Warmest Autumn on Record Increases Wildfire Concern

Warmest Autumn on Record Fuels Abnormal Weather and Wildfires

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed that this Autumn was the warmest ever measured, surpassing the record-setting conditions from last year. The normally temperate months of September, October, and November were a staggering 4.1 degrees above average. November in particular was 6.3 degrees above average with every state reporting above-normal monthly average temperatures.

Record Breaking November - Every state reporting above-normal monthly average temperatures. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/

Record Breaking November – Every state reporting above-normal monthly average temperatures. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/

The hot temperatures were accompanied by abnormal precipitation levels across the country. While some areas of the Northwest experienced unprecedented late season rainfall, the majority of the country was blanketed by dry air. Overall the percentage of the US plagued by drought conditions grew from 19.5 at the end of summer to over 31 percent by the end of fall. The Southeast was especially hard hit by the lack of moisture.

Late Season Drought Plagues the US.

Late Season Drought Plagues the US.

Southeast United States Becomes a Tinderbox

Much of the Southeast went nearly two months without measurable precipitation. The lack of precipitation combined with record setting temperatures led to a flare-up of multiple wildfires across the Southern Appalachians. Residents of the region are used to late season wildfires but extreme conditions generated unexpected intensity. Wildfires in the area were not only more numerous, they were considerably larger in scale and ferocity.

At one point in November, RedZone Disaster Intelligence was tracking dozens of different fires across various southeastern states. NOAA reported that this November was the second worst in terms of wildfire devastation since they began tracking events in 2000. The recent Chimney Tops 2 fire is a heartbreaking example of what many fear may be the new normal for wildfires in the region.

Southeastern Wildfires Raged in November.

Southeastern Wildfires Raged in November.

Drought and High Temperatures the New Norm?

With 2016 coming to a close, it appears the year will finish as one of the warmest on record. With average temperatures continuing to climb, it is unclear how this may influence precipitation across the country. The conditions experienced this fall may not become the new norm, but there is a growing concern that a weak La Niña will bring a dryer-than-normal winter to much of the United States. Without the usual winter moisture replinishment, drought conditions will persist, leaving many areas prone to extreme fire weather next year.







Ten of Our Favorite Wildfire Videos

Following our blog post on how the story of the Esperanza Fire west of Palm Springs is being made into a feature film, we thought we’d point you to ten of our favorite wildfire videos and documentaries from the past few years. Like many wildfire experts, our favorite videos include exciting footage from the fire line showing not only the true power, danger, and humbling awesomeness of a wildfire, but also the courage and skill displayed by the men and women who fight it.

We’re fascinated by time-lapse videos as they showcase fires moving and large smoke columns building. We also enjoy some of the great documentaries made in recent years, many of which cover topics ranging from the history of fighting fires to profiles of the brave wildland crews who work tirelessly to protect life and property. We’re also advocates of a series of excellent informational videos on fire science and defensible space created by Jack Cohen, one of the preeminent researchers in the wildfire industry.

Footage from the front lines

Rim Fire Flight

Amazing lead plane flight along the uncontrolled head of the Rim Fire in the Yosemite area.


Geronimo Hot Shots

Awesome GoPro footage of hand crews in the field. 

The Atlantic’ Documentary on them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=106tOoXVsxQ


Erskine Damage Drone Footage

Terrible devastation this summer in the Lake Isabella are in Kern County where 309 structures were burned. 


Fort McMurray Fire Escape

The video shows residents fleeing the Fort McMurray Fire early in May. The fire burned almost 1.5 million acres and destroyed 2,400 structures.

Time-Lapse Videos

Waldo Fire (Colorado Springs, CO 2012)


Pyrocumulous Rey Fire (Santa Barbara County, CA 2016)


Soberanes Fire (Big Sur, CA 2016)

Wildfire History

The Big Burn

At a runtime of 45 minutes, this documentary on the major fires of 1910 in Montana highlights the start of the United States Forest Service and wildland firefighting as we know them today. 

Fire Science

Radiant Heat vs. Firebrands


Your Home Can Survive a Wildfire


A Look Back at 100 Years of the National Parks Service

Over 100 years ago, the National Parks Service did not exist in the U.S. No lands were federally protected, and logging companies were increasing their efforts in response to huge demands for lumber. At last, a few key voices catching the attention of the right people changed it all.

Who will speak for the land that cannot speak for itself?

Individuals such as naturalist John Muir, with the backdrop of such unique surroundings as Yosemite Valley, stepped forward to save the land from the growing number of settlers moving westward. Responding to pleas of Muir and others, Congress and President Abraham Lincoln put Yosemite under the protection of California during the Civil War. Later, in 1872, under President Ulysses S Grant, Yellowstone became the world’s first true National Park, along with several other areas later in the 19th century.

In 1903, Teddy Roosevelt was campaigning on a whistle-stop tour around the U.S.  He had arranged to explore the Yosemite wilderness with naturalist John Muir–without his Secret Service personnel–while he was in California. Roosevelt wanted to experience the land as authentically as possible. The result of this 4-day visit and Roosevelt’s subsequent presidency, led to the foundation of five national parks as well as several national monuments, national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and national forests. Despite this “national protection” designation, no management or organization was in place to oversee the funding and care of these Parks.

President Teddy Roosevelt & Naturalist John Muir in 1903, Yosemite, CA.

President Teddy Roosevelt & Naturalist John Muir in 1903, Yosemite, CA.


Establishment of the National Parks Service in 1916

In 1915, backed by millionaire industrialist Stephen Mather and National Geographic Society, momentum grew toward establishing a distinct federal organization dedicated to preserving and controlling protected areas.  The National Parks Service was officially created in 1916, and Stephen Mather became its first director. This moved 14 national parks and 21 national monuments under the management of the NPS.

Stephen Mather and his National Parks Service staff in 1927/1928.

Stephen Mather (Front-center) and his National Parks Service staff in 1927/1928.

The Century that Followed

Mather was the first of 18 NPS Directors the institution has had in its history. Throughout the years, many subsequent Acts have been signed to further protect and provide for the federally protected land areas and expand the scope of the National Parks Service. John Jarvis was sworn in as the current National Parks Service Director on October 2, 2009.  He currently oversees more than 400 national parks, monuments, and refuges. The National Parks Service is supported by approximately 22,000 permanent, temporary, and seasonal employees and 400,000 volunteers. Last year a record number of visitors experienced the national parks, totaling over 305 million guests to the more than 84 million available acres!

Given the continued increase in the number of total annual visitations, interest in these National Parks among the public is at an all-time high. Recently, MacGillivray Freeman Films released a new film called the National Parks Adventure which is now showing in IMAX theaters across the country. Sponsored by Expedia, Subaru, VisitTheUSA.com, and REI, the viewer gets a rarely-seen insight into several incredible parks.

Due to the bold and ongoing efforts of so many people focused on preservation and conservation, these parks and natural experiences will continue to be shared for many years to come.



Data.gov and the Value of Open Data

The idea of sharing information for the common public good, or what we now call open data, goes back centuries. Possibly the earliest example of open data is the public library. Libraries have been the standard of information sharing for centuries, but in today’s digital age we have much better ways to use and improve data. The United States government has made substantial efforts to standardize and organize datasets and release them online for public use. President Obama signed an executive order on May 9, 2013 to make government data more useful and easily accessible. We at RedZone use open data to assist our disaster intelligence operations, and would like to share some exciting new ways other businesses are making good use of open data.

Past Problems with Sharing Open Data

Historically, agencies are independently responsible for the collection, management, and organization of the data they collect. Naturally, many different conventions were developed which made the sharing and combining of data from different agencies extremely difficult and time consuming. Also, agencies were doing redundant work by individually storing and managing their databases. The latest attempt to resolve these issues led to the development of Project Open Data. The Obama Administration launched Project Open Data to determine and implement best practices for data collection, management, organization, and sharing. It encourages collaboration between different agencies and public experts, and will continue to evolve as data management technologies improve. Data.gov is the public website for accessing this data within the new system of guidelines.

Data.gov as the Attempted Solution

Data.gov is the new data center for the various online data warehouses supported by the government. Specifically, it allocates open datasets from local, state, and federal governments in a standardized, searchable database. Users can download a myriad of datasets ranging from weather and climate data, to business analytics and census data. Many agencies are in the process of migrating their legacy datasets over to this new system. There is even a process for universities and research foundations to add their own datasets, as long as they meet certain guidelines. The goal of this system is to improve the access and standardization of the data, which will then allow new and existing businesses to create better products by leveraging the utility of existing data.

data_gov website promoting open data

Data.gov Homepage

The internet has made cataloging and sharing information much easier and cheaper. Universities, research organizations, and private businesses are now finding new ways to use this public data and add value to it. Let’s look into some common uses of these open data assets.

Current Common Uses

  1. Disaster Intelligence – Open data helps to better predict, prevent, respond to, and recover from natural and man-made disasters.
  2. Financial Data – Population and business census data provides valuable information for financial institutions to make decisions related to risk analysis, business loans, and marketing opportunities.
  3. Geospatial and GPS data – Mapping, surveying, navigation, drone usage, image mosaicking and many other new and exciting uses are bringing unheralded opportunities to businesses.
  4. Transit – From transit delay notifications to autonomous vehicles, open data is helping companies develop the future of transit.
  5. Information Services – Cloud computing, network security, and data management can all be improved by adopting guidelines and conventions used in Project Open Data.
  6. Tourism – Shared datasets help travelers plan better and stay safe while visiting destinations domestically and abroad.

Many other uses will be implemented that have not even been imagined yet. Technology is fast-moving, and with better access and sharing, talented entrepreneurs will create even more useful and exciting products for all of us to enjoy.

Spiral Staircases, Fire Poles, & Fire Stations

While spiral staircases and fire poles are historically related to fire stations, there was a time before they were commonplace.  Their implementation and popularity makes sense given the time frame when these older stations were built and the equipment utilized to respond to a fire.

Horse-Drawn Fire Engines

In the 1850s, American fire departments transitioned from the hand-pump trucks to the much heavier steam-powered fire engines. These new, more efficient, higher water capacity trucks were pulled by horses. While the horses were stabled downstairs with the engines, the firemen slept and cooked upstairs. Horses would follow the food smells and climb the stairs. To prevent the horses from doing this, the firemen installed spiral staircases.

The Emergence of Fire Poles

When the alarm would sound, the fire fighters raced downstairs to hitch up the horses before heading to the fire. The tight confines and steepness of spiral staircases hampered this speed. What came about is possibly one of the most recognizable elements of a traditional fire house:  the fire pole. First notably put into use in 1878 by David Kenyon in Chicago, the fire pole allowed his department’s firefighters to arrive on scene sooner than others. Around 1880, Boston adopted the pole as well, and it became commonplace across the country soon after.

Spiral Staircase and Fire Poles

Spiral Staircase and Fire Pole (Source: “Priceonomics: The Rise and Fall of the Fireman’s Pole”)

Modern Era – Safety First

With the invention of the combustion engine, horse-drawn engines ceased to be utilized, and therefore spiral staircases to keep horses out of the bunk area became unnecessary. As more fire stations were constructed or renovated, many spiral staircases were removed or not installed at all. Additionally, the previously standard structure of horses and equipment on the base level and bunk and kitchen above was altered to better accommodate the sleeping area, kitchen, and storage. Some stations still have their spiral staircases and fire pole; however, due to numerous injuries involved with descending the fire pole, many have been removed. Broken bones, sprained ankles, back injuries, and even death can occur from losing one’s grip on the fire pole or descending too quickly and being unable to slow down. Washington State currently does not allow installation of a fire pole in any newly-constructed fire stations.

Slide on down!

Due to the oftentimes unsafe speeds involved with descending fire poles, many stations that still utilize a multi-story structure are replacing the poles with fire slides. This allows the firefighters to drop from a higher floor to the ground floor quickly, but much more safely. Although many stations are moving toward slides or single-story construction, the now-decorative fire pole will continue to be a common symbol in fire houses across the country.

Fire truck and fire house slide replace traditional fire poles

Fire truck and fire house slide (Source: Fire Station 124, Covington, LA)


RedZone Aides In Wildfire Mitigation Education

The Cold Springs fire – July 2016

On July 9, 2016 the Cold Springs Fire in Nederland, CO destroyed 8 homes and over 600 acres, prompting more information about wildfire mitigation to be taught to homeowners living in Boulder County, CO. RedZone is driving the educational cause by partnering with Wildfire Partners, a wildfire mitigation program in Boulder County that provides assistance to homeowners attempting to create a strong defensible space against wildfires. Whether it be scheduling Mitigation Specialists to provide an on-site assessment with homeowners, creating accurate and detailed reports outlining mitigation work that needs to be done, or organizing community events educating homeowners on the benefits of mitigation, RedZone, along with Wildfire Partners,  is working hard to make wildfire mitigation the top priority for homeowners.

The Effect of Wildfire Mitigation

Although the Cold Springs Fire destroyed 8 homes, an additional 8 homes within the fire perimeter survived. These 8 homes are all enrolled with Wildfire Partners and had completed their required mitigation tasks. Many homeowners called our team members to tell us their success stories, and more importantly, to thank the program for prompting them to mitigate their property. This is the response that Clark Woodward, founder of RedZone, envisioned when he agreed to collaborate with Wildfire Partners.

RedZone’s Role

As wildfires continue to burn throughout the country, RedZone is making wildfire mitigation education a top priority. As the partnership with Wildfire Partners continues, so will the cause to create defensible spaces surrounding property in order to make the lives of both homeowners and firefighters much more safe.  

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 15-21

Sunday May 15th marks the start of Hurricane Preparedness Week.  During this nationwide observance, households across the country are advised to assess their hurricane risk and develop an evacuation plan, even if the potential is low. Depending on the strength of a hurricane when it makes landfall, it may still be powerful enough to travel hundreds–or possibly over a thousand–miles inland.

During the first days after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, power was out in many areas of New York and New Jersey. If families got separated and had no planned meeting location, in some cases they were apart for days or weeks until power and resources made it possible for them to connect again. Families, friends, and roommates are advised to have a pre-determined meet-up location in case they are unable to reach each other by normal communication post-event.

Several websites allow for check-in and searching for others; however, these obviously require internet and electricity:

In advance of a storm, households should prepare emergency supplies and go-kits since there is usually little time to gather needed supplies during evacuations. The Ready.gov site has several timeline recommendations as well as a supply kit check list.

Take the time to plan and prepare.

Wildfire Awareness Week

wildfire awareness week

As everyone prepares for the approaching summer, firefighters are preparing in their own way. This first week of May marks ‘Wildfire Awareness Week’ in California, when fire departments remind homeowners of the dangers of wildfires, and also bring on thousands of seasonal firefighting employees as part of their preparation for wildfire season. Firefighters in California begin inspecting homes for adherence to defensible space regulations, while thoroughly inspecting their fire equipment, and conducting daily readiness drills at fire stations, helitack bases, and air tanker bases.

The winter El Niño event brought much needed moisture to the Bay area and northern California, but had little effect on the Southern California drought index, leaving fire researchers calling for another high potential fire season in 2016. In the latest fire season outlook (released May 1), a few western states are also bracing for highly active and well-above-normal fire season conditions due to climate factors and fuel moisture conditions.

This week marks the annual occasion for fire departments statewide to remind citizens, before fire season has fully kicked in, that everyone can do their part to prevent wildfire ignitions and help make homes and neighborhoods safer.  Outreach programs such as these also educate homeowners on the concept of “defensible space”, the idea that creating and maintaining 100 feet of intelligent brush clearance greatly increases a home’s chance of surviving a wildfire.

For information on how to prepare your home please see http://www.readyforwildfire.org/.

RedZone attends risk management RIMS Conference!

RedZone joined over 400 other exhibitors from around the globe at the RIMS Conference on risk management in San Diego on April 10th – 13th. Attendees were able to learn about RZRisk and RZAlert products and how these tools could benefit their companies. RedZone CEO Clark Woodward and VP of Business Development Michael Flannery represented RedZone’s Headquarters from Boulder, CO, accompanied by Intel Analysts from the RedZone Intelligence Center in San Diego, CA.

RedZone Team at RIMS 2016.

RedZone Team at RIMS 2016.

Exhibitors and attendees came from diverse backgrounds such as Property/Casualty Claims Services, Risk/Loss Control/Safety Services, Workers’ Compensation, Physical and Mental Health Services and Providers, and Human Resource Solutions. Additionally, several attendees were from the educational fields and product delivery services — risk assessments, analysis, and mitigation are necessary for all industries in some capacity. Several visitors to the RedZone booth discussed their need for monitoring the safety of employees during natural disasters as well as non-naturally occurring crisis situations.

If you’re attending the conference, stop by booth #3501 to speak with the RedZone Team about your needs.

Michael discusses RedZone's capabilities with an attendee.

Michael discusses RedZone’s capabilities with an attendee.

Up next: Look for RedZone’s Michael Flannery as he visits San Antonio, TX, for the PLRB Claims Conference, April 17th – 20th.