National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho issues monthly reports titled National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook. The report is "intended as a decision support tool for wildland fire managers, providing an assessment of current weather and fuels conditions and how these will evolve in the next four months. The objective is to assist fire managers in making proactive decisions that will improve protection of life, property and natural resources, increase fire fighter safety and effectiveness, and reduce firefighting costs." See Outlook Objectives, final page. The Report may also be of interest to property and business owners, so each month we will provide a link to the Report here (current issue released November 1, 2018).
Articles There is a lot we can learn from other people's experiences with wildfires, both good and bad. The following articles give us food for thought and action.
California Fire: What Started As A Tiny Brush Fire Became The State's Deadliest Wildfire. Here's How. by Paige St. John , Anna M. Phillips, Joseph Serna , Sonali Kohli and Laura Newberry (c) Los Angeles Times November 18, 2018
A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif. (Noah Berger / Associated Press
Before there was a spark, there was the wind.
On the morning of Nov. 8, as the sun rose over the isolated mountains in the Sierra Nevada, gale-force winds tore through the canyon. A fire outpost on the Feather River recorded blasts of 52 mph — a bad omen in a national forest that hadn’t had a satisfying rain since May.
From his station bunk at the head of Jarbo Gap, Capt. Matt McKenzie of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection woke to the sound of pine needles pelting the roof.
At 6:15 a.m., a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. high-voltage line near the Poe Dam generating station six miles away malfunctioned. A report of fire came at 6:29.
Full Community Costs of Wildfire (c) Headwaters Economics May 2018
Almost half of the full community costs of wildfire are paid for at the local level, including homeowners, businesses, and government agencies. See full article here.
Wildfires in Colorado Cost $130 Million in 2018 by Jennifer Brown (c) The Colorado Sun November 1, 2018
Dozens of tents were staked in the dried weeds of a cow pasture outside Kremmling at Silver Creek fire camp in September. (Jennifer Brown, The Colorado Sun)
KREMMLING — Dozens of empty tents staked on dried-up, end-of-summer grass rustled in a wind-whipped cow pasture north of town.
Fire camp was nearly deserted, as the hundreds of crew members working to contain the Silver Creek wildfire had been gone since just after breakfast, fueled by fried eggs, sausage and potatoes. In the distance, about 5 miles away, smoke tinted orange from the fire’s glow rose from the mountains of Grand and Routt counties.
Inside a trailer at camp, a group of women tapped keyboards, printed invoices and tallied the day’s expenses.
Nine weeks since the fire began, after scorching 12,000 acres, the running total stood at $15.3 million. Article continued here.
Combustion Engines By Richard Manning (c) Harpers Magazine October 27, 2018
On any given day last summer, the smoke-choked skies over Missoula, Montana, swarmed with an average of twenty-eight helicopters and eighteen fixed-wing craft, a blitz waged against Lolo Peak, Rice Ridge, and ninety-six other wildfires in the Lolo National Forest. On the ground, forty or fifty twenty-person handcrews were deployed, alongside hundreds of fire engines and bulldozers. In the battle against Rice Ridge alone, the Air Force, handcrews, loggers, dozers, parachutists, flacks, forecasters, and cooks amounted to some nine hundred people. Article continued here.
Setting fires to control wildfires: a profound change takes hold in Washington state by Hal Bernton (c) Seattle Times October 14, 2018
This swath of private forest land near Roslyn underwent a prescribed burn this month. An area to the right had the same treatment last year. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
After more than a century of scrambling each summer to put out fires in Washington state, the push to light them in the fall and spring represents a profound change in the strategy to prevent wildfires. Article continued here.
Hellfire - This Is What Our Future Looks Like by John Vaillant (c) The Guardian October 2018
In late July, nearly half of the 92,000 residents of Redding, California, were forced to evacuate. More than 1,600 homes, businesses and other structures burned in the Carr fire, due to sparks thrown by a trailer wheel with a flat tire. But the cause hardly matters; it was 113F that day, and the land was primed for fire. Seven people were killed, three of them firefighters, but when survivors tell of their escapes, it seems a miracle there weren’t many more. A local dentist, surprised by the flames in the gated community of Stanford Hills, fled for her life through the woods. Disoriented, with no idea where to go, she and her husband followed the animals – deer, rabbits and squirrels – as they fled downhill, toward the Sacramento river. Several of her neighbors were rescued by helicopter. Article continued here.
How Wildfires Are Polluting Rivers and Threatening Water Supplies by Ed Struck (c) YaleEnvironment360 October 2, 2018
A forest fire blazes alongside a river in Washington state in 2014. WASHINGTON DNR
As wildfires become more frequent and destructive in a warming world, they are increasingly leaving in their wake debris and toxic runoff that are polluting rivers and fouling water supplies. Some municipalities are having to upgrade their water treatment methods to counter the new danger. Article continued here.
Can Colorado Burn Its Way Out of a Wildfire Crisis? by Jay Bouchard (c) 5280 Magazine September 19, 2018
The Sugarloaf Fire grows in the Williams Fork Range near Silverthorne, Colo. on Thursday, June 28, 2018. Photo by Hugh Carey / Summit Daily News via AP
This year has been one of the most active fire seasons in Colorado history, featuring some of the largest, most intense wildfires the state has ever seen. Now, land managers hope prescribed burns can counteract the disturbing trend before it’s too late. Article continued here.
Fighting Fire with Fire: California Turns to Prescribed Burning by Jane Braxton Little (c) YaleEnvironment360 September 5, 2018
Forest managers set this prescribed burn in California's Stanislaus National Forest. ERIC KNAPP/U.S. FOREST SERVICE
A century of fire suppression and historic drought have combined to kill 129 million trees and counting in California’s forests. As wildfires rage across the state, managers are increasingly setting fires to burn the dead timber and ward off catastrophe. Article continued here.
Raging wildfires send scientists scrambling to study health effects by Sara Reardon (c) Nature - International Journal of Science September 7, 2018
Firefighters in California have faced a historic fire season in 2018. Credit: Fred Greaves /Reuters
Record-setting wildfires have burnt through northern California over the past month, blanketing huge swathes of the western United States in a smoky haze and destroying an area larger than London. Now scientists are hoping that the fiery summer will help them determine whether exposure to wildfire smoke damages health over the long term. Article continued here.
Wildfires Make Their Own Weather, And That Matters For Fire Management by Laurel Hamers (c) Science News September 9, 2018
Wildfires are not known for their restraint. They’ll jump rivers, spew whirling dervishes of flames and double in size overnight.
Take the Carr Fire — one of California’s most destructive — sparked in mid-July when the rim of a flat tire met pavement. As the blaze grew, it jumped across the Sacramento River and sparked a flaming whirlwind that trapped and killed a firefighter near Redding. By the time it was fully contained on August 30, it had burned 930 square kilometers, destroyed more than 1,000 buildings, and killed seven people.
“Once these fires are spreading fast enough and intensely enough, you can’t stop them,” says Ruddy Mell, a combustion engineer with the U.S. Forest Service based in Seattle.
Federal and state agencies that manage wildfires use mathematical equations — fire models — to predict how blazes will spread and decide how to commit firefighting resources or whether an evacuation is needed. But the models can’t always predict when a fire will suddenly veer in a new direction or grow exponentially.
Now, scientists are developing more nuanced fire models with increasingly detailed satellite data and better understanding of how fires can create their own weather and fan their own flames. These finer-scale models take hours or days to run on a computer, so they aren’t likely to replace more quick-and-dirty field models for responding in the heat of the moment. But they can help scientists figure out what’s driving a wildfire’s behavior — and learn how to better protect communities from fires.Article continued here
Enormous wildfires spark scramble to improve fire models by Jeff Tollefson (c) Nature - International Journal of Science August 31, 2018
Firefighters battle a conflagration near Redding, California, in July.Credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty
In California, where the state’s largest wildfire on record continues to burn, fires are getting bigger and less predictable — so much so that scientists are struggling to model them. Now, two research projects under way in the state are aiming to revamp the models that scientists, first responders and policymakers use to understand these costly and dangerous disasters. Article continued here.
2018 Colorado Wildfires Part Of Worst Year In History, Five Make Top 20 Biggest Blazes by Jenni Fink (c) Newsweek August 21, 2018
Fire from the Black Forest fire burns behind a stand of trees on June 12, 2013, near Colorado Springs, Colorado. 2018 has become one of the worst years for wildfires in Colorado, already burning over 400,000 acres with over four months left of the year. PHOTO: CHRIS SCHNEIDER/GETTY IMAGE
A Political Firestorm Is About To Hit The Capitol: Who Will Pay For Wildfire Damages? by Laura Rosenhall ((c) KQED News July 17, 2018) This article applies to California but is equally applicable to Colorado. Read article here.
It’s Time to Rethink Firefighting in the Wildland-Urban Interface by Stephen Pyne ((c) Treesource July 16, 2018). Read article here.
We've Entered The Era of "Fire Tsunamis" by Eric Holthaus ((c) Grist Magazine July 5, 2018)
California Wildfires Are A Wake-Up Call for Colorado by Harris Sherman (c) Denver Post November 3, 2017
The recent conflagration in California’s Sonoma and Napa counties, with the loss of human life and wholesale destruction of communities, vineyards, and vast forests, should be yet another wake up call for Coloradans. Our state experienced its own warnings with the Hayman fire in 2002, the Waldo fire in 2012 and Black Forest in 2013. But in reality, relatively little preventive work has occurred since these fires. Meanwhile, wildfire threats are worsening and we are not prepared. I have had the unique opportunity of serving twice as director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, where we dealt with the pine beetle epidemic and its corresponding buildup of flammable fuels. I also have overseen the United States Forest Service during a period of record forest fires across the United States.
At both the state and federal level, these governments have struggled with the enormous costs of fighting fires and finding additional resources to address the underlying causes of such fires. But there are emerging solutions which will require broad private and public sector participation rather than relying solely on the work of a few governmental agencies. This article describes some of the solutions at hand and the path forward. But first, let’s address the realities on the ground. (article continues here)
With Warming, A Terrifying New Normal For Firefighters (c) YaleEnvironment360 August 10, 2015 A Yale Environment 360 video goes onto the front lines with Colorado fire crews who have watched as massive, months-long wildfires have become a regular occurrence in their state.
Introduction to the video: To many people, climate change is a distant, abstract concept. But to the men and women who battle wildfires in Colorado and throughout the American West, evidence of a warming world is something they face on a daily basis. In recent years, these fire crews have fought blazes that are larger, more frequent, faster-moving, longer-lasting, and increasingly unpredictable — the result of rising temperatures, diminishing snowpack, and more frequent droughts. This e360 video, “Unacceptable Risk: Firefighters on the Front Lines of Climate Change,” produced by The Story Group, focuses on the people battling to save lives and property in a rapidly changing environment.
It tells the story of dedicated professionals struggling to come to grips with a new and frightening breed of fire. Once known as the “asbestos state” because of its low incidence of big wildfires, Colorado is now experiencing huge, record-breaking fires almost every year. “We’re being asked to battle fires that didn’t exist 20 years ago,” says veteran firefighter Don Whittemore. “We’re seeing a level of fire and an intensity of fire and a risk to firefighters that hasn’t existed in the past. On a day-to-day basis we’re being surprised — and in this business, surprise is what kills people.”