Wildfire today – news and opinion about wildland fire

While battling the Mendocino Complex, which has become the largest wildfire in the recorded history of California, the Santa Clara Fire Department deployed OES Incident Support Unit 5262, a command and control resource. Its primary function is to track, organize, and prioritize routing of resources from around the state and country to the sites where they are most needed. OES 5262 relies heavily on the internet to do near-real-time resource tracking.

While fighting the fire the County discovered the Verizon data connection for OES 5262 was being throttled. Data rates had been reduced to 1/200th, or less, than the previous speeds. Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a court filing that the “reduced speeds severely interfered with the OES 5262’s ability to function effectively”.

The County has signed on to a legal effort to overturn the Federal Communication Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules.

Despite having paid for what it thought was an unlimited data plan, the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District saw its data flow “throttled” down to 1/200th of its usual speed as it fought the complex — now the biggest wildfire in state history — because Verizon officials said it had exceeded its plan limit, district Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote. This primarily hampered a specialized vehicle the department depends on to coordinate its machinery and staff in such emergencies, and Bowden said that put his battalions at risk.

Without full-speed service for the high-tech command and communications rig, which goes by the arcane name of OES 5262, Bowden wrote, “resources could be deployed to the wrong fire, the wrong part of a fire, or fail to be deployed at all. Even small delays in response translate into devastating effect, including loss of property, and, in some cases, loss of life.

An article published by C|NET on August 9 does a good job of comparing “unlimited” plans offered by Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T. Of the 10 plans described, all except one have data limits, while the one that does not, limits speed used on hotspots to only 3G. Everyone is now used to 4G speeds. 5G, with much higher data rates, is just around the corner. The companies disguise how speeds will be greatly reduced after a data limit is obtained, by using words like “prioritize your data”, “deprioritized”, or just blatantly saying “customer may temporarily experience reduced speeds on these line(s) during times of network congestion”. It likely that during an emergency that affects a large number of citizens, “network congestion” will occur.

We have written many times about the “Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighting Safety”, knowing the real time location of the fire and firefighters. Depending on how these systems are configured they could rely on data delivered through the internet. If that data stream is throttled by 1/200th, is cut off, or becomes unreliable, the safety of firefighters and the public could be threatened.

In Oregon there are 15 large ongoing fires and 231,278 acres have been burned as of August 20, 2018. The satellite image above shows several of the larger fires in both Oregon as well as California. California has 10 large fires including the two largest to date, the Ferguson fire and the Mendocino Complex. California has seen 716,276 acres burned this year.

In Oregon, the Taylor Creek and Klondike Fires are burning in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Both fires were started by lightning on July 15. These two fires were split into zones on Saturday, Aug. 18. The fires are now referred to as “Taylor Creek and Klondike East Fires,” managed by the Alaska Incident Management Team and the “Klondike West Fire” which is managed by California Interagency Incident Management Team 4. California Interagency was called in to continue with the aggressive fight to fully suppress the fire. That will allow the Alaska Incident Management Team to focus its effort on controlling the southeast corner of the fire that is directly threatening the communities of Selma and Cave Junction. As of the morning of Aug. 20, the Taylor Creek Fire is estimated 52,588 acres and is 79 percent contained. The Klondike Fire is estimated at 72,074 acres and is 28 percent contained.

The Miles Fire is the new name for the fire previously named the Sugar Pine. The Miles Fire and Sugar Pine fire have merged. On Sunday July 15, lightning started hundreds of fires across Southwest Oregon. The Miles fire has currently affected 47,015 and is 38% contained at present. Today some instability will swing into the area with the threat of some isolated showers or a thunderstorm. Continued smoke in the valleys will moderate daytime temperatures but will also continue to affect air quality for local communities.

In California, right on the Oregon/California line between Happy Camp, CA and Cave Junction, OR is the Natchez fire which has been burning since lightning struck on July 15, 2018. The 697 personnel assigned to the incident are working to implement suppression actions that will most effectively and safely limit fire growth. Currently 20,275 acres have burned and the fire is 70% contained. Fire area closures are in place on the Rogue River-Siskiyou and Klamath National Forests.