozen fire tankers and aerial waterbombers are attacking the fire, which is being fanned by 30 knot winds.
"We have got approximately 12 fire appliances down there now fighting the fire near the Hinze Dam," he said.
The Australian reported that relief crews from north Queensland arrived in Brisbane today and were rushed into the fight. Firefighters from Cairns and Townsville were brought in to relieve local crews who have been fighting fires almost non-stop for more than a week.
Aircraft were called in to check on dozens of fires burning across the region.
The Queensland Fire and Rescue Service said the worst fires today were at Moogerah, southwest of Brisbane, and in the Kilcoy area to the northwest. The Melbourne Herald-Sun reported that QFRS Deputy Commissioner Frank Pagano said the extra manpower was welcome as conditions were expected to worsen.
"Unfortunately, we're expecting conditions to deteriorate," he said, "though we're trying to take as many precautions as we can in getting fire crews available to relieve the ones that have been working in the field now for quite a long time."
Queensland Emergency Services Minister Chris Cummins has extended total fire bans to 55 local government areas in the southeast. One fire at Moogerah was burning in national parkland in an area inaccessible to firefighters. Bulldozers were cutting firebreaks and National Parks crews worked to contain the outbreak.
Northwest of Brisbane, firefighters had to backburn to battle new flare-ups on a fire that has been burning for a week. Another uncontained fire was burning at Cressbrook in the Esk shire northwest of Brisbane.
A news.com.au story featured Mudgeeraba Rural Fire Brigade member Mick Cooper, who was back at brigade headquarters just days after he suffered a heart attack while fighting fires on the Gold Coast last week.
"We're a team and I don't want to let the team down," the 57-year-old said yesterday. "You've got to help the community, that's what it's all about. As my wife said, 'well, if Mick dies on the fireground, at least he's going to die doing something he loves.'"
CALIFORNIA FIRES CAUSE EVACUATIONS, HIGHWAY CLOSURES
OCTOBER 14 -- RUMSEY, CA: The Freds Fire in El Dorado County, burning in the Kyburz area near Wrights Lake Road, started yesterday afternoon and was reported this morning at 2,000 acres with 10 percent containment. More than 400 personnel are on the fire, and mandatory evacuations have cleared the Kyburz and Silver Fork areas. About 100 homes, along with five commercial properties, are threatened.
The fire's also threatening the South Fork of the American River watershed and over 150 recreation homes.
Highway 50, the major route between the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe, is closed in both directions; an evacuation center has been established at the Pollock Pines Community Center. Szczepanik's Type 2 team is managing the fire, and reported that extremely dry conditions and strong winds were a problem yesterday, causing spotting a half mile ahead of the main fire. Numerous snags in the area pose hazards to firefighters.
Wendt's Type 2 team is managing the Power Fire near Salt Springs Reservoir in Amador County, and they report this morning that the fire's 10 percent contained at 5,400 acres. About 85 homes and three commercial properties are threatened, and evacuations are in progress. Dozers, engines, and another dozen crews have been ordered, and McCombs's Type 1 team is scheduled to come in tomorrow morning.
Four CDF airtankers and 16 helicopters have been working the fire, according to CDF, along with several heavy airtankers. "Time after time, tankers dove into the smoky canyons," reported FOX40-TV. "The fire slowed down when it reached retardant-soaked vegetation."
Strong northeast winds pushed the fire down the Mokelumne River drainage most of the night, with high fire intensity and long-range spotting. A 48-unit recreation tract, a lodge and Boy Scout camp, and public campgounds were evacuated yesterday. Highway 88 has been closed.
Streblow's CDF team is managing the Rumsey Fire, which was 65 percent contained this morning at 38,616 acres. Crews made good progress on line construction, but reported that the fire has crossed Fiske Creek on the northwestern section of the fire. They're working today on dozer and handline construction and mop-up, and expect the fire to be contained at about 45,000 acres. They plan to start de-mobe tomorrow.
RUMSEY FIRE SMOKES UP BAY AREA
OCTOBER 13 -- LAKE BERRYESSA, CA: The Rumsey Fire in Yolo County was reported at 34,213 acres this morning with just 5 percent containment; one remote community was evacuated, and the communities of Guinda, Hidden Valley, and Berryessa Estates are threatened. Full containment's not expected till this weekend.
The fire sent ash drifting onto the Napa Valley wine country and put up a smoke plume that could be seen as far south as San Francisco. Air quality warnings were issued throughout the Bay Area, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and drivers were warned to use caution because of reduced visibility.
The fire reached Lake Berryessa's northeast shoreline Tuesday after damaging a radio repeater site and destroying a fire lookout on Berryessa Peak east of the lake. Residents of Lake Berryessa Estates were evacuated.
Almost 1,800 personnel are on the fire.
Investigators believe the fire was arson-caused.
The 3,000-acre Power Fire east of Pioneer in Amador County was at 10 percent containment this morning. The fire, in the Mokelumne River Canyon, is threatening the Bear River Tract, a Boy Scout camp, and a private resort; Wendt's Type 2 team is assigned to the fire.
Sustained northeast winds of 40 mph with gusts to 50 mph yesterday caused a significant buildup of fire intensity, with upslope runs on the north side of the fire. The fire tripled in size in just four hours after midnight; it was 50 percent contained at 475 acres late yesterday. The winds pushed spot fires over a previously burned area of about 500 acres, allowing the fire to become established west of the original fire area. A 48-unit recreation tract, a lodge, a Boy Scout camp, and public campgounds were evacuated.
Fire managers expect significant runs in the canyons toward Highway 88, which has been closed. The incident command post and fire base camp are threatened, and plans are under way to move to a new location. Tankers 20 and 25 and 26 were flying the fire early this afternoon.
CALIFORNIA FIRES PUSHED BY GUSTY WINDS
OCTOBER 11 -- RUMSEY, CA: Crews are battling a wildfire today in a remote area of Yolo County; the Rumsey Fire was reported at 380 acres last night, and KCRA-TV reported this morning that the fire has grown to about 2,000 acres.
The fire's threatening the community of Guinda, and heavy north winds are challenging containment efforts. The fire's in Rumsey Canyon, burning in steep terrain inaccessible to engines. Fire managers say they're working on dozer and hand line construction, with aircraft improving the line.
Eight airtankers and six helicopters have been ordered.
In Sonoma County, the Pine Fire northeast of Geyserville was reported at 75 acres early this morning with about 25 percent containment. Burning in brush, grass, and timber southeast of Clear Lake, the fire was spotting with downhill runs yesterday, but hand and dozer lines were put in overnight. Tankers 20 and 25 were flying the fire this morning out of Chico.
SOUTH AFRICAN FIRE PILOT SURVIVES CRASH
OCTOBER 09 -- PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA: A 35-year-old firefighting pilot survived a small aircraft crash in the Mpumalanga mountains on Thursday night; news24.com reported that Nel Air pilot Bevan Harris stepped out of the wreckage virtually unscathed.
Harris was flying fires in the Lochiel area near Nelspruit up to the Oshoek border post with Swaziland. Pine Pienaar, general manager of Nel Air, which undertakes firefighting in the area, said a cold front moving in to the north from the Cape resulted in dry and very warm conditions ahead of the front, causing a number of veld fires.
"We have three aircraft fitted with water tanks and several helicopters shuttling all day long from fire to fire in an effort to bring them under control," said Pienaar. "Normally the tankers come in to land at approximately six in the evening."
But on Thursday night only two came in. Harris radioed that he was entering the Nelspruit area, but after that they heard nothing more from him. The radio was dead. Nel Air and police helicopters immediately started a search, but thick smoke, bad visibility, and approaching darkness prevented them from finding any sign of the missing plane. Pienaar said they were convinced that Harris had flown into the mountains at Kaapsche Hoop, but they couldn't spot any wreckage.
"Then someone came to light with the bright idea that we ask the Pretoria police to trace Bevan's cellphone and establish its position," said Pienaar. A search plane found the wreckage ten minutes later, on the other side of the mountain from where they were searching. Pienaar said Harris had flown into an almost vertical ravine. "Bevan was out of the aircraft, hanging onto a cliff, and waved at the searching pilots."
Pienaar said the plane was "a total write-off."
WE DO LIKE THEM HELICOPTERS
OCTOBER 08 -- GENEVA, SWITZERLAND: "The only things we ever did that made any sense is lighter chainsaws and bigger helicopters."
So said an old firefighter, according to Dennis Hulbert, R5 Regional Aviation Officer for the U.S. Forest Service, at this week's Emergency Response Helicopter conference in Geneva, Switzerland.
Peter Donaldson, reporting from Geneva for Rotorhub, said comments like that are often a good indicator of the direction a business will take. "Hulbert himself said that helicopters are the best tool for fighting forest fires and that 'a big helicopter gives a pretty good bang for its buck,'" wrote Donaldson.
Small, high-performance helicopters can sometimes beat medium machines, according to Donaldson, and the mediums can sometimes beat out the heavies. But according to Hulbert, size really matters. Dropping a large load in one hit, he said, is much more effective than delivering the same quantity over several drops.
According to Donaldson, the fatality rate among the old fixed-wing airtankers was three pilots a year for 25 years. That was clearly unacceptable, Hulbert said, and is a major reason that he favors helicopters. The Forest Service encourages crews to report all incidents through the web-based SAFECOM system, and Hulbert said helicopter people are culturally more willing to do this. "I still can't get all my pilots to do it," he said, "and it drives me crazy."
The International Heli Trade show ran from October 5 - 7 in Geneva. It's "Europe’s only annual international showcase for the helicopter business," for helicopter operators from civil, military and emergency services to see the latest aircraft, products, and services. More information's online at internationalhelitrade.com
RETIRED OREGON FIREFIGHTER KILLED ON ROGUE RIVER
OCTOBER 07 -- SPRINGFIELD, OR: The body of a retired Springfield firefighter and veteran river guide was recovered yesterday from the Rogue, about four miles downstream from where his drift boat flipped on a river trip last week.
Ken Robinson, 51, of Marcola, was last seen alive last Thursday afternoon when his boat turned sideways and capsized in a narrow section of the river known as Coffee Pot. His two clients, an elderly couple, were rescued, according to the Register-Guard. The woman reportedly went under with Robinson after the boat flipped, and told rescuers that she felt him push her to the surface.
Fire Chief Dennis Murphy with the Springfield Fire Department said Robinson's death left members of the department in shock; Robinson retired last February after a 25-year career with the department. He was a past president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1395. He was promoted to captain in 1990, and helped develop a number of department initiatives, including the formation of a surface water rescue team.
The accident occurred in Mule Creek Canyon, a federally protected section of the Rogue River about 40 miles upstream from Gold Beach. Robinson was an experienced river guide who had led at least 100 trips down the Rogue, and also guided on the McKenzie River and the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho.
POWER FIRE ON THE ELDORADO
OCTOBER 07 -- PIONEER, CA: A wildfire that started yesterday in a rugged canyon about 25 miles from the Sierra Nevada foothill town of Jackson has burned 220 acres. Yesterday it put up a huge plume of smoke visible for miles.
An AP report said the fire, in Amador County, started near Salt Springs Reservoir and spread quickly. Wendt's Type 2 team is on the fire; it was about 50 percent contained this morning and full containment's predicted for Saturday evening.
The fire area is remote with steep terrain, making firefighting efforts and communications difficult. Long-range spotting was a problem yesterday, and a cold front's expected on Saturday. Threatened resources include spotted owl habitat, major powerlines from generating plants, and high-value watershed.
MAN INDICTED FOR STARTING CEDAR FIRE
OCTOBER 07 -- SAN DIEGO, CA: A federal grand jury indicted a West Covina man on charges he started the largest wildfire in California history last year. The Cedar Fire burned 273,000 acres and killed 15 people.
The indictment was returned yesterday, charging Sergio Martinez, 34, with setting timber afire last October and making a false statement. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on both counts.
AP reports indicate that Martinez started the fire to signal for help after getting lost on a deer hunting trip on the Cleveland National Forest. The Forest Service cited Martinez for misdemeanor setting of an unauthorized fire. He was released with a warning that he could face felony charges if people were injured or homes destroyed.
He was severely dehydrated and borderline delirious when sheriff's deputies in a rescue helicopter picked him up after responding to a call of a lost hunter.
HOTSHOT KILLED BY FALLING SNAG
OCTOBER 04 -- KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK, CA: A 26-year-old firefighter from Bellingham, Washington, was killed when he was struck by a falling snag. Daniel Holmes with the Arrowhead Hotshots died Saturday after the top of a 100-foot white fir unexpectedly fell where his crew was working on the Grant West Prescribed Fire in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park. According to AP reports, about 20 firefighters witnessed the accident, which occurred about 11 a.m.
Holmes died while being transported to a helicopter landing zone. His was the park's first firefighter fatality.
COLORADO MAN BILLED $60,000 FOR STARTING WILDFIRE
OCTOBER 04 -- BOULDER, CO: A target shooter blamed for starting a 35-acre wildfire on the Roosevelt National Forest will be billed up to $60,000 for suppression costs, according to CBS-4 out of Denver. The man was using an explosive target that is banned on national forest land, and he could still face criminal charges.
MAN PLEADS GUILTY TO STARTING WILDFIRE
OCTOBER 04 -- WAYLAND, MI: A man from Allegan County will pay $974 in fines and do three weekends of community service for starting a huge wildfire near Wayland. Daniel Bartram, 21, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor arson to personal property, according to WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids. Investigators say Bartram was looking for a hole in the ground at a campsite when he lit his lighter to find it and started the foliage on the ground on fire. The fire forced 100 people from a nearby mobile home park.
INSURANCE COMPANIES USING SATELLITE TECHNOLOGY
SEPTEMBER 26 -- LOS ANGELES, CA: Got defensible space? If not, don't fib to your insurance agent. Insurance companies are using satellites to identify homes at high risk for fire damage, a practice that has some privacy advocates worried. The concept of satellite inspections came as a surprise to a homeowner north of Sacramento when she received a notice that her home would not be reinsured because it was a quarter-mile away from brush.
"I was shocked," said ShereeDiCicco, who lives in Auburn, in the Sierra foothills. "I didn't know insurance companies would, or even could, do such a thing."
According to an AP report, First American Property and Casualty Insurance Co. of Santa Ana, which insures DiCicco's home, uses satellite imagery to examine about 10 percent of the properties it insures, mostly in California, Nevada, and Arizona.
"It's part of an effort to identify high-risk properties in high-brush areas," said Jo Etta Bandy with First American.
California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi called the practice a serious problem but said he doesn't have the legal right to stop it. "Insurance companies are using satellite imagery and just plain photos to redline vast areas of the state without taking into account the individual circumstances of an individual home," he said.
The satellite imagery is reportedly not sharp enough to pick out individuals in their yards, but privacy advocates say it is a concern that must be addressed.
FREDS FIRE AT 850 ACRES
SEPTEMBER 24 -- KING CITY, CA: Firefighters made some progress yesterday on a wildfire that has nearly doubled in size on the Los Padres National Forest in southern Monterey County.
The Freds Fire is burning in steep mountain terrain in the Ventana Wilderness Area about 20 miles west of King City.
It was at 25 percent containment last night; Smith's Type 2 team is on the fire, and they put containment at 36 percent early this morning. Full containment is not expected for about a week.
Over 700 firefighters are assigned.
Five homes are threatened, and the Monterey County Herald reported that one firefighter incurred an eye injury.
Most of the fire is burning in chaparral and light grass within the Ventana Wilderness; it's accessible only by handcrews and aircraft.
KSBW-TV reported that roads into the Arroyo Seco Recreation Area were closed yesterday. Evacuations of the Arroyo Seco recreation area remain in effect.
Resources on the fire yesterday included helicopters and airtankers; firefighters expect that the fire will spread up slopes to the north today.
The fire started Wednesday near the Arroyo Seco Day Use Area; its cause is under investigation.