Sunday, June 22, 2008

400 Fires Burn in Northern California

Heat Wave and Lightning Strikes Feed Fires

Los Angeles (June 22, 2008) -- Firefighters worked to contain some 400 wildfires burning across Northern California on Sunday as the state baked under a fourth day of an early summer heat wave that has strained the power grid and left residents wilted.

One structure was destroyed and 150 homes were evacuated near Fairfield, 40 miles (64 km) southwest of Sacramento, in the path of the worst of the fires, which blackened more than 3,500 acres (1,416 hectares) in wine-producing Napa County.

"The weather is, of course, very hot and dry here, and this fire quickly rolled up into some extremely steep terrain and became inaccessible. "

We're having trouble establishing control lines," said Battalion Chief David Shew of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He said the blaze was about 10 percent contained as of Sunday morning and that crews were hoping for a break as triple-digit temperatures began to ease and cooler off-shore breezes returned.

Most of the hundreds of fires scattered across Northern California were started by dry lightning strikes during thunder storms that moved across the state on Friday.

"Those evil clouds are wreaking havoc across the state," Mike Jarvis, deputy director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said of the dry lightning. "There's no moisture in them and when they hit it's not like they put themselves out."

In a 24-hour period beginning on Friday, some some 5,000 to 6,000 dry lightning strikes were recorded across the region, leaving crews scrambling to keep up with spot fires.

"We do have significant numbers of fires that are completely unstaffed as of yet," Shew said. "We don't have sufficient resources to send to every one of them, so they'll just have to pick them up as we can."

California has cooked for four days under a severe heat wave that has drive temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) across much of the state.Beaches were swamped with Californians seeking relief, and in Southern California power was lost to some communities as the power grid was strained by residents turning up air conditioners and fans to beat the heat.

Resources: CalFire

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Chantry Flat Fire

Chantry Flat Fire
Originally uploaded by *Flora

(Sierra Madre, CA) A Los Angeles County Fire Department FireHawk helicopter drops water on a brush fire near Arcadia, California. In Northern California near Santa Cruz the Trabing Fire is now reported to 90 percent contained as of Saturday morning. The blaze, which broke out just before 2 p.m. Friday has burned about 630 acres in a 1,000-acre perimeter.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mississippi River Flood:

Mississippi River Flood: Clarksville Missouri 6.17.2008
Originally uploaded by Notley

Clarksville, Missouri (June 17, 2008) -- Like they did in 1993, the residents of Clarksville have turned out to assist one another in building sandbag walls to hold back the rising Mississippi. But weather forecasters are predicting the C-ville will encounter a more significant event than in 1993.

As flood waters move closer to St. Louis and join with the Missouri and Illinois Rivers, they enter the gauntlet which is St. Louis' Levee system. The levees bottleneck the river, backing waters into low lying communities north of the city.

Photos courtesy: Notley Hawkins

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Remembering The Great Flood of 1993

Current flooding is a replay of 1993's disaster.

by: Lou Angeli
photos by: Andrea Booher (FEMA)

St. Louis, MO (June 17, 2008) -- The swollen Mississippi River is expected to crest late this week in St. Louis and nearby communities. But record or near-record river levels are already being reached along the Mississippi north of the St. Louis area, where residents fill sandbags and seek higher ground as slowly rising water brings new worries to already soaked communities.

Just 15 years ago, there was a similar scenario, one that became known as the Great Flood of 1993. During that disaster the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois Rivers reached biblical flood proportions, with researchers referring to it as the 500 year flood.

Has 500 years already passed?

St. Louis, MO -- (June, 1993) After 2 months of unending Spring rains, Old Man River finally rebels. Runoff from storms in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois forces the Mississippi well over its banks. The same river that left behind fertile valleys after hundreds of previous floods, reclaims the land with savage fury. Along the Mississippi River in St. Louis, the waters are so high, that they nearly reach the base of the Gateway arch, 5 stories above flood stage.

In the aftermath, experts called it the most devastating flood in US history. During the Great Flood of 93, fifty lives were lost and property damage exceeded $20 billion, making it the second most costly US disaster ever.

Weather forecasters blamed it on a stalled Bermuda high pressure system, but locals simply referred to it as bad luck. With floodwaters rising at a rate of 1 foot per day, The US Army Corps of Engineers were able to provide adequate warning to communities along each affected river. Some families were forced to evacuate -- others chose to relocate -- but many decided to remain and stand their ground.

In early July 1993, as flood waters crept into low-lying areas, many residents began a race against the clock. But holding back steadily rising rivers wouldn't be an easy task. To be successful, communities needed help.
During these early stages of the flood, hundreds of sandbagging operations were taking place throughout the St. Louis metro area. It was a scene that was repeated in communities throughout Missouri and Southern Illinois. In river towns all along the flood plain, citizens prepared for the worst

On July 6th, I was given a long-term assignment with a simple mission statement -- videotape the flood. But it wasn't long before word leaked that I had some disaster experience and I was drafted to serve as an aide to Captain Vince Wright (STLFD Squad-2). It was my job to serve as a liaison between emergency services and FEMA as well as the Salvation Army.

I knew very little about the area, which extended from Hannibal to the North, to Cape Girardeau in the South, roughly the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco. FEMA provided me with a fire department Suburban, a few old ESSO maps and a cellular phone. I was told to report back on conditions in the field.

Everywhere I drove -- everywhere -- folks were sandbagging. Children, the elderly tourists -- anyone who could fill a bag and toss it onto the levee. On the first day it took me 14 hours to make my rounds. On the second day I was able to shave-off an hour. By the third day, I was assigned to tour the area in a helicopter.

From the air, the Great Flood lived up to its name. It was still early July, but it was clear to emergency personnel that within weeks the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers would overflow their banks in a very big way.

In Spanish Lake, a small village just North of St. Louis, over 1500 volunteers joined local residents to build a 12-foot flood wall – 2500 ft. in length. Their mission: to save a nursing home, a church and half dozen residences.

Chopper Pilot Rich Barkledge and I decide to make this our first stop, and he eases the unmarked Jet Ranger onto a landing zone prepared by local firefighters. Soon after we land, the leaders of this renegade band of baggers stop us cold dead.

"We need sand! We need bags! We need food and cool drinks!” And one final plea, “We desperately need porta-potties!"

Fire service and law enforcement were serving in their best capacity. Keeping the homes secure and the sandbaggers safe. If OSHA or NIOSH were here, though, they'd close this site down in a nanosecond. I made some quick calculations, and noted that the 1000 plus sandbaggers were working in polluted waters on a haphazard dam some 10 feet below the water line.

If a "blowout" were to take place, it would take at least 100 emergency personnel to make rescues and safely evacuate the area. I glanced over at the standby emergency team -- a 4-man engine company, 2-person medic unit, 2 deputy sheriffs, and a retired Salvation Army captain. I shook my head, and never allowed that thought to enter my mind again.

Wall of Wonder

During the next few weeks, Spanish Lake was to be our "first" and "last" stop each and every day. Like so many, we were convinced that the folks here could hold back the river.

Building the sandbag wall was a monumental task: Hundreds of truckloads of sand were used to fill nearly 2-million sandbags. Medics gave out hundreds of injections to protect volunteers against hepatitis. Relief agencies served thousands of meals. It was a Wall of Wonder, with its own designer, a retired bridge engineer.

The town became the gathering place for international media. In fact, there were more satellite uplink trucks than dump trucks -- more camera crews than firefighters or police officers -- and enough still photographers that a local camera shop was selling film from the back of a rented van.

There were volunteers from throughout the world, many devoting their time while vacationing in the Gateway city. One couple in particular, newlyweds from Bradford, England, had arrived directly from Lambert-St. Louis International. Another family from Auckland, New Zealand claimed a certain section of the wall for the folks down under. Everyone who worked at Spanish Lake signed their own bag, and that section remains as a memorial to all of the volunteers, who devoted their time and energy to holding back the 500 year Flood.

Three generations of the Scott family, who lived in these homes, kept a constant vigil around the clock. I know, they'd page me at 3 AM to ask for shovels, sand and bags. During the course of 4 weeks, I signed for tens of thousands of dollars in emergency resources, and this was just one location out of dozens.

Losing The Battle

But the floodwaters just kept rising and rising, and the wall couldn't be built strong enough or fast enough. Leaks developed, and the super saturated ground prevented volunteers from working safely. Finally, during the last week of July, the town's Fire Chief gave the order to abandon the effort

To say this was an emotional moment for the volunteers and families is an understatement. After 30 long days, time and hope had run out. No one questioned the decision, though. Instead, volunteers retreated to safer, higher ground, popped open beverages donated by the local brewery giant, and celebrated a victory of the human spirit.

A few days later the river won and floodwaters overran the wall, inundating the church and all of the homes. Over 6,000 people had come here to assist the Scott family, and each year, on the anniversary of the flood, the Scotts send out thousands of cards of thanks.

Onto Other Problems

This scene was repeated every day for weeks. Grafton, West Alton, Potage des Sioux, St. Charles, Valmeyer – they were all inundated by flood waters, some 20 feet deep.On August 3rd, Captain Vince Wright, Pilot Rich Barkladge, and I were surveying areas downstream of St. Louis from the helicopter, which had become home.

I hear the pilot's voice through the headset, “Guys, we can make it in 15 minutes.”

As news choppers circled, we dropped down to 100 ft. for a closer look. I stepped onto the skid, and shot that evening's lead national story. The levee had been breeched, and the 24 square mile island was filling so fast, that many residents were trapped.

Along with a helo from USCG Station St. Louis, we began picking up trapped residents and flying them to the relative safety of the West levee, where the Army had set up an evacuation ferry. It didn't take long for floodwaters to fill farmlands and the town itself. Kaskaskia was gone in less than two hours.

We landed on Main Street to check businesses for any strays. No one in sight. But as we were about to lift-off, we noticed a lone woman with three Holsteins in tow. As was our routine, Vince tossed the coin. And as usual, I lost and got to stay behind.

As the crew lifted the farmwoman to safety, I led the cows to the safest (and highest) place I could find -- the Catholic Church. As we walked down the aisle together, all four mooing, I tied the bovine churchgoers to the main altar. The Coast Guard led them out a week later. They survived the flood, but I doubt that they survived the butcher.

Later that day, while returning to the St. Louis Fire Department helipad, we watched as another levee had been breeched, and was quickly overrunning a nicely kept farm. As the owner sat on a nearby hill, he watched as the river swept away his home, furnishings, farm buildings and heavy equipment. I can never forget that scene, nor the lethal blow that Mother Nature dealt that man and tens of thousands like him.



(1) FEMA
(2) The Salvation Army

Posted in memory of my partners during the Summer of 1993, Captain Vincent Wright and Pilot Rich Barkledge

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Arsonists Busy In Delaware

Wilmington, DE (June 4, 2008) -- First State firefighters have been extremely busy for the past 18 months. In fact, Delaware departments have been called out to more arson fires than ever, nearly twice the national average according to the FBI.

The more serious arson jobs end up as “working fires,” complete with heavy black smoke, red hot flames and fire police closing down highways. It’s the type of response that requires more personnel and more equipment, making the fireground a very busy place. Word on the web is that there’s plenty of action in tiny Delaware, so much so that fire buffs from as far away as New England have been setting up weekend photo junkets to the First State.

In a recent
News-Journal article, reporter Terri Sanginiti writes, "In Delaware, an arson is committed just about every day, statistics show. The state has averaged 364 arson investigations in each of the past five years, including 328 in 2007." Kudos to the state's fire investigators who have one of the nation's highest conviction rates on a a crime that is the most difficult to prove.

A Serious Danger to Firefighters

More serious arson blazes aren’t your run of the mill room and contents job. Fire-setters use flammable liquids and tri-nasty chemicals to create a blaze so intense, that it destroys as much property as possible, while at the same time wiping away any evidence of foul play. Inside the structure the fire cooks until it reveals itself to the outside world.

By the time someone spots the flames and dials 9-1-1, the arson fire has had a head start and may have reached the fully developed stage. The room of origin heats quickly as fingers of flame roll across the ceiling, reach out into adjoining rooms and upward into the attic. As companies begin to arrive and go to work, frontline crews face a firefighter’s greatest fear – Flashover.

That’s what happened yesterday (06/03/08) to firefighters responding to a house fire in Hamilton Park, an area which borders Wilmington’s Southbridge section and is protected by Holloway Terrace Fire Company. A county police officer on routine patrol reported a house fire with “smoke conditions,” and dispatchers relayed her conservative size-up to first responding Engine 205.

As the operator brought the E-One to a stop at New Castle Avenue to take a wrap around the hydrant, dark, billowing smoke was venting through every crack and crevice in the 70 year old balloon construction home some 100 yards down the street. The first-in officer radioed heavy smoke and fire, a report that prompted other responding apparatus operators to forget about $5 per gallon diesel prices, push the pedal to the floor and lay on the air horn at intersections.

With the fire now venting through the roof, two hoseteams made entry. But the incredible build up of BTU’s ignored their 175 gallon per minute streams and spit the flames back into their faces. Rather than risk his crews on a vacant home, the Incident Commander issued the order to evacuate the structure, and the operation smoothly transitioned to an exterior attack.

And that’s the problem with arson fires. When companies arrive, there’s no way to distinguish between a torch job and a “legitimate” house fire, the kind with trapped occupants. Regardless of how the fire initiated, during those first minutes firefighters must risk their lives to conduct a thorough search. The burning building is cleared only when the incident commander is convinced that there is no life safety issue.

Some experts suggest that the number of arson fires will increase in coming years because of the current economic situation and pending recession. As homeowners face foreclosures and SUV owners are stuck with the $600 per month payments on their monster H2 Hummers, a crazy few will attempt to collect on insurance policies by taking match to their property.

Freakin’ arsonists – why can’t they be more considerate and go that extra step? Hang a sign on the mailbox which says, “Arson Fire – No Need To Search.” In my mind, because of the danger to firefighting crews, every arson charge should come with a bonus "attempted murder" indictment.

And for the fire buffs who’ve been making the rounds, Delaware’s volunteer firefighters are some of the best trained in the country, so photograph their good side.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Universal Studio Fire Station #51

Studio Lot Fire Station
Originally uploaded by NRJ IMAGERY

Station 51 is located on the lot of Universal Studios. Interiors for the 70's series "Emergency" were filmed on the Universal lot, but station exteriors were filmed at Station 127 in Wilmington near Los Angeles Harbor.

Fire at Universal Studios

Fire at Universal Studios 01
Originally uploaded by Yenvious
Video from the Universal Studios fire shows that the LA County Fire Department had their hands full. Firefighters did an outstanding job of keeping the fire from spreading to adjacent studios and structures.