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 December 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.
Here's how Paradise ignored warnings and became a deathtrap By Paige St. John, Joseph Serna and Rong-Gong Lin (c) Los Angeles Times December 30, 2018
Embers blow in the wind as the Camp fire burns a KFC restaurant in Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8. Fueled by high winds and low humidity, the rapidly spreading wildfire ripped through the town. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
The fate of Paradise was cast long before a windstorm last month fueled the deadliest fire in California history.
The ridge settlement was doomed by its proximity to a crack in the mighty wall of the Sierra Nevada, a deep canyon that bellowed gale-force winds. It was doomed by its maze of haphazard lanes and dead-end roads that paid no heed to escape. Article continued here.
Fire-Resistant Is Not Fire-Proof, California Homeowners Discover by Emily Guerin (c) NPR December 9, 2018
A motorist on Highway 101 watches flames from the Thomas fire leap above the roadway north of Ventura, Calif., in December 2017. Hundreds of homes were destroyed in what was then California's most destructive wildfire. Noah Berger/AP
California's building codes are not keeping up with the severe, wind-driven wildfires that are becoming the norm.
Ten years ago, the state passed strict new standards for homes built in high fire-risk areas.
But even homes built to those standards were destroyed in last year's massive Thomas Fire. Now, those burned out homes are being rebuilt in the same places, under the same codes.
In the Ventura foothills of southern California, four of the nine homes on Andorra Lane burned down in the Thomas Fire. Almost no one expected it. After all, the homes were brand new. They were surrounded by dozens of other homes. And most importantly, they met the state's building codes for areas at heightened risk of wildfires. Article continued here.
National Institute of Building Sciences Issues Second Report on the Value of Mitigation News Release October 30, 2018
Today, the National Institute of Building Sciences issued its latest report in a multi-year study on natural hazard mitigation. The second in a series of interim results, Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: Utilities and Transportation Infrastructure examines the potential benefits associated with investing in mitigation for select utility and transportation infrastructure. Article continued here. Find initial report released January 11, 2018 here.
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. Article continued here.
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
Colorado’s wildfire season isn’t close to being over, but it’s already become the second worst year in history in terms of acreage that’s been burned with five fires making the list of the top 20 largest. Article continued here.
Here's What It's Like To Lose Your Home In California's Wildfires by Sarah Ruiz-Grossman (c) Mother Jones and The Foundation for National Progress August 18, 2018
Hundreds of homes were burnt to the ground in Coffey Park as high winds pushed the Tubbs fire from house to house. David Gross/ZUMA Wire
Michele Rahmn woke with a start at 1:45 a.m. Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. She smelled smoke.
She shook her husband, Steve, awake, and he jumped out of bed and looked out the window. The sky over their neighborhood of Coffey Park, in Santa Rosa, California, was filled with thick, dark smoke, an eerie glow of light behind it. Their electricity was out. Article continued here.
What It Felt Like Inside The Fire Tornado That Killed A California Firefighter by Dakin Andone (c) CNN August 17, 2018
This article contains numerous videos that are terrifying and must-see. Please follow this link to see the article and videos.
The Trump Administration Will Not Be Happy About The Forest Service's New Fire Management Strategy by Jackie Flynn Mogensen (c) Mother Jones August 16, 2018
A U.S. Flag is placed on a wildfire-ravaged property as rain comes down in the the Coffey Park area in Santa Rosa, Calif. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
As wildfires continue to rage across the West during a brutally hot summer, on Thursday the US Forest Service released its new forest fire management strategy that focuses on science and the changing climate. The report comes at the same time the president has sent out misleading tweets about the causes and solutions of California’s wildfires, and as Donald Trump’s Interior head Ryan Zinke has blamed fires on environmentalists, denied climate change science, and called for more logging. Article continued here.
The Causes and Solutions to Today's Worldwide Megafires by Jackson Schroeder (c) The University Network August 10, 2018
2018’s heat waves have the world on fire.
Record-setting wildfires have stormed through and torched an unusually high number of regions, including the Arctic Circle.
The reason — it’s too hot. Overall, 2018 is on pace to be the fourth-warmest year ever. Article continued here.
The Only Thing Fire Scientists Are Sure Of: This Will Get Worse by Adam Rogers (c) Wired August 1, 2018
JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES
SUBTRACT OUT THE conspiracists and the willfully ignorant and the argument marshaled by skeptics against global warming, roughly restated, assumes that scientists vastly overstate the consequences of pumping greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere. Uncertainties in their calculations, the skeptics say, make it impossible to determine with confidence how bad the future was going to be. The sour irony of that muttonheaded resistance to data is that, after four decades of being wrong, those people are almost right. Article continued here.
As Wildfires Rage, Trump Administration Plans to Slash Fire Science Funding by Randy Lee Loftis (c) Reveal, August 1, 2018
In Redding, Calif., a firefighter makes a stand in front of a wildfire as it approaches a home Saturday. Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
UTE PARK, N.M. – Bill Allen pointed to a north-facing slope of blackened pine and juniper forest. A thin vortex of pale white ash, picked up by a hot morning wind, rose from the black and gray landscape a wildfire left behind.
“It started right there,” said Allen, a rancher and retired hardware store owner. Igniting May 31 on mountainous terrain, the fire grew quickly. Soon, more than 600 firefighters struggled to protect about 200 homes along the Cimarron River. When the fire was declared over 17 days later, it had burned 36,740 acres of forest and grassland. Article continued here.
California Wildfires Are Breaking the Rules by Burning Downhill Fast by Allie Weill (c) KQED Science on PBS News Hour, July 28, 2018
Firefighters from Chino Hills keep watch on a wildfire as they perform structure protection on a residence near Potrero California, U.S. June 20, 2016. Photo By Mike Blake /Reuters
Right now, on the outskirts of Redding, a rampaging wildfire is doing something that was once unusual: It’s burning fast…downhill.
“Fires are burning almost as fast downhill as they burn uphill,” said Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean, from the scene of the Carr Fire, which by midday Friday had torched more than 44,000 acres and was only 3 percent contained.
That’s not typical. One of the first things wildland firefighters learn is that fires burn much faster uphill. Article continued here.
Can 'Moneyball' Fix How The West Manages Wildfire? by KUOW News (c) Earthfix July 24, 2018
A blaze burns in the Umpqua National Forest in 2017.
The U.S. government spent a record $2.9 billion fighting wildfires last year. This year is shaping up to be another costly fire season. It doesn’t have to be that way. Up against pressure from politicians and the public, risk-averse bureaucracies drive their fire managers to spend millions of dollars suppressing wildfires that pose relatively low risk compared to the benefit of letting them burn. Some of those fires are far from homes in remote wilderness. Others are closer to communities in national forests, where under the right conditions they could, in fact, reduce costs and risks to life and property by stunting the spread of future fires. Article continued here.
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)
Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post via Getty Images
Life in the Rocky Mountains is frequently extreme as blizzards, baking sun, and fires alternate with the seasons. But fire tsunamis? Those aren’t normal.
On Thursday, one observer described a “tsunami” of flames overnight at the Spring Creek fire near La Veta in the south-central part of the state. And you can’t stop tsunamis. “It was a perfect firestorm,” Ben Brack, incident commander for the Spring Creek fire, told the Denver Post. “You can imagine standing in front of a tsunami or tornado and trying to stop it from destroying homes. A human response is ineffective.” Article continued here.
Proactive Firebreaks Protect Nearly $1 Billion in Homes, Infrastructure During Colorado Wildfire by Holly Krake (c) U.S. Forest Service Blog June 29, 2018
Fuel breaks on the White River National Forest in Colorado directly protect nearby homes during the Buffalo Fire in the community of Silverthorne, Colo. on June 12, 2018. (Photo credit: USDA)
When the Buffalo Fire sparked on the White River National Forest on June 12, the flames stopped short of nearly 1,400 residences near Silverthorne, Colorado. But, it wasn’t just the air support from firefighting helicopters and tankers and the more than 150 firefighters on scene that helped prevent a catastrophe in two small mountain subdivisions. Part of the success can also be attributed to proactive work over the last decade to build fuel breaks and reduce hazardous fuels where homes meet wild lands or what is called the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).
“The fuel breaks reduced the number of trees available to burn next to homes; gave firefighters safe spots to aggressively fight the fire; and provided for effective fire-retardant drop zones,” said Bill Jackson, district ranger, White River National Forest, USDA Forest Service. “Without the proactive forest treatments, we likely would have lost homes.” Article continued here.
Fires are white-hot signs of climate change in our backyard (c) The Denver Post June 28, 2018
The Sugarloaf Fire grows in the Williams Fork Range, Thursday, June 28, 2018, near Silverthorne, Colo. The fire, started by lightning the previous night, reached 200 acres as of 5:20 p.m. Thursday. (Hugh Carey/Summit Daily News via AP)
My first backpacking trip as a kid was in Bear Creek in southwest Colorado where the Burro Fire is now incinerating thousands of acres of forest. Fishing poles in hand, my brother and I hiked from fishing hole to fishing hole in the shade of tall spruce and fir trees. Many of the most wonderful times in my childhood involved hunting and fishing trips across Colorado with my family. Like many in southwest Colorado, I suspect, I’ve been watching the billowing smoke plumes, now visible from outer space, of the Burro and 416 Fires with an ever-sinking feeling in my stomach.Article continued here.
Making Consumer Fireworks History (c) Michele Steinberg, NFPA Xchange June 28, 2018. Find the article here.
Wildfire - The Answer by Bob Roper (c) Wildfire Magazine March 20, 2018
Smoke from wildland fires in North Bay counties pushed approximately 45 miles south into the San Francisco Bay, and tint the sunlight seen from Alameda, California, on October 12, 2017. PHOTO: Lance Cheung, USDA.
In the aftermath of wildfires burning in California and elsewhere, causing deaths and billions of dollars in property losses, elected leaders will surely commission new and time-consuming “Blue Ribbon” studies to explore the reasons that made these fires so damaging. Let me offer a viewpoint that simply states it’s the elected leaders (federal, state, local) and the citizenry that have ignored the results of previous “Blue Ribbon” studies and may ignore new recommendations in the future. Let’s ask our elected leaders to end the “analysis paralysis” state and enact major policy direction. Article continued here.
Fantastic Failure: False Hope and the Four Mile Canyon Fire by Dave Lasky (c) Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network 2018 (first published January 4, 2018)
Photo: satellite image of the Four Mile Canyon Fire perimeter. Green and black indicate burned areas. White spots are destroyed homes. Credit: DigitalGlobe
Note from F A B: This sobering article highlights the importance of the Home Ignition Zone, mitigating our road rights of way, and the mistake of not doing enough.
On the morning of September 2, 2010, the Four Mile Canyon Fire ignited in the Rocky Mountain Foothills, just west of Boulder, Colorado. Eighteen hours later, 168 homes were destroyed, and over 6,000 acres had burned. For me, what started as a smoke report from a neighboring fire protection district finished as the most traumatic experience of my professional career. I watched the fire destroy seven of my neighbors’ homes and fought the fire from my own front deck. It is a horrific moment when you realize that the worst case scenario, the thing you had been theoretically preparing for, is actually happening. Despite having fought fire across the West, I was emotionally unprepared to help my wife evacuate our dogs, cat and horses while also defending my friends’ and neighbors’ homes. Article continued here.
We Need A Better Social Contract with Wildfire by Paul Larmer (c) High Country News December 11, 2017 (hcn.org)
In his 2004 book Scorched Earth, Idaho Statesman columnist Rocky Barker describes the desperate sprint he and a colleague made to escape a 1988 wildfire in Yellowstone National Park: “Coals were pelting his back and I could see fist-sized firebrands by my head. … The entire area turned black as night and the howling wind sounded like a jet engine. … The forest we had just left … ignited as if someone had lit a match to gasoline.” Wildfire can be as terrifying as any natural force on Earth. If we needed a reminder of this, we got it with this year’s dramatic season. But while 2017 may well be remembered mainly for its destructiveness, I hope it will also be remembered as the year that fear-based responses to fire began to lose some of their power.Article continued here.
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 continued 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.”