Welcome to the Editor's Daily Blog

Southern California Fire Journal.Com

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fire Weather Watch for Saturday and Sunday


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grass Fire Destroys Outbuildings

A wildfire was reported to the Los Angeles County and Kern County Fire Departments yesterday around 3:30 pm along Ave A at 150th Street West. The first call reported the fire along 16500 Highway 138 but firefighters found the incident at Ave A and 150 St West. Upon arrival, Los Angeles County Firefighters ordered additional equipment to a 10 acre grass and brush fire that had destroyed several outbuildings and a pickup truck. The fire was contained in about 30 minutes. The cause is under investigation. Five engines, two fire patrols, a bulldozer, 1 helicopter and two hand crews from LA County Fire Department in the Antelope Valley assisted Kern County Fire Department units from Rosamond.

Picture Fire Patrol 78 from Lake Hughes takes the lead in the fire attack
Picture Engine 134 from the Antelope Valley works a burning structure on the east flank.
Picture of destroyed pick up truck.

Copyrights Jeff Zimmerman, Zimmerman Media LLC

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Elizabeth Lake Wildfire Fatality: Remembered 30 Years Ago

Green Valley California

It was on July 15, 1981 that Captain Gilbert Lopez from the United States Forest Service in Green Valley led his crew up a steep mountainside above Elizabeth Lake, to battle the Elizabeth fire. It was midday (14:35)when the fire was reported and crews from Los Angeles County Fire Department and the United States Forest Service responded in force to a fast moving brush fire along Elizabeth Lake Road.Shortly after engaging the fire, the Forest Service crew from Green Valley was overrun by intense fire, killing Captain Gilbert Lopez and badly burning two other crew members.

Captain Steve Olson from the Los Angeles County Fire Department remembers it was a hot July day, over 100 degrees, with low relative humidity and drought conditions. At the time of the Elizabeth Fire, he was 18 years old and a rookie firefighter for the United Stated Forest Service. He was dispatched to the fire as part of Engine Module 3-10 from Green Valley Ranger Station. The crew had just suppressed a very small fire near Dry Gulch shooting area when they were summoned to the Elizabeth fire. As the crew arrived they could see active fire running up the steep, south facing slope moving towards the ridgeline, Portal Ridge. The crew was ordered to stop the fire on the ridge top near the repeater towers over looking Elizabeth Lake. Captain Olson remembers a thick plume of smoke rising high into the atmosphere and was fascinated by how quickly it was developing. He also remembers very dense forest fuels burning actively along the ridge as they began their attack.(The official report states that the winds were from the southwest at 22 MPH, south facing slopes had grass and mixed brush and the northern slopes had much heavier fuel loading, age class of 60 years+.)

Shortly after stopping to pull fire hose off of the fire engine along the ridge, several spot fires encircled the crew. Some of the fire was spotting above the crew and some was dangerously below the crew running up a steep chute. The crew became separated in a deafening roar of super-heated air that rushed over the ridge. Some of the crew made it to safety by running in what seemed like an eternity down the west flank towards a volunteer fire crew from Lake Hughes. Captain Lopez retreated, driving the gasoline powered International fire engine when it stalled out. The Captain facing tremendous walls of flame had to flee on foot as the fire engine began to burn. Lopez was quickly overrun by fire with no safe escape route. Lopez was a veteran firefighter with 25 years of experience.

Minutes or maybe even seconds separated those who lived, from those who were burned and from the horrific fate that was encountered by the Captain. It is speculated that the Captain was trying to pick up the crew or trying to move the fire engine to safety when it stalled, possibly vapor locking or stalling out due to lack of oxygen in the thick blinding smoke.

Firefighters assembled at Green Valley Ranger Station today not only to pay their respects but to learn valuable lessons as to how avoid future tragedies. With improvement in radio communications, safety check lists, knowledge of crew accountability and better understanding of human factors that improve performance and crew cohesion, this tragedy would probably not occur today.

The fire crews wanted to learn, not to lay blame, it is a way to honor the fallen by bringing purpose to a tragic death. Fire crews from the United States Forest Service and Los Angeles County Fire Department were both on hand to learn from eye witnesses and to hear their chilling testimony. Dennis Maki from the U.S. Forest Service walked just feet from the burning fire engine in 1981 and could remember the intense heat and thick smoke, but could not see the Captain. Maki was part of the elite Texas Canyon Hot Shot crew who was brought in to hold the west side of the fire. Maki now serves as Fire Engine Captain for the Forest Service near Pyramid Lake and has been with the agency over 32 years.

Captain Olson pointed out the exact area where the crew made the stand against the fire and where the Captain fell in the last full measure of Duty. New fire recruits looked over the edge of the steep mountain side to see where the fire originated and where asked by veterans what they would do differently today if they were asked to fight the same fire. Markers have been placed to help students to think about safety, leadership, fire behavior and crew accountability.

It was interesting to hear the responses of veterans telling new firefighters how to hold, anchor and flank fast moving fires; how to maintain command and control, how to use communications and radio equipment and how to properly and respectfully speak up when there are signs of danger. It really hit home watching the younger crews understand the lessons from seasoned veterans that where rookies at the time of the blaze in 1981.

It was Steve Olson’s second fire and he was facing a 100 foot wall of flame chasing him across the ridgeline with a 1,600 degree thermal pulse trying to knock him off his feet. The swirling winds burned two other firefighters on the ridge top but both survived. Steve had just 32 hours of basic training when he was faced with a decision that may cost him his life if he guessed wrong. It is surreal how quickly a beautiful summer day turned tragic, in seconds people were running for their lives on what was to be considered an ordinary work day in July.

Firefighters discussed fuel, weather, topography, slope, aspect, safety zones and the ten standard firefighting orders at length as part of the exercise. But what hits home is to stand in the exact places where the crew was 30 years ago and to reflect what would I have done or what would I have done differently.

The Lopez family had also lost another family member, Gilbert’s brother to a terrible firefighting accident. So the memorials at Green Valley Ranger Station and the State Capital are befitting tributes to fallen firefighters that still teach valuable lessons today. Gilbert Lopez was remembered as a tough, aggressive firefighter, not much for words, just action.

Firefighters are trained much differently today, much more in depth training before ever going on the front lines. They are taught human factors and decision making processes in basic training that may save their lives. However it takes years to understand fire behavior and to understand the complexities of the incident command system, tactics and strategy. Thus the importance of today’s staff ride in the Angeles National Forest.

Photos and Information, Copyright Jeff Zimmerman, Zimmerman Media LLC

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Firefighting DC-10 Contract in Jeopardy

10:07 PM PDT on Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

Special Section: Inland Wildfires

Just as Southern California's wildfire danger is heating up, the state budget axe has cut the contract for the nation's largest air tanker, Cal Fire and company officials said.

"I was notified verbally on June 30," said Rick Hatton, CEO of the firm that owns and operates the Victorville-based DC-10 and a backup sister ship. "We thought we had passed the last cut in the budget."

Instead, the three-year pact -- which would have paid $7 million for each 120-day fire season -- appears dead, though a similar cancellation in 2009 was reinstated, Hatton said.

Story continues below

2009/The Press-Enterprise
A DC-10 air tanker drops fire retardant over the Oak Glen Fire in 2009. The man who owns the Victorville-based aircraft says the state has ended plans for a fire coverage contract. "It's penny-wise and pound foolish to cut this thing," Hatton argued. "One big fire ... probably costs 10 times as much as having this thing on for the whole season."

Hatton's 10 Tanker Air Carrier owns and operates two DC-10 jetliners-turned-firefighters, both based at Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville. The contract called for either plane to be ready to take off within 30 minutes. Hatton kept the second plane as a spare or to provide extra capacity for large fires.

The supertankers each can carry nearly 12,000 gallons of fire retardant. By comparison, that's 10 times the capacity of Cal Fire's 23 twin-engine Grumman S-2T trackers and at least four times the capacity of the U.S. Forest Service's 19 large air tankers.

An even larger airplane -- a 20,000-gallon modified Boeing 747 -- is available but has no seasonal contract with the U.S. Forest Service, California or any other state.

At least temporarily, Hatton's big jets still are available on a call-when-needed basis -- with up to 24 hours of preparation time -- which is the same sort of contract that the state uses for large water-dropping helicopters.

But Hatton said he'll permanently ground both DC-10s and put them in storage unless the seasonal contract is reinstated or he can find another state or nation willing to hire them.

"Call-when-needed (contracts) may work for helicopters and smaller aircraft with alternative uses, but it will not sustain a ... a single-purpose large tanker," Hatton wrote Sunday to Andy Murray, Cal Fire's chief of fire protection. "Simply put, when the phone rings, the (DC-10) provider will have gone elsewhere.

"This is not a threat. It is an economic imperative."

Cal Fire has no wiggle room, its officials said.

The cancellation amounts to the best choice among poor alternatives, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Janet Upton. This season, the agency cut its engine crews from four people to three. Next season, the agency plans to eliminate five bulldozers and two fire engines. But officials are trying to avoid deeper cuts, including station closures.

The goal is to protect Cal Fire's ability to snuff out small fires before they become large.

Yet the DC-10 is fitted with enormous fire-retardant tanks specifically to fight large fires.

"It's important," Upton said, "but has very narrow applications.

"Nobody is happy about cutting this."

Reach Richard Brooks at 909-518-4979 or rbrooks@PE.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Grass B assignmnet, Kern County and LA County Tackle Wildfire

Los Angeles County Fire Department responded a full grass B assignment into Kern County along between 140th and 150th Street west and Ave A near Neenach. Appriximately 30 acres were burned. Photos Jeff Zimmerman

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Thunderstorms Cause Power Outages, Neenach CA

Yesterday the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstrom warning for the Antelope Valey capable of producing nickel sized hail, the storm height was 28,000 foot AGL and CAPE at 2000 j/kg at 65 DBZ. Convective available potential energy (CAPE) ,[1] sometimes, simply, available potential energy (APE), is the amount of energy a parcel of air would have if lifted a certain distance vertically through the atmosphere. CAPE is effectively the positive buoyancy of an air parcel and is an indicator of atmospheric instability, which makes it valuable in predicting severe weather.Damaging winds above 70 mph sheared several power poles along 60th Street West above Highway 138 near the Kern/LA County line near Neenach.

Photos Copyright Jeff Zimmerman, Zimmerman Media LLC,