nasa heat shields

NASA Heat Shields Set to Save Firefighters’ Lives

One of the worst firefighter tragedies in history compelled NASA researcher, Mary Beth Wusk, to help develop a better emergency fire shelter. Wusk saw a news article on the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in 2013, where a team of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighters was overrun with fire. The team deployed their emergency fire shelters, but unfortunately did not survive. Wusk thought the needs of an advanced fire shelter matched the needs of a project she was currently working on at NASA: Flexible thermal protection systems for space vehicle re-entry.

After some initial research and email correspondence, Wusk and co-researcher, Anthony Calomino, were put in touch with the Forest Service’s National Technology and Development Center. It turns out the Forest Service was already searching for new materials to construct an improved emergency fire shelter. NASA and the Forest Service formed a joint team, called CHIEFS (Convective Heating for Improvement for Emergency Fire Shelters). CHIEFS began testing materials and pattern designs with the goal of putting a new design into service by 2018.

NASA heat shields

Real-world test of the new Emergency Fire Shelter prototype during a controlled burn

 

The Future of NASA Heat Shields in Firefighting

Initial test results proved that the materials performed well, but the design itself had some flaws. Flames were still able to penetrate the shelter via tiny seams in the material or under the bottom.  Though NASA’s contribution to the project is coming to an end, the Forest Service is continuing to evaluate additional designs using the NASA developed materials. The Forest Service plans to test these designs this coming fire season. They are hoping the winning design will be ready for firefighter use by their 2018 goal.

 

 

NASA Video on the new Emergency Shelter Technology

 

 

History of the Emergency Fire Shelter

Innovation Out of Tragedy

Firefighting remains a dangerous occupation, and on occasion firefighters still pay the ultimate sacrifice. Our country has a longstanding history of learning from our tragedies, and planning how to prevent them from happening in the future.  The Loop Fire near Sylmar, California, in 1966 is an example of a deadly wildfire which led to a revolution in fire policy and safety protocols.  That fire, which took the lives of 12 firefighters, yielded greater understanding and safety awareness of the perils posed by certain types of woodland terrain.  It also prompted requirements related to lookouts, checklists, and equipment standards that are still in use today.

 

Sources:

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/langley/nasa-works-with-us-forest-service-to-improve-fire-shelters

https://www.nasa.gov/langley/nasa-technology-may-help-protect-wildland-firefighters

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarnell_Hill_Fire

http://www.latimes.com/science/la-na-nasa-fire-shelters-20151026-story.html

san jose flood

Areas of San Jose Flood After Nearby Dam Overflows

Low-lying areas of San Jose have flooded due to increased runoff from Anderson Lake after a weekend of multiple rain storms.  The lake, which is 15 miles southeast of San Jose, had been slowly filling to capacity.  Water levels eventually spilled over Anderson Dam into Coyote Creek which flows northwest, directly into the heart of San Jose.  The influx of extra runoff caused the creek to crest at a height of over 13 feet, causing widespread flooding to many areas between Gilroy and San Jose.

The worst of the Flooding appears to be centered on the Nordale neighborhood of San Jose. Many homes and streets in that area are under water. As of Tuesday afternoon (2/21), 186 residents had been evacuated via boat and helicopter. San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo announced that up to 500 more residents were under voluntary evacuation as the creek continues to receive the dam’s excess water. The city itself saw over two more inches of rain on top of a very wet winter. The area has had measurable precipitation on all but five of the days so far this month.

San Jose Flood at a Glance

• Recent storms have caused Coyote Creek to become a spillway for Anderson Reservoir, which is overflowing beyond its capacity.
• Rescue efforts have been focused on the Nordale Neighborhood in the heart of San Jose where dozens of people were aided to safety by boat and helicopter.
• Officials are concerned with potential contamination of the water due to potentially overflowing sewage lines, oil and gas from vehicles trapped in the water, or household chemicals that may have leaked into the flood waters.
• San Jose’s mayor announced a voluntary evacuation for low-lying areas along Coyote Creek between the I-880 and the Capitol Expressway due to the risk of continued flooding.
• So far, 16 of February’s 21 days have involved measurable precipitation in San Jose.
• Multiple zoo animals had to be relocated in the nearby Happy Hollow Park.

San Jose Flood Outlook

The persistent rains are forecasted to cease overnight, and dryer weather is expected at least through Saturday evening.  Despite the release of countless gallons of water, Anderson Dam will still sit well above its recommended level of 68% for the foreseeable future.  Evacuated residents will have to wait until the floodwaters subside to return to their homes, and may be delayed by the potential of polluted water.

In the past few weeks, most of the rainfall worries have been centered on Butte County and the Oroville Dam Spillway situation.  If the relentless rain trend continues, reservoirs across the state of California could see further rising levels, which in turn could increase the risk of more flooding events.

Sources: Weather Channel, ABC7 News: Bay Area, Wunderground

Heavy Rain Event Underway for Southern California

The West Coast is bracing for yet another heavy rain event. Luckily, each storm this winter has slowly helped the previously dire drought situation, which covered most of the State of California. This storm, however, will bring sustained rain from Southern Oregon all the way south through San Diego. The worst of it, though, has its sights set on Southern California, arriving late Thursday. Meteorologists are predicting the region may see the heaviest precipitation in six years, including up to 8 inches in some areas. The National Weather Service in Los Angeles is saying that daily rain records are likely to be set on Friday. Strong winds, up to 50 or 60 mph, are also expected. As the heavy rain nears, local authorities are preparing for widespread road closures, power outages, tree damage, flash flooding, and coastal flooding.

Storm Total Rain through Saturday for the Los Angeles Area

Projected Rainfall for the next 36 hours from the National Weather Service out of Los Angeles

Mudslide Potential

There will also be a real potential for mudslides in some areas, especially within the several recent burn scars in the region that align with the heavy expected rain (seen in the map below). Approximately 180 homes in Duarte have already been evacuated ahead of the storm due to their close proximity to an expected debris flow from the Fish Fire burn scar. Similarly, residents in Glendora, near the Colby Fire burn area, were told to remain “on alert”. Local officials are likely being cautious as annually the CDC reports 25-50 deaths a year from mudslides on average in the US.

Recent Burn Scars all to receive 3+ inches of heavy rain

Map showing where 2016’s recent burn scars shown against the forecasted rain totals for Southern CA

Northern California to See Heavy Rain Too

While Northern California will not see as widespread a downpour, that region will also see significant rainfall totals. Due to the incoming storm, the Lake Oroville situation remains troubling, despite the fact that Butte County Officials have technically lifted the evacuation orders for residents. The lake has lowered 30 feet since its peak during the last storm.  Officials hope they can relieve the reservoir of another 30 before the rains arrive again (the current rate is reportedly one foot every three hours). Unfortunately, the Oroville watershed is forecast to receive another 5-8 inches of rain itself by the end of the weekend, which could swell the lake to complicated levels again. Fortunately, the rain has continued to help swell California’s reservoirs statewide to near or, in most cases, over their historical average level.

Additionally, heavy snow is also projected for the high elevations and Sierra Nevada Range. An additional two feet of snow is forecast to add to the already above-average snowpack throughout the region. As an example, Eastern Sierra’s Mammoth Mountain, which has already received a whopping 432 inches of snow this winter, is expecting another 24-32” by Wednesday night.

Sources

National Weather Service, The Weather Channel, AccuWeather, LA Times, NOAA

Lake Oroville Dam Verges on Collapse

Officials released water from an emergency spillway at Lake Oroville that has not been used since the dam was built in 1968. Oroville Dam is the highest dam in the nation and stores water in California’s second largest reservoir. Crews have been closely monitoring the water flow during this historic winter that has filled up most of Northern California’s lakes and reservoirs, pulling much of the state out of its 6-year drought.

Almost 200,000 Evacuated in Lake Oroville Flood Plain

On Sunday, February 12th, 2017, the California Department of Water Resources decided to open the emergency spillway after a large hole in the main spillway developed and debris blocked outlets, causing water levels to reach the emergency spillway’s maximum capacity. As water cascaded over the concrete wall, dirt began to wash downhill into the valley below. The movement of the hillside caused officials to worry that a complete failure was imminent, and they began California’s largest mass evacuation since the 2007 wildfires in Southern California. Nearly 200,000 people that live within the established flood plains were asked to vacate. As of February 14, at 15:00 PST, all evacuation orders had been lifted, but residents are still on edge as more winter storms approach the region.

Lake Oroville Dam

The area below the Lake Oroville emergency spillway (As of 2/13/2017). (Photo courtesy of http://www.latimes.com)

While residents were told they had an hour to evacuate the area, officials worked on a plan of how to prevent a total failure of the emergency spillway. Rushing water was washing away the anchor that held the emergency spillway’s concrete foundations in place. As the water pushed over the dirt, it caused the hillside to crumble and move downslope, weakening the earth that holds back millions of gallons of water. Water moved at 100,000 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) over the main spillway, as officials attempted to drop water levels below the emergency spillway’s banks.  Their goal was a decrease of at least 50 feet so as to minimize structural damage in the short term, and prepare for more winter storms and snow melt in the coming months. On Monday, February 13, 2017, helicopters began dropping bags of boulders over the heavily eroded ground in an attempt to stop more erosion and strengthen areas below the emergency spillway.

Water Levels Down, but Not Completely Safe Yet

Though no more water flows over the emergency spillway, 100,000 cfs of water continues to rage down the main spillway, and evacuees have no timeframe for when they can return home. As of 1pm PT on February 13, 2017, officials reported that water levels were 9ft below the emergency spillway’s breaching point, and helicopters continued to provide erosion control measures to the hardest hit areas. The most recent estimate for repairs to the spillway is upwards of $200 million, and these repairs cannot begin until water levels are stabilized.

Sources:

http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-live-updates-oroville-dam-butte-county-sheriff-defends-evacuation-1487022068-htmlstory.html

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Oroville-Dam-emergency-spillway-in-use-for-first-10925628.php

https://calfire.blogspot.com/2017/02/

new orleans tornado

Powerful Tornado Cuts a Path Across East New Orleans

Damage assessment teams are still sifting through destruction left in the wake of a tornado that struck east New Orleans on Tuesday. The tornado’s devastating winds swept through the 9th Ward community, damaging hundreds of homes and businesses.

Residents of the 9th Ward of New Orleans are no strangers to severe storms, having suffered the brunt of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and extensive flooding last year.  Luckily, out of the nearly 3 dozen injuries reported, only 5 were listed as serious and all but 2 of those injured individuals had been released from the hospital as of February 10.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and has allocated all available resources to begin the daunting process of rebuilding the area.

Interactive map details the tornadoes path. Select damage points for more information. (NOAA/NWS)

An Unprecedented Storm

A survey crew with the National Weather Service determined that the tornado rated as an EF3, reaching wind speeds of up to 165 mph winds and cutting a 10 mile-long path.  Officials at the National Weather Service said that no other EF3 tornado has been recorded in New Orleans in recorded history.

How Are Tornadoes Rated?

Tornadoes were formally rated on the Fujita Scale, named for T. Theodore Fujita who was a University of Chicago meteorologist. He invented the scale in 1971 to assess the wind speed and type of da­mage caused by a tornado.

In February 2007, the Fujita Scale was replaced by the Enhanced Fujita Scale.  It’s similar to the original scale, but it uses a greater number of criteria to determine the level of damage caused.  The “EF” scale classifies severity based on the type of objects damaged.  Small barns for example would have a low score, while the score for thick trees and brick buildings would be relatively high.  The specific damage experienced by a structure is also taken into account (i.e. broken windows, collapsed roof, total destruction, etc).

The Enhanced Fujita Scale classifies tornadoes into six different categories (EF0 through EF5).

New Orleans Tornado Facts:

  • On Tuesday, February 7th 2017, a devastating tornado ripped through east New Orleans
  • The tornado was rated an EF3 with winds speeds reaching 136 to 165 miles per hour.
  • 33 injuries were reported, but fortunately there were no fatalities.
  • The tornado cut a path over 10 miles long and 600 yards wide.
  • The latest count lists 250 structures as a complete loss, 400 with moderate but repairable damage, and another 1,000 structures receiving only minor damage.
  • During the storm some 10,000 homes in the metro area were without power. As of February 9th, crews had restored electricity to 60% of these residents.
  • Winters storms strong enough to produce tornadoes are very rare but last February the area saw a similar outbreak.
southern plains fire potential

Fire Weather Concern Hits Southern Plains

Early this week the National Weather Service (NWS) indicated that conditions in the Southern Plains may evolve into a significant fire weather event.  Specifically, The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning on Monday (2/6) for an area encompassing the Southeastern Colorado Plains through Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. A fire weather watch is also in effect for South Central Texas through Tuesday (2/7).

A Pacific Jet Stream moving through the area resulted in critical to near-critical fire weather conditions for the Region. According to forecasters, particularly strong winds coupled with low relative humidity and the current dry fuel situation amplified the potential for extreme fire behavior. Tuesday (2/7) should bring more of the same as the Pacific Jet Stream moves east through the area. It’s likely that the current warning, set to expire this evening (2/6) at 1700 hours, could be reinstated for at least some of the region tomorrow should conditions persist.

southern plains fire potential

Monday’s Fire Watches and Warnings stretch from the Southeastern Colorado to South Central Texas

 

Southern Plains Fire Activity

Dry and windy fire conditions were evident this past weekend as active fires burned across Texas, Oklahoma, and even Colorado. In Elbert County, CO, a rare winter fire scorched nearly five hundred-acres. Residents were given notice to evacuate as the fire approached the aptly-named Chaparral Subdivision. Six or seven homes were briefly threatened as seven fire crews scrambled to get a handle on it. The fire was called contained at 1900 hours Saturday. In order to ensure control, crews stayed behind to patrol the blackened perimeter overnight.

Concern in Southern Plains  Predicted

Above normal significant wildfire potential is expected for the Southern Plains for not just early this week, but for at least the next two months. This month’s recently published wildfire outlook, a report from Predictive Services (NIFC), suggested that any prolonged periods of dry and windy conditions in the Southern Plains could “provide opportunities for any ignitions to become significant fires.” The report further stated that last year’s precipitation totals in the region have brought about a somewhat robust fine fuel crop. The excess fine fuel could increase fire activity and likely warrant extra attention for the area when dry and windy conditions are forecasted, as were seeing this week.

Sources

NIFC Predictive Services, ABC 7 Denver, National Weather Service

Wildfire Partners Cold Springs Fire

RedZone is Excited to Support Wildfire Partners

Wildfire Partners is a home mitigation program aimed at helping Boulder County residents prepare for wildfire. RedZone, in cooperation with the county, is beginning its second year of facilitating the program. The goal of Wildfire Partners is to assist homeowners who live in the mountains and foothills, and guide them through the process of hardening their home to survive a wildfire. Some of those tasks may include clearing combustible material around the house, clearing trees that could convey fire to the structure, and adding flashing between the home and wood surfaces such as decks or fencing.

Want to learn about how Wildfire Partners could be implemented in your community? Please contact RedZone for more details.

Since 2014, more than 1000 participating homeowners and 30 partner organizations have helped make this program a success. Wildfire Partners is a nationally recognized model for wildfire mitigation that is incorporated into the county’s building code. The program is funded by Boulder County, along with a $1.5 million grant from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and a $1.125 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“The old approach was firefighters were responsible for saving homes from wildfire. The new approach, the new emphasis, is shifting responsibility to homeowners. This program empowers homeowners to be able to take that personal responsibility,” said Jim Webster of Boulder County.

The Wildfire Partners Process

Homeowners in the program actively participate in a comprehensive assessment of their home with a Wildfire Mitigation Specialist, and receive a customized report that identifies the weak links in your home’s defenses. This report will include a checklist of items to mitigate, annotated photos of vulnerabilities, and additional information on wildfire mitigation and preparedness. Homeowners may also be eligible for financial reward after completing all the required mitigation actions, and upon completion, will receive a mitigation certificate which is recognized by many national insurance carriers.

Wildfire Partners Results

Homeowners who live in the wildland urban interface (WUI) have already seen successful results, in particular with the Cold Springs Fire in Nederland, Colorado, in July of 2016.
The video below, “Home Survival Success Stories”, contains interviews of actual homeowners affected by the Cold Springs fire, and contains aerial drone footage of homes in the Nederland area which were completely surrounded by fire, but which survived the blaze nonetheless.

By completing mitigation measures correctly, homeowners will rest easy knowing they have acted responsibly to help protect their families and the first responders who may be called upon in the event of a wildfire.

Chile Wildfire Outbreak “Worst in Country’s History”

Chile Wildfires Displace Thousands

For the past three weeks, wildfires have ravaged Central Chile in an event President Michele Bachelet called the “greatest forest disaster in our history”. Strong winds, hot temperatures and a prolonged drought have created chaos in seven separate regions with over a hundred wildfires burning this month.  The fires have scorched hundreds of thousands of hectares from Santiago to Concepcíon, burning homes and displacing thousands of residents (see photos at this link).

As a result, at least eleven are dead including seven emergency responders (five firefighters and two policemen).  Authorities have called a state of catastrophe in the central regions of O’Higgins and El Maule. Help in the form of funds and even manpower have been pouring in from nine different countries, including the United States.

Chile wildfire smoke

View from NASA Satellites of the Central Chilean Wildfires on January 25th

Cause Still Under Investigation

As the fires have cooled down in most areas, determination of the cause of the wildfire outbreak has been found to be part negligence and part criminal. As of January 30th, local authorities had detained 43 Chileans for suspected arson.

Chile Wildfire Outlook

Fires are common in the summer in Central Chile, but the area is drier than normal, contributing to the dangerous conditions. Hot and windy weather is forecasted to remain prevalent, meaning the fires could continue to spread. The over 4,000 emergency responders deployed to the area will aim to prevent that in the coming weeks.

Chile Fire Outbreak Facts

  • As of: January 31st, 2017
  • Location: Central Chile
  • Size: 180,000 hectares
  • Containment: Around 35 of 100+ fires remain out of control
  • Fire Behavior: Rapid fire spread, fanned by strong winds, hot temperatures and a prolonged drought.
  • Structures Destroyed: 1000+ (estimated)
  • Evacuations: 4,000 reported by the  National Emergency Office
  • News Article: The Guardian

Sources

NASA’s Earth Observatory, The Guardian, NBC News, Wildfire Today, Yahoo

East Peak Fire

Join RedZone at the 2017 WUI Conference

RedZone is happy to be taking part in the annual Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Conference to be held this year in late March at the Peppermill Resort in Reno, Nevada. This event, hosted by The International Association of Fire Chief’s (IAFC), offers invaluable hands-on training and interactive sessions designed to address the various challenges presented by wildland fire.

The WUI conference brings together wildland firefighters, federal and state-agency personnel, and land-use community planners to collaborate on emerging issues in wildland fire management. Attendees are able to make valuable industry connections while learning the latest in wildfire tools and strategies.

“The IAFC Wildland Urban Interface Conference is integral in helping me to learn about new science and innovative projects that are helping to drive us forward”, says Clark Woodward, RedZone’s CEO. “I have been attending for years and never fail to learn something new.”

Those responsible for protecting local forests or educating landowners and communities about the importance of land management may want to consider attending.

Led by industry experts, sessions and workshops are divided into three tracks:

  • Fire adapted communities
  • Operations and suppression
  • Wildland fire policy and tools

Learn – Topics include innovative Programs such as Ready, Set, Go! and the FAC Learning Network will be covered. Operational considerations such as lessons learned from Type 1 IC’s and tactical operations in Open Space Islands will also be covered.
Connect – Federal, state and local wildland fire personnel come together in a collaborative environment for idea sharing and future planning.
See – The Exhibit Hall provides a great opportunity to explore the tools, technologies and resources available to help you mitigate and respond to WUI challenges.

WUI Conference Information

Conference: March 21-23, 2017
Peppermill Resort – Reno, NV

Want to save $25 on your registration? Use marketing code: 159 to get a discount at http://events.iafc.org/wui

Series of Tornadoes Ravage Gulf States

Outbreak of Tornadoes

In the early morning hours of January 21st, a band of severe weather moved into the Gulf of Mexico region, producing a number of deadly tornadoes.  More than 20 funnel touchdowns were reported in total. The worst tornado of the day hit near Purvis, Mississippi, and was rated EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale which rates tornado intensity.  The funnel itself was nearly 900 yards wide, and the storm cut a path length of over 30 miles.  Sadly, four people died in this storm, and the number of homes and businesses that were damaged is still being assessed.

The following day (Jan 22), the Storm Prediction Center issued a High-Risk Severe Weather Event for the entire Gulf Coast region, the first such warning since 2014. In the subsequent 24-hour period, eight more tornadoes touched down.  The worst of the storm system decimated twenty homes with a tornado (estimated > EF2) impacting a trailer park near Adel, Georgia. Survivors described the early morning chaos as “horrific”, with trailers apparently being tossed like rag dolls by the twister.  To date, 15 people are confirmed to have died within Southern Georgia over the weekend.

By January 23rd, the storms weakened, though two more tornadoes were reported in Florida. Fortunately, there were no injuries reported and only minor damage to a pier and a mobile home park was confirmed.

Government Assistance to Affected Areas

A state of emergency was declared in Mississippi and Georgia in the aftermath of the weekend’s severe weather. FEMA has deployed to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi.  The Red Cross also deployed to Georgia on January 22nd to assist in relief efforts. Freshly sworn-in President Trump has promised relief assistance to the affected areas and also offered “our sincere condolences for the lives taken”.

Weekend Severe Weather Facts

  • Timeline: January 21-23
  • Locations: Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida
  • Number of Tornadoes: 34+
  • Highest Reported Winds: 145 mph
  • Casualties: 20+
  • Damages: Estimated $200 Million
  • News Article: WunderBlog

Sources:

NOAA, Wunderground, Storm Prediction Center