Chetco Bar Fire in Oregon quadruples in four days, approaches 100,000 acres

Above: Chetco Bar Fire August 17, 2017. Inciweb.

(Originally published at 9:35 a.m. PDT August 22, 2017)

On July 13, 2002 the Biscuit Fire started in southwest Oregon. Under a limited suppression strategy 7,000 workers fought the fire as it spread into California. By November it had burned up nearly 500,000 acres and $150 million, becoming one of the largest wildfires in the recent history of the 48 contiguous states.

Chetco Bar Fire satellite photo
Satellite photo of smoke from the Chetco Bar Fire, August 20, 2017. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite. Note that the smoke from the fire is a different color from the other fires in the area to the southeast and northeast.

This summer another very large wildfire is burning partially in the footprints of the Biscuit and another nearby blaze, the 1987 Silver Fire. Also under a limited suppression strategy, the 788 personnel assigned today are faced with the steep slopes in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness as well as brush and dangerous snags left in the previously burned areas.

map Chetco Bar Fire
The red line was the perimeter of the Chetco Bar Fire at 2:30 a.m. PDT August 22, 2017. The white line was the perimeter on August 18, 2017.

The Phoenix National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) Team with Incident Commander Bob Houseman, on the fire since July 29, explains their task:

Because of the risk to firefighter safety, low probability of success of a direct attack strategy and minimal values at risk, fire personnel are currently focused on constructing contingency lines, conducting reconnaissance for access, scouting safe entry points, locating natural features for containment opportunities, protecting wilderness values and developing a long term plan for safely engaging the fire.

On August 18 at 4 p.m. the fire covered 22,042 acres. Early Tuesday morning August 22 it was mapped at 97,758 acres, approaching the 100,000-acre threshold of becoming a “megafire”.

Map of the 2002 Biscuit Fire
Map of the 2002 Biscuit Fire, by Oregon Business.

For the last several days it has been spreading rapidly to the southwest growing to within five miles of Brookings, a community on the Pacific coast. It is 14 miles southeast of Gold Beach.

The Team is using a mixture of direct, indirect and point protection tactics when and where they expect there is a high probability of success. The fire is burning in areas of fire scar and islands that were previously unburned, as well as areas west of the previous fires. The combination of down and dead fuels in the old burns and newly cured grass adds complexity for firefighters.

satellite photo Biscuit Fire
Satellite photo of the Biscuit Fire on September 1, 2002. Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC.

Tony Tooke selected as new Forest Service Chief

(Originally published at 7:50 p.m. MDT August 21, 2017)

Tony Tooke
Tony Tooke. USFS photo.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has selected Tony Tooke to be the Chief of the U. S. Forest Service. Now the Regional Director of the agency’s Southern Region, he will replace Tom Tidwell who announced his retirement August 18.

Immediately before he became a Regional Forester Mr. Tooke was the Associate Deputy Chief for the National Forest System where he oversaw Lands and Realty, Minerals and Geology, Ecosystem Management Coordination, Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers, the National Partnership Office, and Business Administration and Support Services. In addition to many other positions in the USFS Washington Office, he served as Deputy Forest Supervisor for the National Forests in Florida; District Ranger assignments on the Talladega NF in Alabama, the Oconee NF in Georgia, and the DeSoto NF in Mississippi; Timber Management Assistant, Silviculturist, and Forester on six Ranger Districts in Mississippi and Kentucky.

He grew up on a small farm near Detroit, Alabama and earned a degree in Forestry at Mississippi State University (go Bulldogs!).

Below is an excerpt from an announcement by Secretary Perdue about his appointment of Mr. Tooke:

…I want to introduce you to our next Chief, Tony Tooke, one of our own.  Tony was practically born into our Forest Service, starting at the age of 18.  He currently is the Regional Forester for the Southern Region.

Tony’s knowledge of forestry is unmatched.  He will oversee efforts to get our forests working for the rightful owners – the American people. His focus will be on ensuring we are good neighbors with our partners in state and local governments.

The stewardship of our forests is an awesome and sacred responsibility.  No one knows that better than Tony.  He has been preparing for this role for his whole professional life, and at a time when we face active and growing fires, his transition into leadership will be seamless.  As we move into a new season, I look forward to hearing how each member of the USFS family gives Tony your full support.

Working together we will make our forests more productive, and create more jobs.  In short we will get our forests working again.  Please join me in welcoming Tony to the USDA family.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Ken.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Tom Tidwell steps down as U.S. Forest Service Chief

(Originally published at 5:58 p.m. MDT August 21, 2017)

Tom Tidwell, the 17th Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, sent an email to all agency employees August 18 announcing that he was leaving his position, calling it stepping down. In a tweet sent out the same day the new Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, wished him well in his retirement.

In the photo above, Secretary Perdue is second from left and Chief Tidwell is third from the right. It looks like they are all outfitted for a smokejumper ridealong except for the Chief.

It is not surprising that Chief Tidwell is out, or will be on September 1. He was in the position for most of the Obama administration and the new regime is generally not fond of keeping anything or anybody around that reminds them of the former president. This is common; Chief Tidwell replaced Gail Kimbell who served for two years as Chief when George W. Bush was President.

McCain, Tidwell, Harbour at Wallow fire
Sen. John McCain, Thomas Tidwell (Chief of the Forest Service), and Tom Harbour (Chief of Fire and Aviation, USFS) at the 2011 Wallow Fire in Arizona. USFS photo.

The conventional wisdom is that the Forest Service Chief is one of the last remaining “career”, non-political, Senior Executive Service Agency Administrators leading a large Federal agency, but in recent years it has been handled politically. The folks currently in the White House thumb their nose at conventional wisdom or standard issue politics, so it would not be surprising to see a new Chief selected from private industry with little or no Forest Service experience. Especially after a large number of recent hires from outside the government and lobbyist groups in the Department of the Interior.

Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell
Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell testifies before a Senate Committee February 26, 2015

However two names that have been mentioned, Michael Rains and Lyle Laverty, have both spent time in the USFS. Mr. Laverty, not exactly shy about expressing his career goals, wrote an article that was published 11 days after our current President was inaugurated, titled, “If I were Chief of the Forest Service…” There is word on the street that the names of one or two retired USFS Regional Foresters have also been mentioned.

The position is not subject to confirmation by the Senate, so it is up to the discretion of the Secretary of Agriculture, or his boss, to fill the job.

Below is an excerpt from Chief Tidwell’s all employees message:

…We have lived through some tough days responding to natural disasters and dangers that come from keeping citizens safe. We have been called to respond in a way that only the Forest Service can. We have grieved together, far too many times, for those who have lost their lives in support of our mission. By far these have been the most trying times for me. But I was always grateful for how you showed up to respect the sacrifices of others, to lend your support for grieving families, friends and co-workers, to help them begin healing from their loss. That, along with your commitment to our safety journey, to do what we can to ensure everyone returns home safely every day, is what carried me through those times. I know you will continue our progress on this never-ending Journey.

When I think about our mission and how emphasis may shift over time, one constant anchor remains: land stewardship and service to all people. We must live up to the responsibility to restore and sustain our nation’s forests and grasslands and ensure future generations inherit the same opportunities to receive the benefits many Americans often take for granted. The clean air, clean water, the biodiversity, the wildlife and fisheries habitat, the recreational settings and the economic activity that are essential to America…

****

(Hours after we posted this article we found out that Tony Tooke has been selected to replace Tom Tidwell as Chief of the Forest Service.)

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris and Allen.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Firefighters are making progress in some areas on the Lolo Peak Fire

Above: 3-D map of the Lolo Peak Fire, looking west. The red line was the perimeter at 11 p.m. MDT August 19, 2017. The white line was the perimeter 23 hours earlier.

(Originally published at 8:40 a.m. MDT August 20, 2017.)

The Lolo Peak Fire grew by another 2,800 acres Saturday bringing the total up to 30,765 acres, but some of that increase was the result of burnout or firing operations conducted to tie in the fire edge with barriers or firelines.

In spite of a Red Flag Warning in effect Saturday afternoon firefighters had a pretty good day, conducting firing operations on the northwest, north, and east sides of the fire. Operations Section Chief Mark Goeller said the Highway 12 corridor is looking fairly secure and mopup has started in that area as well as some locations on the east side south of Lolo and west of Florence and Carlson. There is still a great deal of uncontrolled fire edge on the south side of the fire in the higher elevations.

The west wind predicted for Sunday should make a planned firing operation on the west side easier than it would be with winds from other directions.

map Lolo Fire Montana
The red line was the perimeter of the Lolo Peak Fire at 11 p.m. MDT August 19, 2017. The white line was the perimeter 23 hours earlier.

In the video below Mr. Goeller gives an excellent briefing on Saturday’s activities and the plans for Sunday.

Update on Lolo Peak Fire south of Missoula, Saturday evening

(Originally published at 8:22 p.m. MDT August 19, 2017)

(All of the articles about the Lolo Peak Fire have the “Lolo Peak Fire” tag, and can be found here, with the most recent news at the top.)

The Lolo National Forest says this video is a synopsis of the operations that occurred on the Lolo Peak Fire today (Saturday August 19).