South Dakota governor vows to fight fire in federal wilderness area

According to quotes in an article in the Rapid City Journal, Mike Rounds, the governor of South Dakota, appears to be bellicose and aggressive about fighting fire in the federal Black Elk Wilderness area in the Black Hills National Forest.

The 1964 Wilderness Act includes these provisions:

…there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.


….measures may be taken as may be necessary in the control of fire, insects, and diseases, subject to such conditions as the Secretary deems desirable.

Fire suppression routinely occurs in wilderness areas on national forests, but the use of motorized equipment in a wilderness area usually requires incident-specific approval from the Forest Supervisor, the highest-ranking federal employee at the national forest.

In the article, Governor Rounds implies that he would order state fire resources to take action on federal lands on which the fire suppression responsibility lies with the U. S. Forest Service (USFS). He appears to assume that the USFS would not suppress fires within the wilderness area, but as far as we know, that is not the case.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Gov. Mike Rounds says wilderness designation won’t stop him from sending in state firefighting crews if a blaze breaks out in the Black Elk Wilderness, where a mountain pine beetle outbreak has increased the risk for a major wildfire.

“In an emergency, they’re going to have to stop me from going in,” Rounds said in a recent interview.

But federal forest managers say they, too, plan to fight fire within the Black Elk Wilderness. In fact, crews have fought fires in the Black Elk in previous years, according to Black Hills National Forest supervisor Craig Bobzien. The amount and type of equipment they would use depends on the fire threat level, Bobzien said.

Rounds has cited the Black Elk Wilderness, where pine beetles have killed up to 80 percent of the trees, as one reason for his opposition to a wilderness proposal for parts of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland east of Rapid City and his support for the National Park Service’s cancellation of fireworks for the Independence Day celebration at Mount Rushmore. The Black Elk lies next to Mount Rushmore National Memorial and now poses a threat of wildfire for the central Black Hills, including Rushmore to the northeast and Custer State Park to the south, Rounds said.

Even without fireworks, one lightning strike after a dry period could set off a conflagration, Rounds said. “It’s a matter not of if, but when you have a major fire there.”

Rounds said state firefighting crews would be aggressive if fire breaks out in the Black Elk.

“If it means going onto some wilderness areas in order to stop it, then so be it,” he said. “We’re going to stop it before it gets out and does damage to public property that belongs to the state of South Dakota and before it damages private property and before it gets out and has an opportunity to impact human life.”

But Rounds said he and other state officials are talking with Black Hills National Forest managers to prepare for the coming fire season, including the possibility of a fire in the Black Elk Wilderness or the surrounding Norbeck Wildlife Preserve.

Rounds and Joe Lowe, coordinator of the state Wildland Fire Suppression Division, say cooperation between the state and local Forest Service officials is good.

Bobzien agrees and says that the Forest Service can — and will — fight fire in the Norbeck and even in the Black Elk Wilderness. He said, in fact, that the Forest Service has fought fires in the Black Elk in previous years.

Bobzien said the 1964 Wilderness Act allows firefighting in wilderness areas, with varying restrictions for varying levels of emergency.

The greater the risk of catastrophic fire, the more that mechanized equipment can be used within the wilderness, he said. For example, if a lightning strike starts a fire in moist conditions, Bobzien can authorize hand crews with crosscut saws.

“We have done some of that already,” he said. “That’s routine throughout past fire seasons.”

But if fire breaks out in hot, dry conditions, mechanized equipment up to and including helicopters can be used to fight fire in the Black Elk, Bobzien said.

Gov. Bill Janklow and South Dakota Wildland Fire Coordinator Joe Lowe look over a map during the Battle Creek Fire of 2002. Photo: Rapid City Journal
Gov. Bill Janklow and South Dakota Wildland Fire Coordinator Joe Lowe look over a map during the Battle Creek Fire of 2002. Photo: Rapid City Journal

Governor Rounds’ attitude reminds me of his predecessor, Governor Bill Janklow, who threatened during the 83,508-acre Jasper fire in 2000, to order state fire crews to set backfires out ahead of the fire without any coordination with the Type 1 Incident Management Team that was running the fire. This, of course, would have put firefighters and probably private property at great risk. Bill Waterbury, the Incident Commander, ordered federal marshals to stand by at the incident command post who were prepared to arrest state employees (or even the governor?) if the backfires had been lit.

Janklow also ordered that National Guard dozers be used to build dozer lines way out ahead of the fire, independent of the organized fire suppression effort, creating significant safety and resource damage concerns.

When questioned about the safety of the dozer operation he ordered that did not have adequate supervision, Janklow said if a dozer gets burned over because the operator knows nothing about wildfire, he will just buy another one. When asked, “What about the operator” that gets burned over, he said, “Anyone can outrun a fire”.

In an excellent article by Denise Ross and Bill Harlan in the October 29, 2002 issue of the Rapid City Journal, the situation was described, in part, this way:

When Waterbury arrived as Type I commander, he and Janklow had a frank discussion about who was in charge of the fire.

Waterbury said he told the governor there would be only one incident commander on the fire. “I did make the comment that if it came down to a point of putting firefighters at risk or independent actions, whether that be private citizens or the National Guard, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull all of our firefighters off the line,” Waterbury said in a recent interview. “If necessary, we’d use our federal authority to arrest people who were interfering with our firefighting.”

Janklow recalled the conversation this way: “I told him, ‘You’re not going to arrest me or anybody else. Unless I have your word that this fire won’t go on private property, I’ll fight this fire wherever it’s at.’ And I did.”

But federal firefighters said the fire line Janklow cut damaged forest roads without helping to stop the fire.

I was the Incident Commander during the early stages of the Flagpole fire in 2000 when I received a midnight phone call from Governor Jankow informing me that he was sending fire engines and 17 dozers from all across the state to the fire. I told him that we had plenty of resources and didn’t need them, but those words fell on deaf ears.

Over the next few hours those resources started showing up, with no resource tracking or order numbers, and with no idea where to go or what to do. They just headed to the smoke with no assignment, accountability, briefing, or integration into the organization, creating huge safety issues.

When we turned the fire over to an incoming incident management team, Governor Jankow attended the inbriefing and sat in the front row. I kept waiting for him to speak up and try to dictate the strategy and tactics, but surprisingly and uncharacteristically, he remained silent while I facilitated the briefing.

After leaving the Governor’s office, Bill Janklow became the state’s Representative to the U.S. Congress. But after driving his white Cadillac through a stop sign at 63 to 70 mph and hitting and killing Randy Scott who was on a motorcycle going through the intersection, he was convicted of manslaughter and in 2004 was sentenced to 100 days in jail. In his State of the State speeches, Janklow had boasted about his lead-footed driving habits. After the felony conviction and two days before the sentencing, he resigned from Congress.

I hope Governor Rounds is not using Governor Janklow as his role model. And I suggest that all governors leave the firefighting to the professionals. Any fires in the Black Elk Wilderness will be suppressed, regardless of any ill-informed and ill-advised politicians’ blustering, which tend to strain interagency relationships.

Director of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service dies on Colorado ski trip

Sam D. Hamilton. USF&WS photo
Sam D. Hamilton. USF&WS photo

The Director of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service died Saturday afternoon while on a ski trip at the Keystone Resort southeast of Dillon, Colorado (map). Samuel Hamilton, 54, was pronounced dead after he was transported off the mountain.

The Summit County coroner, Joanne Richardson, in a press release said Mr. Hamilton had suffered chest pains and that the circumstances were consistent with an underlying heart-related condition. He was on a ski trip with friends, and was pronounced dead at 1:16 p.m.

Hamilton was sworn in as the Director of the USF&WS on September 1, 2009 after having been the Regional Director of the agency’s Southeast Region.

The USF&WS manages lands with over 75 million burnable acres and has a very active fire management program.

The Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, issued the following statement after Hamilton’s death was reported Saturday:

The Interior Department family has suffered a great loss with the passing of Sam Hamilton. Sam was a friend, a visionary and a professional whose years of service and passionate dedication to his work have left an indelible mark on the lands and wildlife we cherish. His forward-thinking approach to conservation — including his view that we must think beyond boundaries at the landscape-scale — will continue to shape our nation’s stewardship for years to come…

Our condolences go out to the family and co-workers of Mr. Hamilton.

New NWS fire weather site


The National Weather Service in the U.S. has launched a new “EXPERIMENTAL…EXPERIMENTAL…EXPERIMENTAL” (as they say) web site that contains a great deal of information related to fire weather. An example is above. You can click on the Google Map to get a large variety of information, including fire weather forecasts, activity planner, hourly graphs, spot forecasts, and other products. All of these items have previously been available, but as far as I know, not all in one place.

Here is an example of a map that shows the location of spot weather forecasts.


At the site, you can click on the icons and view the recent spot forecasts. You may have to click on the Calendar to see older forecasts.

Interestingly, the site was created because the server that was hosting an earlier version of the national fire weather site broke, and they are not going to replace it, so it is being hosted at this new web address. *Necessity is the mother of invention.

Thanks Dick

*Borrowed from Plato, in The Republic. Based on the line “Necessity, who is the mother of invention”. Plato was a Greek author & philosopher in Athens (427 BC – 347 BC) I wonder if his copyright has expired?

NFPA confirms Dave Nuss’ selection as wildland fire division manager

Dave Nuss
Dave Nuss

On December 3, 2009 Wildfire Today told you that the NFPA selected Dave Nuss as the Manager of their Wildland Fire Protection Division, succeeding Jim Smalley who retired in September after serving in that position for 13 years.

Today the NFPA issued a press release announcing the appointment. Here is an excerpt:

February 19, 2010 The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has named Dave Nuss the Wildland Fire Protection Division Manager. He will manage all of NFPA’s wildland fire activities, including the well-known Firewise Communities program and will expand NFPA’s role in national and international wildfire partnerships. Nuss was promoted from NFPA’s Denver Region where he provided support and outreach in a 10 state region to NFPA members, fire service professionals, code officials, and other health and safety advocates since 1999.

“Dave is a tireless champion of fire safety and public education. He was a natural choice to head NFPA’s growing involvement in wildfire challenges as fires continue to burn hotter and faster than ever before,” said Gary Keith, NFPA vice president field operations and education.

In his new position, Nuss will oversee NFPA’s wildfire codes and standards for public safety, coordinate a new advisory board of federal, state and non-profit representatives and expand wildfire safety and training opportunities for fire service professionals.

“I’ve devoted my career to fire safety and prevention,” said Nuss. “In my next chapter, I will enhance NFPA’s wildfire initiatives to not only provide critical fire safety training, but to increase promotion of Firewise principals in community and building design.”

Nuss is a career firefighter and progressed through the ranks to deputy chief; he has over 22 years of service in Colorado and Oregon. As a firefighter, he served on various state and national committees regarding technical fire code development and public education and outreach. A graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program, Nuss holds an undergraduate degree in Technical Management from Regis University in Denver and a graduate degree in Public Administration from the University of Colorado-Denver School of Public Affairs.

Researchers study how prescribed fires affected Black Saturday fires

Research scientist Lachlan McCaw led a team that studied the effects that previous planned or unplanned fires had on the spread of the disastrous Black Saturday fires a year ago in Australia. Unsurprisingly, he concluded that the intensity was reduced and the areas provided anchor points for firefighters, but larger prescribed fires were more effective than small ones.

DUH. To many of us this is intuitive, but documenting this data can help to rebut the uninformed rants of those in Australia that are opposed to prescribed fires.

Here is an excerpt from a report in The Australian:

Dr McCaw said that across the areas burned on Black Saturday, there was no evidence that small-area fuel reduction had curbed the fires, but strong evidence of an impact where planned or unplanned burns had occurred within four years and over broad areas of more than 600ha.

Where the Kilmore fire, burning with great intensity about 3pm on Black Saturday, met a relatively small area of four-year-old growth, it was quickly outflanked.

About 6.30pm, when the fire met a 1600ha area burnt by wildfire in January 2006, it burned with low intensity.

Dr McCaw said the severity of the Beechworth fire on Black Saturday was reduced by burns that had been conducted one year, two years and four years previously, that had also provided “anchor points” for fire fighting.

Asked about the effectiveness of small “mosaic” burns that left areas of unburnt vegetation for biodiversity conservation, Dr McCaw said if the primary objective of planned burning was community protection, “you would have to be pursuing fairly high levels of fuel reduction”.

CFA volunteer arrested for arson in Victoria, Australia

An arsonist has been setting fires in the Dandenong Ranges National Park in Victoria, Australia for the last four years. Maybe this arrest will be the end of it.

From the AAP:


A Country Fire Authority volunteer charged with lighting scrub fires in Melbourne’s outer east since September last year has been remanded in custody. The 36-year-old man, who was not named, appeared in an out of session court hearing before a bail justice in the kitchen of the nearby Lilydale Police Station on Thursday night.

The man was arrested by Lilydale detectives on Wednesday after seven small scrub fires were reported burning on roadsides around Mount Evelyn about 2pm. The accused faces 23 counts each of deliberately lighting a bushfire and conduct endangering life, along with a drink-driving charge.

Lilydale Detective Senior Constable Brigette De Chirico told the hearing police would oppose bail because the accused was “an unacceptable risk to the community because he’s likely to commit further offences whilst on bail”.

She said the accused suffered depression, had an ongoing alcohol problem and allegedly committed the offences while “heavily intoxicated”.

“He has difficulty controlling his behaviour whilst he is intoxicated,” Detective De Chirico said.

The accused did not apply for bail. The bail justice, who was not named, remanded the man to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Friday.

Speaking after the hearing, Lilydale Senior Detective Sergeant Allan Price said the charges related to fires deliberately lit as far back as September last year.

He said a team of detectives and support staff had worked “around the clock” since the investigation was launched in mid-November. He praised the community’s assistance which he said led to the arrest.

“It’s a real weight off a lot of people’s shoulders, the police and the community and these things don’t happen without the assistance of the community and they have been fantastic,” he said.

The Mount Evelyn man was arrested by local detectives on Wednesday after seven small scrub fires were reported burning on roadsides around the Mount Evelyn area, in Melbourne’s outer east, at about 2pm (AEDT).

A CFA spokesman confirmed earlier on Thursday that the man in custody was a volunteer but would not say how long he had been part of the organisation.

CFA chief executive Mick Bourke said volunteer screening processes involved police checks.

“The screening is that national police check process, which we started many years ago,” Mr Bourke told ABC Radio.