Wildfires could spread more rapidly with more resistance to control
A confluence of weather and vegetation conditions in the Southern Great Plains has led to a situation where large rapidly spreading wildfires are possible, and are already occurring in some areas.
The information below is derived from the “Fuels and Fire Behavior Advisory for Eastern New Mexico, Western Texas, Western Oklahoma, Southeastern Colorado, and Western Kansas” that was effective March 7, 2018:
Drought: Developing drought in recent months has led to very dry fuels.
Delayed green-up: Current green-up conditions across the south-central and southeast US are delayed up to 20 days due to persistent cold and dry conditions. Fires would normally be slowed during this period by new, green grass.
Fuel loading: Above normal rainfall during the 2017 growing season produced an abundance of fine fuel loading across the grass-dominant southern Plains. This exceptional crop of grass is supporting above normal significant fire occurrence and fires that are highly resistant to control.
Weather: These grass fuel beds will support rate of spread from 2-4 mph with critical fire weather present. Extreme fire weather will produce rate of spread up to 6-7 mph. This extreme rate of spread was observed March 6, 2017 in a similar fire environment on fires in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
The OIG recommended that only contractor investigators or investigators from other Federal agencies be used for these complaints
The Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General has issued a report on how the Forest Service has handled investigations into complaints of sexual misconduct and harassment within the agency. The document was released about the same time the Chief of the FS resigned while facing allegations of sexual misconduct disclosed on the PBS NewsHour program.
The objective of the report was to evaluate the effectiveness of the investigations. The FS is part of the Department of Agriculture, so this process was basically an internal investigation.
The OIG found through interviews with 69 current and former FS employees in Region 5 (California) that 33 of them expressed some level of mistrust in FS’ process for handling sexual harassment and sexual misconduct complaints.
The OIG recommended that for a year the FS try using only contract investigators or investigators from other Federal agencies. The FS agreed with this recommendation and stated they could implement it by March 30, 2019.
She replaces Tony Tooke who suddenly resigned March 7.
Above: Vicki Christiansen testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee August 3, 2017.
(Originally published at 10:25 a.m. MST March 9, 2018)
Amid reports of widespread sexual harassment and misconduct within the Forest Service, and especially among firefighters, a woman will now lead the agency. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has selected Victoria (Vicki) Christiansen to be the interim Chief of the Forest Service. She replaces Tony Tooke who suddenly resigned March 7 after allegations of sexual misconduct were aired on the PBS program NewsHour.
Below is an excerpt from a message Mr. Perdue sent to employees Thursday afternoon:
With seven years at the Forest Service and 30 with the states of Arizona and Washington, Vicki knows what is needed to restore our forests and put them back to work for the taxpayers. As a former wildland firefighter and fire manager, she knows first-hand that failure to properly maintain forests leads to longer and more severe fire seasons. And as a former State Forester, she knows the benefits of Good Neighbor Authority and how best to partner with our state and local colleagues. Vicki’s professional experience will complement these efforts and help us achieve those objectives.
As we promote and maintain healthy, productive forests and preserve our natural resources, we will work to ensure a place where people can work with respect and dignity.
Ms. Christiansen has experience in wildland fire suppression. After obtaining a degree in forestry at the University of Washington in 1983 she accrued firefighting experience with the Washington Department of Natural Resources. There is one report that she was qualified to use fireline explosives. Thirteen years after graduating she was the Washington State Forester. Between 2006 and 2012 she served in five different positions with the Washington DNR, Arizona Division of Forestry, and the U.S. Forest Service. Her last job before becoming interim USFS Chief was Deputy Chief, State and Private Forestry with the USFS.
In a Senate committee hearing August 3, 2017 Ms. Christiansen talked about budget issues and logging. She was also asked about water scooping air tankers by Senator Maria Cantwell. Here is the official transcript at 52:50, which was compiled from uncorrected Closed Captioning.
MISS CHRISTIANSEN, WHAT DO YOU MAKE ABOUT THE WATER USING THE SCOOPING TECHNOLOGY? WHY ARE WE CONCLUDING THAT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA?
>> THANK YOU, SENATOR CANTWELL. WATER SCOOPERS ARE CERTAINLY A TOOL IN OUR AVIATION STRATEGY. WE HAVE NOT CONCLUDED THEY ARE INEFFECTIVE. BUT AS YOU KNOW, IN OUR PROPOSED FY18 BUDGET WE HAD TO MAKE SOME CRITICAL CHOICES. TO BE STEWARDS OF THE TAXPAYER DOLLARS. TO THAT MAKING, WE ARE NOT PLANNING TO HOLD AN EXCLUSIVE USE CONTRACT BUT CAN ACCESS THESE THROUGH CALL [WHEN] NEEDED MECHANISMS. WE HAVE TWO UNDER EXCLUSIVE USE CONTRACT.
A public service announcement for wildfire prevention featuring Tori Bowie has won an ADDY advertising award. Funded by the U.S. Forest Service, the Mississippi Forestry Commission produced the 30-second video starring the sprinter who in 2017 was the world’s fastest woman at 100 meters during the IAAF World Championships in London.
After growing up in Mississippi Bowie competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics to win a Gold medal in the 4x100m relay, Silver medal in the 100m dash, and Bronze in the 200m.
(Originally published at 5:36 p.m. MST March 7, 2018)
Tony Tooke, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service has resigned. Recently the agency confirmed that the Department of Agriculture has “engaged an independent investigator” to look into complaints against the Chief.
In an email to FS employees sent at 3:16 p.m. MST March 7 Chief Tooke wrote:
…Therefore, I have decided that what is needed right now is for me to step down as Forest Service Chief and make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency…
To our knowledge the first reports of impropriety by Chief Tooke that were reported by a reputable news organization came on March 2 from the PBS program NewsHour, which received confirmation about the investigation from the FS. It was disclosed during the program’s second installment in their series about sexual harassment in the agency.
We have not seen any allegations of sexual harassment by Chief Tooke — PBS used the term “sexual misconduct”. One of our sources told us that the investigators were looking into what appeared to be a consensual relationship with a subordinate and that the woman involved had not filed a complaint.
Below is the complete text of Chief Tooke’s email sent Wednesday afternoon to Forest Service employees:
Subject: My Commitment to All Forest Service Employees, Our Mission, and the Best Possible Future
Every Forest Service employee deserves a safe and respectful workplace free of harassment. Each employee deserves the very best leadership to bring about the cultural change necessary to rid the Forest Service of harassment, bullying, and retaliation.
Many of you have seen the news reports which included the stories from women who told of their experiences with sexual harassment in the Forest Service. I admire their courage. Their stories are heartbreaking and reveal that we must do much more to achieve a safe, positive, and respectful work environment for all employees. Please know that Forest Service leadership is committed to investing in the changes and resources needed to improve and become much better.
Though we still have much to do, we have taken steps to improve policies, accountability, reporting systems, and training. A Senior Advisor has been designated to focus on work environment and an employee advisory group is being formed to help. However, we must address the drivers in our culture and change the systems that allow harassment, bullying and retribution to occur. Every employee must feel safe, valued, respected and free to speak up without fear of reprisal.
We are in a moment at the Forest Service when we have a tremendous opportunity to mold a bright and successful future in delivering our mission. To seize this moment, however, the right leadership must be in place to create an atmosphere in which employees can perform their very best work. Each employee deserves a leader who can maintain the proper moral authority to steer the Forest Service along this important and challenging course.
In some of these news reports, you may have seen references to my own behavior in the past. This naturally raised questions about my record and prompted an investigation, which I requested and fully support, and with which I have cooperated. I have been forthright during the review, but I cannot combat every inaccuracy that is reported in the news media. What I can control, however, are decisions I make today and the choice of a path for the future that is best for our employees, the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I must also think about what is best for my family. Therefore, I have decided that what is needed right now is for me to step down as Forest Service Chief and make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency.
I have loved the Forest Service, our employees, and our conservation and public service mission since joining at age 18. I am so grateful for the teaching and mentoring I’ve received from so many employees from field technicians to those at all levels, people from all walks of life. I have never worked anywhere else in my career and I am so proud to have served with all of you in sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands for present and future generations. I will always be grateful for the hundreds upon hundreds of employees that I’ve worked with directly as well as the thousands of others, past and present, who have been so dedicated and committed to caring for the land and serving people.
I thank Secretary Perdue for the opportunity to serve you as Chief and for the tremendous support he has shown for the Forest Service and the work we do: I also thank all of you for the support and confidence that you’ve shown in me in this role. I am proud of all of you, including our partners and volunteers, for all that you do every day to serve the American people and care for our natural resources and public lands.
I wish each of you the very best. My retirement will be effective immediately.
The drone that landed, caught fire, and ignited what became a 335-acre fire in Northern Arizona was battery-powered and approximately 16″ x 16″, a spokesperson for the Coconino National Forest said. The operator reported the fire and was later cited for causing timber, trees, slash, brush, or grass to burn. The spokesperson did not know exactly how the drone caught fire.
(Originally published at 4:42 p.m. MST March 6, 2018)
There’s no doubt that Unmanned Aerial Systems can play an important part in improving situational awareness for wildland firefighters.
But today investigators have determined that the preliminary cause of a wildfire north of Flagstaff is a drone that landed and caught fire. At 3:25 p.m. MST Tuesday the Coconino National Forest said firefighters had stopped the spread of the resulting wildfire after it burned 335 acres near Kendrick Park by Forest Roads 514 and 524.
There is no information yet about the operator of the drone or if it was powered by a battery or gasoline.
All of these photos were provided by the Coconino National Forest.