Interagency cooperation and coordination using components of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), such as the Incident Command System (ICS), Unified Command, and the Multi-Agency Coordinating System (MACS) are the keys to successfully mitigating major wildfire emergencies. No agency can handle a major wildfire with only its own resources. Sharing and coordination of scarce resources (e.g. airtankers and helicopters) is critical to success. Potential conflicts have been addressed prior to the fire with comprehensive interagency agreements and operating plans. Joint training, drills, and command teams involving all fire agencies provide economy of scale and help assure an appropriate level of participation by each jurisdictional agency. In addition, California is blessed with a comprehensive statewide Master Mutual Aid Agreement, administered by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) that ensures quick and efficient movement of fire equipment and personnel to fires statewide, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries. Sidebar: Wildland Firefighting Objectives
The first objective of wildland firefighting is to protect any life or property exposures, without unnecessarily risking the safety of the firefighters.
The second objective is to contain the fire, which is to surround it with a fireline capable of stopping its spread under current conditions.
The third objective is to control the fire, which means to put out enough of the flames or clear out enough of the fuels to ensure that the fire can’t cross the containment lines, even if later it is going to be hotter, drier, and windier.
The fourth objective is to extinguish the fire, which is done by the process of mop-up, where firefighters extinguish every smoke and ember, and cool off every smoldering stump hole, log, and brush pile. Mop-up in heavy fuels may go on for weeks or even months.
The fifth objective is conduct a damage assessment to identify what values at risk have been damaged or destroyed, either by the wildfire or by the fire suppression operations. Damages may include houses or other structures, vehicles, bridges and roads, timber, etc.
The sixth objective is to repair any damages (fences, cattle guards, etc.) created by the suppression effort. Suppression repairs are generally limited to repairing damaged private property, community infrastructure, and water barring firelines to reduce erosion potential.
The final objective is to rehabilitate the damaged land to minimize later adverse effects such as erosion and mudslides. The scope of the rehabilitation measures will depend on the landowners’ management goals, available financing, and any constraints from environmental protection regulations. Rehabilitation is best accomplished immediately after the fire, so that water bars, salvage logging, reseeding, etc. can be completed before the onset of heavy winter rains.
All of these objectives must be attended to by the Incident Commander and covered (at some point in time) in the Incident Action Plan (IAP), which provides broad goals and specific objectives for the firefighters to follow. All of this assessment, planning, and the suppression, repair, and rehabilitation operations must be documented
Sidebar: Federal Wildland Fire Policy Revision
In March 2008, the Wildland Fire Leadership Council, an intergovernmental committee of Federal, State, tribal, county and municipal government officials, convened by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, proposed modifying the Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy. These modifications of existing guidance would permit more flexibility in fire management actions, ranging from aggressive suppression to passive management, on federal lands, commensurate with public and firefighter safety, current and predicted risk, values to be protected, resource availability, and land management objectives. Revised Directions:
Wildland fires can be managed for one or more objective(s) based on the Land and Resource Management Plan and Fire Management Plan direction.
When two or more fires burn together they will be handled as a single wildland fire and may be managed for one or more objectives based on Land and Resource Management Plan and Fire Management Plan direction.
Every wildland fire will be assessed following a decision support process that examines the full range of responses. The system currently being prototyped is the Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS).
Once a prescribed fire is no longer meeting objectives stated specifically in the prescribed fire plan or project-level NEPA and is declared a wildfire, it receives the same reassessment and choice of response strategies and tactics as any other wildfire.
The term Appropriate Management Response (AMR) will be retained. AMR refers to a broad range of tactical actions, from monitoring to intensive management, developed using strategies and objectives identified in the Fire Management Plan. There will be no immediate change in the response to human-caused fires. These fires will be suppressed and will not be management for resource benefits. WFDSS
Since its inception in 2006, the Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS) has been evolving as a way of integrating the various processes used to analyze and plan the management of wildfires into a single system, thus streamlining the process. It is designed to replace the current WFSA (Wildland Fire Situation Analysis) process with one that is more intuitive and easier to use. WFDSS will also incorporate the Wildland Fire Implementation Plan (WFIP) and Long-Term Incident Planning (LTIP) processes.
To date, WFDSS supports two main components: Fire Spread Probability (FSPro) and the Rapid Assessment of Values at Risk (RAVAR). FSPro calculates and maps the probability of where a fire will fire spread within a specific time, based on fuel, topography and weather conditions. RAVAR then uses that spread probability information to estimate the impact of the fire on primary-resource values in the path of the fire.
In February 2009, WFDSS will become the mandatory system to determine and document the appropriate management response (AMR) for wildfire incidents.
to provide a historical record of the event. The fire may last for months, but so does the paperwork. Sidebar:Vista Fire Reveals Depth
On June 25th, 2008, CAL FIRE’s Shasta-Trinity Unit already had more than its share of firefighting challenges. It was a typical hot, dry summer day, with temperatures in Redding around 100 degrees, relative humidity about 12%, and about a 10-mph southerly breeze. There had not been any appreciable rain since late February, there were already more than 100 lightning-caused wildfires burning in the unit, all state fire resources were fully committed, several existing lightning fires remained unstaffed, and the air tankers were grounded due to lack of visibility as a result of smoke from all the fires. What could possibly go wrong?
At 1614 hours, the Emergency Command Center received a report of a new vegetation fire behind a house on Poco Vista Lane off Old Oregon Trail, in the small community of Mountain Gate, about 12 miles north of Redding. This location is State Responsibility Area (SRA), within the Mountain Gate Community Services District, and is heavily wooded with lots of homes. The CAL FIRE dispatchers scrabbled together a first alarm dispatch consisting entirely of local government fire engines and water tenders to respond to this new fire.
Upon arrival, the Mountain Gate units reported a fire of about 10 acres in size with a moderate rate of spread and structures threatened. The dispatchers cobbled together an additional strike team of local government engines consisting of four Redding FD engines and one Shasta County FD engine. They contacted the Incident Command Team running the Shasta Complex lightning fires and asked for any resources they could spare to respond to Mountain Gate. CAL FIRE Incident Command Team #10 quickly designated two local government engine strike teams held in reserve at Anderson Staging to respond to the Vista Fire, and diverted two helicopters from other nearby fires.
By this time, the fire was about 30 acres and making a run at homes along streets to the north, resulting in evacuation orders for homes on Grande Vista Lane, Coyote Canyon Road, Wintu Way, and Copper Canyon Road. The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office began evacuations using “Reverse 911,” the Emergency Broadcast Radio System, and officers driving the streets using sirens and loudspeakers. All this ruckus awakened the operator of CAL FIRE dozer/transport 2440, who was assigned to the lightning complex but was resting, and he responded to the fire with his bulldozer unit.
The combination of enough engines assigned to both structure protection and direct fire suppression, helicopters dropping water, and the bulldozer cutting fireline, combined with a fortuitous drop in wind speed, allowed the firefighters, commanded by a Redding Fire Department Battalion Chief, to turn the fire away from the exposed structures and knock down the spread. The Vista Fire was declared contained at 2129 hours that same day after burning 75 acres and a few outbuildings, but none of the more than 20 exposed homes. Of the 24 pieces of fire apparatus that responded to the Vista Fire, only one, the bulldozer unit, belonged to CAL FIRE.
The state, federal, and local government fire agencies in Shasta County have learned how to work together and support each other in times of need out of sheer necessity. The Vista Fire is a perfect example of how local government supplements CAL FIRE forces when times are tough. This response from the Redding Fire Department to a fire in another jurisdiction would be repaid in kind in August when a brush fire burned more than 100 acres in the middle of the city, and CAL FIRE had resources available to reciprocate. Sidebar:NIMO
The National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) is group of full-time, professional federal employees, organized into “short” Type 1 Incident Management Teams and pre-positioned across the country, whose primary focus is the management of large, long-duration wildland fires and all-hazard incidents.
Over the past several years, with the adoption of both the National Response plan and the National Incident Management System (NIMS), federal Incident Management Teams are experiencing an ever-increasing workload. Under the Stafford Act, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can task federal resources to provide assistance to states and local jurisdictions when an incident is of sufficient magnitude to warrant a Presidential declaration, such as a fire siege, hurricane or earthquake. Under the Emergency Support Function (ESF) #4, the Forest Service is tasked with the primary responsibility for managing and coordinating firefighting activities, including providing personnel and equipment in support of state, tribal, and local agencies involved in rural and urban firefighting operations.
The concept of the NIMO organization as “…a small, permanent professional incident management organization [NIMO] focused on leadership, safety, cost efficiency, and training,” was proposed as part of the National Interagency Complex Incident Management Organization Study. The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) accepted the study’s recommendations and opted for a scaled-down 5-year pilot study (Fiscal Years 2006-2010). The idea behind the NIMO teams is to establish seven teams of well-trained Command and General Staff available year-round that can readily respond, quickly adapt to emerging events and manage complex incidents. NIMO teams are not intended to replace current national IMTs but rather to expand the capacity and capability of wildland fire agencies and to free up critical resources.
The goal is have NIMO teams stationed around the U.S. near major jetports connected with Geographic Area Coordination Centers (GACC). Currently the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) manages four NIMO teams located in: Atlanta, Boise, Phoenix, and Portland. Each team consists of seven members serving as Command & General Staff including:
Incident Commander (IC)
Public Information Officer (PIO)
Safety Officer (SOC)
Plans Section Chief (PSC)
Operations Section Chief (OSC)
Finance Section Chief (FSC)
Logistics Section Chief (LSC).
When not on assignment, NIMO teams have other non-emergency roles and responsibilities in support of the National Incident Management Organization – Feasibility and Implementation Plan. These duties are consistent with the two imperative actions: planning and executing a larger and more aggressive vegetation management program, and implementing nine key recommendations as described in the National Interagency Complex Incident Management Organization Study. These include:
Assisting in the planning and execution of landscape-scale prescribed fire projects
Streamlining wildland fire training and qualifications by developing and implementing a formalized program
Establishing partnerships and agreements among state and local traditional and non-traditional partners to fill ICS positions
Developing, implementing, and refining a new complex incident management model.
Sidebar: McClellan (very large) Airtanker Base
One of the problems with operating very large airtankers such as the DC-10 and the National Guard MAFFS C-130s is that their reload bases require long runways, heavy duty taxi-ways and parking areas, as well as copious quantities of fire retardant and fuel. The MAFFS airtankers especially require a large ground operating area to deploy large generators (APUs) and air compressors to support their Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems.
Since coming on contract in 2007, the DC-10 airtankers (call sign: “Tanker 910”) has operated primarily out of its home base in Victorville, CA, with reload capabilities existing at only a few Air Attack Bases, including Fresno, Chico, and a temporary contract reload base at McClellan Field in Sacramento. The MAFFS airtankers have similar, but not quite as severe, reload base limitations, being able to operate out of shorter fields like Redding, Paso Robles, etc.
During the lightning fire siege of 2008, with most of the fires in Northern California, fire managers decided that it would be more efficient to group the very large airtankers at a central location, to free up more space for the augmented fleet of regular size airtankers to operate more efficiently (no waiting for the “Big Guys” to reload or refuel) out of the regular bases.
The site selected for this pool of airtankers was McClellan Field in Sacramento, CA. McClellan was a U.S. Air Force Base until its closure in 2001. It is now being reutilized for a variety of purposes, including a large Forest Service training facility and the headquarters of CAL FIRE’s Aviation Management Unit. It has the long runways, heavy duty taxiways, and the high-capacity electrical and water utilities needed to efficiently support the “Big Guys.”
The job of getting the newly-designated “Very Large Airtanker Base” at McClelland Field operational was assigned to CAL FIRE’s Amador-El Dorado Unit. Chief Bill Holmes tasked Fire Captain Rob Wheatley and firefighters Mike Massengale and Chris Traynelis from Pilot Hill Forest Fire Station with getting the base operational.
Starting June 21st with a contract portable retardant reload system of 12,000 gallons (one DC-10 load), a draft operating plan, an office trailer, and not much else, these folks began the rapid expansion of the McClellan Field site from an occasional use facility for the DC-10 to a major support facility for extensive air operations. The retardant contractor, ICL, was able to install a permanent retardant plant with more storage to better support the DC-10, and move the portable plant to support the MAFFS, expanding it allow three airtankers to be reloaded simultaneously.
By June 26th the base was able to support all eight MAFFS airtankers, the DC-10 and two lead planes, although folks were still scrambling to install enough telephone and internet lines to the office and ready room trailers, and to provide adequate storage for all the support equipment. One June 28th, the McClelland Field control tower was reopened and staffed with FAA air traffic controllers to improve the safety and efficiency of extensive flight operations in conditions of reduced visibility due to smoke. The FAA staff relied on the firefighters to provide food and drink, so they made several trips a day to the top of the 110’ tower carrying supplies. The standard joke was to send a new person over with food and tell them to “use the elevator.” The only access to the top was ten flights of stairs followed by a ship’s ladder to the top.
The “Big Guys” wait on the flight line at the McClellan Field airtanker base.
During the month of July things settled into a rhythm, and at the height of operations there were 8 MAFFS airtankers, Tanker 910, and up to 3 lead planes flying out of McClellan. On July 11 the MAFFS tankers hit I million gallons of retardant delivered, and Tanker 910 had delivered 210,000 gallons.
Captain Wheatley recalls several memorable events that took place, even though flight operations were in full swing. “One morning, just after briefing, a bunch of black SUV’s pulled up in front of the command trailer, and Governor Schwarzenegger got out to say ‘Hi.’ We also had several generals and some senior government officials come by to visit the MAFFS operations. Another day we had four Canadian air tankers fly in without warning. It turned out that they were supposed to be going to the AMU to be inspected and carded. For a few minutes we were really scrambling, trying to figure out where to put four more tankers on our already busy ramp. Once we figured it out, we directed them to the AMU ramp. After they were carded, we supported them for a day or two until they were re-assigned throughout the state. We also had a P-2V airtanker come up on the radio and ask for fuel, lunch and retardant. As they taxied in, they asked if we could get a certain type of oil. We checked with Jet Services and they said that they had it in quarts. When the pilots disembarked (wearing Hawaiian shirts, shorts and sandals), I told them we could get the oil they wanted in quarts, and how many did they want? He said that if we didn’t have a 50-gallon drum and pump it wasn’t even worth trying; the P2V’s oil tank holds 80 gallons!
One of the most memorable moments for me was when Lead C-1flew a burned Flagstaff firefighter back home, along with his wife. The firefighter had stepped into a stump hole and badly burned his lower extremities while working on the Shasta Complex. He had been treated at UCD Burn Center in Sacramento. With the assistance of Sac Metro Fire and the Amador-El Dorado Unit, we had a reception of four engine companies, including the Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) unit, and a Battalion Chief’s rig surrounding the lead plane as the firefighter arrived. He was greeted by all available CAL FIRE, Sac Metro, Forest Service, BLM, and military personnel. He was given a round of applause that brought him and his wife to tears, as he was helped from the CAL FIRE utility vehicle to the airplane.”
An honor guard of fire apparatus awaits the arrival of an injured firefighter (Rob Wheatley) On August 2nd, the last of the MAFFS airtankers was released, and Tanker 910 returned to Victorville and the Very Large Airtanker Base at McClellan was deactivated after delivering 1.86 million gallons of retardant to lightning fires throughout Northern California. Sidebar: 84 Base Camp
Once the President signed the federal disaster declaration, FEMA became a big player in support operations, as all non-federal out-of-state resources would have to be ordered by, contracted by, and inspected by FEMA to be paid for with federal funds. Since fire engines, bulldozers and hand crews would be coming from all over the country in large numbers, it was important to have some place for FEMA officials to “do their thing.”
Fortunately, a couple of miles north of the Northern California Geographic Coordinating Centers facilities in Redding stood an abandoned 84 Lumber facility. The former lumberyard provided large, air-conditioned buildings, warehouse space, covered storage space, lots of parking area, and easy freeway access. An emergency short-term lease was quickly negotiated with the property owner and the old lumberyard sprang to life again as “84 Base Camp.”
First managed by an all-risk incident management team from Phoenix, the facility proved so capable that other functions, including a rental car unit, a supply unit, a fire hose refurbishing unit, and a vehicle inspection and repair unit were also set up here. For the next several weeks, fire crews from Tennessee, fire engines from Maine, and fire overhead from Florida would make 84 Base Camp their first stop. Once signed up, inspected, fed, fueled, and rested these folks would then be deployed to any of the hundreds of fires burning in Northern California where they were needed.
After a while, the locals passing by on Highway 44 got used to the site of dozens of fire engines, buses, and renal cars parked in the normally deserted parking lot, and piles of sleeping bags or rolls of fire hose stacked in the former lumber racks. Sidebar: Mendocino’s Logistical Challenge
Cal Fire’s Mendocino Unit is one of the largest counties in the country, encompassing 3,509 square miles of mountainous, timbered terrain stretching from the rugged shoreline of the Pacific Ocean east to the crest of the Coast Range, at 6,954 feet. U.S. Highway 101 traverses mid-county from south to north, a distance of 107 miles. It is a big chunk of country, which CAL FIRE covers with ten fire stations, two conservation camps, and one Air Attack Base.
On the evening of Friday, June 20th, 2008, when unpredicted lightning began starting fires along the southwest coast near Pt. Arena, CAL FIRE responded in force, and by midnight, had all 14 lightning fires it was aware of staffed with firefighters. Unfortunately, the lightning wasn’t done. New downstrikes started occurring about 0200 hours the next morning, and continued all through the next day. Lightning fires were popping up all across the county, except for the very southeast corner. One thunderstorm seemed to linger forever over Long Valley and the community of Covelo, starting dozens of fires in Cal Fire’s protection area and on the adjacent Mendocino National Forest.
Mid-Saturday afternoon, the Air Attack Officer briefed the Unit Chief and staff, showing that he had mapped the location of 60 fires, but that there were at least that many more out there and the lightning was continuing.
By Sunday afternoon, with more than 120 known fires, many of them unstaffed, with 100% commitment of his forces, and little help on the horizon due to the sheer number of fires statewide, the Unit Chief decided it was time to abandon the old reliable lightning plan and do some creative thinking. He ordered Cal Fire Incident Command Team Number 4, set them up at the fairgrounds in Ukiah, near the geographic center of the county, and gave them the whole unit to run, including whatever new fires may occur.
Because many of these fires were burning in steep, rugged, heavily timbered country, especially along the coast, and because the geographic separation was so huge, it was decided to create five branches, each with its own Incident Base. Priority one was given to the south coast country timber fires, but a good incident base could not be established there until Wednesday or Thursday, due to a big music festival at the Anderson Valley fairgrounds, the only facility in that area capable of handling a big fire support operation. Assigned resources would have to subsist themselves for a few days. Eventually, this Incident Base would grow to support a large number of agency and contract firefighters, as well as 200 National Guard troops, and be replete with all the amenities, including shower and laundry facilities.
An Incident Base was established at Fort Bragg Forest Fire Station/Jackson State Demonstration Forest headquarters to cover the north coast fires, with adequate motels, restaurants and grocery stores nearby. Because the big timber companies, especially Mendocino Redwood Company, were taking independent action on fires on their properties, this base never had to support large numbers of agency firefighters, and was able to use existing facilities.
At Laytonville, in north-central Mendocino County, logistics were going to be a little more difficult. This small community, with only one restaurant, one motel, and one gas station wasn’t going to be able to handle the hundreds of firefighters who would be committed for several weeks, so the Branch Director decided to set up a good old fashioned “fire camp” in a pasture across the highway from the Laytonville Forest Fire Station. The pasture was available, the rancher was willing, but the water and phone lines were on the wrong side of the highway. Some flexible pipe and telephone lines were laid alongside U.S. 101 to a strategically-located culvert, under the highway, and into the rapidly developing tent city.
In Covelo, a small town in remote northeastern Mendocino County, there is also a distinct lack of appropriate facilities (motels, stores, and service stations) to support large numbers of firefighters. Fortunately, the Covelo FFS is situated on a large piece of land and is one of the old style CAL FIRE stations, with large barracks and messhall capacity, including a big restaurant-size Wolf range. With this big kitchen and messhall, a Ukiah restaurateur, with a reputation for catering large shindigs, was able to feed hot meals to the personnel assigned to this branch.
Back at the Ukiah fairgrounds, that Incident Base, supplemented by a kitchen trailer and a communications trailer, had adequate facilities to support the Incident Command Team, plus the Ukiah and Willits branches of the fire operations, and became the “point of distribution” for all the “stuff” it would take to keep fire operations going countywide for several weeks. Crews from the California Conservation Corps were brought in to run the Supply Units at the Booneville and Laytonville bases, and with a little training and a lot of creativity, they began stockpiling and dispensing “stuff,” ranging from drinking water to sleeping bags.
Each operational period, a series of “circuit riders” would be dispatched from Ukiah to make the rounds of the branch base camps, distributing everything from copies of the Incident Action Plan, to news releases and maps for community bulletin boards, to hose, fusees, and MREs. This logistical effort was sustained for a period of six weeks, until all of the Mendocino Unit’s 129 lightning fires had been contained at a pleasantly surprising total of only 53,300 acres. Sidebar:Native Americans
There are 123 federally recognized Native American tribes in California. Many tribes have culturally sensitive lands in the forest with some sites still used for religious practices. As the wildland fires burn throughout northern California, specifically the Blue 2, Siskiyou Complex, and Ukonom Complex, cultural and spiritual areas of the Yurok, Karuk, and Tolowa tribes were threatened. In fact, the Ukonom Complex threatened the only known fully intact Karuk spiritual site.
The Yurok, whose name means “downriver people” and Karuk, whose name means “upriver people,” together with the Hoopa, form a distinct ethnographic group in northwest California. Although they have distinctly different languages, they share in the use of cultural lands and prayer sites within the forest, and practice very similar rituals and ceremonies. Some of these rituals include the brush dance, jump dance, and white deerskin dance. (Web-reference on specific rituals…)
Through formal agreements with the Forest Service, the Yurok, Karuk, and Hoopa tribes have designated tribal representatives who work with Incident Management Teams to ensure Native American cultural sites are protected. The tribal representatives scout areas in the vicinity of a fire to determine whether there is evidence of Native American use. When there is Native American presence within an area, tribal representatives coordinate with the incident management teams to mitigate suppression impacts. Mitigation strategies could include locating hand lines well outside the area of concern or just letting the fire burn through it. Due to threat of vandalism and desecration, the tribes as well as the Forest Service do not disclose exact locations of cultural sites.
On the Blue 2 Fire and the Ukonom Complex, incident management teams reported that one of their primary concerns was protecting extremely important cultural sites. However, major traditional spiritual activities expected within the fire area added yet another level of complexity as teams had only limited knowledge of exactly where these activities were to occur in proximity to the fire and how many people were expected to be involved.
Meanwhile active fire conditions have heightened public concern, requiring new tactics to be considered, which in turn increased concerns with tribal representatives. Sidebar:Joint Information Centers
Several kinds of Joint Information Centers (JICs) were established to coordinate public information during the 2008 fire siege. The Susanville JIC was established to coordinate fire information for BLM’s Eagle Lake Field Office, the Lassen National Forest (LNF), CAL FIRE’s Lassen-Modoc Unit (LMU), and Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Butte County’s Emergency Operations Center activated a JIC in Oroville starting July 12th to coordinate information on fires, road closures, evacuations, and property damage in Butte County. Participants included the Butte County Sheriff’s Office, the Butte Unit (BTU) of CAL FIRE, the Lassen National Forest, the Plumas National Forest (PNF), the Town of Paradise, and three incident management teams. This JIC organized fire information under the major roads that were affected (e.g. Highway 70 fires, Highway 32 fires, etc.), which facilitated getting current information to evacuated residents.
Mendocino County activated an information center as part of its Emergency Operations Center, which was staffed 24 hours per day with employees from all county departments, as well as volunteers. This center fielded thousands of phone calls from residents throughout the county.
CAL FIRE and the US Forest Service activated a JIC in Redding at the Northern California Geographic Area Coordination Center to provide one-stop shopping for the news media for general information on all the fires in Northern California.
Area Command Authority (ACA) teams also provided consolidated information when they were overseeing multiple fires managed by multiple teams. One focus of this function was to facilitate community outreach to provide current information to the many communities affected by the large number of fires. Sidebar: California National Guard Assets Battle Wildfires
The California National Guard (CNG), with support from National Guard equipment and personnel from other states, was providing 12 rotary-wing aircraft, eight fixed-wing aircraft and more than 200 personnel to assist in extinguishing the California lightning fires by today.
The twelve helicopters, including eight from California and four from other states consist of five UH-60 Blackhawks, one UH-70 Firehawk, one CH-47 Chinook, and one OH-58 Kiowa.
The CNG is providing the following fixed-wing aircraft in support of the wildfires: one C-130J for personnel and equipment transport, and two RC-26 aircraft for aerial imagery. The North Carolina Air National Guard, the California Air National Guard, the Wyoming Air National Guard, and the Air Force Reserve are each providing two C-130H aircraft outfitted with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS). Each of these aircraft carries up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in a pressurized tank system that allows the retardant to offload in an even flow, preventing gaps in the retardant line.
Along with aircraft, the CNG was also providing two advanced mobile communications and data platforms (IC4U) to assist with command and control of operations in remote areas, one Heavy Expanded Mobile Tactical Truck for refueling, and a 5,000 gallon water tender.
Sidebar: Mendocino Redwood Company Takes Independent Action
Mendocino County, the second largest county in California, contains about 1,000,000 acres of timberland, about half of which is owned by large industrial timberland companies. Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) is the largest industrial timberland owner, with about ________ acres in Mendocino County, mostly in the redwood belt on the coastal side of the county.
The June 2008 lightning siege hit MRC timberlands hard, with about ____ wildfires on its lands at a time when there were so many fires that CAL FIRE forces were totally committed to their first priority of protecting life and improved property. Realizing that fires burning in remote timberlands and not threatening populated areas would be low on the priority list for scarce fire suppression resources for a long time, MRC began taking independent action early in the siege. MRC area foresters made initial assessments of the fires on company lands and provided input for fire suppression planning to company resource managers. The company committed a high percentage of its personnel and equipment to fire control operations, and hired additional resources, including 50 pieces of heavy equipment from 17 private logging contractors, a heavy helicopter, and contract fire crews from Grayback Forestry and Patrick Environmental to take action on the fires on its lands. Close coordination and constant communications were maintained with CAL FIRE throughout the siege, ensuring mutual support during critical operations.
As fires near populated areas came under control and more suppression resources arrived from all over the country, government fire resources became available, and the fires on MRC timberlands began to receive a greater share, including CAL FIRE and mutual aid fire engines and hand crews, as well as National Guard fire crews. As more fire overhead became available, a gradual transition of command from MRC to CAL FIRE took place, with MRC resource managers continuing to represent the company’s interests in an advisory role.
Of the nearly 55,000 acres burned in the Mendocino Complex, 23,196 of those acres were MRC timberlands. Aggressive, independent (but coordinated) action by Mendocino Redwood Company kept those acreages smaller that what many expected, given the significant drought conditions in California at the time. The good working relationship between MRC and CAL FIRE allowed CAL FIRE’s Mendocino Unit (MEU) to focus its scarce resources on the protection of life and property in populated areas, while receiving continuous situation reports on the fires in the more remote timberlands. In the aftermath of the June Lightning Fire Siege, Mendocino Redwood Company stands out as a shining example of responsible timberland management and cooperation with the jurisdictional fire agency.
Sidebar: CNG Team Dozer
One of the first ground elements from the California National Guard (CNG) to respond as part of the Operation Lightning Strikes firefighting effort was “Team Dozer.” The team, a component of the 649th Engineering Company from Red Bluff was composed of eight transports, eight specially modified bulldozers and 32 people.
First, the dozers received two improvements for this mission, including roll cages to protect operators in case the dozer should turn over while operating in hazardous terrain, and fire curtains to help shield soldiers from the heat and flying embers caused by the fires.
Next, their equipment received thorough maintenance checks. All bolts and nuts were tightened; tires were rotated, repaired, or replaced; and engines were inspected and serviced.
Finally, the soldiers received new fire retardant uniforms to help keep them safe in a hazardous working environment.
The dozers were used to create fire breaks by removing all combustible material and creating a barrier of dirt so the fire has nothing to burn and cannot continue to spread. It is the first time that the 649th has been tasked with fighting fires, instead of just handling troop transportation duties during a natural disaster. Sidebar:Responses to Smoke Impacts
The 2008 fire siege brought with it a siege of smoke, especially for communities located in places where the topography tends to trap smoke particles. Meanwhile, it was only 2 years ago in 2006 that the EPA created stricter 24-hour standards for the amount of fine particulate matter in the air, based on research indicating this was necessary to protect public health. Although smoke emissions during a wildfire cannot be regulated, monitoring and mitigating the exposure is important to ensure public welfare.
HVAC filters for a normal month (L) and a week of wildfires (R). Impaired air quality from the 2008 wildfires led to a number of actions, including deployment of mobile monitoring systems, frequent issuing of air quality advisories, and a formal request to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors by the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council to declare a state of emergency based on the public health threat caused by prolonged smoke exposure.
Meanwhile, the Hoopa Valley Tribe declared its own local state of emergency, and activated an incident management organization in response to the smoke impacts the community was experiencing. By mid-July, the K’ima:w Medical Center had seen 133 patients for smoke related health problems, 100 people had been relocated to reduce further smoke inhalation, and 412 HEPA air filters had been purchased for residents with the most severe respiratory conditions. The Tribe also set up two clean air facilities – one at the gym in the community center and another at the senior nutrition center. Although Humboldt County was not added to California’s emergency declaration, the Hoopa Valley Tribe was added to the Presidential emergency declaration, allowing reimbursement by FEMA for costs associated with the tribal emergency response. These costs amounted to approximately $150,000, and the tribe received aid from multiple sources. The Northern California Indian Development Council provided $6,000; the San Manual Band of Mission Indians provided $25,000; and Indian Health Services provided $80,000.
This summer’s experience has motivated the Hoopa Valley Tribe to develop a more aggressive air quality monitoring program. Many of the residents who had respiratory difficulty during this year’s siege, had pre-existing conditions, some of which are attributed to previous smoke exposure during the 1999 Megram Fire. K’ima:w Medical Center Director Eva Smith points out that there is no research on the long-term or cumulative effects of smoke exposure over time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, did do a study on the effects of smoke exposure on Hoopa residents in 1999, which Smith assisted with.
The 2008 fire siege kept many of the Air Quality Districts busy anticipating smoke impacts and responding to air quality concerns within their jurisdictions. For example, this was the worst wildfire season on record for Monterey County. Combined particulate emissions from fire events affecting this district were estimated to be over 20,000 tons, with peak daily emissions near 1,000 tons or 10 times that from non-wildfire sources.
The objective of Monterey Unified Air Quality Pollution Control District during the siege was, “To inform residents about current and expected levels of smoke in their communities so they can take appropriate actions to protect themselves.” The District issued a total of 31 public health smoke advisories as conditions warranted or changed, both on weekdays and weekends. They also responded to citizen phone calls, targeted reverse calls to impacted areas, assessed current conditions and projected changes, mobile spot PM10 monitoring, fixed site continuous PM10 monitoring, putting data on the web, assisting the California Air Resources Board w/ e-bam program design.
In Shasta County, 20 days of unhealthy air quality were recorded during the month of July at a monitoring station in Anderson (10 unhealthy for sensitive groups, 7 unhealthy for all, 3 very unhealthy for all).
Siskiyou County reported adverse air quality data for Fort Jones, Happy Camp, Weed and Yreka. Happy Camp had the most days exceeding the air quality standard, followed by Fort Jones. Happy Camp had 16 days of exceedence in July and 17 days in August. For the locations monitored, Weed had the least impact in the county, with 7 days of exceedence in July and 3 in August.
A number of the larger fires in Mendocino County were spread in a semi circle to the northwest of the Ukiah Valley. The prevailing northwest summer winds resulted in significant smoke “pooling” in the Ukiah/Redwood/Potter valleys. Significant smoke was also generated from fires west of Boonville and in the Mendocino National Forest area. The Mendocino Air Quality District purchased a portable monitor on July 2. They also realized their standard PM (particulate matter) monitors need to be upgraded to deal with high levels of smoke. They found State Microdust monitors to be easy to use and generally accurate, while portable monitors provided the most useful data for the Health Officer. The Microdust monitors also proved useful for monitoring indoor PM levels at shelters and public buildings. They found real time E-Bam data to be useful, but the data collection and transmission was problematic. For the long term, an E-Bam is useful because of its ability to get real time date on public websites. E-Bam also proved to be most reliable instrument in heavy smoke conditions. Visibility readings from the Ukiah Airport were of also great value, especially when real time monitoring data was not available.
Use of the Air Quality Index (AQI) scale caused some minor confusion with both staff and public, because it had not been used in Mendocino County before and it is not an intuitive scale. They had greatest success when they avoided using AQI number ratings and used only the AQI “verbal” description (“good” “moderate” etc.) for public communication. Mendocino County also noted some confusion by the public regarding what information the District could provide. The public wanted to know if “it was safe outside” which is not easy to answer and was generally referred to the health officer’s advice and alerts. The public also wanted to know the “numbers”, but usually it was more accurate to state the “AQI range”. The actual “number” the public wanted is hard to define because either a one or three hour average may be used. Most members of the public wanted to know the reading “right now,” however instantaneous readings are not considered an accurate measure of air quality or exposure.
On a positive note, Mendocino County discovered that the models of their air basin held up very well. Smoke levels peaks in Hopland were found to be higher and lag roughly 2 hours behind levels in Ukiah which almost exactly matched the predicted patterns anticipated by the District.
Indeed, there was a lot of smoke in some places for many days, at times creating very unhealthy conditions that affected different people in a variety of ways. The young, the old, and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions fared the worse, while healthy people with strong immune systems had more tolerance. Hopefully, the experiences gained this year will lead to better air quality monitoring systems and community strategies for reducing exposure so people are more prepared when fires burn for many days again. Sidebar:Hoover Cabin
The story of Hoover Cabin at Wooley Camp dates back to the early 1900’s. Presumably built by a local Karuk Indian, the camp consisted of a ramshackle log house and some outbuildings situated in a large meadow at the confluence of the Wooley Creek and Haypress Creek in the middle of the Marble Mountains Wilderness. The camp was highly valued by the local Indians for fishing and hunting. In 1925, the 80-acre camp known then as Wooley Creek Ranch was purchased by a small group of fisherman. And in 1926, Herbert Hoover (US President 1929–1933) became a member of the newly formed Wooley Creek Association. Herbert Hoover, an avid fisherman, visited the cabin often over the years to fish for steelhead on Wooley Creek and nearby Salmon River. In fact some local residents at the time would jokingly to refer to the camp as the Western White House. It is believed that Hoover’s attraction to the area was partly responsible for protecting the Marble Mountains as a Primitive area in 1931
On June 24th, the Ukonom Complex, which started as 6 fires on June 20th, had active fire behavior in steep terrain threatening critical natural and cultural resources, including the Hoover Cabin and other historical structures at Wooley Camp. Due to limited access, the fires remained unstaffed.
When an incident management team did arrive, firefighting resources could not get into the drainage safely for the first several days due to the heavy smoke. By July 6th, the smoke cleared a bit and some helitack crews were able to secure the Hoover Cabin and other structures at the Wooley Camp by constructing firelines, and installing sprinklers, and pumps. The team monitored the camp for several days as the Jake Fire backed towards the Salmon River and burning snags provided the potential for spot fires across the river.
Several cabins in this area were wrapped with a fire resistant shielding to assist in protection of these structures. This fire resistant structure wrap is a light-weight, aluminized, coated material similar to that which is used for fire shelters. It is designed to reflect 95% of radiant heat and capable of withstanding temperatures of 1,0000F for 10-15 minutes and 3000F for approximately 30 minutes. It is light-weight and easy to install. It has been in use by the fire fighting community for about 5-6 years to protect historic cabins, bridges, and telephone poles and is available commercially to the public.
In the end, firefighter efforts successfully protected the historic structures at Wooley Camp.