Oilfield workers on their way back to Alberta to resume oil sands production

This part of the disaster will waitRCMP photo

Workers for one of the largest oil sands companies affected by a massive wildfire in northern Canada will begin returning to the shuttered facilities on Thursday…

Meanwhile, the premier of the province of Alberta and the head of the Canadian Red Cross announced that residents of Fort McMurray, the oil-boom town that was evacuated last week because of the fire, would be offered direct financial aid.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau established a new ad hoc cabinet committee to coordinate federal relief efforts. Trudeau will tour the fire zone on Friday.

Ken Smith, President of Unifor Local 707, a union that represents 3,400 Suncor Energy Inc workers, said the company was starting to fly employees back to its oil sands base plant from Thursday.

“It will take a few days to get the plant up and in condition to start handling feed. The mine can get going as soon as the trucks and shovels are ready, but it will take the plant a bit longer to become functional,” Smith said…

Late Wednesday, Enbridge Inc said it had restarted its 550,000 barrel per day Line 18 pipeline after it was shut as a precaution. The line carries crude from Enbridge’s Cheecham terminal 380 kilometers south to the regional crude trading hub of Edmonton. Enbridge also said crews were on site at its facilities in the Fort McMurray region and confirmed its terminals were not damaged by the wildfire.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc was the first company to resume operations in the area, restarting its Albian Sands mines at a reduced rate. The facility can produce up to 255,000 bpd.

Syncrude, controlled by Suncor, restarted power generation at its oil sands mine in Aurora, north of the city, on Tuesday as it began planning to resume operations. The site has a total capacity of around 315,000 bpd.

I’m not surprised at the priorities established after this disaster. Dare I ask what percentage of profits will be allocated to rebuilding home and lives in Fort McMurray. Or will they continue to flow – like the oil – to benefit shareholders, first and foremost?

Wildfire reconnaissance drone flies test flight over Paradise fire

The National Park Service announced on its Facebook page on Friday than an unmanned aircraft system, otherwise known as a drone, took a test flight over the Paradise fire at Olympic National Park to gather infrared data…

Here’s the park’s statement from the Facebook page:

For the past week an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) was utilized on the Paradise Fire. The system was demonstrating possible applications in wildland fire management and suppression. UAS’s can supplement manned aircraft, especially at times of reduced visibility due to smoky conditions and at night when manned firefighting aircraft may be limited in flying.

The primary goal of the UAS on the Paradise Fire was to gather infrared information. This information assisted fire officials in pinpointing the fires perimeter and identifying areas of intense heat. The extremely large old growth trees in the area of the Paradise Fire create a thick canopy that makes mapping the perimeter and observing hotspots from the air very difficult without infrared capabilities.

This was an operational demonstration provided by Insitu, Inc. with no direct cost to the government. The demonstration was one of a series of ongoing missions to further UAS use on wildland fire in national parks and is part of an interagency strategy for UAS integration into wildland fire support. The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) allowed the use of their land for the aircraft launch and recovery site. The purpose of the demonstration was to show the capabilities and effectiveness of unmanned aircraft technology on wildland fires. The ultimate goal for UAS use on wildland fire is to supply incident management teams (IMT) with real-time data products, and information regarding fire size and growth, fire behavior, fuels, and areas of heat concentration. Additional applications, such as search and rescue and animal surveys, may be explored…

The ScanEagle UAS that was flown on the Paradise Fire weighed approximately 50 lbs with a wingspan of 10.2 feet. The UAS was only operated within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) temporary flight restriction (TFR) area. The TFR has been lifted.

Sensible, productive use. I hope our politicians can differentiate between this sort of test/work and go-pro joy rides by ego-smitten basement dwellers who hope to be the next YouTube hit.

In a few more days, I hope the data and analysis from a similar weeklong test in Idaho is released.

Track wildfires around the U.S.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 5.47.02 PM

Monitor wildfires with our interactive wildfires map. The flame icons represent wildfires currently active in the lower 48 states and Alaska. Hover over a given fire to see its name, and if you zoom in you’ll be able to see the outline of the area that’s burning — the so-called fire perimeter. If you click within the perimeter, a window pops up showing the fire’s size in acres, the amount by which the perimeter has grown or shrunk over the past 24 hours, the fraction of the fire that has been contained and other data. There’s also a link to an even more detailed report.

As temperatures warm and large parts of the U.S. become drier, wildfires are becoming more common and widespread — a trend likely to worsen thanks to climate change caused by human greenhouse gas emissions, as well as land use change and population growth. At the same time, population growth in and around lands that typically see wildfires may be responsible for increased losses from these blazes.

Worth checking out. Especially if you live – as I do – within a chunk of the prairie often threatened by wildfire.

Bipartisan group in Congress tries for wildfire preparedness – again

Ain’t enough water here to make tea — much less put out a fire

Efforts to address the upcoming wildfire season are already under way in Congress and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

On Jan. 8, Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., reintroduced H.R. 167, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. The bill aims to fund activities to suppress large fires so that the Forest Service and BLM do not have to draw money from fire-prevention programs. A spokesman for the office of Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said Crapo and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., plan to reintroduce their identical bill in the Senate early next month.

Last year, the bills were co-sponsored by nearly 150 members of Congress and supported by a broad coalition of more than 300 organizations, but did not make it out of committee to be voted on by the full House or Senate…

The bill would budget for catastrophic wildfires in the same way that responses to other natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes are funded. Routine wildland firefighting costs, which make up about 70 percent of the cost of wildfire suppression, would be funded through the normal budgeting and appropriations process. Very large fires, which represent about 1 percent of wildland fires but make up 30 percent of costs, would be funded under existing disaster programs.

The question that remains for Congressional Republicans is will they join Democrats to protect the lives and homes of Americans in regions threatened by wildfire? Comparing the threat to hurricanes and earthquakes means nothing to the idjit votes in Congress. Tea Party and other rightwing nutballs have already demonstrated their willingness to screw over Americans who suffer from natural disasters.

They have refused to support funds either for preparedness or post-disaster remedies. The usual proposal from the Congressional conservative clown show is that funds be taken away from food stamps, unemployment insurance, programs to implement healthcare, education and the general welfare of anyone below the rank of corporate official in our national hierarchy of importance – in order to fund aid to ordinary citizens whose lives have been uprooted by disaster.

Think this will change with Republicans in charge of legislation?

Helicopter refilling water for fire duty

water refill
Click to enlargeAP Photo/The Albuquerque Journal, Eddie Moore

A helicopter hovers over Monastery Lake as it takes on a load of water, Saturday, June 1, 2013 near Pecos, N.M. Fire crews in New Mexico on Saturday fought two growing wild blazes that have scorched thousands of acres, spurred evacuation calls for dozens of homes and poured smoke into the touristy state capital.

This is next to the Tres Lagunas fire about 20 miles east of where I live. The other major fire being worked at the same time is Thompson Ridge about 20 miles northwest of where I live. Often, the smoke collects in our valley overnight and I don’t even feel like going for a morning walk. The smoke is murder.

Eddie Moore’s photo is great. I see these choppers throughout the day as they come over to the Santa Fe Municipal Airport to refuel. Ain’t anyone complaining about the noise or frequency of their visits. They’re saving our buns. Each fire is up over 10,000 acres in size.

Wildfires rage in Colorado — thousands forced to flee their homes

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

A wildfire raging near some of Colorado’s most popular tourist sites grew suddenly more ferocious on Tuesday, forcing 32,000 people from their homes, prompting evacuations from the U.S. Air Force Academy and swallowing numerous houses at the edge of Colorado Springs…

“This is a fire of epic proportions,” Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown said as ash drifted down on the city, sirens wailed and the thick smell of smoke permeated the air.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper flew into the city Tuesday night by helicopter to meet with fire commanders and tour the fire zone first-hand. He noted that the blaze was one of at least a dozen burning throughout the state. Four people have died in Colorado wildfires so far this year.

“This is the worst fire season in the history of Colorado,” he said during an impromptu news conference, adding that from the air he saw many homes destroyed in a glowing landscape that looked “surreal.”

The Waldo Canyon Fire, which has roared through at least 6,200 acres of dry timber since Saturday, has grabbed attention for days because of its proximity to landmarks like the famed mountaintop of Pikes Peak and the Air Force Academy.

The blaze claimed its first property losses on Tuesday as wind-driven flames swept over containment lines into Colorado’s second-most populous city, consuming an unknown number of homes on the town’s outskirts as authorities hurried to evacuate residents…

The sudden closure of service stations along with other businesses, leaving fleeing motorists unable to fill up their cars, added to a sense of urgency as roads filled with traffic…Columns of vehicles carrying evacuees and hastily packed belongings stretched bumper-to-bumper for miles, crawling slowly southward out of town along Interstate 25…

Asked how quickly the fire was spreading after the latest flare-up on Tuesday afternoon, incident commander Rich Harvey said, “If I gave acreage right now, it would be wrong in five minutes. It’s growing…”

There is a quality of human behavior described as “spontaneous materialism”.

Colorado Springs is a national center, a focal point for Christian fundamentalism – especially the moralizing breed who spend their idle time advising every other living person on the planet how to live their lives. They prate about birth and death, sex and the absence of sex, they advise anyone in sight how to live their lives. They are self-important in their standards, profligate in advice about values. And in an older time I would expect to see a number of them kneeling before the approaching flames praying to their Jehovah to redirect the wildfires back upon their track of destruction.

Ain’t especially about to happen. Even folks dedicated to a religion of precedence – in a nation characterized by mediocre education – know enough not to waste their lives in what would be a foolish gesture. Foolish – if not insane. And of that I am glad.

Folks are in enough danger of losing homes and lives. They need not put responders, the brave folks risking their lives to save their fellows into greater danger to rescue nutballs who would walk into the furnace on behalf of an archaic belief system.

So, behave as any philosophical materialist would advise you and get your friends and family to safety. I’ll tease you about this – just a little – several years down the road when, hopefully, you’ve had time to resume a normal life.

Record NM wildfire studied to evaluate forest fire management

A wall of smoke advances across a vast swath of rugged country in southwestern New Mexico where the nation’s wilderness movement was born nearly a century ago…

…But to land managers and scientists, the record-setting blaze represents a true test of decades of work aimed at returning fire to its natural role on the landscape — a test that comes as many Western states grapple with overgrown forests, worsening drought and a growing prospect for more megafires…

Unlike last year’s megafires in New Mexico and Arizona, this blaze is burning in territory that has been frequently blackened under the watchful eye of the Gila’s fire managers.

Starting in the early 1970s, the Gila has been leading the way when it comes to implementing such an active fire management strategy. Instead of immediately dousing flames in the wilderness, forest managers have let them burn as long as conditions are favorable.

The question that the Whitewater-Baldy fire is expected to answer is whether that strategy will pay off with more natural, less intense fires.

“There’s a great opportunity here to study a fire like this,” said Matthew Rollins, the wildland fire science coordinator with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Center in Virginia.

“The opportunity exists to look at how this fire has behaved differently in terms of vegetation mortality, effects on wildlife and fish habitat and water quality,” Rollins said. “We can study how it burned in the wilderness relative to areas with other types of fire management strategies and other types of ignition patterns.”

So far, the word from the fire lines is that the majority of the 227,000-acre blaze has burned with low to moderate intensity, not the kind of near-nuclear strength that was exhibited last year with the Las Conchas blaze in northern New Mexico. In that case, entire mountainsides were vaporized, leaving nothing behind but the white ashy skeletons of what used to be trees.

And as for those unburned pockets within the fire’s boundaries, Rollins said he believes many of those spots have experienced low-intensity fire numerous times over the last century to make them more resilient…

I think it’s going to be a success story for the use of fire for managing forests,” Rollins said. “It might not look like it on TV right now, but we haven’t had any fatalities or dramatic housing loss like we see in Southern California or it burning so dramatically close to communities like last year’s Las Conchas fire…”

On Saturday, the more than 1,200 firefighters who are battling the fire continued to build lines to corral the flames before more threatening winds and dry conditions developed.

Up here in Santa Fe county we’re about 250 miles from the fire. Still, at least one day and night of every three is tough on my ancient respiratory system. I doubt my younger neighbors are faring much better – depending on wind direction.

This study and impending work made for a lively and interesting discussion at lunchtime, today. One of the voices at the table has firsthand experience fighting wildfires – coming from a Forest service family. The rest of us have spent varying chunks of time studying the history of western forest fires and fire management. You had better invest a little time when you live in a region where firestorms are not uncommon, lives and property can be incinerated in a matter of hours and minutes, as much can be lost in flash floods during monsoon season close on the heels of fire season.

The consensus was that management plans that approximate the natural cycles of burn and regrowth native to the region before it was overtaken by cattle ranching – are the best chance for longterm survival of forests. A style that allows for the best longterm appreciation of nature’s bounty may be counter to settlements as poorly sited for fire safety as trailer parks built in southeastern flood plains; but, environmental goals should reflect sensible accommodation to historic processes.

Looking forward to the information gathered and analyzed.