Fire weather. Words recognized and respected by all who have lived in the forest for any length of time. Fire weather in short means that all conditions are right for a forest fire to be started in the woods. Not maybe, not might, but would if there is just one more piece of the fire triangle introduced – a source of ignition. Which is really unfortunate because this time of year we have plenty in the form of a woodsman’s worse enemy – the firework, most specifically, the air burst firework. Let me back up and talk about the three things needed to produce a fire. When I was learning it was called a fire triangle, now it is called fire tetrahedron. It is a simple way to remember that it always takes three things for a fire – fuel, air, and spark (heat).
So fire weather assesses at least, fuels (forest vegetation and trees dried by high temperatures), air quality (winds, clouds, ambient and relative moisture), and sources of heat (lightning storms, camping, fireworks) Here in the Pacific Northwest the month of August is normally right for fires. As I write this (July 2014) there are 4 large fires burning in Washington state and 3 more (1 Oregon, 2 Washington) have been listed on the reports since I started typing this. Add this to a report of possible thunderstorms, of which the northern part of California might be getting as I looked at the radar earlier, and things are truly scary if you live anywhere near the forest. I did once, and would move back in a moment if I found a place to live.
About living in the forest. Along this time of year or a little after a lot of forest residents are becoming more and more aware of fire danger. All you have to do is inhale and you know it is dry. The smell of blackberries (this is Oregon) and dry trees greet every breath. Fir trees, Myrtle trees, Alder trees. Plants like Cow Parsnip and grass grown high to be hay and the smell of it being cut and baled. The endless sound of crickets, they don’t even bother to stop singing when you are near anymore. The river is low, it has a distinct and forever remembered smell of the drying algae left high above the water level as the river gets more and more shallow. Those neighbors who pull water from the river are checking daily to make sure that the uptake is still in the pocket of water it had been the day before at that it is still covered. You hear horror stories down at the feed store and local eatery of pumps burning out because they were no longer getting water and the shut-off didn’t work. Or there were people with wells who knew the water would go away if they used too much. Even the lucky people with water coming high up a hill from a stream or spring would worry. Either way, there would be no water to use on a spot fire if one was found where someone tossed a cigarette out the window of a passing car or used a firework in a wide spot of the road or primitive camp spot. Everyone knew that at best the fire patrol would hurry to get there from an hour away as they were always heading the opposite way on their patrol when you called. At worse there was another fire in their district and it would be even longer. We all carried shovels and jerry cans of water in our trucks (and people who usually drove their car were often seen in their trucks) some even carried some sand gathered from the dry banks along the river. One thought in our area was (forgive me), if we survived the dry season would the rains come back soon enough that hunting season wouldn’t be restricted? Especially those who were sustenance hunters.
Fire weather. It might not be anything more than talk in the news for the city folks who take their fireworks to the country so that the city lights don’t dim them. Or the family out for a weekend picnic just to get out of the heat of the city. Under the trees is always cooler than concrete and exhaust. The coals have burned down in the BBQ and are basically out, they will finish burning out in an open hole. Long time smokers don’t even realize they just tossed a butt off to the side of the picnic spot or out the window of the car. We can’t prevent the lightning, but we can prevent what man does.
Fire weather. We know in the forest what it means, and we know in the forest what would happen if it lives up to its press. The last couple years there has been multiple fires in Arizona, California, and Colorado. Fires that might have started in a rural area but they marched right into more and more homes. The damage was beyond thoughts.
|Yarnell, Yavapai County, Arizona,
|North Los Angeles County||Black Forest, Colorado, Colorado Springs, Colorado|
|June 28, 2013 – July 10, 2013||May 30, 2013 – June 10, 2013 (PDT)||June 11, 2013 – June 20, 2013|
|8,400 acres||30,274+ acres||14,280 acres|
|Lightning||Unconfirmed, believed to be human-caused, full arson investigation underway.|
|Mixed (residential and wildlands)||Wildland–urban interface: Forest, rural, suburban|
|129||53||486 homes destroyed, 37 homes damaged, unknown number of outbuildings damaged/destroyed|
Granite Mountain Hotshots
The Granite Mountain Hotshots are a group within the department whose mission is to fight wildfires. It was founded in 2002 as a fuels mitigation crew, formed as Crew 7 (Type 2 I/A) in 2004, and transitioned into a hotshot unit in 2008. Each year, the unit offered an eighty-hour critical training and refresher course in order to keep skilled in their technique.
On June 30, 2013, 19 members of the group were killed fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire.The fatalities were members of the group, which consisted of twenty members, of which only one survived.
Those Wildland Firefighters killed were:
Ashcraft, Andrew – Age: 29 Caldwell, Robert – Age: 23 Carter, Travis – Age: 31 Deford, Dustin – Age: 24 MacKenzie, Christopher – Age: 30 Marsh, Eric – Age: 43 McKee, Grant – Age: 21 Misner, Sean – Age: 26 Norris, Scott – Age: 28 Parker, Wade – Age: 22 Percin, John – Age: 24 Rose, Anthony – Age: 23 Steed, Jesse – Age: 36 Thurston, Joe – Age: 32 Turbyfill, Travis – Age: 27 Warneke, William – Age: 25 Whitted, Clayton – Age: 28 Woyjeck, Kevin – Age: 21 Zuppiger, Garret – Age: 27
While not nearly as terrible cost of human lives, the Waldo Canyon fire in Arizona in 2012 marks one of the worst fires ever in a year that they state saw about a dozen wildfires burned simultaneously, consuming more than 244,000 acres, destroying more than 600 homes, and causing six deaths.
Waldo Canyon fire
|Location||El Paso and Teller counties, Colorado, including Colorado Springs, Cascade, Chipita Park, Green Mountain Falls, Crystola, Manitou Springs, and The United States Air Force Academy, Colorado.|
|Date(s)||June 23, 2012 – July 10, 2012|
|Burned area||18,247 acres (28.511 sq mi; 73.84 km2)|
|Ignition source||Human-caused (intent unknown)|
|Land use||Forest, rural, urban|
|Injuries (non-fatal)||At least 6|
Human caused? Fire weather? Why do I care? 19 firefighters and countless others that is why. Next time they call a Red Flag Warning to alert all to Fire Weather, please say a prayer for those who live, work, and patrol the woods that they will stay safe until the rains come. And stay on the roads in the forest.
National Weather Service. (2014, June 18). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14:47, July 11, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=National_Weather_Service&oldid=613490407 (sub-heading: Fire Weather)
Yarnell Hill Fire. (2014, April 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:04, July 11, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Yarnell_Hill_Fire&oldid=606278740
2013 California wildfires. (2014, July 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:05, July 11, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=2013_California_wildfires&oldid=616494677
Black Forest Fire. (2014, June 20). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:03, July 11, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Black_Forest_Fire&oldid=613738651
Prescott Fire Department. (2014, June 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:05, July 11, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Prescott_Fire_Department&oldid=615055978
Worst U.S. Forest Fires. (2007) In Infoplease.com Retrieved 18:13, July 11, 2014, from http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0778688.html
Red flag warning. (2013, September 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:24, July 11, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Red_flag_warning&oldid=572430532