How to Build a Fire

Mar 25, 2012 1 comments

How to Build a Fire is a depressing story by Jack London.  I'm not going to talk about that.  And I'm not going to talk about how to build a campfire either.  I'm going to talk about my firefighter refresher training that I took last Friday.

But... umm, wait a second.  Didn't I just take four days of fire training?  Oh yes, I did.  But boss W said I had to take it, and he's the boss, so there I was taking the same exact dang class watching the same videos that I just saw last month.  

There was one part that wasn't in my first class, though, and it was one of the most interesting parts of the whole day.  One of the meteorologists in my office recorded a powerpoint presentation on five predictive fire factors, and how each of them played out in 2011, one of the most historic fire seasons in our region.  The factors are:

Fine fuels (small stuff, like grass and forbs and baby trees)
Seasonal temperature and precipitation
Spring and early Summer weather patterns

He then provided a history and showed a map of the occurrence of each of these factors in the winter and spring of 2010-2011. The map showed that all of them lined up pretty much perfectly with each other to create greater than normal fire conditions in 2011.  The three big fires of last season, the Wallow, Horseshoe II, and and Las Conchas, were all located exactly in the ring of fire.

Next he went on to discuss the conditions for 2012.  So far, this year has been cooler with more precipitation, but we are losing snow pack when we should be gaining it.  Additionally, the shift to El Nino occurs this year.  Fire conditions are dependent on how fast or slow this shift is.

As for the five factors, this is how they are currently playing out this year:
Drought- still continuous
Fine fuels - a more normal amount with some snow compaction
Seasonal temp/precip - a more rapid shift to El Nino is favorable for reducing fire conditions
Weather pattern - more "normal" than last year
Monsoon - wetter across the west and drier across the east (of our region)

Basically, this means it's still up in the air as to exactly how the fire conditions will be this year, but there are indications that it won't be as bad as last year.  I wanted to write about all of this because I think it's really interesting.  I like weather and climate stuff a lot.  Probably more than mapping and geomorphology, although I still love working with soil and plants.  I'll try to make my next post have more pictures and less science.


Mar 18, 2012 5 comments

Cochiti is our puppy.

We got him in January.  Yes, I've wanted a puppy pretty much my whole life (seriously, I dreamed in puppies) and now that I have one, I waited two months to even mention it.

Why, I have no idea.  Probably because I'm lazy, and because having a puppy takes away some of my energies (he has enough for all three of us).  I've heard people say having a puppy is like having a baby.  I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that it is definitely not.  Not that I have much experience in the baby department, but I think it's a fair assumption.

It is definitely work, though.  Especially when your puppy is just a little bit, well... let's call it "special."  But he's sweet and he means well.  He definitely has a lot of personality.  For brevity's sake, I will bullet-point his most interesting and noteworthy characteristics.

  • From the beginning, his favorite toy has been a plastic flower pot.  He loves flailing it around, throwing it in the air, and just generally trying to rip it to shreds.
  •  One day, he had said flower pot on his head and he ran right off the porch because he couldn't see that he was on the edge.
  • He's a heeler, so he LOVES biting feet.  It's pretty much his favorite thing, besides the flower pot.
  • He goes wild over snow.  Just the tiniest little patch, and he's happy happy happy.
  • At my apartment, he once decided to pee on the sliding glass door.  I'm pretty sure he thought he was going outside.  At least he tried...
  • He has a serious underbite and could use some doggie headgear.
  • The bottom of his paws smell like popcorn.
  • His poppers STINK!
  • He has demolished countless small sticks
  • He mows his food faster than a crocodile in the Nile.  And he snaps his jaws like one too.
  • He sometimes thinks "good boy" means he can immediately start being bad.
  • He has gained 5 lbs since we got him.  We think he might be part German Shepherd.
  • He is very capable of jumping up on top of the kitchen table.
  • He is very affectionate and likes to cuddle with us in the morning.  He has also decided it's a good idea to put his head on the pillow.
  • When he dreams, he acts like he is running and makes tiny little barks.
  • He runs like a madman in the hills.  Seeing how much fun he has always puts a smile on my face.

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    Becoming a Firefighter

    Mar 4, 2012 2 comments

    Hello anyone out there who still reads this.   It's been a while.  February was a ridiculously busy month.  I didn't have one weekend off.  The first two weekends, I had to drive to Silver City.  Yes, I had to drive there and come back... twice.  But I didn't mind, because I was doing something I really wanted to do, which was...  firefighter training!

    Last summer, while I was off breaking the truck, the rest of my crew was in Arizona doing remediation work on the Wallow Fire.  I was the only one out of my entire staff (including the students) without fire training and therefore couldn't go along.  Needless to say, I felt left out.  At the end of the fiscal year, our travel budget was cut (again) and I thought there wouldn't be any extra money for trainings, so I tried not to be too disappointed about another summer of working alone while everyone else went off without me again.

    But when I got back from the holiday break, something incredible happened.  My boss came by and said, "We have some extra travel money, and W [his boss] wants you take fire training this year, so... find a class."  YAY!

    It was actually really hard to find a class.  I kept getting different information and getting referred to different people.  But I finally found one.  In Silver City.  Over two weekends.  Silver City is about 4 and 1/2 hours away, if you take the shortcut.  More if you try to go through Hatch and Deming.  And even longer if you have to do what I did last year, and go all the way down to Las Cruces.  Blah.  So it was a long drive and  totally killed my weekends but, like I said, I really wanted to do it, so I sucked it up and went.

    The weekend of Feb 4 and 5 was the first weekend of the training, and I learned A LOT.  There is so much information.  We learned all about wildland fire behavior in one day.  And then took a test.  So in one day, I had already completed 1/4 of the 4-part course.  The class was actually pretty big, with about 30-32 people, most of them volunteer firefighters from different departments around Southwest New Mexico.  It's weird to see all these middle aged and older people who want to fight fires for no money, when all I really want to do is go around and look at stuff that's already been burned (because I'm a wussie) and get paid for it.

    Required reading for firefighters. 

    Wildland fire behavior reminded me a lot of physical geography, because it deals with how weather affects fire.  Wind, thunderstorms, relative humidity, air temperature, etc.  I also learned a lot about how the actual fire behaves.  It's pretty cool, actually.

    And now, because my geology professor once said that drawing pictures helps you learn and remember things, I give you the parts of a fire:

    In case you cannot tell from my amazing drawing skills, this is a fire in aerial view

    Origin - Every fire has an origin, but it's not always at the lowest point on the fire like I've drawn.  There can be other factors, like the tree that initially ignited could have fallen and rolled down the hill, thus bringing the fire down with it.

    Head - this is the biggest, scariest part of the fire.  It's the place where the fire is spreading the fastest.

    Flank - These are basically the sides of the fire that aren't the head.  They are the coolest part of the fire (temp-wise), so that's where the firefighters are usually sent first to start containing or controlling the fire.  They say go up the right or left flank instead of using directions like North, South, East and West, because it's too hard to tell that kind of thing when there's a fire burning all around you. 

    Heel - This is the "bottom" of the fire.  It has the slowest rate of spread and is opposite the head.

    Finger - Extension that is still connected to the main fire

    Pocket - Unburned portion between the finger and the main fire.  You DON'T want to be there.  If the fire jumps across and closes the pocket, you are screwed.

    Island - A part inside the fire that isn't burning.  It may be a rock outcrop or a lake or a change in fuel type.  Just something different that decided not to burn for some reason.

    Spot Fire - These happen when a piece of fire (yes I said piece, whatever) is lofted out into the atmosphere and lands on a fuel bed.  It's not connected to the main fire.

    The entire outer boundary of the fire is called the perimeter and the already burnt middle part is called the black, so I made it black in the picture.  Doesn't it totally look like a burnt forest?  Yeah, I thought so.