Wildfire 101: Incident Command System (ICS)

When working a wildfire incident, knowing who you report to and who is expected to report to you is imperative to maintain effective and efficient incident management. A system has been developed and honed by wildland firefighters over the years into what is known as the Incident Command System (ICS).

ICS is typically broken out into five major functional areas:

  • Command – Controls overall incident management
  • Operations – “Boots on the ground”, accomplishes objectives
  • Planning – Manages planning process
  • Logistics – Provides incident support, ensures Operations has what they need to do their job
  • Finance/Admin – Manages funds for the incident

The Incident Command System was developed by CAL FIRE following a series of catastrophic wildfires in the 1970s. The studies of these events concluded response problems related to communication and management issues, rather than a lack of resources or skills and knowledge. Now, ICS has been implemented in Emergency Operations Centers across the country, as well as in other fields such as healthcare and business.

The structure of ICS is easily adaptable to many types of incidents. As an example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) relies on ICS when responding to disasters. As an incident develops, more units and divisions are added based upon functional or geographic need. The adaptability and flexibility of ICS allows for efficient expansion and seamless transition throughout the duration of an incident.

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 (Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency – ICS Resource Center)

Although these Sections (known as General Staff) are lateral and report up to the Incident Commander, they rely on each other to achieve the common goal and support each other. Operations needs Logistics to provide resources (people, machinery/vehicles, food/water) to achieve the incident objectives that the Planning team documents and tracks to make sure everyone is working toward a common goal.  Meanwhile, Finance/Admin keeps the incident within allowable budgets and ensures proper time tracking. All of this is overseen by and reported to the Incident Commander.

Depending on the incident, some timelines are longer and more developed than others. A small wildfire may be put out within a couple hours whereas others may last days, weeks, or months (such as the Chelan, WA fires of 2015). Throughout the incident, roles can easily be added or closed down as needed due to the flexible nature of the Incident Command System.

For further information on ICS and available training courses, please visit: FEMA’s ICS Resource Center.

 

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

Guadalupe Pass Fire active in Southern New Mexico

The Guadalupe Pass Fire started in the Penloncillo Mountains in the Coronado National Forest in New Mexico shortly after 5:30 am on March 2nd. As of March 4th, the fire had burned 5,100 acres and was 15% contained. The fire burned in grass and brush and is exhibited moderate fire behavior with winds around 15 mph, according to fire officials. The fire was determined to have been human-caused, but specific information pertaining to the ignition source was still under investigation with local Law Enforcement Agencies as of March 4th.

Approximately 120 firefighters were called to the scene and performed burn out operations on the south end of the mountains near Guadalupe Pass. Fire officials had expected to increase the percentage of containment over the initial several days, although acreage was expected to increase as burn out operations continued. The closest structures were three miles away to the North, Northeast, and West of the fire and were not threatened.

http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4664/

 

 

Guadalupe Fire Perimeter as of 3/4/2016 – Reported at 5,100 acres

Wildfires active in Oklahoma so far in 2016

 Two fire weather events early this year have Oklahoma leading the nation in wildfires to date with 226. Thirteen fires remain uncontained in the state as of March 1, even despite a recent decline in fire weather concern. 

 

 Active Fires in OK as of March 1st, 2016

Multiple red flag warnings were issued for the second time this month as another critical fire weather event took place over the weekend (27th and 28th of February). Fire officials were well prepared for another outbreak as just a week earlier (February 18-19), a number of large wildfires flared up across the state. To date this year there have been 226* wildfires across Oklahoma with the largest (Pharoah Fire) burning over 21,000 acres. The majority of the ignitions have been human-caused, resulting in quick-moving grass fires.  The map above highlights the 13 still-uncontained fires in the state. 

*Source NIFC.GOV

 

Two-alarm brush fire closes Malibu-area highway, now contained

According to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, a brush fire that scorched about 10 acres along the Malibu ridgeline is now 100% contained. Tragically, the incident left a twenty-two year old female inmate, who was deployed as a firefighter, critically injured and airlifted from the scene. She later died from the blow to the head from a falling rock sustained at the fire fight.

 

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Muholland Fire in RedZone’s RZAlert Dashboard

“The last official report we had was that it was 95 percent contained by 8:30 p.m. (Feb 25th) but it’s fully contained now. We just have a few pieces of equipment out at the scene and a small number of firefighters doing mop-up,” said county fire Dispatch Supervisor Miguel Ornelas.

The blaze started in the area of Mulholland Highway and Bardman Street about 3 a.m. on Feb 25th. About 200 firefighters were deployed to the scene, said county fire Dispatch Supervisor Rey Dong.

By about 6:30 a.m. on Feb 25th, the fire was approximately 35 percent contained, and firefighters had stopped the flames from spreading further, said county fire Inspector Randall Wright. By 11 a.m. the fire was 75% contained.

A voluntary evacuation order was in effect for residents in the area. About 80 people, including children and staff members, were at Camp Shalom, where buses were dispatched in case the campers needed to move. Nearby Camp Bloomfield was not affected, according to the sheriff’s department.

Source: Santa Monica Patch

Wildfire 101- Ten Standard Firefighting Orders

The Ten Standard Firefighting Orders are a set of systematically organized rules designed by the USDA Forest Service to reduce danger to personnel and increase firefighting efficiency. The orders were developed from lessons learned in a number of major wildland fires that led to the deaths of trapped firefighters including the Shoshone National Forest Blackwater fire of 1937 and the Helena National Forest Mann Gulch Fire in 1949. 

 

 

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The original Fire Orders were designed as a checklist for firefighting personnel to bear in mind prior to engaging a fire. In the 1980s, the order was changed in an attempt to create an easy-to-remember list, with each order beginning with an initial of “Fire Orders”. After much debate and numerous firefighter fatalities that found most of the Fire Orders were being broken, a decision was made to revert back to the original Fire Orders.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Standard_Firefighting_Orders

Southeast Maui Brush Fire Scorches 5,300 acres

Five separate fires began along Piilani Highway in Kahikinui, Maui, Monday night around 1800 hrs, according to fire officials. Areas downwind of the quickly-spreading blaze were promptly evacuated as flames forced the closure of Piilani Highway over a four-mile stretch.

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RZAlert Dashboard view of Maui’s 5,300 acre blaze.

The firefight continued this week as local crews attempted to suppress further spread and protect residents in the Kahikinui Homesteads area on the south side of Haleakala. Fire officials stated that bulldozers have been cutting firebreaks above the mauka fire flank and around homes in the Kahikinui Homesteads. Most of the blaze has been inaccessible to ground engines and crews, and air tanker and helicopter water drops have been the only means of suppression.

As of Thursday afternoon the fire continued to have flare ups and interior pockets burning. Maui County GIS mapped the fire at 5,300 acres, showing that it burned all the way to the ocean below the highway as well as far upslope toward Haleakala Crater to an elevation of about 3,500 feet on the mauka side of Piilani Highway. As of Friday morning, the containment of the blaze is being reported at 40%.

Wildfire 101: The Fire Triangle and The Fire Tetrahedron

There are three components needed to start a fire: fuel, oxygen, and heat. This is commonly referred to as the fire triangle. If any one of the components is missing, a fire cannot occur.


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 Artist’s rendition of the Fire Triangle – Source: USFWS Alaska

The Fire Triangle is a simple way of understanding the three elements a fire needs to ignite: each side of the triangle represents one of the three ingredients – oxygen, heat, and fuel – demonstrating the interdependence of these ingredients in creating and sustaining fire. A fire naturally occurs when the elements are present and combined in the right mixture, meaning that fire is actually an event rather than a thing. When there is not enough heat generated to sustain the process, when the fuel is exhausted, removed, or isolated, or when the oxygen supply is limited, then a side of the triangle is broken and the fire will die.

Heat – A heat source is responsible for the initial ignition of fire, and heat is also needed to maintain the fire and permit it to spread. Heat allows fire to spread by removing the moisture from nearby fuel, warming surrounding air, and preheating the fuel in its path, enabling it to travel with greater ease. Heat can be removed by the application of a substance which reduces the amount of heat available to the fire reaction. This is often water, which requires heat for phase change from water to steam.

Fuel – Fuel is any kind of combustible material, and is characterized by its moisture content (i.e. how wet the fuel is), size and shape, quantity, and the arrangement in which it is spread over the landscape. The moisture content determines how easily that fuel will burn. Fuel can be removed naturally, as when the fire has consumed all the burnable fuel, or manually, by mechanically or chemically removing the fuel from the area.

Oxygen – The oxidizer is the third component of the chemical reaction.  In most cases, is simply comprised of the ambient air, and in particular one of its components, oxygen. Air contains about 21% oxygen, and most fires require at least 16% oxygen content to burn. By depriving a fire of air, it can be extinguished.

2000px-Fire_tetrahedron.pngThe Fire Tetrahedron (wikipedia)

In recent years, fire experts have redefined the triangle to a tetrahedron, adding an actual chemical chain reaction component to the three already present in the fire triangle. Basically, while the three classic components are still needed, an actual chemical reaction must take place in order for the fire to ignite.  Once a fire has started, the resulting exothermic chain reaction sustains the fire and allows it to continue until at least one of the elements of the fire is blocked. As with the fire triangle, as soon as one of the four elements of the tetrahedron is removed, combustion stops and the fire is extinguished.

Source: www.smokeybear.com

Fire Danger Signs: What Do They Really Mean?

Ever been driving along a highway, spotted a Fire Danger Sign, and wondered what it is truly indicating?

Fire Danger is a description of the combination of both constant and variable factors that affect the initiation, spread, and difficulty to control a wildfire in a given area. There are many systems and schemes that attempt to provide accurate and reliable predictions of fire danger, that analyze the fuel, topography, and weather, and integrate their effects into a set of numbers that fire managers can use to determine a rating.

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Since 1974, five rating levels have been used to describe danger levels in public information releases and fire prevention signing:

Low (Green) – Fire starts are unlikely. Weather and fuel conditions will lead to slow fire spread, low intensity and relatively easy control with light mop-up. Controlled burns can usually be executed with reasonable safety.

Moderate (Blue) – Some wildfires may be expected. Expect moderate flame length and rate of spread. Control is usually not difficult and light to moderate mop-up can be expected. Although controlled burning can be done without creating a hazard, routine caution should be taken.

High (Yellow) – Wildfires are likely. Fires in heavy, continuous fuel such as mature grassland, weed fields and forest litter, will be difficult to control under windy conditions. Control through direct attack may be difficult but possible and mop-up will be required. Outdoor burning should be restricted to early morning and late evening hours.

Very High (Orange) – Fires start easily from all causes and may spread faster than suppression resources can travel. Flame lengths will be long with high intensity, making control very difficult. Both suppression and mop-up will require an extended and very thorough effort. Outdoor burning is not recommended.

Extreme (Red) – Fires will start and spread rapidly. Every fire start has the potential to become large. Expect extreme, erratic fire behavior. NO OUTDOOR BURNING SHOULD TAKE PLACE IN AREAS WITH EXTREME FIRE DANGER.

– See more at: http://www.nps.gov/fire/wildland-fire/learning-center/fire-in-depth/understanding-fire-danger.cfm#sthash.qf9PGgN8.dpuf

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/