Stories tagged wildfire

Jul
17
2012

I visited to Fort Collins to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the CSU Department of Atmospheric Sciences. A great celebration and an opportunity to see colleagues I haven't seen in many years.

On Saturday I drove through a section of the Cache La Poudre River to see some of the burnt scares from the High Park fire. The fire started on June 9 by a lightning strike and burned across 87,284 acres by early July, taking 259 homes. One person has died in the fire. It is the second-largest fire in Colorado's history and has cost about $30 million to fightHigh Park Fire impact on the Cache La Poudre River: A view of the Cache La Poudre River on July 14, 2012
High Park Fire impact on the Cache La Poudre River: A view of the Cache La Poudre River on July 14, 2012Courtesy Steve Ackerman
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A recent rain washed the ash into the river, which now runs gun-powder black, as you can see in the photo. This is black color is consistent with the name Cache La Poudre. I have to wonder how this sediment will impact the fish in the water. This is an excellent river for trout.

Notice the burnt trees along the ridge line in the photo. Also notice the dead pine trees in the photo; a result of the pine beetle. The mountain pine beetles inhabit ponderosa, lodgepole, Scotch and limber pine trees and play an important role in the life of a forest. The black beetle attacks old or weakened trees which helps development of a younger forest. However, unusual hot, dry summers and mild winters have led to an epidemic. It would seem logical that these beetle damaged trees would increase fire risks as dead trees are flammable and likely to catch fire. But this might not be the case, indeed the dead trees may inhibit the spread of fires. The Yellowstone wildfire of 1988 provided forest ecologists with a method. Large crown fires can swept quickly through the forest spreading from tree tops. In the 1988 fire there were many trees killed and their needles burned off, but the standing dead tree trunks remained. New wildfires tend to slow and sometimes burn out when they reach standing dead forest. An interesting research topic!

Fires in Australia wiped out the pretty resort village of Marysville and largely destroyed the town of Kinglake, north of Melbourne, with houses, shops, petrol stations and schools razed to the ground.

"Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria in the last 24 hours. Many good people lie dead, many injured," Rudd told reporters Sunday, deploying army units to help 3,000 firefighters battling the flames. Yahoo News

Jul
08
2008

Lighting a backfire
Lighting a backfireCourtesy LouAngeli2008

As fires continue to rage in the forests of California, I thought I would introduce you to some of the people trying to control them. Smokejumpers are the logical people to start with as they are usually the first on the ground.

Smokejumpers are the elite forces of the US forestry department. Many fires begin in locations inaccessible to the standard means of transportation (trucks, helicopters, or by foot). These firefighters arrive by plane and parachute into remote areas. Often their landing site is the top of a tree or a boulder field. Their kevlar suits provide some protection but their skill set includes tree climbing, practiced falling and general hardiness.

In the beginning, jumpers were required to be unmarried without dependents. They had to be a bit reckless to be able to agree to jump out of a plane into a fire area! Despite the inherent danger of jumping, there have been relatively few fatalities in their long history. Jumping began in the late 1930s as flight technology and airplanes became more sophisticated. During the war, many of the jumpers were conscientious objectors to WWII. In 1981 the first women were allowed into the program. Today there are 9 active bases in the West but they serve fires from Alaska to the North East.

The physical requirements... 7 pull ups, 25 push-ups, 45 sit-ups, and a 1.5 mile run completed in under 11 minutes---all done in one session with a 5 minute break between each activity. So, I am pretty much disqualified right off the bat with the pull ups and even if I were to manage, the running would definitely eliminate me. I view running as a self destructive behavior (who would put themselves through that? sorry El). You must also be mentally and emotionally stable--that is a requirement! A smokejumper’s pack often weighs upwards of 100 pounds...and you have no ride out, you must hike or hitchhike in (after landing) and out of the fire. To see a complete list of physical requirements (including height and weight) check out the West Yellowstone smokejumper website.

What they do : After landing and recovering their gear (which is dropped from the plane in (hopefully) a relatively similar location to where they land) the crew sets out towards the fire. They carry no water save for their thermoses. They control the fire by either creating a fireline/firebreak, a swath of land around the edge of the fire cleared of any brush or fuel that could feed the fire, or they light a backfire . Backfires act much like a fireline/firebreak in that they burn towards the oncoming fire. By doing so, they remove the fuel the fire needs to continue burning. Only if the jumpers are unable to contain the fire are reinforcements called to the scene. Jumpers direct helicopters to drop water on hot spots and systematically work their way through the burn site feeling the ground to make sure that there will be no flare-ups. They can leave when the fire is controlled or fresh firefighters take-over, often times many hours after they first jumped from the plane.

Be sure to check out the links below. Jumpers work from June-Oct so those of you looking for adventure with an extremely selective and tight-knit group, smokejumping could be for you.

http://www.fs.fed.us/fire/people/smokejumpers/
http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/gallatin/fire/wyifc/main.htm