The winter of 1993-1994 was another mild winter with below normal precipitation and snowpacks over much of the Western United States. A persistent deep trough over the East Coast brought bitterly cold weather to much of the East. Several locations suffered record cold temperatures and snowfall. Out West, a strong high pressure ridge blocked most Pacific storms from moving inland. By 1 March, the snowpack for the West was: California, 65% of normal; Arizona, 88%; New Mexico, 93%; Nevada, 66%; Utah, 77%; Colorado, 88%; Oregon, 76%; Washington, 85%; Idaho, 67%; Montana, 76%; and Wyoming, 81%.High pressure prevailed in the West during March with an upper trough over the Great Lakes area. Even though a number of storms tracked across the country, only the Great Lakes and Northeast areas reported a colder and wetter than average March. Areas of severe and extreme drought (Palmer Drought Index) increased significantly in the Northern Rockies, Great Basin, California, and the Northwest. The wildland fire protection agencies began preparations for another busy year.
The Southeastern United States experienced their fourth consecutive below average spring fire season. While there was some fire activity, most large fires were contained by the following day. A Type II Incident Management Team (Type I Incident Management Team: A team made up of 33 people that are trained in specific areas of expertise in the command, logistics, operations, and finance functions to manage a complex incident: high value resources and/or life and property at risk and generally more than 1,000 people working in the incident. Type I Incident Management Team: The same as Type I Team but the incedent is not as large or complex and the number of people working on the incednt id between 200 to 1,000.) was mobilized on 8 April for the Sunset Fire on the Wichita Mountain NWR in Oklahoma which burned 960 ha (2,370 acres) before being controlled. The Fifth Army was requested to provide a transportation unit to transport firefighters to and from the fireline.
A Type I Incident Management Team was mobilized on 18 January for the Northridge Earthquake in Southern California. The team was assigned to manage a receiving and distribution centre. Another Type I Team was mobilized on 24 January to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with disaster response and recovery assessments. Both teams were released by the end of January.
Areas in the Northern Rockies and the Southwest experienced very active fire conditions for March and early April. In addition, a great deal of prescribed burning was accomplished much earlier than normal.
A Type I Incident Management Team was mobilized for the County Line Fire on the Huron-Manistee National Forest on 24 April. This fire threatened the community of Baldwin, Michigan, and burned eight mobile homes before being controlled at 330 ha (820 acres).
By 1 May, the western mountain snowpacks were well below average with the worst conditions in California, Nevada, and Oregon where snowpacks were less than half of normal. By the end of April, the Southern area’s spring fire season was winding down except for areas in Texas and Southern Florida that were still experiencing significant fire activity.
Just as the Southern area’s spring fire season was coming to a close, significant fire activity occurred in Florida and North Carolina. On 5 May, lightning started the Basshole Fire on Florida State lands near Miami. The fire origin was in a remote, swampy area. A 16,000 ha (40,000 acres) backfire operation was completed on 7 May and the fire was controlled after burning ca. 32,00 ha (80,000 acres). All wildland fire protection units in Florida were busy during the month with initial attack and extended attack fires because of a persistent drought condition.
Areas in North Carolina were also very busy because of drought conditions. The Angola Bay Fire, North Carolina State, which was started by lightning on 18 May, burned 3,500 ha (8,647 acres). A Type II Incident Management Team, 27 tractors, and 170 people were mobilized for this fire. On 25 May, the State mobilized their two National Guard MAFFS air tankers for this fire. (MAFFS=Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System: A 3,000 gallon pressurized tank that is fitted into a C-130 aircraft, used to deliver fire retardant to a fire.)
During the last week of the month, fire conditions continued to worsen in North Carolina. The Fish Day Fire, National Forests of North Carolina, burned 10,000 ha (24,600 acres) before being contained on 2 June. A Type I Incident Management Team, five air tankers, seven Type II helicopters [Type II helicopter: a medium lift helicopter. Types include: Bell 204, 205, 212, for up to 14 people (including pilot) and up to 2,500 pounds payload], one infrared aircraft, 27 tractors, 43 engines/tenders, and 560 people were mobilized. This fire exhibited very erratic behaviour and because of its remote location was very difficult to control.
The two MAFFS air tankers that were mobilized for the Angola Bay Fire were only used on the Fish Day Fire. They flew 95 missions, flying 31.4 hours and dropped 1.13 million litres of retardant.
Fire activity in the Southwest was well below normal for the month. A series of low pressure systems dominated the weather for much of the month which kept temperatures and precipitation in the near normal range. On 8 May, the Mother’s Day Fire, Saguaro National Monument, burned 458 ha (1,157 acres) before being controlled. During mid-month, the Arizona Strip and Las Cruces Districts, Bureau of Land Management (BLM); Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS); Gila National Forest, US Forest Service (USFS); Salt River and San Carlos Agencies, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA); and Arizona and New Mexico State all responded to extended attack fires. At the close of the month, the Southwest Area had sent three airtankers to the Southern Area and four air tankers to California to support large fire activity in those areas.
On 21 May, the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) sent five crews to the Eastern Area which was experiencing critical fire conditions and a lot of initial attack activity. No large fires were reported during this period.
On 27 May, the Brown Fire, California Desert District, burned 410 ha (1,012 acres) before being contained the next day. Four air tankers and 400 people were mobilized for this fire.
The remainder of the West experienced cool, moist conditions for much of the month with no significant fire activity being reported. Areas of extreme and severe drought as depicted by the Palmer Drought Index continued to expand in the West. As the summer months approached, the potential for a busy fire season became more probable.
Major fire activity occurred in many areas in the West during June. The Southwest experienced a very active month. Large fires occurred on a daily basis. On 1 June, the Mackenzie Fire, Phoenix District BLM, burned 507 ha (1,252 acres) before being controlled. A Type II Incident Management Team and 350 people were mobilized for this fire. Three people deployed shelters on this incident but they were not injured.
On 7 June, the Silver City Smokejumper base was activated. By the end of June, 108 smokejumpers had been assigned to the Southwest Area.
Between 4 and 16 June, Type I Incident Management Teams were mobilized for the Miller Fire, Coronado National Forest, 1,200 ha (2,970 acres); Bridge Fire, Lincoln National Forest, 2,180 ha (5,380 acres); Ryan Complex, Cibola National Forest, 10,000 ha (24,800 acres); Pigeon Fire, Gila National Forest, 2,500 ha (6,250 acres). A Type II Incident Management Team was mobilized for the Marcus Fire, Guadalupe National Park, which burned 2,500 ha (6,250) acres before being controlled. Type II Incident Management Teams were also mobilized for several other fires.
The Rocky Mountain and Great Basin Areas also had large fire activity. Type II Incident Management Teams were assigned to the:
Boy Scout Fire Wasatch-Cache National Forest 172 ha (425 acres) Coalbed Fire Moab District, BLM 243 ha (600 acres) Buniger Fire Grand Junction, BLM 648 ha (1,600 acres) Bitter Creek Moab District, BLM 1,546 ha (3,820 acres)
The Garlick Fire, Sierra National Forest, was reported on 18 June which burned 253 ha (625 acres) before being contained. A Type I Incident Management Team was assigned to the White Fire, Sequoia National Forest. Forty-eight crews and over 1,500 people were mobilized for this fire before it was contained at 1,014 ha (2,505 acres). Type II Incident Management Teams were mobilized for the Scout and Shooting Fires, Angles National Forest, which burned 1,140 ha (2,820 acres) and 1,416 ha (3,500 acres) respectively.
The eight military airtankers (MAFFS) were mobilized on 27 June for the Shooting Fire on the Angeles National Forest. They performed 26 missions (45.1 flight hours) and dropped 340,000 l of retardant in support of several fires before being re-assigned to Phoenix, Arizona on 1 July.
On 29 June, Type I Incident Management Teams were mobilized for the Lucas Complex, Sequoia National Forest, and the Second Fire, Cleveland National Forest. These fires burned 4,031 ha (9,960 acres) and 2,072 ha (5,120 acres) before being contained on 1 July.
On 27 June, an escaped prescribed fire burned 80 ha (200 acres) on the Modoc National Forest. On 28 June, an arsonist started five fires on the Winema National Forest and Oregon State lands which burned 600 ha (1,500 acres) before being contained on 1 July.
By mid-month, fire danger increased in Alaska because of very warm temperatures. Lightning started several fires and 25 smokejumpers and several overhead personnel were mobilized from the Lower 48. (“Lower 48”: A slang term from Alaska. the 48 states that make up the contiguous continental United States. Alaska and Hawaii are separated by Canadian territory and/or water.) Type II Incident Management Teams were committed to fires on lands protected by the State of Alaska. By 20 June, fire activity moderated in Alaska because of cool, unsettled weather which dominated their weather picture for the remainder of June. By the end of the month, all overhead personnel and smokejumpers had been returned to the Lower 48.
Due to widespread fire activity in the Southwest, California, and the Rocky Mountain Areas the National Interagency Coordination Center raised the National Fire Preparedness Level to III on 27 June.
The fire situation in the Southwest and the Rocky Mountain Areas had reached a critical level by 1 July. Dry lightning and strong winds caused many fires to spread rapidly. The Hour Glass Fire, Roosevelt National Forest, which was fanned by strong thunderstorm winds on 1 July, travelled more than three miles in one afternoon. Several structures on the Colorado State University Forestry Campus at Pingree Park were burned. A Type I Incident Management Team and over 600 people were mobilized for this fire before it was controlled at 500 ha (1,200 acres). There were five shelter deployments on this fire but there were no injuries.
The West Slope of Colorado also had major fire problems from several dry lightning storms. Type II Incident Management Teams were committed to:
Squaw Mountain Fire
Casper District BLM
1,469 ha (3,630 acres)
Sheep Mountain Fire
Big Horn National Forest
98 ha (242 acres)
Montrose District, BLM
1,400 ha (3,460 acres)
Mitchell Lake Fire
San Juan National Forest
109 ha (270 acres)
North Fork Fire
Uncompahgre N. F.
219 ha (540 acres)
Grand Junction Dist. BLM
1,467 ha (3,625 acres)
Roosevelt National Forest
191 ha (473 acres)
Montrose District BLM
623 ha (1,540 acres)
Black Ridge Fire
Southern Ute Agency BIA
4,856 ha (12,000 acres)
A Red Flag Warning(A term used by the National Weather Service Fire Weather Forecasters to bring attention to a weather component expected in the forecast period that could cause severe fire danger or activity on fires that already exist. Examples: low relative humidity, strong gusty winds, dry lightning or a combination of any of these components.) was issued 6 July for Colorado for strong winds associated with a frontal passage. At about 5:00 p.m., strong winds fanned the South Canyon Fire, Grand Junction District, BLM, which was then about 50 ha (130 acres) in size. The fire spread rapidly and overran the firefighters on the lines, resulting in 14 fatalities. A Type I Incident Management Team and 650 people were mobilized for this fire which was contained at 751 ha (1,856 acres). On 14 July, a Type I Incident Management Team was mobilized for the Ute Creek Fire, White River National Forest. This fire burned 1,200 ha (3,000 acres) before being contained on 23 July. By late June, extreme fire danger was being reported throughout the Southwest because of record breaking temperatures. Dry lightning storms ignited several hundred fires. By 1 July, over 20 project fires were being battled by about 150 crews, 20 airtankers, and 18 helicopters. A Type I Incident Management Team was assigned to the Rattlesnake Fire, Coronado National Forest on 1 July. This fire burned 10,330 ha (25,525 acres) before being contained on 24 July. Type II Incident Management Teams were assigned to several large fires in New Mexico and Arizona. These included the Catclaw Complex, Prescott National Forest, 3,882 ha (9,592 acres); Big Rock Complex, Lincoln National Forest, 2,839 ha (7,015 acres); Redington Complex, (Arizona State, Coronado National Forest, Saguaro National Monument) 8,387 ha (20,725 acres); and the Tower Complex, Truxton Canyon Agency, BIA, 4,229 ha (10,450 acres).
The military airtankers (MAFFS) that were assigned to Phoenix, Arizona on 1 July flew 420 missions (538.9 flight hours) and dropped 4.8 million l of retardant. 220,000 l were dropped on the Black Ridge Fire in Colorado with the remainder of the retardant dropped on fires in Arizona.
On 12 July, a helicopter en route to a new fire crashed on the Gila National Forest. This crash resulted in fatalities to the pilot and two Gila National Forest employees. Two other employees escaped with minor injuries. On 15 July, the Hallelujeh Fire, Carson District BLM, was reported. This fire spread rapidly and threatened several rural sub-divisions. A Type I Incident Management Team and more than 800 people were mobilized for this fire before it was controlled on 17 July.
Finally, on 17 July, the monsoons arrived in the Southwest. While fire conditions moderated in the Southwest and Rocky Mountain Areas, sub-tropical moisture triggered a series of dry lightning storms beginning on 21 July and ending on 11 September. The Northwest, California, Northern Rockies, and Great Basin Geographic Areas were all heavily impacted. During this period 102 major fires occurred in the West. Within each Geographic Area these fires were widespread, further complicating the logistical support and suppression efforts. Type I Incident Management Teams were mobilized for 35 fires during this period.
On 28 July, NICC raised the National Fire Preparedness Level to IV and on 29 July to Level V. By 1 August, a major fire campaign had begun. All available agency and private sector resources were committed. Demand for resources continued. Multi-Agency Coordinating Groups at the Geographic Area and National levels were busy prioritizing incidents, allocating and re-allocating scarce national resources. Fire activity continued at a relentless pace during August. Weary firefighters were rested and re-deployed. Unprecedented demands on the logistical support system occurred, as fire activity continued at record levels for three months. At the peak of activity in August, more than 25,000 firefighters, 900 engines, 155 helicopters, 54 airtankers, 31 mobile kitchens, and 42 shower units were assigned to fires.
Several fires received national attention. Many towns and communities were threatened including Leavenworth and Chelan, Washington; McCall and Idaho City, Idaho; and Libby and Jardine, Montana. Military assistance was first requested on 18 July for one Battalion (approximately 600 people) of firefighters. By 25 August, seven battalions of firefighters, eight military Chinook helicopters, and 10 military Black Hawk helicopters had been mobilized for fires in the Northwest, Northern Rockies, and Great Basin Areas. NICC requested an eighth battalion 1 September, but cancelled the request on 4 September after many areas in the Northwest and Northern Rockies began receiving precipitation.
Four military airtankers (MAFFS) were activated again on 25 July for Boise, Idaho. On 26 July, four MAFFS were mobilized for Spokane, Washington, and then re-assigned to Helena, Montana on 3 September. The Boise MAFFS delivered 11 million l and the Spokane/Helena MAFFS, 5 million l respectively.
On 29 July, a P2V airtanker (04) crashed on the Butler Fire near Missoula, Montana, resulting in fatalities to the pilot and co-pilot. On 13 August, a C-130 airtanker (82) was dispatched on an initial attack mission in Southern California and crashed before arriving at the fire, resulting in fatalities to the three-person flight crew.
On 25 August, a bulldozer operator was killed as he was overrun by fire on the Hull Mountain Fire in Southwestern Oregon on Oregon Department of Forestry lands. Canada also provided assistance. One hundred Mark III Pumps, five DC-6 airtankers, and five “bird dog” aircraft were used on fires during August.
Finally, between 10 and 13 September, light rain showers occurred over much of the Northwest, Northern Rockies, Northern California, and the central mountains of Idaho, which provided some relief from the long, hot summer. The military Black Hawk helicopters were released on 12 September and the last battalion of military firefighters returned to their home base on 14 September. The eight MAFFS airtankers also returned to their home bases on 14 September.
On 13 September, the National Fire Preparedness Level was lowered to IV and to III on 16 September. A Type I Incident Management Team was mobilized on 13 September to assist with flood relief efforts in the villages of Hughes, Allakaket, and Alatna, Alaska.
An emergency firefighter employed by the Great Basin Fire Cache located in Boise, Idaho, died from injuries sustained in a vehicle accident on 16 September. The employee was delivering equipment and supplies to the Payette National Forest at the time of the accident.
Just as fire conditions were beginning to moderate, another series of dry lightning storms occurred in Northern California and Oregon. Large fires occurred on the Klamath, Shasta-Trinity, and Lassen National Forests in California and on the Malheur and Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Oregon. Hot, dry weather during the last two weeks of September caused many of the contained fires in Idaho and Montana to become active again. During the last week of September, the NICC mobilized about 90 crews for fires in the Great Basin, Northern Rockies, Northwest, and North Zone Geographic Areas.
Lightning storms on 28 September started over 400 fires in Northern California and Southern Oregon. There was some precipitation with these storms and all fires were controlled at less than 4 ha in size.
In early October, a significant weather change occurred. Cool, unsettled weather with some precipitation moderated fire conditions throughout the West. By 15 October, demobilization of the large fires was nearly complete. By late October, wetting rains had occurred over much of the Western United States. The fire risk continued to increase in November until the third week when new fires occurred in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. These fires resulted in the mobilization of a Type I and Type II Incident Management Team, Type II helicopters, an airtanker, and miscellaneous overhead and crews from across the country. On November 20, a fatality occurred on the Cedar Mountain fire on the Chattahoochee NF during a fire shelter deployment. After Thanksgiving, more typically-seasonal weather conditions resumed and the fire season wound down.
In terms of length and scope, the 1994 fire season has been the most demanding on record. Major fire activity involving all the Western Geographic Areas occurred from the end of May through October. Demand for resources of all types often exceeded the supply. Listed below is some data about resources mobilized through the National Interagency Coordination Center and comparisons with previous years (Tab.1). Number of wildland fires and area burned in the U.S.A. by agency for the 1994 fire season are given in Table 2. Number of wildland fires and area burned in the U.S.A. by geographic areas for 1994 are given in Table 3. For comparison with previous years the number of wildland fires and area burned in the U.S.A. for all agencies for the decade 1985-1994 are given in Table 5.
Without question, this season ranks as one of the worst in terms of loss of life among those involved in suppression efforts. From initial and extended attack firefighters, to retardant flight crews, to support personnel, it crossed agency and private sector lines and their sacrifices were high.
Tab.1. Resources mobilized through the National InteragencyCoordination Center in 1994 and comparisons to previous years
Type I Incident Management Team
Type I Helicopters
Tab.2. Number of wildland fires and area burned in the U.S.A. byagency for the 1994 fire season
AgencyNumber of FiresArea Burned (ha) Bureau of Indian Affairs 3,870 107,432 Bureau of Land Management 3,479 309,671 U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service 132 68,204 National Park Service 998 34,536 States 51,604 521,633 U.S.Forest Service 14,396 598,761 Totals74,4791,640,237
Tab.3. Number of wildland fires and area burned in the U.S.A. bygeographic areas, for all agencies for 1994
Geographic AreaNumber of FiresArea Burned (ha) Alaska 606 103,533 Northwest Area 5,878 235,051 California North Zone 1,566 64,858 California South Zone 8,841 100,990 Northern Rockies Area 4,875 122,476 Eastern Great Basin Area 3,175 375,310 Western Great Basin Area 909 82,422 Southwest Area 6,974 227,772 Rocky Mountain Area 3,203 43,451 Eastern Area 11,020 59,171 Southern Area 27,442 225,204 USA Total74,4791,640,238
Tab.4. Number of wildland fires and area burned in the U.S.A. forall agencies for the decade 1985-1994
Number of Fires
Area Burned (ha)
From: Woody Williams National Mobilization Officer Address: USDA, Forest Service National Interagency Fire Center 3905 Vista Avenue USA – Boise, Idaho 83705
NATIONAL INTERAGENCY FIRE CENTER (NIFC)
NIFC is the nation’s logistical and technical support center for wildfire suppression. Through planning and interagency management, the five major federal land and resource management agencies, along with the National Weather Service, work together to provide cost-effective response to wildfire and other national emergencies. At NIFC are the Nationals Interagency Coordination Center, the National Incident Radio Support Cache, Fire and Aviation Training, Great Basin Smokejumpers and Equipment and Supply Cache, Technical Support, Equipment Development, Infrared Mapping, Initial Attack Management System, and Fire and Aviation Contracting.
NATIONAL INTERAGENCY COORDINATION CENTER (NICC)
An interagency operation at NIFC that provides logistical support and intelligence reporting to all wildland management agencies. As local and regional resources are exhausted during fire emergencies and other disasters, geographic coordination centres throughout the U.S. order additional resources through NICC. Based on the “closest forces” concept, the closest qualified resources, regardless of agency affiliation, will be sent. NICC dispatches crews, overhead personnel, aircraft, equipment and supplies across the U.S. and Canada and to other foreign countries based upon requests.