While some vocal interests have blamed chaparral as causing the wildfire problem in California, the stories below clearly show that the real issue is poorly designed and maintained communities next to the wildland/urban interface. Wildfires driven by strong winds do not need much fuel to cause significant damage. These stories are being posted to help portray the entire wildfire risk equation.
But first a simple parody...
THE HEALTHY GRASS INTITIATIVE
(a parody of the Healthy Forest Initiative)
Inspired by terrible grass fires in Texas and Oklahoma in 2005/06, a major initiative is in the works to help reduce wildfire risk in, and improve the health of, our nation’s grasslands and weedy places. Due to decades of fire suppression and environmental regulations, grasses have been unnaturally accumulating, creating mousehair thickets, which have led to an increase in large, severe wildfires. The devastation in the Oklahoma fires is just the beginning of what we will see if government action is not taken to correct past land management mistakes. In addition, environmentalists have unreasonably blocked many development and parking lot projects that could have eliminated many areas now covered in flammable, weedy material. A balance is needed between the needs of our communities and so called “wilderness values.” The Healthy Grass Initiative (HGI) will help bring this balance.
Prescribed fires are one of the methods described in the HGI to remove hazardous vegetation, however, there is not enough money in the world to burn all that needs to be burned. Therefore, part of the HGI will assist in providing public subsidies to build the infrastructure needed to create biomass energy plants near grassland areas. The grass will be mowed and sent to these plants to provide cheap energy to surrounding communities. Since the grass mowing will be needed on a year-round basis, the economic growth associated with the effort will also provided employment and additional housing to help address the housing crisis. Opportunities for methane production by using cattle to eat the unnatural amount of grass will also stimulate technological advances in bovine flatus reclamation.
The government created the grassland problem, so it is the government’s moral responsibility to solve it!
There is, of course, no such thing as the Healthy Grass Initiative. It is a parody on the Healthy Forest Initiative and those who advocate elimination of chaparral instead of dealing directly with wildfire risk by making communities themselves more fire safe.
The fact that tens of thousands of acres in Texas and Oklahoma have burned, and continue to burn in light, grassy fuels will hopefully enlighten those who think the only reason homes burn is because of “unhealthy” forests and chaparral. This issue is important because some continue to point to vegetation overgrowth (supposedly caused by fire suppression) as the reason homes burn.
Hopefully one message will be taken home from those who have watched the news: “You mean all those weeds that I encouraged to grow by clearing native vegetation off my property can burn my house down too?”
Grass fires cause tough day in Texas
Flames devour Main Street in one town
By Sheila Flynn, Associated Press, January 3, 2006
Grass fire in Oklahoma. AP Photo.
RINGGOLD, Texas – Emergency crews went house to house in a search for victims in burned-out towns yesterday as firefighters in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma battled grass fires across the drought-stricken region.
Since Tuesday, fires have charred thousands of acres of grassland and farmland and destroyed more than 250 structures in the three states. Four deaths were reported last week in Texas and Oklahoma.
One of the weekend fires destroyed most of this ranch-and-cattle town of some 100 residents near the Oklahoma line, burning about 50 homes and 40,000 acres as wind swept the fire 13 miles from Ringgold to Nocona.
"It didn't take 30 minutes," Carol Ezzell said of the fire's run through town, destroying all but seven buildings on Main Street, including the post office.
She said the wind caused little fire tornadoes. "It was just turning, and every time it would make a loop it would just leap" and begin burning somewhere new, she said.
Everyone had been accounted for in Ringgold, but crews searched house to house for casualties in other fire-blackened towns, including Kokomo and Cross Plains, where more than 90 homes and a church were destroyed last week.
The Weather Service said conditions could worsen today, with low humidity and above-normal temperatures in the 70s in a region experiencing one of its worst droughts in 50 years.
Forecasters also predicted high winds, which make fighting the fires from the air more difficult.
"We are preparing statewide for an intense response (Tuesday), particularly from the ground," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said.
Computer models yesterday showed no rain in the foreseeable future, said Jesse Moore, a meteorologist in Fort Worth. He said the region's last appreciable rain was about a quarter-inch on Dec. 20.
Oklahoma is more than a foot behind its normal rainfall of about 36 inches for this time of year.
Firefighters remained on the job yesterday trying to contain several of the 20 fires that broke out the day before in Texas, including one in Eastland County, about 125 miles west of Dallas, that stretched for 25 miles. Firefighters said they were close to containing the fire but were concerned about an expected wind shift.
"Yesterday was a tough day in Texas," said Perry, in Nocona yesterday to survey the damaged area. "We had over 50,000 acres of land burned."
Since Nov. 1, Oklahoma wildfires have burned more than 285,000 acres and destroyed 200 buildings, said Michelle Finch, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department's forestry division.
"This has been an unprecedented year for fires," Finch said.
Fire season in Oklahoma usually begins around Feb. 15 and lasts until April 15, but this past year the fires began in June and have gotten progressively worse, Finch said.
Crews in southeastern New Mexico were helped by calmer winds yesterday as they mopped up four fires that had blackened more than 80,000 acres of grassland and burned 11 houses near Hobbs since Sunday.
The flames forced the evacuation of 200 to 300 people on the city's fringe, including about 170 from two Hobbs nursing homes. All but about 50 had returned home by midday yesterday, authorities said.
Oklahoma grass fire burns through a playground. Reported by CNN and Associated Press
Winds thwart helicopters
In Oklahoma, gusty winds prevented helicopters from flying and dropping water on the flames, said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
Ooten said Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters capable of pouring hundreds of gallons of water in one sweep would join firefighting efforts Wednesday if winds decrease.
Portion of news article by CNN, Wednesday, December 28, 2005; Posted: 6:48 a.m. EST (11:48 GMT)
Firefighter Fatalities in Crete, Greece
This is a common story where firefighters are overwhelmed by fire in fine, grassy fuels.
On July 11, 2007, three seasonal firefighters lost their life while firefighting near the village of Doxaro, in the prefecture of Rethymnon, in Crete. A fourth firefighter sustained extensive burns and is fighting for his life in a hospital in Athens.
The fire started at 13:20 in an area with low shrubby vegetation called “phrygana” bordering agricultural vegetation. According to the official announcement of the Greek Fire Corps, the total firefighting forces mobilized were 11 fire trucks with 30 firefighters, a Kamov-32 helicopter, two Canadair amphibian water bombers, and two handcrews of 8 firefighters each. It is unlikely that all these forces were on the fire at the time of the accident.
The fire was probably due to arson. Such events are common in Crete where shepherds regularly burn (illegally) the low thorny shrubs (mainly Sarcopoterium spinosum) on the overgrazed rocky land, in an effort to stimulate growth of new palatable forbs and grasses for their goats.
The wind was not very strong and fire behavior in the phrygana vegetation did not appear threatening.
The accident happened just before 17:00. Based on the images projected on TV reports and on interviews of firefighters immediately after the accident, the firefighters tried to control the fire at the bottom and left side of a narrow steep canyon, using hoses from a fire truck that had stopped midslope on an unpaved road. They achieved this and retreated back on the road while there were small flames at some points on the opposite site of the canyon where the vegetation had not burned.
Four firefighters of one of the two handcrews moved on that slope trying to extinguish these small flames with backpack pumps. At that moment the fire moved unexpectedly to unburned fuels under them at the bottom of the canyon. Helped by the nature of the fine fuels, the steep slope (more than 40%) and probably a wind gust, the fire became intense in seconds and started moving upslope towards the four firefighters. They started running but they made the choice to run along the steep slope moving further into the canyon where the fuels had not burned. The fire accelerated in the canyon behind them. They shouted for help on the radio. This is when their colleagues near the truck realized they were in grave danger but they could no react in the smoke-filled environment of the canyon.
The three firefighters fell after running for about 200 m. The fourth firefighter managed to climb a little further and protect himself in a little cave-like depression. According to the TV reports he suffered damage to his lungs in addition to receiving second degree burns over 40% of his body. His condition is still critical. According to the accounts of the firefighters who witnessed the evolution of the accident, the time between the blow-up and the fatality was not longer than five minutes. The four firefighters were 34 to 40 years old with 5-7 years of experience. According to their comrades they all were in good physical shape.
Although it will be a long time before any official investigation reports, it appears that the two main reasons behind this accident are topography (box-canyon, Y-shaped near the point where the firefighters fell) and light flashy fuels. A third factor that may have played a critical role, since it was mentioned in some witness reports, is the firefighting activity of the Kamov-32 helicopter which produces a very strong downdraft. If it did make a drop in the canyon close to the area where the firefighters were operating, it could very well be the cause of the fire spotting to unburned fuels below the four firefighters and starting the blow-up.
MARTINEZ – A fast-moving grass fire destroyed a home, damaged eight others and forced some evacuations before it was brought under control, officials said Saturday. Two firefighters were treated for minor injuries.
The wind-driven blaze started Friday afternoon near Highway 4 and grew tomabout 250 acres, briefly threatening a high school and a hospital beforembeing brought under control.
Officials ordered the evacuation of 20 people who lived nearby, and a voluntary evacuation was in effect in surrounding neighborhoods. More than 200 people streamed into an evacuation center at Martinez City Hall, where Red Cross volunteers provided meals.
The fire was battled by 200 firefighters and 50 trucks. Mop-up operations continued Saturday.
In addition to the two injured firefighters, who were released from the hospital Saturday, several residents complained of minor smoke inhalation. The cause remains under investigation.
Hot, windy conditions throughout June have recently fanned wildfires around the San Francisco Bay area. Earlier this month, a blaze in the North Bay suburb of Petaluma burned about 30 acres, destroyed one home, and injured three firefighters.
Martinez is about 30 miles northeast of San Francisco.