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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mountain Wildfire Destroys Homes

State, Federal and Local Government fire fighters are moving in to try and tackle the Mountain Fire in Riverside County. Units from Riverside County, Orange County, Los Angeles County, Ventura County, Kern County, United States Forest Service, BLM, Corona, CAL EMA and Cal Fire have been working around the clock to save structures in the Lake Hemet area.
Winds have shifted today making the fire very dangerous for area residents or Garner Valley east of Lake Hemet. Three residential structures, three mobile homes, 6 vehicles and 11 outbuildings have been destroyed by the 14,000 acre Mountain Fire in Riverside County.
Firefighters from numerous State, County and Federal agencies are trying to surround a monstrous wildfire that started near the intersection of Highway 243 and Highway 74 east of Hemet and just south of Idyllwild. The fire jumped Highway 243 in several places and then moved east to destroy homes in Apple Canyon and Bonita Vista.
The fire started at 1:43 PM  on July 15 and has no signs of slowing. Some monsoonal moisture may come from the south on Friday, but monsoonal moisture also brings the chance of lightning and strong winds which may hamper firefighting efforts. The fire has gone over the desert divide and for a time appeared to be moving towards the Palm Springs area. The fuels in the Lake Hemet area consist of heavy brush and timber at the higher elevations. 

Riverside County and Cal Fire crews were also busy last night with a very fast moving grass fire in San Timeteo Canyon near Redlands BLVD. Approximately one hundred firefighters were trying to hold the fire last night from jumping to the west over Redlands Blvd. Sweltering temperatures and low relative humidity have made the area very prone to wildfire. This year it is paramount to have good clearance of dry vegetation from homes in California. 

 Photos Copyright Jeff Zimmerman

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fatal Crash, Pine Canyon

I responded to a vehicle roll over in the 25280 block of  Pine Canyon Road just east of Three Points Road on Saturday July 13, 2013, one vehicle was over turned, the driver was deceased. Several alcoholic cans and bottles were found around the vehicle. This stresses the importance of don’t drink and drive programs. This was a very graphic accident so I am only sending images that do not show the victim, I covered him with my sleeping bag before LA County Fire Units arrived.

Alcohol may have played a role in the crash that killed a Lancaster man who drove his car off a Lake Hughes road, through a chain link fence and into a tree, a California Highway Patrol officer said. John E. Cubano, 47, was pronounced dead at the scene. Please contact CHP Officer J. Bone for more information of the Newhall Office.

The accident occurred Saturday, just before sunset. Mr. Cubano was driving westbound on Pine Canyon Road "possibley under the influence of an alcoholic beverage and at an unsafe speed for the prevailing roadway, and crossed into the eastbound lane of traffic and onto the dirt shoulder south of the eastbound lane of traffic and collided into a dirt embankment," Bone said.

Cubano's 2000 VW Jetta "continued westbound on the dirt shoulder and collided with a chain link fence," Bone said. The car continued westbound and crashed into a tree on the driver's side, overturned and finally stopped, also on the driver's side.

Copyright: Jeff Zimmerman

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Young Men and Fire, A Race Against Time!

August 5, 1949 wildland firefighters called smoke jumpers parachute into Mann Gulch in Helena Montana to suppress a  lightning sparked wildfire. It was a hot 97 degree afternoon with turbulent winds blowing up from the Missouri River, the fire danger scale was at 74; 74 brands out of 100 would start new fires in light flashy fuels. Norman Maclean published manuscript depicts Wagner Dodge and his crews fate in the Book Young Men and Fire. As the crew tried to hike in to make indirect attack down a long chute, they are over taken by fire in a blow up at 5:56 PM. It is estimated that 3,000 acres burned in 10 minutes, no man could outrun this type of fire.

July 6,1994 the South Canyon Fire took the lives of 14 wildland firefighters on Storm King Mountain, near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It is often also referred to as the "Storm King" fire a small lightning strike that burns out of control when the wind pick up in intensity. Firefighters would once again run from perilous flames up a steep gulch lined in Gambel Oak near the town of Glenwood Springs Colorado. Author John Maclean writes about this crew in a book titled Fire on the Mountain, a well written book with tragic similarities to his fathers publication.

In July of 2013, I unfortunately record tragedy, as it has struck at the Granite Mountain Hotshots in the small town of Yarnell Arizona. Once again a lightning sparked wildfire was blown out of control by fierce winds that overtook 19 men on a steep mountainside in light flashy fuels. There was no where to escape, no where to find refuge from torrential and deadly fingers of flame.

Once more we are called to remember a crews bravery and a horrific account of intolerable loss. These men died trying to save the towns of Yarnell and Peeples Valley in AZ. There is no greater Love than to lay down your life in a selfless sacrifice to save lives and property for complete strangers. The hotshots hiked into a fire where every one else was fleeing, no questions asked.

America took notice of theses hometown heroes, their sacrifice and their families losses Tuesday in a public service in Prescott Valley. Over 6,000 people came from Coast to Coast to pay their respects.

A sea of firefighters came in dress black, blue, green, and tan uniforms, it did not matter what color of fabric, nor agency patch nor badge or rank, it was an impressive show of solidarity, connected by a common thread that binds us all, fire.

Firefighters came from California to Florida, Oregon to New York, and our neighbors to the north from British Columbia. Firefighters will all types of experience, wildland firefighters, structural firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and law enforcement officers.

The memorial service planned to perfection, hopefully was a step in the right direction to start the recovery and healing process that I am all too familiar with. I know the families have unbearable grief to contend with. Women have lost husbands, children have lost fathers, mothers and fathers have lost their sons, sisters have lost brothers. It is a tragic ending to a tale of disproportionate size.

The Vice President of The United States, Joe Biden, Senators, Governor Jan Brewer, the Mayor and other distinguished public sector personnel where in attendance. The entire town stopped to pay their respects, flag strewn streets and memorabilia lining the fence of the hot shot base were in full display. It was truly a heroes tribute to behold.

Honor guards saluted the families on their departure as we wish them our most solemn condolences and we thank them for their son's sacrifice. Private funerals an interments started yesterday.

Photos copyright Jeff Zimmerman.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lebec Fire Holding at 300 Acres

A fast moving wildfire in Lebec CA consumed 300 acres of tinder dry grass and brush near Lebec Oaks Rd just west of Interstate 5 in Kern County. A massive assault with air tankers and ground forces was able to hold the fire check in approximately three hours today.

Very high temperatures and low relative humidity has been plaguing us in CA Zone 259. Hot dry weather is still in store most of the week as another ridge of high pressure develops.

A crewman from Kern County Fire Department Helicopter 308 backs off a fast moving wall of flame near Lebec Oaks Road.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Equine Rescue, Los Angeles County Fire Department Station 130

Excessive heat is not only taking its toll on people, it is taking a direct hit on animals that are in need of shade and adequate water and cooling in the Antelope Valley. Record breaking temperatures for over a week have peeked and hopefully we will see some cooling. Nevertheless firefighters and rescue personnel caution people about the heat and to never leave pets or animals in confined spaces without adequate cooling and nourishment. 

Last week the Los Angeles County Fire Department Heavy Rescue Team at Fire Station 130 was summoned to help a veterinarian lift a horse who was in distress in triple digit temperatures. Rescue crews used a sling devised by UC Davis and a block and tackle to try and raise the horse into a standing position. The horse weighed approximately 800 pounds. I am unsure if the horse survived since it was extremely ill. Contact Fire Station 130 for further information.

Also during the Fourth of July celebration animals do not do well near loud fire work displays. Just a note of caution. We also have increased risk of wildfires with all the heat and up-coming fireworks so we will be ever vigilant this coming week. Photo copyright Jeff Zimmerman 2013.

The Moral Equivalency of War

I am walking over hallowed ground today in several inches of ash and soot to merely reflect. I reflect on those young people who have lost their lives combating wildfires across the west. Names that have been permanently seared into our memories by wildfire.

The ground I walk on is hallowed because people have died here, a battlefield of wins and insurmountable losses, a theatre of battle filled with courage, commitment and uncommon valor. Reflecting all the while the wind blows ash through the remains of burnt brush in sweltering heat.

Hot shots unconditionally go to the hottest part of a blaze at the request of an incident commander. Hot shots are usually young physically fit ground pounders who work seasonally across the western US combating wildfires. They are trained to fight fire aggressively with 50 pounds of gear on their backs.

However when dangerous fuels, weather and topography get into critical alignment, tragedy can happen at a moments notice. No amount of training and fitness can prepare you to survive in catastrophic blow up.

Firefighters rely on chiefs and command staff to give them assignments and then they assume risk to protect life, property and the environment. They fight, and as in combat they can fall short and pay the ultimate sacrifice for public service.

No amount of protective clothing or layers of foil lined fire shelters can protect them, they rely on instinct, intuition, training and sometimes sheer luck to find escape routes. As in war if escape routes are cut off, the reality of combat sets in.

We learn from these events as we move on, putting names on a wall of honor or monument for others to remember. Ashcroft, Caldwell, Carter, Derford, MacKenzie, Marsh, McKee, Misner, Norris, Parker, Percin, Rose, Steed, Thurston, Turbyfill, Warneke, Whitted, Woyjeck, Zuppiger, all young, all with bright futures, and all with a tragic story; a story to bind them eternally in the fire community.

These men join the ranks of Prineville and El Cariso and other brave hot shots, Barnhill, Beck, Bickett, Blecha, Brinkley, Browning, Chee, Dunbar, Figlo, Hagen, Hill, Holtby, Johnson, Kelso,  Mackey, Moore, Morreland, Roth, Shilcutt, Thrash, Tyler, Verdugo, Waller, White .

Names never to be forgotten.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Tragedy in Arizona, Granite Mountain Hot Shots Killed in the Line of Duty

Numerous reports are coming in of a tragic fire called the Yarnell Hill fire, a lightning sparked blaze near Prescott Arizona, June 30, 2013. Preliminary reports are that 19 firefighters have perished and only 1 crew member has survived the blaze. Dry lightning and dangerous outflow accompanied with erratic fire behavior may be the cause of fire line deaths. It is way to early to tell the official cause of the line of duty deaths.

Monsoonal moisture has also arrived today July 1, 2013 over Southern California which may also sound the alarm for dry lightning concerns in the dry mountains and deserts of California. With dangerous outflows surrounding thunderstorms firefighters must use extreme caution since winds became unpredictable around these storms.

I was talking to retired Forest Service fire legend Will Spyrison the other day just about such tragedies and using LCES and other acronyms to keep firefighters safe. I told Will that in 1979 I came up with a simple acronym "STOP, to help me understand fire attack. "Stop" stands for: Size -Up, Think about alternatives, Observe fire weather and fire conditions, Predict Outcomes of attack methods, direct, in-direct or taking no action at all.

Of course we always want a safety zone and good anchor point to begin fire attack, but on occasion I found myself working in fuels that were way over my head, tinder dry, live to dead ratios of over 60% in very old and dangerous fuels. Spot fires were always a problem and I often times had an uncomfortable feeling just to back off a bit during fire attack and get a bigger picture of the fire.

Understanding daily fire weather patterns and fire regimes was also a great concern and still is a major consideration of mine on any fire.

Being young I used to jump on every fire without much thought. The older I got, the fires became much bigger, more difficult to fight, weather patterns have changed and fires are growing into unbelievable monsters with extreme rates of spread.

As a hot shot, I was told just to keep slamming in line, not to ask many questions and just listen to very basic directions. The more experience I got, I realized the only one really responsible for my life was myself. Yes crew continuity was a good thing, but some members lost site of weather, fuels, slope and fire spread concerns. Past history lessons are a really a good predictor of future fire line tragedies. So I delve into old fires and their history stories to better understand the future.

Will and I were discussing Inci-notes and other ways to keep firefighters safe. So it is with great sadness I read the news about the Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew. This is a huge loss of life in an era where we discuss safety and fire weather in routine conversations.

Sometimes, "I hate to say it " just take some time to back off and let a dangerous fire make its run and just work on flanking actions. I know fighting fire aggressively is very important, unfortunately some times things just go tragically wrong even with highly trained crews.

With this being said, it is with my most sincere condolences for the families who have experienced such a tragic loss. We continue the fight for safety and hopefully something good will come out of this horrific tragedy.