1997 Fire Season Wrap-Up And Some Random Comments

The 1997 wildland and structural wildland interzone (SWI) fire season has been an unusually tranquil one in the lower 48 states. Fire incidents have been sporadic and small to medium in size when compared to previous active years. A wet-weather...


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The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) still has its Wildland Fire Management Section. This section, however, has paled over the years and has not become "The Voice of Wildland Fire," as it was intended to be.

The future. Destructive SWI fires will occur again and again. The fire services will rise to the challenge. Funding will come, albeit slowly. A broader national fire mobilization system hopefully will be developed. And the sooner the better. Research and development of better firefighting tools, equipment and protective clothing designed for SWI will continue. Class A foam use will increase.

Through education, the general public, home building developers and municipal planners must take SWI issues into consideration. And last, but certainly not least, the insurance industry must join to make the structural wildland interzone a safer place to live in harmony with nature.

El Nino Predictions

The phenomenon known as El Nino is an abnormal warming of a large area of the Pacific Ocean that creates unusual weather patterns that can and do affect the weather in many countries, including the United States. Areas in our country that are normally dry and warm can become very wet and cool. Other areas that are wet and cool can become abnormally dry and warm. But, there have been variations in these weather patterns as well. No hard and fast rules can apply to any predictions when it involves normal weather, let alone abnormal weather patterns caused by phenomenons such as El Nino.

The National Weather Service has made some weather predictions based on the El Nino phenomenon. It is predicting that this winter season will bring unusually wet and cooler weather conditions to the lower half of the country, including the western and southern states. The northern tier of states will experience a drier and milder winter than is normally experienced. This includes the middle Atlantic states and New England.

What does this mean in terms of predicting what the 1998 fire season will be like? If the National Weather Service predictions hold fast, there will be an abundance of vegetation growth in the western and southern states. Once this "fuel" cures and dries during next spring and summer (if those seasons are hot and dry), it could mean a very busy fire year for the West and South.

If the northern tier of states remain dry and mild this winter and experience a dry, warm spring, this could lead to a transition into a very busy fire season for the East, North and mid-Atlantic regions.

Predictions. Phenomenon. The "X-Files!" Anybody got a crystal ball? Maybe we should just keep our fingers crossed? The obvious answer is in a word ... PREPAREDNESS.

FIREFIGHTER FATALITIES AT 1997 WILDFIRES

DATE LOCATION TYPE OF ACCIDENT ORGANIZATION FATALITIES
April 20 Blair County, PA Aircraft State/contract 2
May 9 Macon County, GA Snag State 1
May 29 Fillbrook Fire, CA Heat stroke State 2
June 3 San Carlos, AZ Aircraft Federal/contract 1
July 6 Hemlock Fire, CA Helicopter Federal/contract 1
July 14 Estero, FL Heat/heart attack Contract 1
Aug. 5 Eagle Lack, CA Vehicle Federal 1

Source: National Wildlife Coordinating Group/Safety & Health Working Team

Just a word of thanks and a "tip of the helmet" to the faithful readers of the Structural Wildland Interzone column and Firehouse Magazine. To you and to yours, have a happy holiday, a Merry Christmas and a safe 1998! (A special thank you to Lorraine Buck of the External Affairs Office, National Interagency Fire Center, in Boise, ID, for her assistance with this column.)


Robert M. Winston, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a district fire chief in the Boston Fire Department with extensive experience and training in wildland and SWI protection.