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August 30, 2008

Hurricane Gustav Track & Animated Loop Link

* Follow NOLA News on this Twitter Feed

Hurricane Gustav Track. Follow the link to an animated loop.


Initial Attack Stomping New Starts

I haven't turned this web effort into a hurricane blog, it's just that there are no new major fires to report on. I check into Wildland Fire frequently to see about new fires and can get an idea from the chatter if a fire will get beyond the initial attack phase.

Fires are happening but first responders are so efficient at their jobs nothing is getting away. This is a credit to the art of modern day professional wildland firefighting.

When a fire is reported the closest firehouse responds. If the responding engine company can rope it then it's a done deal, if not dispatch is at the ready to tone out whatever equipment is required to get the job done.

Upon sizing up an incident a Cal Fire or Forest Service captain or engineer can order up equipment ranging from extra engines, dozers, water tenders, hand crews, air attack, helitack, even air tankers.

Once a battalion chief arrives to take the helm his or her experience weighs in and adjusts the incoming equipment one way or the other.

Right now, in California at least everyone is on a full or high dispatch level and as such everything is getting hooked quick.

Where I am at in the center of the State it is hot and dry. The weather is changing as low pressure is bringing wind tomorrow.

This, combined with the Labor Day crowds in the hills will test responders Statewide.

Meanwhile I am watching Hurricane Gustav. First responders as well as National Guard will be first back in to assess damaged areas and to rescue those who don't heed evacuation warnings.


Hurricane Gustav Raking Isla De La Juventud, Cuba

*Update- Damage reports from "La Isla" are slowly reaching the web. USA Today offers video here, while the AP reports some news from Isla De la Juventude here offering:

"On Isla de la Juventud, surging waters tossed a transport ferry from its moorings into a neighborhood in the city of Nueva Gerona, and knocked down radio and television towers. The storm snapped fruit trees, flooded all major roads and demolished homes."

Quite a few commenters on this post have relatives on the island. If any readers have first hand information or contact with residents of La Isla please CLICK HERE and let these people know what you have.

Update #2
Video of the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav on "La Isla"


Hurricane Gustav is pummelling Cuba's Isla De La Juventud, (Isle of Youth). Gustav is a category 4 as it crosses the 6th largest island in the Caribbean.

The "Isle of Youth" is inhabited by nearly 100,000.

The island was discovered by Columbus and claimed for Spain then ceded to the USA later. Cuba was granted ownership in the early 1900's by the US Supreme Court.

The Island was a haven for pirates through its history and according to Wikipedia is primarily a prison island for Cuba today. The French like the island and call it a divers paradise.

None of the cable news channels have even mentioned this island but surely and sadly there is a monumental disaster unfolding on the "Isle of Youth". Right now the discussion I see on TV is about care and preparations given to New Orleans residents and their pets as a massive evacuation begins.

We are a great country. I wonder what Cuba did for the inhabitants of Isla De La Juventud?

I remember back in grade school we were shown a movie about the levees of New Orleans. The narrator explained that the city was built below sea level and that flooding was inevitable.

I remember that movie because we did not have too many movie days in the classroom of Our Lady of Mercy Elementary School. Those were the days of the grainy 8mm projector reels spliced from repeated tears. The nuns were pretty good at splicing on the spot as I recall.

The takeaway for me was why did they build a city below sea level?

The image below is the only overhead view I could find of Nueva Gerona on Isla De La Juventude.


August 29, 2008

Drought In The Southeast OVER!

Fay was a drought buster. Gustav and Hanna will seal the deal.

Hurricane Center

US Drought Monitor

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August 25, 2008

FDNY Firefighters Escort WTC Steel Cross To Flight 93 Memorial


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August 22, 2008

Mid Season Fire "Break"

We are entering the second half of the 2008 West Coast fire season. Central and northern California have owned the stage from May through August but soon the Santa Ana winds will begin pushing hot dry air from the high desert into the Los Angeles Basin, Inland Empire and coastal communities like Malibu.

San Diego has been quiet, uncomfortably quiet and they are as dry as everyone else on the West Coast. Residents of Julian, Ramona and Escondido will be sleeping with one eye open for the next few months.

Reflecting back on the first half of this historic fire season a couple of stories stick out. The Basin Complex was a study of old school firefighting vs a fiercely independent Big Sur community. Local bloggers were quick to rally the community with maps, fire info, news and pertinent information on individual properties. Old school meet the new world and begin thinking about adding a (new media) public relations spot on your command teams.

From the Basin Fire we learned definitively there are limits to how far the Forest Service will go to protect structures. The Tassajara Mountain Center was left to burn by the Forest Service but was saved by five residents of Tassajara. Personal liability of fire commanders seems now to be front and center. It's clear homeowners in the urban-rural interface will have to take matters into their own hands (within limitations) in the future.

The Telegraph Fire showed how a determined air assault can stop a fire dead. At one point 16 fixed wing aircraft bombed the Telegraph as it burned in inhospitable terrain. The sustained air assault from fixed wing craft with the support of 15 helicopters kept the fire from burning into Yosemite Valley. The Telegraph Fire reaffirmed what we already knew about Cal Fire, they are committed to protecting defensible structures. Hundreds of homeowners in Mariposa and Midpines saw this first hand.

The first half of the season brought great loss as 9 of our brothers from Oregon died in a helicopter crash in the Trinity Alps.
Death in the forest is indiscriminate. Eighteen year old Firefighter Andy Palmer died on the Eagle Fire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and 50 year old Fire Chief Dan Packer died on the Panther Fire in the Klamath National Forest.
In early July, 63 year old volunteer Firefighter Robert Roland died after fighting a fire in Mendocino County.

Firefighter Palmer at 18 was among the youngest on the fire lines this summer. Chief Packer among the most experienced and Firefighter Roland perhaps the oldest and least experienced.

Residents in the upper Sacramento Valley, Redding in particular spent weeks under smoke filled air. Outside of Redding not much has been written about the economic toll on their local economy.

Both Cal Fire and the Forest Service have blown out their budgets for the season.

The curtain closes on an historic first half of the California fire season.

When you hear a siren or see an air tanker overhead say a prayer for the safety of the responders.


August 12, 2008

The "Stay or Go" Debate, They Stay In Australia

The story of the Baker Family in Anakie Australia written by the L.A. Times paints a realistic picture of what confronts residents who choose to stay and fight approaching wildfires.

Clearly here in the U.S. we are entering a new era where federal firefighters are backing away from directly attacking wildfires. Firefighter safety is cited as the main reason but whatever the reason it's becoming clear homeowners will be forced to begin taking matters into their own hands.

Cal Fire has a homeowner education program called "Why 100 Feet?". They offer videos and PDF's to help urban-rural interface dwellers comply with state fire ordinances. Maintaining a defensible space is not voluntary.

Aussie pragmatism guides their decision to stay. There are generally more homes at risk than responding fire equipment. The article points out how the Bakers took part in training. Their property had been cleared and they had a plan. The decision to stay saved their property.

Similarly properties in Big Sur and the Tassajara compound were saved by homeowners and residents during the 160,000 acre Basin Complex Fire earlier this summer. These were properties given up on by Fed. firefighters.

Stay or go? Many seasoned firefighters frown on the "stay" side of the debate. I'm on the stay side as long as rural homeowners cleared their property, have a plan and own the equipment necessary to defend their homes.

In the next few weeks I'll post a checklist of equipment necessary to mount a defense.

As a disclaimer I want to point out the obvious. If the local Sheriff or fire department tells you to leave, then grab your important documents and photos and leave.
Though I fall on the side of staying that option is not a hard and fast rule.


Where Is The Evergreen 747 Supertanker?

One year ago I pondered why the Forest Service killed the deal with Evergreen for use of the 747 Supertanker. The decision was made by a non firefighting administrator just prior to a contract signing.

Had smarter heads prevailed we would be seeing the giant air tanker dropping retardant and water over fires today. What a welcomed sight that would have been.

The Evergreen 747 Supertanker can hold 24,000 gallons of retardant, twice what Cal Fire's Tanker 910 delivers.

Tanker 910 has proven valuable to wildfire tacticians since it was put into operation last year. Tanker 910 is the big star of any fire it's assigned to.

There is no question the future of air tankers is here, supertankers have proven value in wildfire suppression.

Here is a promotional video produced by Evergreeen International last year. Shortly after the this video was produced the Forest Service tore up the contract.

Once the deal was killed Evergreen announced the aircraft was converted to a cargo craft. Kind of like putting Secretariat out to pasture before he ever ran a race.

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August 09, 2008

Trinity Alps Tragedy, An On Scene Account

The scope of the helicopter crash that claimed nine firefighters in the Trinity Alps is beginning to sink in. These guys were America's best, proud sons of Oregon and brothers in the greater firefighter family.

When accidents happen the incident is studied in order to prevent similar incidents in the future. In this case the firefighters were passengers. The investigation is in the hands of the NTSB.

Reports surrounding the accident are surfacing.

Here is a first person account of the crash.

My family sends our thoughts and prayers for a quick recovery for the four survivors. Our condolences to the families and friends of the 9 fallen firefighters.


August 08, 2008

Cachagua Valley Visit, Post Basin Complex

I had to see the country.

Years ago I fought fire on the "front" or ocean side of the Basin Complex burn area.

Twice we brought crews down from Santa Cruz County late in the afternoon and scraped lines around fires burning on million dollar view sites.

Nothing like a beautiful Pacific Ocean sunset as a backdrop while you tie off a polite little burn. Easy money and fun.

A different world exists on the back side of Big Sur.

On my many visits to the Carmel Valley I never ventured south the community of Carmel Valley.

Yesterday I set out to find the Cachagua Valley, the place where residents were held hostage in their own homes as the Basin Complex Fire worked its way down the backside of the Ventana Wilderness.

Miles south of Carmel Valley I turned off the highway onto the Cachagua Valley Road. The Tularcitos CalFire station sign is about a half mile up the road. No station could be seen and a closed metal gate kept me from getting a look at the grounds. I've spent time at a number of Cal Fire /CDF stations and like to see how the stations stack up. This one is hidden from view.

So up the windy, narrow road up to a summit where I could finally pull over and take a look at charred peaks in the distance.

When God built the Ventana Wilderness he put all his leftover steep slopes and canyons behind Big Sur.

He also covered the steep canyons with vegetation so thick you can't walk through it. Dare to try you are greeted by poison oak, dead and dying varieties of brush, live and dead oak trees choking varieties of conifers doing their best to make a life surrounded by their less polite neighbors.

My first thought was how did they ever put this fire out.

I descended into Cachagua Valley. Four or more miles of downhill at 10 to 20 miles per hour on the 1 1/2 lane road and I'm on the valley floor. It's not a valley really, it's a road between mountains. It looks different from overhead views on Google Earth.

Sitting on the porch of the Cachagua General Store was a gray bearded man reading. I decided not to interrupt his peace with a bunch of questions. I took a good look around until it was time to crawl back out of the valley.

I had to see it and I did.

During the Basin Complex fire I followed the saga of the residents of this valley. To say they were treated poorly would be kind to local law enforcement. I'll never understand why the residents were treated as they were by the Monterey County Sheriff but I did gain a little insight as I drove around the area.

Some places are primed to burn. Because of geography, topography and meteorology some places are fire disasters in waiting. This little valley is such a place.
It's dry, and sits at the base of steep faced mountains. There is nowhere to defend an approaching fire from. Even the main road is covered by tree limbs. If you attempted to fire out from the Cachagua Valley road the fire would quickly be on both sides of the highway.

Undoubtedly Basin commanders running the east side had detailed discussions about the foreseeable threat to the little valley and concluded the place had to be evacuated. Tactics chosen to persuade the residents were heavy handed and wrong. There is no dispute about this.

My "after the fact" opinion is, if the fire would have moved into the Cachagua Valley people would have died.

Residents who prepare their properties by clearing vegetation, wrapping and have gel on hand can make a case to stay and defend in most cases. The majority of Cachagua homesteads I saw from the road yesterday did not fall into this category. Many of the properties I saw were dangerous fire traps. Firefighters would compromise their own safety to rescue residents in non defensible dwellings and that is the real problem.

Readers of this blog might sense a bit of hypocrisy, after all I have blasted the Basin Command for not helping the residents of Tassajara farther up canyon.

Two different scenarios. The monks at Tassajara had a defensible space and sprinklers installed. The compound had survived a direct fire assault years earlier. Weeks before Basin firefighters drew up structure protection plans for Tassajara. The plans were not put in action and five monks were left to do their best.

In addition Tassajara is one compound, not separate properties spread about. Wildfire burning through a narrow valley with residents sheltering in place is a nightmare scenario.

Once I got back on the Carmel Valley Road I noticed all the signs thanking firefighters tacked and nailed on telephone poles every couple of miles. I liked one in particular posted on a pole in the town of Carmel Valley.

I saw no such signs in Cachagua. I think the sentiment is misplaced. An outstanding firefighting effort waged miles away saved their community.

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August 06, 2008

Helicopter Down In The Trinity Alps

A contract helicopter shuttling fire crews near the Buckhorn Fire near Junction City in Trinity County crashed Tuesday night. According to AP via Fire Rescue 1 nine are feared dead.

WildlandFire.com has a discussion and updates on the tragedy.

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Welcome Sponsor Thermo-Gel

Firefighter Blog is pleased to welcome Thermo-Gel as a site sponsor. Thermo-Gel is acknowledged as an important firefighting asset for homeowners and wildland firefighters.

Homeowners living in fire prone areas benefit as well as firefighters who use it for structure protection, exposure protection and fire suppression from the air and ground.

Every homeowner residing in the urban-rural interface should explore the Thermo-Gel product line.


August 02, 2008

Telegraph Fire Update & Fire Photo Essay

Take a look at this Telegraph Fire photo slide show by Al Golub of Golub Photography. Some of Al's air tanker photos are among the best I've seen, especially the series of shots of Tanker 910 near the end of the display.

The Telegraph Fire is now 80% contained and is at 34,034 acres. The ICS-209 still shows 16 fixed wing aircraft and 13 helicopters assigned as well as over 100 fire engines.
500 firefighters have been released from the incident while just over 4,000 remain.

24 firefighters have been injured fighting the Telegraph Fire.

I imagine the line for demobilization checkout is lengthy. In order to be released from an incident equipment must be inspected before being allowed back on the road home.

Here are some highlights from the incident 209 updated at 2:00 am.

Projected incident movement/spread:
No anticipated growth unless a significant event occurs.

Major problems and concerns:
Concerns still remain in the north eastern portion of the fire. Accessibility problems continue to hamper suppression efforts due to terrain that is bisected by deep drainage's, rock outcroppings and the Merced River Canyon.

Projected demobilization start date:
08/01/2008 0800

Significant events today :
All evacuation orders and warnings have been lifted as of 2200. Fire suppression repair is ongoing. Significant demobilization of Type I and II Engine Strike Teams has begun.

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August 01, 2008

Telegraph Fire August 1 Morning Summary

According to the most recent ICS-209 the Telegraph Fire has burned 34,000 acres and is 60% contained. Fifty more firefighters joined the fight bringing the total to 4,531.

More than half are Cal Fire personnel.

Equipment rundown:
106 Fire Engines -52 Dozers -55 Water Tenders -61 Hand Crews (including 8 camp crews) -16 Helicopters -12 Fixed Wing Aircraft

A mere 10% or 414 of the total is supervisory or "overhead". This is a very low ratio of "Chiefs to Indians". Most of the fires I have followed this season reported overhead numbers between 25 and 35 percent.

Suppression costs have reached $24,000,000.

Twenty-two firefighters have been injured fighting the Telegraph Incident.

"Active fire behavior is primarily in the northern and eastern flanks of the fire. Hwy 140 to Yosemite National Park continues to be restricted; CHP will be escorting traffic when air operations are not working in the area. Fire suppression repair has begun. Good progress was made yesterday due to the 24 hour suppression efforts. The majority of residents were allowed to re-enter today, with the exception of Sherlock Rd. and parts of the community of Midpines. Hwy 140 will have various restrictions East of Mariposa.

The community of Midpines has a minimal threat. The Greely Hill, El Portal, and Yosemite National Park may be threatened. The fire will continue to cause partial or complete restrictions of Hwy 140 leading to the main entrance to Yosemite National Park. An evacuation center has been established at the Mariposa Elementary School. Kassabaum Spike Camp is fully operational. The incident will continue damage inspection over the next several days. The incident is now operating in an Area Command (Hodson), with north and south operational areas. ICT 6 will command the north area and ICT 8 will command the south area. The Merced River will be the operational area break. Fire suppression repair has begun. Containment on the southern portion and continued containment progress on the northern portion of the fire was directly related to the resource availability. Out of state Type 6 Engines are en route to the incident. This could potentially free up some Type III Engines.

On the 48 hour timetable the following information is offered:

There is a reduced fire threat to Mariposa, Bear Valley and Midpines area. The fire threatens the wild and scenic Merced River, which is habitat for the threatened and endangered Limestone Salamander. The Merced group of Giant Sequoia Redwoods will be threatened. Road restrictions on Hwy 140 East of Mariposa may affect access to Yosemite National Park. There is 73 million dollars of timber value at risk in the Stanislaus National Forest."

I thought this number stood out considering the costs to date to suppress the fire is nearly 1/3 the value of the timber resource referenced.

The most important value at risk was Mariposa, Bear Valley, Midpines and the homes and ranches in Mariposa County. The fact only 22 homes burned is phenomenal all considered.

Credit expert wildland firefighting.

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