16-Mile Fire: Pennsylvania

The 16-Mile Fire was first reported on April 20th near Sixteen Mile Run, east of Cresco, Pennsylvania. By April 23rd the fire had consumed over 4,000 acres and destroyed one structure. As of April 27th, the fire has burned more than 8,000 acres and is now 60% contained. So far, 11 structures have been destroyed; two cabins, three seasonal homes, and six outbuildings. No injuries have been reported as a result of the fire.

Despite heavy rains recently, fire crews continue to monitor the fire while improving containment lines on the fire’s flanks. Control lines have been established along the southern and western sides of the fire. In the north, control lines have been completed and improved. Crews will continue to provide structure protection for cabins near the Pine Flats Cabin Colony and the Beaver Run Club (to the east) according to Bureau of Forestry officials. There are an estimated 140 structures that are still threatened in the general area of the fire. Forecasted rain showers should help reduce the possibility of new spot fires outside of containment lines.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said that the 16-Mile Fire is the second largest fire in the state of Pennsylvania in 26 years. In 1990 a wildfire consumed more than 10,000 acres in Sproul State Forest. Fire investigators believe the 16-Mile Fire was intentionally set and have offered a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.

16 Mile Picture

Copiague Fire: Long Island, NY

The fire started on April 20th at a home on E. Santa Barbara Road in Lindenhurst on Long Island. Firefighters were unsuccessful in their attempt to keep the fire from spreading and it quickly moved to four additional houses nearby before jumping Strongs Creek, sparking a brushfire on Indian Island, a nearby wildlife refuge. Five houses were damaged by the fire with three of those being totally destroyed.

Strong northerly winds gusting to 20 mph helped fuel the fire as it spread to roughly 54 acres on Indian Island before fire boats contained the blaze several hours later. A total of 200 firefighters from 15 different departments were called to the scene. No residents were injured as a result of the fire but two firefighters suffered smoke inhalation and one was hospitalized. Arson Section detectives believe the fire to be non-criminal in nature. The investigation is continuing.

Copiague Fire Map

Rocky Mountain Fire: Shenandoah National Park, VA

The Rocky Mountain Fire was first reported on Saturday April 16th, 2016, in the South District of the Shenandoah National Park.  Crews are working hard to keep the fire within the park boundary along Skyline Drive. Due to the complexity of the incident, a Type 1 Incident Commander and the Southern Area Red Command Team will take over management of the fire on Wednesday April 20th.  As of April 19, resources have mapped the fire at 2,094 acres with no reported containment.

The fire has prompted the closure of 15 trails within the park, including a 4 mile section of the popular Appalachian Trail. These closures are in effect until further notice.  No structures or buildings have been reported as damaged to date.

http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4689/

 

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Newhall Fire: Valencia, CA

A 2-3 acre fire was reported around 7:15 a.m. near Newhall Ranch Road and Copper Hill Drive in Valencia, California on April 15th. The fire grew to 33 acres by 1:00 p.m. due to 25 mph winds in the area. Helicopters were on scene to support firefighters on the ground.

No buildings or houses were damaged, but nearby Albert Einstein Academy was voluntarily evacuated due to the fire. Fire officials have stated that they have the fire 65% contained and have stopped forward progress. Firefighters were expected to extinguish any remaining hot spots in the area throughout the day.

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A screen capture from RedZone’s RZAlert Dashboard

 

History of Women in Firefighting

Women have been firefighters for over 200 years. The first woman firefighter was Molly Williams, who was a slave in New York City and became a member of Oceanus Engine Company #11 in 1815. During the blizzard of 1818, Molly was credited with pulling the pumper to fires through heavy snow and was known to be just as hard working as her male counterparts.

In Pittsburgh in 1820, Marina Betts made history serving as the first women volunteer firefighter for the city. Betts was said to have never missed an alarm during her 10 years of service, and was remembered for pouring buckets of water over male bystanders who refused to help put out fires.

Lillie Hitchcock Coit is also considered to be one of the first female firefighters in America. In 1859, Coit (who was still a teenager at the time) became an honorary member of San Francisco’s Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5, when she helped the company haul the engine to a fire on Telegraph Hill.

By 1910 all-women volunteer fire companies were running in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Los Angeles, California. During World War II, many women entered the volunteer fire service to take the place of men who had been called into active duty service for the military. Two military fire departments in Illinois were staffed entirely by women for part of the war. In 1942 the first all-female forest firefighting crew in California was created

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, fire departments could no longer prevent women from applying for jobs as firefighters. Many women went to work for the departments but were still ostracized by their male colleagues and much of the protective equipment they were issued did not fit properly. Another major hurdle to entrance into firefighting for women was the lack of facilities. The immediate problem of sleeping quarters and bathing areas had to be solved before women could participate fully in firefighting as an occupation and as a culture. Communal showers and open bunk halls were designed for men only. Today, most stations are now designed to accommodate firefighters of both genders. Despite those issues, women continued to make great strides in the firefighting profession that still continues to this day. Presently, over 7,000 women now hold career firefighting and fire officer’s positions in the United States, with thousands more in Canada, Great Britain, and other countries throughout the world.

lillie_hitchcock.jpgLillie Hitchcock Coit, one of the first female firefighters in America.

Source: History of Women in Firefighting

Powerline Fire in Big Bend National Park nearing full containment

A wildland fire started in Big Bend National Park, Texas, around 5:00 PM on Monday, February 1st, when heavy winds caused a power line to fall. The fire burned grassland and brush habitat, and is estimated to have been around 1,800 acres in size.  It is now 100% contained.

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Powerline Fire as seen in our Incident Dashboard

Heavy winds originally pushed the fire to the east and northeast of Panther Junction during the evening of February 1st, and the fire covered 500 acres by Monday evening. By Tuesday afternoon the fire had spread to over 1,000 acres as winds continued to blow. A combination of National Park Rangers and fire crews battled the fire, working 10-12 hour shifts at a time. Higher humidity, colder temperatures, and somewhat diminished winds on Wednesday helped slow the fire during the evening hours, along with firefighter efforts to work hot spots along the fire perimeter.

Electrical power was initially lost to the Panther Junction, Chisos Basin, and Rio Grande Village areas, but was restored as of February 3rd. Additionally, two park roads, the road to Rio Grande Village and Old Ore Road, were closed as a precaution but both roads were re-opened on February 2nd.

No park structures were damaged, and no injuries were reported during the initial fire or suppression efforts.

Source : http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4659/

Fuel Reduction Practices and Purpose

The practice of hazardous fuel reduction is most often associated with moderating the flammable vegetation around the defensible space of individual homes and communities. But this proactive approach to fighting wildland fire comes in many other forms and, unlike fire-fighting in most areas, is a year-round practice. 

 

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Ridgeline fuel break example on the left and a road brushing/shaded fuel break on the right.

The basic function of a fuel-break is to impose some obstacle to the spread of potential fire, and also to provide access to the fire should one break out. Fuel breaks are designed to change the behavior of a wildfire by reducing the quantity, density, and configuration of potential fuels that the fire encounters when it enters the fuel break. 

Breaks are constructed for a number of purposes:

  • To act as a barrier to control the spread of a fire to a particular area or property.
  • To contain the spread of a fire from a fire source.
  • To break up large fuel areas (i.e. where fire may spread rapidly or be difficult to control, a system of firebreaks is sometimes established to aid in confining the fire to a relatively small area).
  • Reduce a crown fire to a fire burning on the ground. 

Fuel Breaks are most effectively located in the following areas:

  • Along ridges, where fires naturally slow their progress under most conditions.
  • 100 feet to 200 feet around structures, where fires are likely to start.
  • Along roads, power lines, and pipelines, where openings already exist.
  • Around wet areas, rock outcrops, mined areas, and other topographically strategic locations where fire spread may be reduced.
    • Adjacent to areas where fuel reduction treatments, such as thinnings and surface fuel treatments, have already been performed, where fire intensity and spread are already reduced.
    • Connecting to existing fuel breaks, to expand protected areas in a systematic way.

Natural Resources Conservation Service (CA) – Code 383

Smoke Color Can Depict Fuel Type

Smoke is made up of particulates, aerosols and gases, and identifying the characteristics of each in a given smoke plume can be helpful when fighting fires. Reading smoke can tell a firefighter what is currently happening with a fire as well as what might happen in the future. One particularly important factor in predicting fire behavior is the color of the smoke emitted.

 

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Smoke is the biproduct of the fuels it is burning.  The color of the smoke indicates to firefighters the type and density of the fuels involved, all of which gives hints as to what the fire might do next.

White smoke can often mean material is off-gassing moisture and water vapor, meaning the fire is just starting to consume material. White smoke can also indicate light and flashy fuels such as grass or twigs.

Thick, black smoke indicates heavy fuels that are not being fully consumed. At times, black smoke can be an indicator that a manmade material is burning such as tires, vehicles or a structure. As a general rule, the darker the smoke, the more volatile the fire is.

Grey smoke can indicate that the fire is slowing down and running out of materials to burn.

2015 Wildfire Acreage Tops 10 Million for the First Time

2015 was a significant year for wildfires with the total acreage cresting 10 million for the first time on record. To put it in perspective, 10 million acres is roughly 7.5 million football fields, 12,000 Central Parks, or 15 Rhode Islands.

 

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Reported Wildfires from GeoMac and Fire Statistics from NIFC

2015 actually saw fewer fires than the 10-year average, but the total acres burned was more than 3.5 million greater than average. Alaska’s dozens of huge wildfires accounted for more than half of the total acres burned nationwide. Acreage-wise, an area the size of the entire state of Massachusetts burned inside of Alaska.

The Rocky Mountain and Southwest regions were quieter than normal. Major wildfire complexes raged for weeks in Idaho, NE Washington, Northern California, and Oregon. In terms of destruction, Northern California’s Butte and Valley wildfires combined to destroy 818 and 1958 structures respectively, the 7th and 3rd most in the state’s history.