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The Science Behind Fire

In recent months, we have all become familiar with images in the media of wildland firefighters digging lines, air tankers dropping retardant and fire engines dispersing water. You may wonder “how do these firefighters know what it takes to fight fire?”

The short answer is: research.

Before a wildland firefighter sees his or her first fire, they are given the tools and training on how to fight fire and its behavior. The information passed onto them is not learned overnight but rather through years of research.

Drones can be Deadly for Wildland Firefighters

Imagine if a hostile country sent an Unmanned Aircraft System or UAS, otherwise known as a drone, to disturb the efforts of firefighters during a catastrophic wildfire. The confusion that might ensue could cause loss of life and property as flames jump fire lines simply because resources have been diverted or grounded to identify and remove the UAS.

But these threats aren’t coming from an enemy state. They are being flown by our own citizens and impeding the job of our firefighters.  This isn’t a script for a Hollywood film. It’s really happening.

Recently, unauthorized drones disrupted wildfire operations in southern California twice in one week. Because of these drones, Airtanker operations were suspended on both the Sterling Fire and Lake Fire on the San Bernardino National Forest.

Seeds for New Book on Wildland-Urban Interface Planted on Fireline

For the better part of a decade, Lincoln Bramwell spent summers fighting wildfires across the West for the U.S. Forest Service. But over the years he spent on the fireline, he began to see his job change in ways that felt more obvious and dangerous.

This is because Bramwell began to see more homes on mountain slopes and ridges. An increasing wildland-urban interface adds challenges further complicated by public demands that firefighters make heroic stands to save houses from approaching wildfires.

What struck Lincoln was how entire subdivisions rolled over the rough mountain landscape nestled into the forest and shielded from view from the main road. And not all of these homes looked new. In fact, from his observations, many seemed quite old.

Elite Firefighting Team Ready to Protect Lake Tahoe Basin

A group of 20 determined firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit completed a demanding and extensive certification process to become the first Interagency Hotshot Crew from Lake Tahoe.  Formerly the Tallac Hand Crew, the Tallac Hotshots join an exclusive group of roughly 2,000 firefighters across the country.

“The certification of the Tallac Hotshots is a significant event for the Lake Tahoe Basin,” said Forest Supervisor Nancy Gibson.  “Fire suppression in the Basin is vital to our communities and it’s reassuring, particularly in light of the anticipated active fire season, to have such a key resource of well-trained and experienced firefighters in our area.”

Dirt, Fire and Road: My First Season as a Wildland Firefighter

For the second time, I spilled burn mix on my clothing as I reached to replace a drip torch, a wildland firefighting tool used to ignite fires for controlled burns.

After three days of working with the Davidson River Initial Attack Crew, I was getting used to how things worked – except for the drip torch.

I’d spent the first seven years of my career buried behind papers and computers in the U.S. Forest Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C. When I heard of a job to improve firefighting training skills for Job Corps students, I jumped on it. As a Job Corps alumna, and someone who’s still passionate about the program, I felt that I was the perfect candidate.

A Week to Remember Fallen Wildland Firefighters

This week the nation stops to remember historic losses in the wildland firefighter community as we pay homage to the 14 lives lost in the 1994 South Canyon Fire in Colorado, the 19 lives lost in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona last year and the others who have lost their lives serving the public.

From June 30 to July 6, 2014, the interagency wildland fire management community is honoring all those who have lost their lives in the line of duty by participating in a Week to Remember, Reflect, and Learn.

Wildfires at His Doorstep Inspires Meteorologist to Develop a Tool to Help Firefighters

Imagine a research meteorologist focused on developing the kind of detailed weather forecasts that firefighters need to fight wildland fires. Accurate, timely information is critical.

Then understand that he has faced wildland fire on his doorstep in Ramona, Calif., near San Diego at least three times since 2003.

Those experiences fuel the passion that Shyh-Chin Chen brings to his work to protect human life and property.

Developing Solutions for an Off-line USDA

As the world’s focus on mobile computing intensifies, several USDA agencies are working towards solutions for technology users in an off-line environment. These agencies are developing mobile applications that allow workers to input and collect data in the field, help firefighters share wildland fire information as it happens, and keep employees in the field and out of the office connected - all without a Wi-Fi connection.

With more and more organizations embracing the mobility movement as a way to improve communication and productivity, off-line technology users are in danger of being left behind. Without connectivity, their tablets and smartphones are little more than costly accessories. They cannot share essential information with their colleagues. They waste valuable time travelling to a fixed workstation to submit paperwork – paperwork that they could have otherwise submitted via a mobile tablet. Bottom line: users of USDA applications need the ability to work anywhere, whether they are connected or not.

Former California Governor Schwarzenegger Cited for Work on Climate Change, Named Honorary US Forest Service Ranger

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger received a U.S. Forest Service badge and jacket during a special ceremony in Washington, D.C., naming him an Honorary Forest Ranger for his work on climate change issues.

“I know you understand what we need to do as a nation to reduce the level of carbon in the atmosphere — after all, you have helped lead the way,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said to Schwarzenegger during the ceremony at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “We look forward to having your help in educating communities on the devastating impacts of climate change on our forests and grasslands.”

Schwarzenegger said the honor “truly touches my heart” and expressed high praise for the agency and highlighted his respect for the thousands of Forest Service firefighters, especially as climate change effects have contributed to hotter, longer fire seasons.

On the One Year Anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, USDA Looks Ahead

All this week, Americans are pausing to reflect on the devastation caused when Hurricane Sandy slammed ashore on the eastern seaboard.  Over 160 people died, property was damaged, lives were disrupted, families were torn apart and jobs were affected.

USDA helped the recovery effort in a number of ways, and while we are proud of our work, we also learned from the experience in order to assist those affected by future catastrophes.

Our first task was helping those who were facing hunger.  Following a disaster, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) provides nutrition assistance to disaster survivors through disaster USDA Foods Distribution Programs and by authorizing the implementation of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D­ SNAP).  In addition, FNS approves waivers that simplify the SNAP benefit replacement process to aid ongoing SNAP households affected by a disaster.