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  • Writer's pictureJOY A COLLURA

Part 2 - Do our Wildland Fire (WF) Instructors foster "complete" lessons learned in the WF culture?

Authors - S130 / S190 / L180 Lead Instructor Fred J. Schoeffler and Co-Instructor / SME ( YH Fire ) Joy A. Collura


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Continuing from "Part 1 - Do our Wildland Fire (WF) Instructors foster "complete" lessons learned in the WF culture?"...due to this message when trying to put blog on said I had to break part one into several posts:


Check out this amazing time-lapse video clip of the Bighorn Fire on Mt. Lemmon outside of Tucson, AZ. The fire definitely signals its intentions for quite awhile, and the HS Crew (or whomever) waited way too long to fire off their line around the metal structure. By The Grace of God they pulled it off.

Figure 2. Bighorn Fire. Mount Lemmon FD 2 Time-Lapse video. 2020-06-17 Source: Southern AZ Time Lapses, Mt. Lemmon FD, YouTube

Please note in the video above that the Wildland Firefighters (WFs) waited way too long to fire out their line around the metal building.

This comment was sent to me by a WF that was on the Big Horn Fire: 'the burnout around the metal building in the Mt. Lemmon area during the Big Horn Fire. I'm not sure if you are aware, but the metal building and equipment stored in that area was NOT saved, so I don't know that I'd consider this success in "pulling it off". I did not see it first hand (I'm sure you can verify): however, that metal (open air) structure was lost, as well as a lot of fire supplies that had been cached there in the parking lot. Ironically, it is right across the street from the Mt. Lemmon Fire Station. I was there for a while, before the fire got close, and can assure you that it did not have to have become a loss. There was enough room to safely position engines, particularly considering the time they had to pre-treat the area. Instead it was just a time for picture taking and overhead to yack. There were CAFS [Compressed Air Foam System] engines available that could have successfully foamed everything down. pulled back (if fire was too intense) and then immediately re-entered to extinguish hot spots. When the fire began to make it's run, everyone was told to pull back to a safe area (heard this on radio). I'm surprised they didn't lose any other structures.'

'And more from a WF that worked on the Bighorn Fire: "Additionally, the metal building was maybe 200 yards from the terminus of a steep chute and essentially at the same elevation as the top of the chute, on the southerly ridge that made up one side of the chute. The slope behind the building was easily 50%, if not more, and again near the top of a chute/chimney. Certainly slope was very much in favor of flames moving up behind the building.'

Figure 3. Bighorn Fire (Summerhaven area looking NE;17:00) Source / Copyright: Ryan Helms

Figure 3a. Buddy Source / Copyright: Joy A Collura

Indeed, the fireline can change rapidly, hence that need for adhering to the 10 & 18 and LCES. And it seems like a lot of these WFs / FFs above in this Bighorn Fire time-lapse video overlooked the importance of firing out their line sooner than later - always a good idea on firing operations. The system is already in place to speak up, however, the actual results are mixed, inconsistent, and discouraging, thus promoting non-compliance.

“Following an accident, a “stand-down” should be an accepted practice for those involved, until the facts can be sorted out. However, it is a shame that our focus on accountability too often occurs after an accident. Culturally, we must shift the weight of accountability to the time before an accident takes shape. We must embrace the rules of engagement as a way of doing business—as a professional standard. Violation of any Fire Order must prompt management or supervisory intervention and, unless rapidly corrected, be unarguable grounds for release from the fireline, release from the incident, or - if egregious - serious personnel action. (emphasis added) (Williams 2002) I agree with a short "stand down" as long as we are given some quick "facts" while honestly sorting out the facts Sadly, this "culture" has long been abandoned by an unethical, far from law abiding management.

“However, we must not adhere to the Fire Orders for fear of punishment. We must embrace the Fire Orders because we owe it to one another. In that sense, the Fire Orders must become a shared obligation, where the leader’s situational awareness depends on participation by the entire crew and where the crew’s participation is tempered with respect for the leader’s responsibility. Borrowing from the aviation community’s model of Cockpit/ Crew Resource Management, we must focus fireline operations more on what is right than on who is right. (emphasis added) (Williams 2002) This is basically the "Old School" way of wildland firefighting. And unfortunately, we fail to learn "complete" lessons because we are told that there was no blame, no fault, and no indications of any of these due to human factors.


This paper will use the term Human Error to mean the errors that are made during direct interface or direct influence of the process.

Human Factors are those aspects of the process and related systems that make it more likely for the human to make a mistake that in turn causes or could cause a deviation in the process or could in some indirect way lead to the increased probability of an accidental loss.

Bridges, W. & Tew, R. (2010) Human Factors Elements Missing from Process Safety Management (PSM). Process Improvement Institute, Inc. (PII)


We fail to learn. We all know the person that has 20 years of experience but it’s really the same year over and over. Well, that person is sometimes us. If we don’t understand how we learn, we’re likely to make the same mistakes over and over. (Farnum Street)


Here is a portion of an ADOSH interview quote from an "Old School" WF named Bill Astor (listed as "Safety Officer, [IMT] and facilities Safety Officer") in his ADOSH interview(s), which gives me hope.


"... [W]e have the 10 & 18, you know -- some people would say they’re guidelines -- for us they’re - they’re rules - they’re policy - uh, they deal with fire behavior, they deal with - with organizational control, they - they deal with, uh, a myriad of - of, uh, issues and incidents that you could come into contact with and - and these 10 & 18 were developed as result of, you know, unfortunately catastrophes that we’ve just experienced and they’ve been developed in the field and they - they’ve been looked at by fire experts over the years and practiced - but th- these - these, uh, rules -- and - and I call them rules in my moniker -- are things that you cannot break, you cannot bend and you cannot walk away from. These are pre- pretty staunch rules of, uh, fireline activity and - and how you fight fire in a safe manner." (emphasis added)

INTERVIEW WITH BILL ASTOR - Interviewer: [ADOSH] Brett Steurer 10-18/8:05 am Case # AZSF - P. 8 (emphasis added - line numbers removed)


Over the years, I have had numerous WFs and FFs tell me: "If this newer, 'kinder, gentler' generation of WFs and FFs loses this 'Old School' way of thinking and fighting wildfires, then they are basically f**ked, because they'll never be able to get it back." Stay the course and "go back to the basics" of the "LCES and the 10 & 18" because they work every time you utilize them.

2. Weather and Extreme Fire Behavior

MetEd The COMET Program - Unit 11 Extreme Fire Behavior

NWCG S-290 Unit 11 - Extreme Fire Behavior

S-290 Extreme Fire Behavior - Slide Share

Weather and Wind Warnings - NWCG WFSTAR

Werth et al (2011) Synthesis of knowledge of extreme fire behavior: volume I for fire managers

Tedim, F.; Leone, V.; Amraoui, M.; Bouillon, C.; Coughlan, M.R.; Delogu, G.M.; Fernandes, P.M.; Ferreira, C.; McCaffrey, S.; McGee, T.K.; Parente, J.; Paton, D.; Pereira, M.G.; Ribeiro, L.M.; Viegas, D.X.; Xanthopoulos, G. (2018) Defining Extreme Wildfire Events: Difficulties, Challenges, and Impacts. Fire, 1. ( )

A. General Weather and Fire Weather Sources ( ) Weather (cloud + sun image) upper left icon

Figure 4. Home Page. Subject icons left column (Weather = cloud + sun)."Find local weather" search box upper right (Any city location (must use comma) and state or Zip Code works) Source: NOAA

Figure 4a. Weather Page (cloud + sun). Reveals weather forecast office and Current, Extended, Detailed Conditions Page (upper and left third); Additional Forecasts and information (bottom left); Click Map for specific forecast by lat / long (green map - right third); Additional Information (right side) Radar and Satellite Imagery, Hourly Weather Graph; National Digital Forecast Database. Source: NOAA

Several "Old School" Fire Weather meteorologists suggest that we concentrate on the more reliable Hourly Weather Graph for more detailed Fire Weather data, thus ignoring the Current, Extended, and Detailed Conditions with daily / nightly images and daily / nightly text for the week (upper and left third); "Click Map for Forecast Area" allows base map choices (e.g. topographic, satellite) and specific weather for wherever you click; detailed "Forecast Discussion" link; Additional Information (right side)

Consider now the Hourly Weather Graph - a very cool, very accurate, very reliable fire weather tool that allows you to forecast specific fire weather data and values

Figure 5. (left) Hourly Generic Weather Graph. Top row columns - "Weather Elements, Weather / Precipitation, Fire Weather; Bottom 3/4 - "48-hour period starting" drop-down arrow; "Submit" tab for changing settings; "Back / Forward 2 days" tabs Source: NOAA

Generic "Weather Elements" data /values for "Heat Index, Dew Point, Temperature, Gusts, Surface Wind, Relative Humidity, Precipitation Potential, Sky Cover, Rain, Thunder" can be engineered specifically to meet your Fire Weather needs.

Figure 5a. (right) Weather - Hourly WX Graph - specific for Fire Weather Source: NOAA

To accomplish this, uncheck "Heat Index, Precipitation Potential, Sky Cover, Rain, and Thunder" for replacing with Fire Weather Elements. And then, check "Mixing Heights, Haines, Lightning Activity Level (LAL), Transport Wind, 20 ft Wind, Ventilation Rate, Atmospheric Dispersion Index, Low Visibility Occurrence Risk Index, Tuner Stability Index. Click the "Submit" tab to change to new

The Low Visibility Occurrence Risk Index (LVORI) arose from some essential research and development because of several serious fatal and non-fatal Florida and Georgia automobile accident reports when fog and smoke [Super Fog] was a factor. These were related to two types of fog: advection and radiation. The data suggest that localized radiation fogs pose greater hazards than widespread advection fogs (Lavdas and Achtemeier, 1995). The LVORI is settings.

an index for the probability of low visibility, and ranges from 1 - 10, depending on the relative humidity and smoke dispersion index. A 1 means there is almost no chance of low visibility, while a 10 indicates low visibility is likely. This Index is a function of relative humidity and smoke dispersion index.

The Turner Stability Index is a function of the Net Radiation Index (NRI), and wind speed. The NRI is an indicator of exposure to

the sun's rays, i.e. insolation. The rate of pollutant dispersion within the atmosphere is largely dependent on stability. Atmospheric stability is determined by the rate of temperature change with respect to height within the atmosphere.

This method assigns a dispersion rate to the lower atmosphere according to one of seven stability classes ranging from extremely unstable through neutral to extremely stable. The class is determined from solar elevation angle, wind speed, opaque cloud cover, and cloud ceiling height.

This Hourly Weather Graph is definitely a must for prescribed (RX) burns and firing operations with the potential for hazardous smoke conditions adversely affecting driving. ( )


See also, Wildland Fire Smoke and Roadway Visibility - Predict, Prepare and Avert Accidents Part 2: Weather Information & Tools; Curcio, G.M. (2017) North Carolina Forest Service - webinar recording link and presentation slides PDF. Obtaining and tracking key environmental variables. Reviewing operationally developed indexes (Turner Stability Index (TS), Atmospheric Dispersion Index (ADI), Low Visibility Occurrence Risk Index (LVORI). Superfog Matrix Smart Tool for NWS Weather Forecasting Offices. ( )


B. Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) Water Vapor Imagery (WVI) - a means to actually "see" the dry air (subsidence) aloft

Go to >>> Weather (upper left column) >>> GOES Image Viewer - Sector Image Viewer (satellites)

GOES Image Viewer ( ) Scroll down to Bands 8, 9, and 10 for WVI.


Figure 6. Satellite Water Vapor Imagery - Sector Images snippet Source: NOAA

Band 10 is a water vapor band, meaning it is capable of detecting water vapor at middle to lower portions of the atmosphere, in addition to high clouds. It can detect water vapor lower in the troposphere compared to the water vapor band on the legacy GOES-13 and -15 imager. (NOAA)

Why is “Mid-level water vapor” band imagery important?

The 6.9 µm “Mid-level water vapor” band is one of three water vapor bands on the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), and is used for tracking middle-tropospheric winds, showing jet streams, forecasting hurricane track and mid-latitude storm motion, monitoring severe weather potential, gaging mid-level moisture (for legacy vertical moisture profiles) and identifying regions where turbulence might exist. Surface features are usually not apparent in this band. Brightness Temperatures show cooling because of absorption of energy at 6.9 µm by water vapor. (NOAA)

The imager on GOES-16 features three mid-level water vapor bands instead of the single water vapor band on the GOES-13 Imager. The single water vapor band on GOES-13 contained a mixture of water vapor features over many levels of the troposphere, but GOES-16 enables us to focus on water vapor in the upper troposphere (band 8), the middle troposphere (band 9), or the lower troposphere (band 10). The GOES-13 Imager water vapor channel is between ABI bands 8 and 9. Bands 8, 9, 10 Water Vapor Imagery (WVI) Upper-, Mid-, Low- Animation plus pix / images, i.e. 300 x 300. (NOAA)

Change the animation "loop" value to 240 seconds for longer view time. Be patient for it to populate, especially on your cell phone.


Consider now the detailed text on the potentially dangerous role of Subsidence in the wildland fire weather that can only be "seen" using Satellite Water Vapor Imagery (WVI) or Skew -T Soundings.

Subsidence inversions are defined as an increase in temperature with increasing height produced by the slow sinking of a layer of middle or high level associated with high pressure. As the high air aloft sinks or subsides, it warms by compression, and then produces a layer of warm, dry, and very stable air. Subsidence can take several days to occur. During this time, the subsidence inversion intensifies as it lowers and becomes increasingly warmer and drier than the layer of air below it (COMET 2010).

SUBSIDENCE - what follows is taken from one of the finest learning products the USFS has ever created.

All text below is taken directly from this source Fire Weather handbook. All emphasis below in the excerpted Subsidence chapter is added.



Mark J. Schroeder Weather Bureau, Environmental Science Services Administration U.S. Department of Commerce and Charles C. Buck Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture


Air that rises in the troposphere must be replaced by air that sinks and flows in beneath that which rises. Local heating often results in small scale updrafts and downdrafts in the same vicinity.

On a larger scale, such as the up-flow in low-pressure systems, adjacent surface high-pressure systems with their divergent flow normally supply the replacement air. The outflow at the surface from these high-pressure areas results in sinking of the atmosphere above them. This sinking from aloft is the common form of subsidence. The sinking motion originates high in the troposphere when the high-pressure systems are deep. Sometimes these systems extend all the way from the surface up to the tropopause. Deep high-pressure systems are referred to as warm Highs, and subsidence through a deep layer is characteristic of warm Highs. Subsidence occurs in these warm high pressure systems as part of the return circulation compensating for the large upward transport of air in adjacent low-pressure areas. If the subsidence takes place without much horizontal mixing, air from the upper troposphere may reach the surface quite warm and extremely dry. For example, the saturation absolute humidity of air in the upper troposphere with a temperature of -50° to -60°F. is less than 0.02 pounds per 1,000 cubic feet. In lowering to the surface, this air may reach a temperature of 70°F. or higher, where saturation would represent 1.15 pounds or more of water per 1,000 cubic feet. If no moisture were added to the air in its descent, the relative humidity would then be less than 2 percent.

Subsiding air may reach the surface at times with only very little external modification or addition of moisture. Even with considerable gain in moisture, the final relative humidity can be quite low. The warming and drying of air sinking adiabatically is so pronounced that saturated air, sinking from even the middle troposphere to near sea level, will produce relative humidities of less than 5 percent. Because of the warming and drying, subsiding air is characteristically very clear and cloudless.

Subsidence in a warm high-pressure system progresses downward from its origin in the upper troposphere. In order for the sinking motion to take place, the air beneath must flow outward, or diverge. Thus, horizontal divergence is an integral part of subsidence in the troposphere. The descent rate is observed by following the progress of the subsidence inversion on successive upper-air soundings. The accompanying chart shows a simplified illustration of the subsidence inversion on 3 successive days. The temperature lapse rate in the descending layer is nearly dry-adiabatic, and its bottom surface is marked by a temperature inversion. Two features, a temperature inversion and a marked decrease in moisture, identify the base of a subsiding layer. Below the inversion, there is an abrupt rise in the moisture content of the air. The rate of descent of subsiding air varies widely. It is typically fastest at higher levels and becomes progressively slower near the surface. It is commonly about 5,000 feet in 6 hours around the 30,000-foot level, and about 500 feet in 6 hours at the 6,000-foot level. Frequently, the subsiding air seems to lower in successive stages. When this happens, a sounding will show two or more inversions with very dry air from the top down to the lowest inversion. This air may be drier than can be measured with standard sounding equipment. Subsiding air seldom reaches the surface as a broad layer. Often, it sinks to the lower troposphere and then stops. We need, therefore, to consider ways in which the dry air no longer lowering steadily over a broad area can affect the surface.

Along the west coast in summer we generally find a cool, humid advected marine layer 1,000-2,000 feet thick with a warm, dry subsiding layer of air above it. This subsidence inversion is usually low enough so that coastal mountains extend up into the dry air. The higher topographic elevations will experience warm temperatures and very low humidities both day and night. Some mixing of moisture upward along the slopes usually occurs during the daytime with upslope winds.

As the marine layer moves inland from the coast during clear summer days, it is subjected to intensive heating and becomes warmer and warmer until finally the subsidence inversion is wiped out. The temperature lapse rate from the surface to the base of the dry air, or even higher, becomes dry-adiabatic. Then, convective currents can be effective in bringing dry air from aloft down to the surface and mixing the more moist air from near the surface to higher levels.

This process can well take place in other regions when the subsidence inversion reaches low-enough levels so it can be eliminated by surface daytime heating.


On to "Part 1b - Do our Wildland Fire (WF) Instructors foster "complete" lessons learned in the WF culture?" ...


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