Over the seasons, Jeff Shelton has brought his camera to the fireline and captured the routine of daily life and work of a Southern California strike team.
Shelton is stationed on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest in Silverado Canyon and is working his twenty-fifth season in fire. Having deployments from San Diego to Montana, he brings a realistic approach to fire behavior analysis. As a Fire Behavior Specialist and Geospatial Analyst, he is committed to bringing the concepts of decision support to field personnel and represents the Orange County Fire Authority on California’s Predictive Services Committee for FIRESCOPE. When fuel moistures are high and burn periods short, Shelton can be found on the beach cross-stepping to the nose of his longboard, or in the local mountains moonlighting as a Professional Ski Patroller.
In early June, as the season took off, we asked him to share is Seasonal Outlook (see below), with his insights on how we might prepare for the spate of “usual” fires that go big — and, in the case of the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona, turn deadly.
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Fire Potential — Seasonal Outlook — Southern California
As the 2013 fire season shifts into gear, a new understanding of the term “potential” may well be warranted. With only a fraction of the normal precipitation from the previous winter, soil moisture is unusually dry and vegetation is stressed. Add freeze kill to warm, dry weather and the stage is set. Live fuel moistures are truly telling the tale. Mid-summer values are supporting fire behavior typically seen in the middle of summer. And yet the calendar says it’s Spring. So where do we go from here?
Predictive Services are indicating little relief in sight. Cooler than normal sea surface temperatures near the equatorial Pacific are driving a trend which may push the characteristic monsoonal moisture intrusion further to the east this summer. A mixed blessing. Fewer lightning ignitions in the parched west; but little moisture either. Large fire growth seems inevitable considering the circumstances and what we have seen thus far.
So how do we adjust our situational awareness to this new reality? Expecting the unexpected should be, well…..expected. When you pull up to a fire, your experience and understanding may tell you that this fire will go five, twenty or maybe a hundred acres. The new reality is that these ”usual” fires are going to go fifty, five hundred or several thousand acres. Fires that needed alignment to go the distance are burning with uncommon speed and intensity….out of alignment.
For engine operations this fire season, revisiting the concept of DRAW-D seems to be an especially wise course of action. The DRAW-D pneumonic comes out military command philosophy and provides a flexible framework to assess and reassess levels of engagement. When you pull up to your next fire this season, ask yourself:
- Do I Defend my position by improving upon the natural characteristics of the fireground; be they roads, rivers or rock outcroppings?
- Do I Reinforce my position with more assets to safely and efficiently address the observed and predicted fire behavior?
- Do I Advance to take advantage of favorable terrain, lighter fuel loading, or a predicted rise in relative humidity?
- Do I Withdraw in respect to established safety guidelines and preserve the strength of my crew?
- Do I Delay my actions to again take advantage of favorable terrain, changes in fuel type, or a known weather phenomenon?
Fire season 2013 is here. Remembering the limitations of your experience is critical. Knowing when not to act will be as important as knowing when to act.